At first, eating seems simple, why think about it? If it tastes good and has nutrients in it, then why not shovel it down? Well, for the lucky few with iron guts and indomitable digestion it’s not a problem, but for the majority of us this just simply isn’t the case. Fortunately, there’s a science to digestion – food combining! By applying this science of food combining conscientiously, we can immediately see vast improvements in digestion, with regard to both symptom improvement and nutrient absorption.
Unlocking the Power of Enzymes: The Key to Efficient Digestion
Enzymes are proteins that speed up reactions without getting used up. They have different purposes and work best in different environments. Food combining aims to create optimal environments for enzymes, making it easier for them to break down and digest food. The rate of enzymatic reactions is affected by various factors, including temperature, pH, enzyme and substrate concentrations, and the presence of inhibitors or activators. By considering all these factors, we can optimize enzyme function and improve digestion.
Heating Things Up: How Temperature Affects Digestion
At first, one might think that the body regulates temperature, but we can also consider the effects of cooking on enzymes. Cooking destroys and denatures enzymes, which is important to keep in mind. Cooking has its advantages, though – it increases food consumption and enhances the bioavailability of certain nutrients, especially protein. A balanced diet is crucial, as demonstrated by the fact that ancestral cultures consumed both cooked and raw food. Vegetable juicing is an excellent way to obtain an abundance of enzymes, with a small glass of liquid containing a kilo of vegetables with the fibre removed for better absorption. Enzymes can also be found in fermented foods, including animal-based fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and spicy salsa.
Balancing Substrate and Enzyme Concentrations for Optimal Digestion
The concept is straightforward: the more reactions and enzymes available, the faster the enzymatic processes. To maximize this effect, chew your food to increase its surface area and facilitate more reactions. Additionally, consuming high-enzyme foods and taking exogenous enzyme supplements can increase enzyme quantities.
Understanding Inhibitors and Activators of Digestive Enzymes
Also, another short section, as I have a whole other article exploring this topic in depth. Explained briefly, certain foods contain compounds that inhibit, slow or prevent certain enzymes from functioning. To save me rewriting the whole topic, go and check it out here!
How pH Levels Impact Digestive Enzymes
pH means potential hydrogen. You can read a simple explanation here. The pH scale is logarithmic. This means that changing the value by one integer changes the concentration by 10 times. For example, a pH 3 solution is 10 times more acidic than a pH 4 solution.
Knowing about pH is important because it’s something we can control while eating. Our digestive enzymes work best at different pH ranges depending on what we eat. We can divide foods into three groups: protein, fat, and carbs for simplicity.
Protein Pairing: Maximizing Digestion and Absorption for Optimal Health
Let’s start with protein. The enzyme pepsin breaks down protein into amino acids so we can absorb them. Pepsin works best at a pH of around 1.5, which is extremely acidic! To keep your stomach acid strong, it’s crucial to avoid drinking while eating. Diluting stomach acid makes it harder for your stomach to reach the optimal pH. You can consume acidic foods like lemon or vinegar with protein-rich meals to increase acidity, and it also tastes great!
The Role of Fats and Oils in Balanced Food Combining
Next, let’s talk about fats and oils. They require lipase to be digested. However, there’s a crucial difference we need to consider: lipids need emulsification to be digested. This is because they’re hydrophobic and lipase is water-soluble, making it difficult for lipase to work on the fat. Bile comes into play here. Bile works like washing up liquid, emulsifying the lipids into water-soluble droplets, allowing lipase to work. Lipase works best at a pH of around 4.5.
Our liver, gallbladder, and pancreas release bile, lipase, and a bicarbonate solution into the chyme (half-digested food) after it leaves the stomach. This delicate orchestration of pH shift neutralizes the extremely acidic chyme from the stomach with the highly alkaline bicarbonate of soda and bile solution. This emulsifies and alkalizes the chyme, optimizing the function of lipase and other enzymes produced by the pancreas.
How to Optimize Carbohydrate Digestion with Food Combining
Lastly, let’s talk about carbohydrates. Starches are long chains of sugar, and amylase is the enzyme that breaks them down for us. Amylase works best at a pH of 7. We produce amylase twice during digestion: first in our mouths and then from our pancreas after our stomach.
Once starch breaks down into maltose, a disaccharide, along with other dietary disaccharides like lactose and sucrose, brush border enzymes on the exterior of our small intestines break them down into monosaccharides. These monosaccharides are now ready to be absorbed.
Unlocking the Secrets of Digestion
Chewing our food supports our digestive system by breaking it into smaller pieces and stimulating our mouth to secrete amylase. This enzyme is crucial for proteins and starches, and the pH at this point is around 6.
When the food moves down to the stomach, parietal cells create an extremely acidic environment with a pH as low as 1, which is crucial for many reasons. This low pH protects us against acute and chronic infections like SIBO and candidiasis, as almost no microbes can survive in it. Additionally, the pepsin enzyme needs this acidic environment to break down the protein we’ve eaten.
To move the contents to the small intestine, the stomach requires a very low pH of less than 3. This is crucial to avoid Gastroparesis, which leads to poor digestion and absorption. After that, the pancreas and liver generate bicarbonate, bile, and other enzymes such as lipase and amylase.
The final phase of digestion is absorption. Protein has been digested and absorbed into the small intestine, while minerals are being absorbed through the intestinal wall. Bile churns fats, and they begin to emulsify. Bicarbonate neutralizes the pH, allowing lipase to work optimally on fats, catalyzing their breakdown.
Starches are broken down into glucose molecules in the small intestine’s wall, and fiber remains largely unchanged. Bacteria ferment fiber further down the intestine, producing gas and short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate from improperly digested carbohydrates. Small intestinal dysbiosis can replace the beneficial butyrate-producing bacteria with pathogenic microbes that create endotoxins, leading to various illnesses and symptoms such as bloating and indigestion. Maintaining the correct balance of bacteria in the small intestine is essential.
The appliance of Science!
The SCD and GAPS diets aim to avoid foods that can’t be digested well when brush border enzymes are damaged or deficient, such as starch and disaccharides. Following such a diet can aid in GI healing, allowing the gut to heal and regain its ability to digest carbohydrates correctly. To make it easy to remember, I created an infographic for you all. Enjoy proper food combining!
- Consume fruit on an empty stomach, preferably as a mono meal.
- Always consume carbohydrates with some fat to slow digestion and increase absorption
- Always consume fat with protein, just like you find it in nature
- Don’t drink water with food, particularly high protein meals
- Don’t consume starches with proteins, as their optimal enzyme pHs conflict
- Don’t consume starches or disaccharides if you have a damaged gut lining
Whether you’re looking to improve your digestion, boost your energy levels, or simply learn more about how to eat for optimal health, “Food Combining” is an excellent resource. Download your free copy now to get started on your journey towards better digestive health.