OK so I am going to need you to hang in there with me on this one. I first heard about food combining from a co-worker back in the 90's and I thought she was crazy to be honest (sorry Brandy!). Fast forward to now and my friend (aka my food guru) was talking about this topic recently. I thought SHE was crazy too. But being the OCD type-A person I am, I started researching it more when we were lamenting about the various food issues in our two houses (and between the 5 kids and 4 adults we probably hit almost every single food and that may not even be an exaggeration!). And listen, I am sure there will be people who refute this whole concept and explain away all the theories. And that's fine because I am the first to say you have to go with what works FOR YOU.
So here goes. The basic principles are that certain foods take more/less time to digest. So when you combine foods that are on different time frames you create a slowing of digestion which allows for fermentation/dysbiosis growth. Given my own personal fascination of what feeds gut bugs, this made sense to me. It also cleared up why I was seeing certain food reactions in some very healthy foods I was preparing for my son. For example, I have a few recipes for raw pancakes that I would do in the morning. Usually they consisted of a blend of sprouted buckwheat, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, sunbutter, maybe some coconut and some maple syrup. I would then top them with sliced bananas. Super healthy and very tasty and yet after there were meltdowns, irritability, etc, etc. that I was connecting clearly to the meal. Well now it makes sense. The buckwheat is a grain and it was being combined with a protein (sunflower seeds/butter) and then fruit was added in to make matters worse. Proteins and starches should not be combined and fruit should be eaten alone or with greens. The protein takes longest to digest so the fruit and starch were sitting there left to feed the undesirables in the gut in the meantime. So we were seeing some irritable behaviors as a result.
I will say that this diet has been kicking my BUTT!!! I am pretty familiar with special diets by now but this was HARD. But here's what I am seeing. NO meltdowns after meals, no "food frenzy" eating. Do you know what I mean?? Can you look at your child eat and know that their gut bugs are controlling their appetite? Do your kids ever get that frenzied "I want more, I want MORE" quality when they eat certain things? My son did and that was a sure clue that the food was not welcome at our table again. That is gone. His eyes are crystal clear. I hope you Autism moms know what I mean. The sparkle is there, no food fog, he is very, very present.
So what do typical meals look like??
Everyday starts with fruit. And I am talking ALL fruit!!! Not all at once but you know what I mean. I *try* and work around the acid, sub acid, sweet thing (acid and sub acid can be combined and sub acid and sweet can be combined) but it doesn't always work. But, I can give peaches, plums, bananas and even grapes with no flare in yeast, at all, whatsoever!! (Cue the trumpets) We were stuck with just berries and pears for the longest time. There are caveats. Melons should be eaten alone with nothing else and on a completely empty stomach. So, we start with some fruit and then a green smoothie.
My green smoothie is: Water, greens (kale, lettuce, chard, spinach, beet greens, perslane, etc.). I choose a couple of greens. Add in some stevia and blend. Add in some frozen fruit (usually berries). Viola! Now, wait at least 20 minutes.
Then we can have our normal buckwheat cereal but I leave out any nuts/seeds so we are not combining proteins and starches. Coconut is a neutral/fat so it is ok. Or maybe I will do a gluten free english muffin with some coconut oil and a sprinkle of chia seeds. Or I can make some pancakes. Now you want to give yourself at least 2 hours until you are eating again (longer if there is protein involved). Snacks are usually veggies. A nice big veggie tray for the day works well, they can eat all the veggies they want. Lunch can be either a starch/veggie combo OR a protein/veggie combo. So here's where if they want some organic corn chips or organic potato chips then we need to stick with veggies and a starch. And for our purposes today, things like quinoa and beans are considered starches (yeah, that threw me because I consider them more on the protein side). So tacos with black beans or quinoa salad or rice pasta and sauce are all options here. If they want nut butter then I use a paleo bread recipe. I converted it to an almond/sunflower seed recipe and use sunbutter, no jelly because that's a fruit! Sauerkraut is also a staple on our plates to aid with digestion as well. Dinner has the same options. We've been doing some great omelets for dinner with our fresh, organic eggs from our beautiful ladies in the yard. I fill them with tomatoes and Daiya cheese and serve up some grilled veggies or raw veggies. Hamburgers and french fries are out unless I do a homemade veggie burger. The book I read "The Beauty Detox Solution" by Kimberly Snyder has some great recipes. And don't let the name of the book fool you. This isn't about beauty for us, it is about putting the body into a state of healthy normal detox where the body is not clogged with foods in such a way that they cannot be digested properly. But she also advocates things I also believe in like probiotics and digestive enzymes. And the basic premise is eating light to heavy. You want the easier to digest stuff in the beginning and that sets the tone for the day and the harder to digest stuff (especially proteins) are more towards dinner which gives your body all night to digest if needed.
When I did more digging, this is basically the Body Ecology Diet in a sense. I will be honest, I have been very frustrated at times with the combinations and what I felt like were lack of options. But, we are settling in (it was 3 weeks on Friday) and it is certainly getting easier. And there is such an even keel especially around meal times. So I like what I am seeing. Everyone is growing (seems like especially now) and thriving and the clarity in my son's eyes is something I really love to see. So while this may not be for everyone (heck, I didn't think it was going to be for us!!) I think it is a great option for our life. If you ask my son he would say I need to throw that book out. There have been occasions where he says "I don't like that book!! What good is a sandwich if you can't have nutbutter?!?!?!". I had to laugh. So creativity has been a must (especially since you are not even supposed to combine more than one protein source except for nuts/seeds, they are OK to combine). I was thinking of going Paleo because of these food reactions I was seeing and a desire to reduce the starches in his diet. After we started food combining I realized that maybe why Paleo works for so many people is that you really ARE removing the protein/grain combination. Paleo does combine fruits/proteins which is still a no-no in this realm. But, for us this is successful and there are no negative reactions with grains now that they are not paired with proteins. I will keep you posted going forward. And if anyone wants any ideas on meals/snacks, let me know. That could be a follow up post. Bon Apetit!