Getting to the Bottom of the Order in Which You Eat Food
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Food combining or sequential eating has been a popular topic in the nutrition realm for years and continues to resurface with claims that these practices can improve digestion, increase metabolism to promote a weight loss and provide more energy for the body.
The Theory behind Sequential Eating
The theory is that some combinations of food can overburden the stomach and cannot be absorbed from the intestinal tract. The assumption is that your gastrointestinal tract cannot digest more than one type of food at a time, because the enzymes cancel each other out in the presence of other foods. For example, you may have heard to eat fruits by themselves, or to not combine carbohydrates with proteins. In this practice, it is acceptable to eat vegetables with proteins or carbohydrates. The idea is to not mix foods from different groups.
The practice of food combining or sequential eating is not backed by any scientific knowledge of physiology and nutrition. The process of food combining or eating in a specific sequence requires a great deal of planning and can be inconvenient for busy lifestyles. The human digestive system is a complex series of organs and glands that process the food into smaller molecules. There are specific areas of the gastrointestinal tract that perform different jobs in order to nourish the body.
If you analyze the content of foods, you will see most food groups naturally have more than one macronutrient – carbohydrate, protein and fat. For example, dairy products contain carbohydrates, protein and fat, with the exception of skim milk products since the fat is removed. The nutrients are packaged together and cannot be separated. The gastrointestinal tract is well equipped and sophisticated enough to handle mixed meals. Your body actually relies on a variety of nutrients for the many structures in your body preferably from a plentiful supply in your diet.
The Truth behind Sequential Eating
Research has shown that digestion happens no matter what order food is eaten. Digestion begins in the mouth by chewing food to break it down. The stomach acids further break the food down which passes to the intestines, and nutrients from the broken up foods are absorbed and used by the body. Digestion is aided by combinations of food.
For example, if you are eating wholegrain bread, a vitamin C source can better digest the iron. There have been some well-designed nutrition studies that have looked at how putting certain types of food first in a meal, or even before a meal, influences appetite and food intake at the meal and at subsequent meals. The end result was that first eating high fiber, low-calorie, high satiety foods, such as vegetables and high fiber fruit or lean protein, would decrease food intake during the rest of the meal. To try this on your own, eat a salad, shrimp or an apple prior to dinner and see if you eat less at the meal.
Protein foods help with feeling satisfied at meals and snacks and are important in building and repairing muscles. If you are filling up on pasta or bread first, your risk having no room left for lean protein. You have then you have displaced protein, an essential macronutrient for your body.
The key to weight management is calories in versus calories out. Managing your appetite can aid in controlling calorie intake by eating a balance of nutrients – it does not matter the order in which the food is eaten. Enjoy healthy foods in different combinations, but also in moderation.
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Article provided by Colleen Loveland, MS , RD, LD, CDE, Cooper Clinic.