By Tiyani Rikhotso
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 6 of VARSITY News.
Food combining has ancient roots in Ayurvedic medicine but has become popularised in recent years. Thanks to lifestyle blogger Kenzie Burke and her 21-day reset plan, it is currently taking the Instagram and YouTube wellness world by storm and has sparked many debates and discussions on whether paying attention to which foods you consume together is necessary for optimal health.
Food combining rules are based around the idea that certain food groups go well together while others don’t. It proposes that mixing the wrong foods together can lead to digestive issues, inflammation and toxin build up. The foundations of this is founded on these two beliefs:
- Because different food groups digest at different speeds there is risk of faster digesting foods bumping into ones that take a bit longer resulting in a “traffic jam” in your digestive tract where fermentation occurs, resulting in bloating and gas.
- Because different food groups require different enzymes with specific pH levels, they are not optimally digested together and ‘neutralisation’ can occur when mixing say, a protein that requires a more acid pH, and a starch which requires a more alkaline.
Thus, food combining gives birth to these rules:
1. Only eat fruit on an empty stomach, especially melons.
2. Don’t combine starches and proteins.
3. Don’t combine starches with acidic foods.
4. Don’t combine different types of protein.
Kenzie Burke has built her 21-day reset plan around these rules and also places an emphasis on being plant-based and gluten free. She is marketing this lifestyle to her almost 100k Instagram followers; with the plan selling 30 000 copies thus far. There are lots of social media praise with many Influencers and young girls posting everything from Instagram captions to ‘what I eat in a day’ videos praising food combining for being the solution to years of digestive discomfort, bloating and the secret to getting rid of stubborn fat and toning up.
In the midst of all the praise, Burke has come under fire for promoting disordered eating habits to young girls with many people also sharing that the plan and its food combining rules did not work for them. Instead of this new trend being their wellness miracle, they found that it was very restrictive, their bloating and digestive issues were worse, they gained weight and were struggling emotionally as it is very restrictive.
If one were to put aside the fact that food combining promotes diet culture and can trigger disordered eating habits with its rigid rules, are the claims made by food combining rules supported?
This is what the science has to say:
A study conducted found that there is no evidence to support the weight loss claims of foodcombining. In many cases people may shed a few pounds as a result of eating healthier in general (as they are focusing on their diet) but more commonly because of a decrease in the calories they would normally consume in a meal with more variety.
Our digestive system does not work like a highway where food can find itself in a traffic jam. The food you consume is combined into one mixture and the essential nutrients, minerals and water are extracted as it moves through your system.
Food does not “rot” or “ferment” in our stomachs. Our digestive systems are fully equipped to release the right digestive enzymes and gastric acid to digest meals that contain a mix of protein, carbs and fat. If a food offsets the pH of your stomach, your body releases the right digestive juices to bring things into balance.
There are some evidence-based examples of food combining such as mixing vitamin C with iron to increase absorption, but nothing that supports the claims food combining is based off. It is important to note that it was developed over 100 years ago when knowledge on the human digestive system was not as developed.
In this day and age where health and wellness is important, there are many “internet driven food myths” that you have to be careful not to fall prey to. It is especially important to not take health advice from influencers or “online wellness coaches”. What works for one person may not work for you and it is important to consult a trustworthy health professional when dealing with issues such as digestive discomfort and severe gas or bloating. There is so much more to health than cutting out whole food groups or obsessing about which foods to eat together and when. No way of eating should be seen as a miracle cure, but rather you should build a balanced, sustainable and nourishing diet that makes you feel good.
If you are interested in learning more, watch registered dietician Abbey Sharp debunk food combining:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1vmDRnkaoc