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Is Food Combining Bad For You? Health Experts Debunk This Culinary Myth

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With such a focus on health of late, many people are looking to different dietary trends in order to tackle issues ranging from lack of energy to insomnia — just to name a few common ailments. In fact, practically every day there seems to be a new method to try, which can lead to a lot of confusion. A most recent example of this is food combining, which involves the strategic pairing of certain types of food (or the avoidance of those pairings) for health reasons. But is food combining bad for you? Or could it be the key to solving some of your biggest concerns?

It's understandable to question some of the recent trends in wellness, particularly since medical professionals may be torn on their effectiveness. But unlike the polarizing ketogenic diet, it seems that food combining not only has some solid benefits that wellness experts agree on, but it may be accessible for a wide variety of people.

So how exactly does it work? Well, according to pharmacist and wellness consultant Dr. Mona Vand, "The concept of food combining is based on the premise that fruit, proteins, and starches digest at different times." For example, if you're following this type of eating, fruit should be eaten on their own, proteins should only be eaten with non-starchy veggies, and starches should be eaten with fats and leafy greens. Additionally, "Non-starchy vegetables — like mixed greens, celery, spinach, and broccoli — are 'free' foods, meaning they digest well with everything," says Vand.

Because the idea here is allowing your body to absorb maximum nutritional benefits and digest optimally, those trying this technique should also space out these food groups accordingly. "You should wait for each food group to fully digest before moving on to the next," Vand adds. "Fruit takes about 20 to 40 minutes to digest, starches take approximately three hours, and protein takes around four hours."

Holistic nutritionist Chelsea Gross also points out what while food combining is a buzzworthy topic, it's far from a new concept. "It is actually an Ayurvedic dietary practice that has been around for thousands of years," she says. As for why people are currently more interested than ever, Gross admits that there's an increased awareness about gut health and how it may be related to a host of other issues. "90 percent of serotonin is produced in the gut, 70 to 80 percent of our immune system lives in our gut, and it is coined the 'second brain' because of its strong correlation with our mental health and wellbeing," she explains.

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One of the reasons both experts are proponents of food combining is that — unlike a lot of other eating trends — it's not very restrictive. "You’re simply altering the order in which you eat," Vand says. "The only disadvantage I could see is the inconvenience of timing food or not wanting to improperly combine which can be difficult at first, especially when traveling." She adds that there are a few ways of making the transition a bit easier if you're interested in trying this method out.

"One tip is to separate meals by type so that it makes it easy to plan your meals," she says. "The concept here is that fruit digests quickest and needs to be eaten on an empty stomach so it’s perfect to have in the morning, and starches digest a little faster than protein, making them easier to have them for lunch so you don’t need to wait as long before eating dinner."

Another way to try food combining is by eating certain food groups on designated days. "For example: Monday is starch day and Tuesday is protein day and so on," explains Vand. "The main tip here is to stay organized so that you can really maximize the way you eat and achieve your long-term health and wellness goals."

And while Gross believes that food combining is largely beneficial, as someone who specializes in working with women with disordered eating, she notes that any major dietary shifts could be triggering for those who have struggled in this area. "While food combining is not dogmatic, it is super specific, and for some individuals I can see it potentially creating fear and anxiety around if you’re doing it right," she explains. "Because of this, for anyone who comes from a disordered past with food I wouldn’t necessarily recommend following this style of eating."

However, if you don't fall into that category, Gross has a simple. no-pressure strategy for giving food combining a whirl. "My best advice with food combining in general is to check out the ins and outs of proper and improper pairings," she says. "See what resonates, try it out, see how you feel, and don’t let perfect be the enemy of good."