The Ayurvedic perspective on food combining is wildly fascinating—and for many people, it serves as a gateway to learning more about the traditional wisdom teachings of Ayurveda! The truth is, while Ayurveda offers us profound guidance and general accuracy when making choices regarding our food and lifestyle choices, there are always exceptions.
Ayurveda teaches us that our gut health is a determining factor of our overall health, and it’s important to learn how to keep our agni, or digestive fire, strong and efficient. Our agni is a big soup of acid, bile, and enzymes that help transform food into usable energy. Maintaining a balanced agni translates into better digestion, elimination, and immune function.
A Personalized Approach
Ayurveda recognizes three doshas, or bodily energetics, that combine to form each person’s unique constitution, or body-type, and the doshas are also at play when determining your current state of balance. Because diet is such a powerful catalyst for health and creating shifts in your well-being, Ayurveda recommends adjusting your diet according to the dosha that you are focusing on balancing. If you’re unsure which dosha you should be eating for, take the Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz. The quiz will help you determine exactly the type of diet that is right for you.
The three doshas each affect digestion in their own unique way. Vata tends to create irregular digestion, meaning sometimes it’s great, and other times it causes gas and bloating. Pitta usually supports good digestion. People with strong pitta can eat most things without discomfort; however, acidic and spicy foods can cause heartburn and digestive discomfort. Kapha, on the other hand, causes the slowest digestion of the three.
Considering that our digestion is the centerpiece of our health, keeping our digestive systems happy is a top priority. There are a few primary things that Ayurveda recommends to keep agni balanced.
- Eat at regular meal times
- Eat according to the dosha you are balancing
- Eat for the season
- Avoid cold water (which can extinguish the digestive fire)
- Avoid overeating
- Avoid eating too late in the evening
The Rules and When to Break Them
Ayurveda is unique in that it focuses on something that other forms of nutrition often neglect to mention—incompatible food combinations. Incompatible food combinations are basically foods that compete when they enter the digestive process at the same time. Essentially, they don’t mix well.
Rule #1: Don’t mix raw and cooked foods
Ayurveda tells us that we should not combine raw foods with cooked foods because raw foods are more difficult to digest, whereas cooked food is easier to digest. This is because the enzyme activity has been activated in the cooking process. Avoid overcooking food because this will destroy the enzymes.
Rule #2: Eat fruit alone
Fruit should be eaten alone (especially melons), because fruit is the easiest thing to digest, thereby everything else takes longer. If we eat fruit with other foods, the fruit will have to wait it’s turn, and it will ferment while it waits, causing gas and bloating. Have you ever had an apple for dessert? While this seems like a healthy choice, it’s likely you experienced digestive discomfort or gas after the meal. Fruit should be eaten alone as a snack, typically thirty minutes prior to a meal or two hours after a meal. There is an exception here; if the fruit is cooked into the dish, such as quinoa with stewed apples, or warm blueberries in oatmeal, it should digest just fine. Also, if the fruit is pulverized and blended it will digest without difficulties. For example, you could add celery, spinach, flaxseeds, almond milk, and an apple into a juicer and you’ve sidestepped the rule.
Rule #3: Don’t combine dairy with protein-rich or acidic foods
We are also advised not to combine dairy with fruit, fish, or eggs. Dairy is also not supposed to be combined with beans or nightshades. Essentially, dairy doesn’t combine with foods that are acidic in nature. The chemical reaction wreaks havoc on the gut. This rule can be especially challenging to adapt. No bean and cheese burrito, no yogurt with fruit, no cheddar omelet!
In the Case of Strong Agni
Some of these poor food combinations are extremely popular in our cuisine. Look at eggs with cheese, black bean and cheese burritos, fruit parfaits, and lobster bisque soup. Oh my! I know I have been making these common digestive blunders most of my life. As a pitta-vata constitution, there are periods of time where I can combine just about anything and feel great. However, there are times (particularly when vata is high due to the season or travel) when I need to be more careful.
There is a caveat to rules regarding improper food combinations; people with strong agni can tolerate incompatible food combinations. Generally, people who are predominantly pitta dosha, and their pitta is balanced, won’t experience much discomfort when consuming incompatibles. This is because a robust agni eclipses general rules.
Enjoy Your Meal—Don’t Stress!
Although Ayurvedic food combining offers fascinating insights into the ideal diet, keep in mind that nobody is perfect all the time. Meal time should be a celebration! It’s a moment to accept the abundance that your life has provided, take a moment to feel gratitude for the food in front of you, and maybe enjoy your meal with friends or family. It would be a shame to miss out on the bliss of your meal or gathering of loved ones because of a strict list of do’s and don’ts that you’ve adopted. Ayurvedic food combining is awesome—and it works—but take it in moderation. Try incorporating one little change to your diet at a time. Give yourself a month or two to integrate that new change and then consider adding another.
When to Follow the Rules
With all of this said, it is certainly valuable to acknowledge incompatible food combinations and try adhering to their guidelines, even if our agni permits otherwise. When you’re feeling weak or sick, or your body is depleted or recovering from a time of challenging health, these food combining principles will be your best friend. And if you’ve had digestive issues, food combining could be a total game-changer for you.
Another time to adhere to the food combining guidelines is during the golden years of life. As we get older, our digestion becomes less stable, and with age, we’re more likely to experience vishama agni, which means irregular agni. This is a result of imbalanced vata and it is more predominant as we move into the vata stage of life (fifty years and up). If we’ve been eating incorrectly our whole lives, it can catch up with us later in life, plus it can be more of a challenge to reprogram old habits as we age. So even if your belly seems incessantly happy, regardless of what you eat, becoming aware of incompatible combinations and learning how to keep your agni strong will only serve as a bonus!
Image courtesy of Vidya Living