How to Combine Foods for Optimal Health
By Dr. Mercola
Dr. Wayne Pickering is a naturopathic physician on the East Coast of Florida, and was a good friend of fitness legend Jack Lalanne. He gave a beautiful eulogy at Jack’s funeral. At the age of 67, he swims several miles a week in addition to extensive biking and a wide variety of calisthenics, pushups and pull ups.
He has quite an impressive exercise regimen and is a personal inspiration to me as I hope to be in as good a shape as he as that age. He also has one of the most positive attitudes of anyone I know.
He eats plenty of fruit and caused me to seriously reevaluate my position on consuming fruits and I have gradually been increasing my intake of them, especially mangoes, which is his pseudonym (Mango Man). He even has a variety of mangoes named after him. I actually have two of the Pickering mangoes growing in my yard.
But one of the things he’s known for in the nutrition world is food combining—and he is truly like a walking billboard for his program. The man looks about 20-30 years younger than his calendar age.
“Age is not a matter of years; it’s a matter of condition. You can keep your health up until you die because you have 75 to 90 trillion cells in your body that work symbiotically on your behalf striving towards health. You cut yourself? It’s going to heal without a thought. It just does,” he says.
Improper food combining is one of the primary factors that cause gas, flatulence, heartburn, and upset stomach. What’s worse, poor digestion can also contribute to malnutrition, even if you think you’re eating a decent diet.
In his youth, Dr. Pickering was no different from most Americans today—severely overweight, out of shape, and eating the wrong foods. He recalls the key moment that turned his life around:
“I was in Illinois when I came back from Vietnam. I stayed up there for a year in Rockford. A little lady found me one day in a distraught situation. She owned a health food store. I went in there, and I bought a bottle of vitamins and a little book, How to Be Healthy with Natural Foods, by Edward E. Marsh.”
He also found a postcard-sized food combining chart. He’d had frequent stomach pains for years, and was absolutely shocked when 24-hours after putting the information into practice, he didn’t suffer with indigestion anymore.
Since then, Dr. Pickering has become an avid teacher of natural health, in which health and longevity is the natural outgrowth of proper nutrition—which also encompasses proper food combining, to optimize digestion.
Three Principles of Health
Many are under the mistaken belief that the human body is a frail instrument, prone to disease and pre-programmed to decay. Dr. Pickering wholeheartedly disagrees, and I second that motion. The truth is, your body is infinitely wise, with a natural inborn “instinct” toward health, and by following certain natural principles, you allow your body to do what it does best, which is to maintain an equilibrium of health. Dr. Pickering’s three basic principles of health are:
- You are automatically healthy, by design, and sick only by default
- You don’t catch disease; you “earn” it, as it stems from “crud in the blood from being drunk with junk,” as he says
- You get well by what comes out of you, not by what goes into you
In essence, health is as much based on getting rid of toxins and other harmful substances as it is based on optimizing your nutrition. Part and parcel of this philosophy is that food is your number one ally. And while certain nutritional supplements can be beneficial, they will not allow you to circumvent a poor diet. They can only complement your diet; they cannot take the place of a meal.
“Nutrition doesn’t heal. It doesn’t cure. It doesn’t do anything,” Dr. Pickering says. “It’s a science though and it never changes... Here’s what nutrition is: it’s a series of four processes that your body employs to make food materials for the body to use.”
Those four processes are the following:
Four Principles of Wholesome Nutrition
According to Dr. Pickering, one of the most important factors when it comes to healthful eating is to make sure you’re eating foods that are in season. Your constitution changes with the seasons of your local climate, and eating local foods when they’re in season is a natural way to harness that intrinsic relationship your body has with the Earth.
Seasonal foods will typically be at their cheapest when they’re in season, and will be readily available in most stores and farmers markets. Dr. Pickering’s food combining guide1 can also help you determine which foods are in season, in addition to how to combine them for optimal health.
Next, Dr. Pickering advises eating foods that are indigenous to your area. Eskimos, for example, are not going to reap the same nutritional rewards from watermelon as someone living in the American South where watermelons grow naturally. The climate itself makes nutritional demands on your body.
Third, you also want to select foods according to the type and amount of physical activity you’re involved in (an office worker, for example, will not benefit from the diet of a triathlete), and lastly, you want to choose foods according to your body’s digestive chemistry. As a side note, albeit an important one, Dr. Pickering also points out the importance of your thoughts.
“Your thoughts, you see, help to govern chemistry,” he explains. “When you sit down to eat, it’s crucial to not talk about problems at the dinner table; talk about joyous things just because it gives you a chance to get together [with each other].”
Recent research has even confirmed that if you want to make your food taste better, and more thoroughly enjoy the experience of a meal, perform a ritual first. One of the most rewarding rituals you can do before a meal is to stop and give thanks for your food.
