Eating for Optimal Digestion

Eating for Optimal Digestion

The last book that got me really excited about nutrition (yes, odd thing to get excited about I know) was Gary Taubes’ ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’. The important thing I took away from that book was the mechanism of action for glucose and fructose metabolisation, and how insulin affects the rest of the hormones in the body.

He presented a solid argument for why it’s carbohydrates in our diet that cause not only metabolic syndrome but potentially other diseases such as cancer and alzheimers. He also clarifies why we’ve been mislead for so long.

I took away from the book an understanding that I should limit carbohydrate intake both for fat loss and future health reasons. However when I experimented with high fat + protein diets I struggled tremendously. I can perhaps go into further details on why that is another time, but suffice to say it doesn’t fit my lifestyle at the moment.

Steve Maxwell’s Approach to Diet

Recently I heard Steve Maxwell, an internet famous strength and conditioning coach, on the Joe Rogan podcast. He discussed his current diet regimen and it got me very excited. I’d seen for a while on Twitter and Instagram the type of meals he eats. Typically very low in carbohydrates. I didn’t think I could live like that, however hearing him explain his dietary choices, it made much more sense.

He’s currently eating in accordance with general food combining principles. The essence of which requires that carbohydrates and proteins don’t get mixed (See here for detailed post on what Steve Maxwell eats)

Rationale Behind Food Combining

The generally accepted idea is that carbohydrates require an alkaline environment to be digested whereas proteins require an acid environment (see more here).

Therefore combining these food types doesn’t result in optimum digestion.

The “truth” is somewhat different, and Mark’s daily apple  goes into some depth questioning this. To quote one particularly salient point:

“Here’s the thing about the pancreas: it’s a great multi-tasker. It can secrete lipase, amylase, and protease all at the same time. It can handle a mixed meal containing carbs, protein, and fat with grace and aplomb. Now, if food entered your small intestine in sequential order in its original form, I’d say the food combining folks are on to something. But food enters the small intestine after being churned and blended into chyme. It’s an unrecognizable mix of everything you just ate, not a layer of meat followed by a layer of potato followed by a layer of salad.”

In terms of the acid / alkali argument, it does sound rather flawed.

Benefits of Food Combining

That’s not to say there aren’t benefits though.

  • Decreased insulin levels
    Insulin is the key hormone in energy storage; and therefore fat accumulation. Increasing insulin levels will increase the amount of energy that gets stored. Therefore it’s logical that in order utilize fat stores insulin levels need to be lowered.

    Food combining may help with this almost inadvertently. In modern times it’s common to eat carbohydrates in every meal. Just think about it! Therefore if you cut carbohydrates for your protein based meal you’re automatically reducing the insulin spike for one meal of the day. That’s already a pretty big change in the diet. This lowering of insulin levels gets taken further too. Steve Maxwell’s food combining choices lead him to eating a fruit based meal once a day. Typically fruit is high in fructose and to a lesser extent glucose. Whilst fructose may not be ideal for the body, it doesn’t trigger insulin. So again we’re lowering the insulin levels. Lastly, if you’re food combining you may make it a rule not to eat between meals, and this once again decreases the amount of circulating insulin.

  • Improved digestion
    Yes I’ve just said I don’t see a sound scientific reason why combining foods would cause a lack of digestion. That doesn’t however mean food combining rules couldn’t reduce the digestive load you put on your body.
  • Less Rigidity Around Carbohydrates
    The fact that it integrates carbohydrate consumption into the protocol makes it automatically more feasible than the Atkins/HFLC/low carb/keto protocols.

However it may still present a challenge finding suitable protein and fruit sources for one meal a day.  I write the last sentence having been ‘on the road’ for two months now in Asia. In certain places good quality meat sources are hard to come by. However in North America and Europe it’s relatively easy.

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