If you’ve ever experienced bloating or stomach discomfort after eating (and who hasn’t?) you’ll know better than most the importance of eating the right foods for gut and digestive health. While we all know that some foods are better for you than others, and that what you eat can affect good gut health, did you know that it’s the combination of some foods over others that mean they don’t mix well in your digestive tract?
When you eat certain foods in the right combinations, not only do you help your digestive system operate at its best and improve your gut health, you actually help your body to absorb as many nutrients as possible from the foods you’re eating. This technique is known as food combining, and it could change your diet for the better.
If you’re prone to indigestion or bloating, this technique could be especially helpful for you. The idea is that different kinds of foods require different environments to fully break down. An example is if you mix protein, which requires an acidic environment for optimum digestion, with carbohydrates, which require an alkaline environment. This means you run a higher risk of stomach upset when you eat both together than you do if you don’t combine them.
Another factor is the amount of time different foods take to combine. Certain kinds of food digest exceptionally quickly. Fruit can be completely absorbed in two hours or even less, whereas nuts can take up to four hours or even longer. Eating these foods in combination could upset your digestive system, so switching the order in which you consume different kinds of foods has the potential to improve your gut health considerably if this is something you struggle with.
Foods can also work in synergy together. The nutrient profiles of certain foods and complement and enhance those of others when they’re eaten together. This is useful if you’re looking to absolutely maximise the nutrition you’re getting from what you’re eating, as many athletes are.
Whatever your goal, it’s helpful to know the best food pairings for gut health to give your body the best chance possible to thrive. Here’s how to make the most of food combining and improve your gut health.
Yogurt with whole grains
Yogurt contains live bacteria and often has prebiotics added to them, which helps with the balance of flora and fauna in the gut. To give prebiotics the best chance to thrive in your digestive system, it’s best to eat them with prebiotic fibres, which are non-digestible food fibres which ferment inside the gut and thus stimulate the growth of prebiotics. There’s a very simple way to do this: by eating your yogurt with some oats sprinkled on top.
Eat fruit by itself
Fruit is one of the fastest-digesting foods, so if you’re aiming for optimum gut health, it’s best to enjoy fruit only with other fruit. A bowl of mixed berries, for example, goes great with a spritz of lime juice. Melons are a pertinent example here, as their water content is so high they move through the body quickly. They also require different enzymes to fully break them down, which can spell trouble if they’re eaten with other foods. Stick to eating fruit alone and you should be just fine.
Eat greens with everything
It’s not as this is new advice - we should all be eating as many leafy green vegetables as we possibly can, as they’re nutritional powerhouses - but from a good gut health perspective, spinach, chard, kale and their ilk are even better than you’d previously given them credit for. As they don’t interfere with the digestion of other vegetables, fats or proteins, they can be safely eaten with every combination of these foods. They’re easy additions to protein smoothies (try adding a handful of spinach to our The Strong Protein for a tasty nutrient boost), salads and as a side with salmon, tofu or chicken.
Pair iron-rich foods with vitamin c
Iron is a crucial mineral to get enough of, and is essential for many key functions in the body. Iron-rich foods include meats as well as beans, nuts, wholegrains and some vegetables. However, your body struggles to absorb the all-important iron from these foods. A way to combat this is by eating foods high in iron with foods high in vitamin c, which helps absorption. Foods high in vitamin c include citrus, kiwi, tomato, broccoli and strawberries. Pairing these foods will help your gut health and up the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet, as well as helping to improve your levels of both iron and vitamin c.