Ask the Nutritionist - Food Combining? Chocolate?

Hey all! I thought it would be fun to start Ask the Nutritionist to answer any burning nutrition questions you have on your mind. There is a lot of conflicting nutrition information out there so I think it is worth cutting through the confusion with some science and experience-based answers. 


Food combining - Do you use nuts as a fat or a protein? Are beans treated as a starch or a protein? Is this something you support or practice?


First things first, let's define food combining. Food combining is traditionally a diet in which foods are paired and consumed based on their macronutrient content and subsequent pH required for digestion. These rules are typically followed:

  • Fruit is eaten alone, on an empty stomach, at least 20 minutes before another food 
  • Nuts, seeds, and dried fruit are eaten with raw vegetables 
  • Starches like rice or potatoes are eaten alone, but can be eaten with cooked non-starchy vegetables 
  • High protein foods like animal meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are eaten alone and can be eaten with cooked non-starchy vegetables 

The theory behind this diet is that different macronutrients require a different pH to be digested.  Protein requires an acidic environment (low pH) and carbohydrates require an alkaline environment (high pH).

So, let's first discuss the question of how nuts and beans are categorized. This where things get tricky, because no natural food is 100% a single macronutrient. If I absolutely had to answer, I would categorize beans as a starch and nuts as a fat because that is the macronutrient that is generally the highest. But the reality is that beans are starch + protein and nuts are fat + protein.

Now let's talk about the efficacy of food combining. 

Food combining is all about supporting digestion. How does digestion and pH actually work? Here's a very quick run down: 

  • Digestion begins when you are thinking or looking at food - long before you even bite your food - regardless of the macronutrient content. Saliva production increases (we all know that one well), peristalsis (the wave of motion along the digestive tract) begins, stomach acid starts to be secreted, the pancreas starts to release digestive enzymes, and the gall bladder gets ready to release bile. ALL BEFORE YOU'VE EVEN TAKEN A BITE! Sometimes you have to just sit back and admire the human body. 
  • In the mouth, amylase is secreted to break down carbohydrate
  • In the stomach, stomach acid stimulates the release of pepsin, the enzyme that breaks down protein. This acidic environment actually stimulates the pancreas to release digestive enzymes into the small intestine, where the environment is alkaline to activate the enzymes. 
  • In the small intestine, everything is happening. Pancreatic enzymes like lipase, amylase, and trypsin that break down fat, carb, and protein respectively. Bile is thrown in there as well to emulsify fat. 

Here's the first contradiction with food combining - the increased acidic environment of the stomach actually stimulates the alkaline environment of the small intestine. Secondly, in the small intestine, all macronutrients are being digested and absorbed. 

Another issue is that food combining can be a problem for anyone with blood sugar dysregulation (diabetes or prediabetes) because fat and protein help to slow the release of sugars.

HOWEVER, I DO think that food combining may be beneficial for someone struggling with their digestion. 

BUT the next question I'll have for you is why is your digestion struggling and how can we fix that? Ultimately, someone who benefits from food combining is likely in need of supporting stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, and bile production. There may also be issues in the microbiome contributing to digestive symptoms. 

The bottom line: everyone's biochemistry is unique and if you find something that works for you, it's great. However, I would urge you to investigate supporting your digestion and getting to the root cause. 

Phew... that one had a lot of detail, thanks for hanging on! Here's the last question for today:


How healthy is chocolate for you really?


Oh chocolate, I love you so much. Chocolate does have a lot of very healthful components and I definitely think it can be a part of a healthy diet. Unfortunately, not all chocolate is created equal and too much of anything isn't a good thing. 

Rule of thumb for chocolate: the darker, cleaner, and purer the better

Here are the main benefits of chocolate:

  • Antioxidants - that dark rich color translates to antioxidants! Chocolate is an excellent source 
  • Minerals - we're talking magnesium and iron, along with copper, zinc, and potassium 
  • Phytonutrients - these are plant compounds that are very good to our bodies. They help support brain function, lower blood pressure, and help protect the skin

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but these components are preserved best in chocolate that is minimally processed. I'll go ahead and throw out milk chocolate, white chocolate, and any chocolate flavored item. Sorry. 

Instead, go for:

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it! Do you have nutrition questions? Leave me a comment or send a message so I can answer yours! 

Jen Unruh1 Comment