Food Combining Guidelines

Our digestive system was not designed to handle non-stop large, heavy, complex meals (as are commonly eaten in western society). The western eating habits place continual stress on the digestive system with inadequate “down-time” for the system to recuperate. Overworking the system in this manner can cause log-jams downstream resulting in undigested food that putrefies and ferments, leading to gas, bloating and potential accumulation of “ama” (a Sanskrit word that refers to toxins from improper metabolism of food and unprocessed emotions). Ama clogs channels that carry waste from the cells and tissues, resulting in a toxic build-up that may irreversibly harm cells over long periods of time.

To minimize ama, Ayurveda provides guidance on the quality and quantity of food that we should consume. The goal is to optimize digestion, absorption and elimination to promote longevity while maintaining an alert mind and an energetic body. In general, for optimal digestion, absorption and assimilation:

  • Meats, which are generally heavy and heating, are best combined with lighter, cooling foods such as leafy green vegetables or salads. Most of the common serving methods in western society (i.e., chicken and bean burrito, spaghetti and meatballs, Philly cheese steak sub, meat sandwiches, fried fish, etc.) are not considered optimal as they are excessively heavy and taxing on the system.
  • Fruits, which are light, watery and liquid, are best eaten alone. They combine well with other fruits. Raw, juicy fruits tend to move quickly through the digestive system taking along digestive enzymes with them; this movement gets delayed when the digestive system is full of other foods, resulting in fermentation, gas and bloating. An exception to the general rule is when the fruits are cooked or dried; this changes their basic characteristic and lends them suitable to other foods. Bananas do not combine well with milk so should be avoided in smoothies and yogurt.
  • Cheese, which is cold, heavy and mucus forming, is best eaten alone or with vegetables. Many of the western serving methods (i.e., cheese and crackers; cheese and apples; macaroni and cheese, cheese with sandwiches, cheese pizza, etc.) are very difficult to digest. Because of the mucus-causing properties, cheese (and dairy) should not be eaten after sunset.
  • Caffeine, stresses the adrenal glands and should only be consumed in moderation. An ayurvedic anti-dote is to add a pinch of cardamom or cinnamon to your coffee to minimize the impact on the adrenals. Alternatively, try an herbal coffee such as Teeccino® to help wean you away from the caffeine.
  • Honey, equal quantities by weight of ghee and honey are bad combinations, but mixing in a ratio of 2:1 (two parts ghee to 1 part honey) is fine. Cooked honey is believed to be toxic (and “ama-creating”), so when adding honey to your tea, be sure to wait until the water is lukewarm. 

But don’t get too stressed about these rules. A strong digestive fire can process even incompatible combinations – do you know someone who has a “stomach of steel”? Generally, young adults, pitta constitutions and people who exercise regularly tend to have a strong digestive fire. But regardless of your current digestive capacity, continual consumption of improper combinations may eventually impair your digestive strength, create digestive discomfort, cause toxic accumulation of ama, and eventually disease. The key is to eat with awareness and always maintain a balanced perspective in regards to your diet and lifestyle.

You can learn more about food combining in my book HERE.

If you would like a personal consultation to answer your food combining questions, call to schedule an appointment at 310-310-0408.