We are brought up on the notion that a “balanced meal” contains X amount of servings from each food group. According to the Dairy Council of California, a “balanced meal” includes one food from each of the following food groups: dairy, vegetables, fruits, grains, and proteins (Bligh, 2017). But to what effect does the combination of foods eaten together have on the body’s ability to digest?
Numerous claims state that certain foods require and create different environments, alkaline or acidic, in the stomach for digestion. Thus, when you eat one food that requires an alkaline environment, and one that requires an acidic environment, it’s suggested that this results in a “neutral” environment which prohibits digestion. Consequently, people have been investigating these claims, along with other reports that when food isn’t digested and left behind due to environment conflicts, it begins to rot or putrefy in the gut (Freuman, 2015).
It so happens that if food were allowed to sit in your stomach it would essentially ferment and decay, leading to the out of control growth of bacteria (NIDDK, 2012). It would also lead to hardening of the food, which can’t be easy for your digestive system organs to pass.
However, a bit of research will tell you that none of the above claims are true. Unless you have an actual disease known as gastroparesis. This disease causes the emptying of food from the stomach to be delayed. Resulting in a number of side effects including gastrointestinal reflux, and abdominal pain (NIDDK, 2012). None of which are remotely close to food sitting and stewing in the stomach.
A little biochemistry, anatomy, and physiology knowledge can go a long way in debunking the myth of food combining. For starters, our bodies have biochemical systems which regulate the pH of the stomach. Therefore, there is no amount of food that we can eat which will change these biochemical processes (Goodman, 2010).
Enzymes are responsible for the digestion of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. However, enzymes are not just centered in the stomach, but throughout the entire gastrointestinal (GI) tract . In fact, the stomach’s essential purpose is to “blend” the contents put into it to maximize surface area exposure to enzymes (Freuman, 2015).
Therefore, the complex GI system allows for simultaneous digestion of different food types, which avoids a lag in food digestion. It is also worth noting that food not fully digested will find itself in the colon, which has the highest concentration of bacteria and is located at the end of the GI tract (Freuman, 2015).
Here are the main point takeaways:
- The pH of your stomach does not undergo drastic changes in response to the food you eat. Gastrointestinal pH is controlled by the cells lining the intestinal tract. Each cell has a controlled environment containing a buffer system within its internal fluid.
The stomach is not primarily responsible for food digestion. The stomach’s main digestion enzyme is known as pepsin. Pepsin is only accountable for 10 percent of food digestion. People without a stomach are still able to digest food in their small intestine.
There are many specific enzymes responsible for digesting different food types: Carbohydrates are broken down by enzymes within the saliva, mainly amylase. Stomach acid deactivates these enzymes. Proteins are digested by the stomach enzyme, pepsin. Following initial breakdown, proteins are then digested further by a variety of enzymes which cleave proteins in a manner specific to amino acid content. Lipids or fats are broken down in the mouth by enzymes secreted from glands on the tongue. Fats then continue to be digested by enzymes secreted in the stomach, duodenum, pancreas, and bile.
Therefore, rest assured that your body has got you very covered when it comes to digesting the food you put into it.
Bligh, Maureen. “How To Plan Balanced Meals”. Healthy Eating.org. Dairy Council of California. 2017
Freuman, Tamara D. “Debunking the Myth of Food Combining”. Health.usnews.com. US News & World Report. May 12, 2015.
Goodman, Barbara E. Insights into digestion and absorption of major nutrients in humans. Advances in Physiology Education Published 1 June 2010 Vol. 34 no. 2, 44-53
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Gastroparesis”. NIDDK.nih.gov. U.S. Department of Health and Human Sciences. June 2012