Blame evolution for not working fast enough, but our digestive systems are far more antiquated, finicky and delicate than the many food-like items marketed at us would have you believe. During the holidays we're usually obsessing over whether or not we're gaining weight from all the food that seems to magically appear in our mouths in pastry form. But another, potentially more dangerous evil exists: improper food combining. Instead of enjoying this special time of year, we can be doubled over in pain from a belly full of the wrong foods, possibly even causing permanent damage.
Keep some things in mind for healthy eating and a happy belly as you enjoy the season:
1. Fruits first or all alone. They are nature's candy; sweet, fibrous and full of all sorts of nutrients. They're so good that your body wants to get them in your system fast, so they digest quicker than any other foods. This is great when you grab an apple as a snack, but not so good if you eat all the grapes off of the cheese platter just before dinner and not long after your 4 o'clock espresso. Fruits will get trapped in between slower digesting foods in the pipeline, which can cause fermenting, gas and bloating.
2. Proteins and greens. Protein is a great way to feel full so that you avoid grabbing every candy cane hanging around the office, but eaten with the wrong foods, it can make you feel sluggish and bloated. Have a salad with your sandwich and avoid the starchy chips or fries. The body will process the carbs first leaving the proteins without proper attention, causing major tummy aches.
3. Skip the sips. Liquid dilutes the enzymes in the stomach that are critical to digestion. While it's important to stay well hydrated, drink an hour before or after your meal. If you simply can't do without, take small sips. Never gulp.
4. Cookies and Broccoli? Starches need alkalinity to digest properly. Greens are the best source of alkaline foods. So whether it's a baked potato or tofu sandwich, pair it with something green.
5. Think like your food. It may sound silly, but it works. Where do the ingredients on your plate come from? If one item was grown in the jungle, one from your backyard, something weird that looks like it was frozen and then deep-fried, it'll probably end up feeling like your stomach is taking you on a world tour later. Eat like with like and head for the dance floor instead of the Pepto.
6. Soup, Salad, Starch, Protein. Memorize that list. If you eat your meals following that order, by consuming the easiest to digest first, you're less likely to regret a single bite.
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Photo by Shawn Campbell courtesy of Creative Commons