In the world of diet and nutrition you can discover information parroted about that will fit any direction you personally want to go. For example, if you grew up in a meat-eating family, you might enjoy and subscribe to the "high protein - low carb" rhetoric. If you grew up as a vegetarian, you will have a great appreciation for the literature that supports greater intake of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. If you have experienced digestive upset and have subscribed to food-combining theories, you may have found digestive relief and it is possible that you believe firmly that this is the holy grail of nutrition. To the extent that it helps you, enjoy it, for it certainly won't hurt you.
However, I want to share some information to help each of us better understand digestion and to be able to thereby put food-combining rhetoric into a more factual and helpful context, which may be helpful to you as you make your own decisions. As I have reviewed seeming countless popular diets, including popular food combining rules and even the eating practices of the sincere carnivore, I have come to better understand why our metabolism often succeeds -- in spite of what we throw at our bodies. Our metabolism employes many backup systems that make various approaches to diet doable.
My personal recommendation to you, when it comes to nutrition and your metabolism, is the following: You will achieve maximum vitality and longevity as you achieve maximum nutritional input with the fewest calories possible, so long as you do this using whole foods as your dietary foundation. Such a practice imposes the least digestive burdens of any other approach to eating, and it is best adapted to the true physiological and metabolic needs of the body.
The claim that many people make about the need to eat fruit alone ignores and leads to gross misunderstandings regarding digestion. The claim that adding fruits to other food combinations causes all foods to ferment, ignores fundamental fermentation facts. It does not take into account how fermentation works or whether or not fermentation is good, bad, or indifferent.
We rely exclusively on fermentation to prepare the dough used to make naturally leavened bread. This is a good thing. Friendly bacteria used in this bread-making process help to neutralize many of the toxic effects of wheat by predigesting gluten, lignans, tanins, and by facilitating hydrolysis. Most people that are grain intolerant can enjoy naturally leavened bread because of the friendly bacteria that predigest otherwise harmful elements in the bread. In this case the fermentation is a really good thing.
These friendly bacteria have a life cycle of only 8 hours from first life to decomposition. Decomposed within the bread they are perfect nutrient uptake for humans. Decomposed in corn silage they are perfect nutrient uptake for cattle. Decomposed in the gut of all animals and people they are exceptional nutritional uptake. And decomposed in the soil they become ideal nutritional uptake for plants.
We find these precious bacteria in the soil, in the air, in the water, and in the digestive tracts of all animals and people. They are a critical part of our world and for people they tend to break down and predigest that which we cannot digest ourselves. When they feed, which is whenever food is present, we call that process fermentation. Naturally leavened bread, sauerkraut, and dozens of asian dishes each employ these friendly bacteria purposely to cause very desirable and healthful results with food. Miso and other asian pastes are created as various strains of friendly bacteria are introduced to beans. Over long periods of time, the beans are broken down and predigested by these bacteria. The decomposed bacteria, which is loaded with good nutrition, is a large part of the final makeup of the food.
Let's review one more example that will help shed even further light on the subject. Legumes cause many people to experience gas. This is because beans contain a sugar for which we have no reciprocal digestive enzyme. That sugar passes through the mouth, the stomach, and the small intestine without ever being acted upon by a digestive enzyme that can break it down so that it may absorb into the bloodstream.
What happens to these sugars? Well, they eventually pass into the large intestine. Within the large intestine, the friendly bacteria greedily feed upon all sugars, including these, which are not digested prior to entering into the large intestine. The gas experienced by many people when they eat beans is caused by the fermentation or digestion by bacteria of this particular sugar. Similar gas occurs whenever we overeat, allowing the friendly bacteria plenty of time to feed upon the foods within us. When we eat in any manner that leads to shorter digestive periods, far less fermentation occurs.
Back to fruit. Fruit is filled with sugar and friendly bacteria love sugar. Their populations swell and shrink based upon various sugars being present in your digestive tract, from simple sugars to complex carbohydrates. Fruit requires just two to three hours to fully enter into the bloodstream. Not much fermentation occurs when food digests this quickly; therefore, it is rare to experience fermentation gas (by-product of friendly bacteria) when eating fruit alone, although it will occur if you overeat fruit, which greatly lengthens fruits natural digestive rate.
Vegetables and grains require five to six hours to fully enter the bloodstream. If fruit is enjoyed with vegetables and grains, it still requires only five to six hours for all the food to fully enter into the bloodstream. You will not notice unusual gas (by-product of fermentation) when enjoying fruits, vegetables, and grains together, and even if you experience some gas, this is merely the action of friendly bacteria and is not an unhealthful thing. However, meat and other animal-based foods require eight to 12+ hours to fully enter into the bloodstream, unless used sparingly. Typical Thanksgiving meals often require 24 to 72 hours to fully enter into the bloodstream. Under such conditions food sits in a warm incubator (you) and these bacteria have hours and hours and hours to feed. Whenever digestion requires this much time, serous digestive upset is a natural byproduct.