Not only might this make your food taste better, but also people who are thankful for what they have are better able to cope with stress, have more positive emotions, and are better able to reach their goals. People who give thanks before they eat also tend to eat more slowly and savor the meal more so than those who do not, lending a natural transition to mindful eating, which has a direct and beneficial impact on digestion.
Why Food Combining Matters
Wayne is probably best known for promoting the importance of food combining. If the food you eat is not digesting properly, not only can painful gas, heart burn, acid reflux and other stomach problems arise, but your body will also be deprived of critical nutrients.
The short definition of digestion is: you put food or liquid into your mouth, swallow it, and then your body breaks these molecules down into a size it can absorb. What your body doesn’t use is excreted as waste. These are the four processes listed above—digestion, absorption, assimilation and elimination. But food is actually broken down in a number of different areas, including in your mouth, stomach, and the first and middle sections of your small intestine, called the duodenum and jejunum respectively. Furthermore, you have two kinds of digestion:
- Mechanical (chewing and churning) digestion
- Chemical digestion
Food combination takes into account the area and complexity of digestion of each food, to ensure it goes through your entire digestive system with ease. Dr. Pickering explains:
“There’s only one food that chemically breaks down in the stomach and that’s protein. Proteins require pepsin, a very highly acidic [enzyme] in conjunction with hydrochloric acid. But the hydrochloric acid doesn’t have the ability to break the food down. It just sets the medium for the concentration of the amount of pepsin that’s poured into the stomach to digest whatever food that’s in there. The intelligence of this human body is phenomenal.”
There are three primary categories of food: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Proteins, again, begin their digestion chemically in your stomach. Carbohydrates are divided into two categories: fruits and starches. While fruits pass through your digestive system with relative ease, starches require three levels of breakdown; the very first stage is in your mouth. That’s why it’s crucial to carefully chew starchy foods.
According to the rules of food combination, you do not want to mix proteins and starches in the same meal. This means, no bun with your hamburger, no meatballs if you have pasta, no potatoes with your meat… Why is that? Dr. Pickering explains:
“Starches require an alkaline digestive medium to digest. If you put your fist in your stomach while it’s digesting steaks and all that, chances are, you wouldn’t have a hand anymore. The acid is intense… When you mix them both together – an acid-type of food and an alkaline – basic chemistry shows that they don’t digest. They neutralize. Then what happens? If the food is not digesting… it’s going through your body [undigested], throwing it into all kinds of turmoil.”
Related Article: What Happens to your body when you eat Meat & Potatoes Together
The Three Commandments of Food Combination
Dr. Pickering lays out three basic commandments of eating that he recommends you not deviate from:
- No proteins and starches at the same meal, as they neutralize each other and prevent proper digestion of either food. To ensure proper digestion of each food, wait two hours after eating a starch before eating protein. And wait three hours after eating protein before eating a starch.
- No fruits and vegetables at the same meal. Fruits are either a single or double sugar, whereas the starches are a triple sugar. Fruits mechanically break down in your stomach, but chemically, they don’t break down until they reach the third and fourth stage of your digestive system, which are in your small intestine. Starches, again, are broken down in three different stages, starting in your mouth.
According to Dr. Pickering, this is also why it’s crucial to not eat dessert after a meal. When you do, it gets trapped in your stomach with all that other food, where it starts to rot as it’s not being chemically digested there. Therefore, eat fruit 30-60 minutes before dinner. The same applies if you want to eat another piece of fruit. Acidic fruits, such as lemons for example, also do not combine well with starches. Lemon and banana is but one example of a combination that is sure to lead to gastrointestinal upset…
Many people consider tomatoes a fruit, yet it’s commonly added to salad. Dr. Pickering classifies tomatoes as a “fruit-vegetable,” because even though they don’t have the sugar like most fruits, they’re still an acidic fruit-vegetable. As such they’re okay to combine with other vegetables. He suggests the following recipe for an excellent salad:
“Any kind of vegetable that has seed in it; for example summer squash, zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, bell peppers, and okra—those are all fruit-vegetables. Your tomatoes go well with those. And since lettuce and celery have a neutral effect, as far as the breakdown of food, the celery and the lettuce combine very well with all of that. You can also add avocados.”
- “Eat melon alone, or leave it alone, or your stomach will moan.” In short, melons do not digest well with other foods and will frequently cause problems unless consumed by itself.
The When and What of Eating
According to Dr. Pickering, the amount and sequencing of the foods you eat can also make a difference. He recommends the following eating schedule:
- Morning meal: The least concentrated foods, in the greatest amount. Ideal food choice: fruits
- Middle of the day: More complex foods, but in a smaller amount than your first meal. Ideal food choice: starchy carbs
- Evening: The most concentrated foods, but in the least abundant amount. Ideal food choice: protein