4 Food Combining Tips for Better Digestion

Efficient digestion depends upon many things, one of which is proper food combining.

Proper food combining can make the difference between quick digestion and a happy tummy or slow digestion and digestive discomfort.

These aren’t hard and fast rules and you won’t die if you don’t follow them. However, keeping them in mind when you prepare and eat your meals can make meal time and post-meal time more enjoyable. Your stomach will thank you too.

1. Raw before cooked

Chickpea Quiche

Eating raw foods before cooked foods is a pretty easy concept.

Simply: raw foods should be eaten before cooked foods.

For example, if you’re having a fresh garden salad and baked potato for dinner, eat the salad first. The salad will be digested more quickly than the potato. Potato will keep you more full for longer. Eating the salad first fills you up with lots of nutrition and will decrease your intake of the next calorically dense component of your meal.

While cooking foods is a form of pre-digestion, cooked foods take a longer time to digest as many cooked foods would be inedible and/or indigestible if they weren’t cooked.  Potatoes, grains and legumes are such foods. Cooked foods also contain less water content.

This is the rule to follow first and foremost.

2. Sugar before starch

Eat sugar before starch

Eat this sugar-filled banana (or other sugary fruits) before foods with higher amounts of starch, like vegetables, legumes and grains

Sugar before starch is another easy concept to understand. Yet it does take a bit of food composition knowledge in order to implement.

In general, sweet fruits should be eaten before vegetables as they have more sugar than vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables should be eaten before starchy vegetables (i.e. potatoes), grains and legumes.

Starchy vegetables, grains and legumes have similar amounts of starch. There’s no recommendation for which should be eaten first.

It’s important to eat foods that contain the most sugar. They’ll be digested the quickest. One of the goals of digestion is to turn food into energy. The body uses the simple sugar glucose for energy. The fewer steps the body must take in order to convert food ingested into glucose – a simple sugar – the more quickly the food will digest.

Fruit tends to digest the quickest. It’s the closest whole food to glucose. Non-starchy vegetables are a combination of sugar and starch. They digest slower than fruit but faster than starchy vegetables, legumes and grains. Starchy vegetables, legumes and grains are mostly starch. They digest the slowest out of all of the whole foods.

3. More water before less water

mono meal of watermelon

When eating a meal of fruit, eat melons first.

Let’s say you’re going to eat a meal of fruit … what do you do? Follow the rule of more water before less water.

This rule coincides with the raw before cooked. Only raw foods and soups give water to the digestive system. Other cooked foods take away. An example of when this guideline may come in handy is if you have a choice to eat a melon before other fruit.

Melons are oftentimes best eaten by themselves because of their high water content. However, as long as you eat them first your digestion shouldn’t be troublesome.

This rule may sometimes be contradictory to the sugar before starch rule because while fruits tend to be higher in sugar content, leafy greens are higher in water content. Nonetheless, follow the sugar before starch rule ahead of this rule.

In addition, drink water before meals and limit water during and after meals.

4. Fats with starch, not sugar (i.e. fat with veggies, not fruits)

salad with seed cheese

The seed cheese is better paired with this salad than a fruit smoothie

Fat digests even slower than starchy vegetables.

Fruits digest the quickest, whereas starch and fat digest more slowly. When the body detects fat, it slows down digestion. Fat requires more effort to digest.

When you mix sugar and fat, you’re mixing two foods that digest a wildly different rates. Mixing high sugar foods like fruit with high fat foods like nuts and seeds an often times lead to excess flatulence. You’ve been warned.

Mixing starch in the form of vegetables, grains or legumes with fat creates a lesser risk for digestive problems.

The most important reason vegetables in particular should be combined with fat is because vegetables contain lots of fat-soluble nutrients. Fat helps absorb these nutrients into your bloodstream.

These guidelines reinforce one another. Raw foods tend to have more water and sugar than their cooked, starchy and less hydrating counterparts.

While most of the time you should be able to eat fruit first, vegetables second and grains/beans/starchy vegetables third, that may not always be the case. One common exception to this rule would be avocado. Avocado is a fruit that’s full of fat.

Yes, an avocado and banana smoothie may taste good and be incredibly creamy, but eating such is bound to cause digestive distress.

Don’t forget to de-stress

Following these simple rules should result in most digestive issues to disappear. If you’re still experiencing digestive issues, you may be overeating, eating when you are stressed or eating too much fat according to registered dietitian, Jeff Novick.

Do you follow any guidelines when eating for better digestion? If so, please share them!

4 Food Combining Tips for Better Digestion. Stop getting an upset stomach after a meal. Get rid of acid reflux. Allow your body to digest food properly.
  • Updated a couple of years ago
Sara Binde

Sara is a health and nutrition coach. She advocates for a whole foods plant-based lifestyle and teaches the world how to achieve weight loss.