Your digestive system needs to work correctly to avoid gas, bloating, indigestion, and heartburn. Many people claim to benefit from the food combining diet by following some basic rules. So, does food combining cure heartburn? Let’s take a look at the facts.
Does food combining cure heartburn?
While there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that food combining works, many people claim to have cured their heartburn and indigestion by following a food combining diet. So there’s got to be something good about the diet, right? Absolutely. But first, let’s understand a little more about food combining.
What is food combining?
Optimal food combining is based on the premise that your body can only digest one dense food at a time. By dense food, I mean foods that take a long time to digest, namely carbohydrates and proteins. Food combiners think you can end up with bloating, gas, stomach pains, acid reflux, and other digestive issues by eating the wrong foods together.
How does optimal food combining work?
FOOD COMBINING: Food combiners believe that what you eat directly affects how food is digested. Optimal food combining suggests that different enzymes are needed to digest different foods for proper digestion to occur, and these enzymes work at different acidity levels (or pH).
Food combining theory implies that if some foods need an acidic environment to digest and others need an alkaline environment, the enzymes would cancel each other out. Therefore, you wouldn’t digest food properly, and you’d get symptoms of poor digestion such as gas, reflux, and stomach pain, among others.
FACT: Different foods take different times to digest and need different enzymes. However, your body is well-equipped to handle the digestion of different foods simultaneously. Digestion starts to happen in your mouth through to your intestines. Your stomach is naturally very acidic, which is needed to break down food regardless of what type of food it is.
Food combining diet rules
Below you’ll find a visual example of food combining diet rules. By all means, look at how the foods are combined, but most importantly, you should take note of the types of foods listed in the food combining chart.
Here’s an overview of the main food combining diet rules and some facts based on scientific evidence:
1. Eat fruit on it’s own
Food combining purists say that it’s best to eat fruit on its own for optimal digestion because you digest it very quickly, in fact, within about 20-30 minutes. Food combiners think if you eat fruit with other foods, particularly carbohydrates or protein, it will get stuck in a longer digestive cycle. It will rot in your stomach and give you gas and bloating, which causes acid reflux.
FACT: Your body can adequately digest different foods simultaneously and handle foods at various stages of digestion. Also, food will never rot in your stomach because your stomach acid kills bacteria that could ferment in your stomach. Your digestive system doesn’t allow food to stay in one place very long. Even if you’re constipated, food keeps moving, albeit more slowly.
2. Eat proteins OR carbohydrates, but not both
Food combiners think that when you eat protein, namely meat, poultry, fish, or eggs, there is a lot of acid released into your stomach to digest it. For good digestion, food combining theory suggests proteins are not a good pairing with carbohydrates like bread, pasta, grains, potato, or rice because carbohydrates need an alkali environment, whereas protein needs an acidic one. So they cancel each other out, digestion is poor, and you know the rest.
FACT: Your stomach does not transform from an acidic to an alkali environment to digest certain foods. Your stomach is naturally very acidic thanks to the hydrochloric acid that breaks food down into chyme (a soupy mix, ready for further nutrient absorption). Your body could not digest food without hydrochloric acid.
3. Avoid drinking during meals
Food combining advocates suggest that you shouldn’t drink for 30 minutes before and 1-2 hours after meals because it dilutes digestive enzymes, interferes with digestion, causes bloating and acid reflux.
What are the benefits of food combining?
While I have debunked some of the main principles of the food combining diet, there are some good bits as well.
The food combining diet encourages you to make better food choices without being too restricted. The food combining diet promotes eating a wide range of healthy whole foods and simple meals that provide all the nutrition your body needs.
The foods promoted in the food combining diet are ones you should be eating all the time for optimal digestive health, minus, of course, foods that trigger your heartburn or other digestive problems.
The science tells you that you just don’t need to follow the food combination rules.
Does food combining cure heartburn?
If you followed the food combining diet (minus your acid reflux food triggers), you would probably find your heartburn would be cured or at least reduced. This would be due to eating whole foods and simple meals rather than following rules about pairing foods.
Remember, most people’s leading causes of heartburn are over-eating and eating too many processed foods. These factors lead to obesity, which puts extra pressure on your stomach. And the stress can force acid to reflux from your stomach into your esophagus.
Other food tips to help heartburn
In conjunction with eating more whole foods and simple meals, try the following tips to help heartburn:
- avoid your acid reflux trigger foods
- eat 4-5 small meals rather than 3 large ones
- try probiotics
- make sure you are getting enough vitamin D
Keep a food diary
Everyone reacts differently to food. If you’re not sure which foods trigger your heartburn, try keeping a food diary, and note the following:
- What you ate or drank
- How much you ate or drank
- What you were doing (eg. walking, watching TV, napping)
- Any symptoms that followed
Over time, your food diary will give you helpful details about which foods trigger your acid reflux. And if you find that eliminating your food triggers and implementing other natural heartburn remedies (below) doesn’t solve the problem, you need medical advice. Taking your food diary along can give your doctor a head start on finding treatment that works for you.
Natural heartburn remedies
In conjunction with a healthy diet, these natural heartburn remedies will go a long way to reducing or curing your heartburn:
- allow 2-3 hours after eating/drinking before you lie down
- elevate your head and torso when sleeping
- meditate, since stress can cause your acid reflux
- do exercises that don’t aggravate your heartburn most days
- try some home remedies for heartburn
- avoid alcohol, or drink moderate amounts of alcohol that doesn’t cause heartburn
- quit smoking
Symptoms of poor digestion
These symptoms are so common that you may accept them as part of your everyday life, but you can do something about them.
In particular, if you suffer from acid reflux or heartburn, it’s essential to get it under control. If you don’t, it can lead to more severe health complications. Long-term acid reflux can cause damage to your esophagus, and this may lead to a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer.
If you can’t control your heartburn by changing your diet and trying natural heartburn remedies, you should consult your medical professional.
Symptoms of poor digestion include:
- heartburn and acid reflux
- irregular bowel movements
- disrupted sleep
- bad breath
- skin issues
Does eating get rid of heartburn?
Eating does not get rid of heartburn, but the types of food you eat and how much you eat affect acid reflux. Eating smaller meals and avoiding your acid reflux trigger foods will go a long way toward getting rid of heartburn.
How do I know if my heartburn is serious?
Most people suffer from heartburn occasionally. If you experience acid reflux twice a week, your heartburn is severe, and you should seek medical advice. Long-term acid reflux can cause damage to your esophagus, and this may lead to a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer.
The last word on food combining and heartburn
Listen to your body and make decisions about your diet based on your own experiences and in conjunction with your medical professional.
When healthy, simple foods are eaten in small portions throughout the day, in conjunction with a few natural heartburn remedies mentioned above, you should find your heartburn improves.
So, does food combining cure heartburn? Not really. The whole foods and simple meals will help your heartburn, rather than the rules about combining foods.