A natural and healthy diet can bring its own rewards. We may already have all the right ingredients but need to rethink how we can combine them for maximum nutritional benefit says Way Long Soo‘Food and drink nurture life. But if one does not know that the nature of substances may be opposed to each other, and one consumes them all together indiscriminately, the vital organs will be thrown out of harmony and disastrous consequences soon arise. Therefore, those who wish to nurture their lives must carefully avoid doing such damage to themselves.’ (Chia Ming, Essential Knowledge For Eating And Drinking, 1368)
From a Taoist point of view, the route to optimum health and longevity involves striking a balance between yin and yang. Failure to do so can lead to the ‘opening of the floodgates’ to a host of chronic ailments. However, strict adherence to favourable combinations of the ‘four energies’ and the ‘five flavours’ in food can avoid any such deleterious effects on our health. The four energies are warm, hot, cool and cold. Warm and hot foods belong to yang while cool and cold foods belong to yin. The five flavours in food are the more subtle distinctions based on the Five Elements: sweet (Earth), bitter (Fire), sour (Wood), pungent (Metal) and salty (Water), as outlined in our last issue.
The cardinal rule in balancing yin and yang is to avoid any indiscriminate combination of foods. Unless this rule is adhered to, it will not be possible to gain the full nutritional benefit from the foods we eat, even if they are the most wholesome foods on earth!
The principle of the yin and yang balance in food can be best explained in terms of the acid and alkaline principle of the West whereby the adding of a measure of acid to an equivalent measure of alkaline produces a neutral result.
Taking The Starch Out
Eating protein and carbohydrate (or starch) together at the same meal is the worst form of food combination. This is because for a complete and efficient digestion of any protein, a highly acidic medium is required. Starch or carbohydrate, on the other hand, requires a highly alkaline medium to do so. Therefore, if both protein and carbohydrate (or starch) are consumed together at the same meal, it will not be possible to digest either one of them properly giving the ever-present bacteria in our digestive tract ample opportunity to putrefy the remaining protein and ferment the carbohydrate.
If so, then why don’t we have any trouble digesting foods that contain both protein and starch such as whole grains? The answer is very simple; our body has no problem adjusting its juices to accommodate the digestive requirement of a single article of starch/protein food. This is where a distinction between the digestion of a single food (regardless of the complexity of its composition), has to be drawn from the digestion of a mixture of different foods. Therefore, it is advisable for you to have either eggs or toast for breakfast, or meat or potato for dinner instead of both together.
Acid Versus Alkaline
It is also important to take note when eating different types of proteins together since different proteins have different digestive needs. For example, the digestion of meat occurs during the first hour and milk during the last hour with eggs somewhere in between. However, consumption of two similar meats such as beef and lamb will not cause any digestive conflicts since they are not sufficiently different in nature. Nevertheless, it is still advisable to eat only one type of protein at a single meal.
Consumption of any acid food such as tomatoes together with starch sabotages the digestive needs for both right away, causing fermentation. Therefore, if you want to eat toast or cereal for breakfast, then skip the orange juice and the eggs. Though proteins require a highly acidic medium to digest properly and efficiently, eating acid foods together with proteins will nevertheless inhibit digestion. This is because the protein-digesting enzyme can only work in the presence of hydrochloric acid and not any other form of acid.
Fats, taken together with proteins, pose a strong impediment to an efficient digestion of the latter which in turn results in putrefaction. This is because fats exert an inhibiting influence on the secretion of the gastric juices to digest proteins properly. This explains why fatty meats such as bacon, steaks and lean meats fried in fats sit so heavily in our stomach for hours after eating them.
It is a well established fact that sugars digest neither in the mouth nor in the stomach. Instead they pass directly into the small intestine for digestion and assimilation. This is because of our inability to secrete those gastric juices necessary for their digestion. Therefore, if sugars are consumed together with proteins such as cake after steak, the digestion of the protein will be inhibited by the sugars which in turn, will also be stuck pending the digestion of the former. As a result of this entrapment, the sugars will start to ferment releasing noxious gases and toxins which will further impede the digestion. The message is clear: eat them separately!
Keeping The Balance Right
The same reasoning goes for combining starches with sugars. The trapped sugars will start to ferment causing acidic by-products which will further impede the proper digestion of the starches. Therefore, though bread (starch) and butter (fat) is a compatible combination, a spoonful of honey or jam over it will interfere with the digestive process of the starches. This is the same for breakfast cereal sprinkled with sugar.
The processes of both fermentation and putrefaction are the dual culprits of all sorts of digestive distress which includes gas, heartburn, cramps, bloating, constipation, foul stools, bleeding piles, colitis and so on. Even so-called allergies such as rashes, headaches, nausea, hives and other symptoms are often caused by the indiscriminate combination of food.
Maintaining the equilibrium of yin and yang by properly combining the foods does not require any self-denial. You can still eat what you want except in a compatible and digestible combinations. Besides, how on earth do you expect to get the full benefits of what you ate if you cannot digest them! Therefore, use your imagination during cookery to avoid committing too many ‘culinary crimes’, and you will be on your way to a better health!