Could food combining fix your IBS, gas and bloating?

Do you remember in the 80s when food combining was the hot digestion diet idea of the decade? 
Never eat melon with meat because one digests quickly and the other slowly. 
Eat fruit before meals, not afterwards or your stomach will struggle to cope.
Food combine properly and your weight will fall away and IBS symptoms such as bloating and gas will become experiences from the past.  

It all seemed so simple and it certainly seemed to work.

Then the media stepped in and dissed the whole concept of food combining. Even my gym instructor (I had one in those days!) told me off for believing a load of old rubbish. There was absolutely no proof of anything, he told me. No science, no research and it didn't work. To a certain extent, when it comes to weight loss, he was right. Studies show that food combining doesn't lead to greater weight loss than a combined diet.

In any case, I accepted what my instructor said and went back to eating proteins and carbs together. But I didn't stop to consider whether the broader digestive benefits might have been worth paying attention to, and whether it might be something of a miracle cure for IBS symptoms. Instead, I ate whatever took my fancy. Sometimes I slept well... and sometimes I didn't.  Sometimes I was bloated for days, and other times I wasn't. And I never thought to consider why that was.

I am older and wiser now, and I never accept expert opinions on anything until I have tried it myself and experienced the results - good or bad - for myself. Which is why, at The Haven, whenever I was assured by someone that such and such worked wonders, I always tried it out before recommending it to others. And sometimes those remedies worked wonders, and sometimes they absolutely didn't.

But back to food combining. I met a friend for coffee a month ago, who had been having terrible IBS problems and wondered if I had any suggestions. I had many thoughts on things I could recommend (read about them in next month's blog) but as we talked, a picture of my old gym instructor flashed into my head. My subconscious often does that - it sends reminders when my conscious brain is otherwise distracted. And I remembered food combining and picked up my old notes to refresh my memory about it all.

It makes more sense than that gym instructor told me. Most importantly, when I tried it again, it certainly made a huge difference for me. I noticed a big reduction in post-meal bloating and digestive discomfort. However, if you have been diagnosed with IBS, you may need to discuss this approach with your doctor. Depending on the type of symptoms you have, food combining may or may not be appropriate. This article is a helpful guide.

For those who are interested in finding out more, read on for my own simple guide to food combining...

3 rules for food combining  

Never eat proteins and carbohydrates in the same meal  

You can have as many vegetables as you like, but combining vegeatables and other carbs with proteins is a no-no and an instant recipe for IBS if you have a digestive system that's prone to it.  Cereal with milk for example is a definite 'no'. Ditto pizza. Proteins need the acids found in the stomach to break them down. Carbohydrates need the alkaline fluid from the saliva in your mouth. If you put both on your plate and eat them, then (so the food combining theory goes) the acids and the alkaline neutralise each other, leading to poorly digested food and a traumatised stomach. Critics claim this is an oversimplification and that the digestive process is something that occurs along the whole digestive tract, so such a simplistic 'cancelling out' isn't what happens. But it does seem to make intuitive sense.

Pizza: IBS nightmare
Pizza: IBS nightmare

Protein can take as long as 6 hrs to digest.  So it seems sensible to eat it at midday, so that your stomach is ready to digest again at supper.  If you eat protein in the evening you are more likely to have disturbed rest at night as all the body's energy goes into sorting your digestion rather than repairing your body as you sleep. Carbohydrates only take 2-3 hours to digest so are a better evening option.

Never eat fruit and vegetables in the same meal

Fruit digests in around 1-1 1/2 hours but vegetables take longer (usually around 2-3 hours). We tend to eat our vegetables first, followed by fruit for dessert. So the fruit gets 'stuck' behind the vegetables in the digestion queue and ferments away, giving you that bloated feeling, quickly followed by indigestion and other IBS symptoms such as cramps. To combat this, try eating fruit and veg at different meals.

Only eat ripe fruit

The third rule has a spooky aspect to it that I bet not many of you know about. It's a serious fruit rule. If you eat fruit that has not been naturally ripened it takes what it needs from your body to get properly ripened. It's not feeding you, you end up feeding it. Creepy!

And think about this seriously from a nutritional point of view. Look at the UK's supermarket fruit, much of which is often imported from far away lands and picked while still green, placed in cold storage for the journey and often hits the shelves hard and unripe. Compare this to the fruit in hot, sunny countries, where you can enjoy fruit that is ripe, scented and delicious and, most importantly, fresh and full of nutrients. This fruit feeds your body. And ripe fruit digests easily.

There's a school of nutritional thought that says unripe fruit can be great news from a dieting point of view - it requires extra energy to digest and contains more complex carbs and less simple ones. But having tried it I think this is misleading. I would say that eating unripe fruit is simply not good for your body. My stomach definitely struggled and although green fruit might contain more fibre, you lose out almost entirely on the taste. Unripe fruit tastes terrible in comparison to its sun ripened cousin. It is also more acidic than a ripe version. Unripe bananas for example have a pH of 6.5, which is acidic. Ripe bananas have a pH of 8.0 which is alkaline. Eating an unripe fruit is similar to eating a half cooked potato, something in the potato's case you would always try to avoid. It is possible it will cause you digestive problems and even pain. Try it and see, though I would probably recommend you didn't!

And back to those melons. Melons are the fastest-fermenting foods out there - 15 minutes on average. Stuck in the digestion queue behind every other food they will cause hideous gas and bloating which is an IBS disaster waiting to happen. The rule here is 'eat them alone, or leave them alone'!

Melon - one to eat alone to avoid IBS
Melon - one to eat alone to avoid IBS

Tips to avoid IBS, digestive issues, gas and bloating

Don't drink with your meal

We all do it - the table setting encourages it with that nice tumbler full of water sitting in front of you just waiting to be drunk. Lay the table without glasses for a few days. Eat without drinking and see if you notice the difference. Try to drink your glass of water or wine 20 minutes before you sit down to eat instead. Liquid dilutes your digestive juices, so once again, the foods you have eaten won't get broken down properly and your stomach will suffer.

Keep your meals simple

Just one protein or fat on your plate at a time helps your digestive system hugely. Not too much fat either if you have stomach problems. Fat slows down both the digestive process and the flow of your gastric juices.

Take digestive enzymes before you start the meal

These break down the food making it easy on your stomach.

Eat slowly and chew each mouthful 20 times if you can

The saliva in your mouth is one of the body's most potent digestive weapons, beginning the breakdown before the food has even hit your stomach. Give it a chance to get to work. Chewing your food properly will also help you eat more mindfully, and means you're less likely to overeat.

Let me know how you get on and if you notice the same differences I have. Please put your comments on the site and pass this on to any of your friends who are suffering.