Food Pairing: Even Your Meals Need Organizing

A key aspect of the Dr. Brown Diet is the notion of “food pairing.” While this idea might seem unimportant, the truth is quite the opposite. Eating certain foods together and in a certain order can improve your digestive system and overall health quite dramatically. Proper food sequencing can help alleviate everything from simple gas and bloating in the short term to full-blown IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and other chronic conditions in the long-term. Here are things you need to know in order to organize your meals optimally.

Work Your Way Up

The less dense and more liquid a food is the quicker it digests. For instance, a piece of fruit will only take about half an hour to digest while a serving of animal protein may take 3 or more hours. In order to avoid clogging up your system, it is wise to eat the more quickly digested foods before the denser foods. This article sums it up nicely by comparing your digestive tract to a highway. When the slower “cars” are allowed to go first, the result is a traffic jam.

The Quick “Cars”:

  • Juices and Water: 20-30 minutes
  • Soups, Fruits, or Smoothies: 30-45 minutes
  • Vegetables: 30-45 minutes

The Slow “Cars”: 

  • Grains, Starches: 2-3 hours
  • Beans, Poultry, Meat, or Fish: 3 or more hours

Pair it Right

Each food group requires a certain process and specific enzymes to break it down. Learning the unique qualities of each food group will make it easier to understand the ideal food combinations.

Food Group Time to Digest Notes
Sugar < 20-30 minutes Sugar is best avoided. Among other detrimental effects, it can cause major havoc to the digestive system by slowing down the entire process when combined with other foods like grains and protein. The body will prioritize digestion of proteins and starches resulting in fermentation of the sugar in the stomach while it waits for its turn. This fermentation can lead to gas, bloating, and even a lock of B-vitamins.
Fruits 30-45 minutes Due to its high water and sugar content, fruit is also very quickly digested and can lead to the same fermentation process above. Allow fruit to completely digest before eating other food groups.
Non-Starchy Vegetables 30-45 minutes Non-starchy vegetables are okay to combine with all other food groups. They break down quickly but do not contain neutralizing acids and therefore do not run into the same problems in the stomach as fruit and sugars. They are best combined with animal protein.
Starchy Vegetables 2 + hours Starchy vegetables like potatoes, squash, yams, and rutabagas are more complex and take longer to break down than other vegetables. *Note: Due to their effect on blood sugar, Dr. Brown suggests avoiding all potatoes with the exception of sweet potatoes.
Grains 2-3 hours Grains are made up of both starch and protein. They should only be combined with protein from beans if eaten at all. Because they are pro-inflammatory, Dr. Brown believes grains are best avoided altogether.
Beans 3 + hours Beans are also made up of both starch and protein. They should only be combined with the protein from grains if eaten at all. Because they are pro-inflammatory, Dr. Brown believes beans are best avoided altogether.
Animal Protein 3 + hours Animal protein is best combined with non-starchy vegetables and nothing else. Protein is difficult for the body to break down due to its complex makeup. To make it more complicated, different types of foods contain different types of protein. Each type of protein then requires specific digestive enzymes to properly break down. Mixing proteins can cause a major “traffic” jam resulting in many digestive discomforts such as bloating and heartburn just to name a few. *Note: According to Dr. Brown, it is best to stick to animal protein from clean sources (i.e. grass-fed beef, pasture-raised eggs and poultry, and wild-caught fish).
Dairy 3 + hours Dairy products are best eaten by themselves if at all. Aside from pasture butter, cow dairy products are very hard to digest and should be avoided. Goat and sheep products, however, contain proteins that are more recognizable by the human body and easier to digest and okay for most people in moderation.
Nuts/Seeds 3 + hours It is best to eat nuts as butters, oils, or flours. Because of their hard texture, whole nuts and seeds can be very problematic to the digestive system.

For more information, read our previous blogs titled:

7 Habits for Optimal Digestion

Fats and Oils: What’s the Skinny?

The Scoop on Dairy

So next time you serve dinner, remember to work your way up and pair it right! Your whole family will thank you.

Kristen Barkley
Kristen Barkley
Kristen is a happily married mom to four beautiful and active children and is the co-founder of Marpé Wellness. She has a BBA in Marketing from the University of Houston and completed extensive coursework in the areas of nutrition and fitness. She is excited to be putting her education to use in an industry that she is passionate about where she can help others live a healthier and happier life.

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