I spoke of this issue with BYU's most celebrated all-time researcher. His name is Merrill Christensen and he works in the nutrition department. He is so well respected in nutritional research that the National Institute of Health (NIH) employs Merrill to review 1/4 of all grant applications for them each year. Merrill personally awards 1/4 of the grant monies given out annually by the NIH. I share this to give you appreciation for his thoughts regarding food combining. His thoughts should not be dismissed without due consideration.
Merrill said the biggest problem in digestion has absolutely nothing to do with the combination of whole foods that we eat. Moreover, as a researcher he has noted that not one piece of bonafide research to date supports these theories -- not even one. Rather, the number one problem in poor digestion is the overconsumption of food during any given meal
, similar to the example of what often occurs during our Thanksgiving meals.
Merrill said that the more food we pack into our stomachs the more surface area must be covered with limited digestive enzymes that are secreted by the body into the mixture of foods that pass through us. Too much food leads to inadequate digestive enzyme coverage and consequently to "longer" digestive periods. Long digestive periods provide too much time for the friendly bacteria to enjoy feeding frenzies upon the food passing through us. And, if our digestive environment is a good host for unfriendly bacteria, we also experience negative influence from them as well. As friendly or unfriendly feed and reproduce, gas is a by-product, which of course we recognize as digestive upset.
Merrill teaches that the research literature demonstrates that any combinations of fruits, vegetables, grains, and animal-based foods digest very well together, provided we eat judiciously and not stuff ourselves full. A three to eight hour digestive cycle is always acceptable and does not present undue burdens to the body.
To sum up this discussion, meals that fully enter the bloodstream in six to eight hours cause no undue digestive burdens to the body, regardless of the combination of whole foods eaten. Merrill also teaches that we produce separate and distinct digestive enzymes within us, which easily accommodate the digestion of sugars (carbohydrates), fats, and proteins simultaneously. The idea that we need to separate carbs from fats or fats from proteins is nonfactual and unhelpful and is certainly not based upon any peer-reviewed research. It is merely someone's unproven theory, and it causes unhelpful confusion.
When our meals center around vegetable intake, and when they are complemented appropriately by grains and animal-based foods, digestion rates are very timely. On the other hand, when we center meals around large quantities of animal-based foods that require greater digestion periods, and then compliment these foods with too much grain, fruit, and only a few vegetables, digestion rates lengthen considerably, leading to great digestive distress and burden.
Remember, that no matter how we might stuff ourselves too overflowing, such practices always lead to digestive burdens. I've tested this theory with vegetables alone and have created digestive distress by overfilling myself with vegetables. I've also noted that the popular "green smoothies," when over consumed, or when consumed far too quickly, also lead to dietary distress. There is no holy grail of food combinations that are safe if we are unwise as we belly-up to the feeding trough. This is why I ask that you think more deeply and not jump so quickly onto the many popular bandwagons that exist today. Learn wisdom and apply wisdom.
Our favorite family meal is a salad that covers our plate. To a bed of leafy greens we add other raw veggies; to these we add some brown rice and/or beans (legumes). We often like to top this with a little fruit that accents the entire meal well. When our meat-eating son-in-laws are present, or in the wintertime, we might even compliment the entire meal with some cheese of some sort, or some chicken, or some other animal-based food product. It requires very little animal-based additions to complement this meal and to add the texture and enjoyable flavors. Such meals never cause digestive upset. They are filling and provide maximum nutrition with few calories. Consider the pattern and adapt it creatively in other ways to enjoy similar digestive and nutritional results.
Therefore, if you use some fruit to help make a whole-food dressing, or if you do as the Europeans do and enjoy some fruit after a meal as the dessert, or if you eat the fruit with your meal, it is all good, provided you center your meal planning around vegetables and use all else to compliment the meal, and provided you do not overeat.
And of course if you enjoy implementing the popular food-combining rules, you can also use fruits as stand alone foods, as desired. This is wonderful! What is most amazing to me is that with all the food-combining rhetoric that exists today, still not one shred of peer-reviewed scientific evidence has ever been produced or submitted to support food-combining theories. Enjoy the theories to your advantage, but you don't have to live and die by them, nor do you need to overcomplicate a healthful and enjoyable diet.
I Hope this discussion continues below in the spirit that it was presented and that it will help to open minds a little further concerning the reasons why certain food-combining theories produce sound results, and that it will also help you to relax when it comes to enjoying your fruit with other foods. Food combining theories will probably do no harm to anyone and can be an enjoyable and successful approach to diet. However, they are not the holy grail of sound nutrition as many would have us believe, not any more so than "high protein-low carb diet" is the holy grail of dietary solutions and sound nutrition.
Fruits and vegetables were ordained for our constitution. They provide the most nutrients per calorie consumed and require the least digestive time and energy. Meat and other animal-based foods ought to be used sparingly at most and it is best when their sparing use is limited to wintertimes or other times when it is cold and when we do not have adequate exposure to the sunshine. Properly prepared grains should be used to complement and add sufficient calories to healthful intake of fruits and vegetables. This is the most sensible approach to diet when the facts regarding human metabolism are fully considered and when personal bias and tradition are set aside. In fact, there are thousands upon thousands of studies which demonstrate the soundness of this wise approach to eating.