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Food Combining: The Secret to Fighting Digestive Distress?

By Amy Height

With everything your body experiences during pregnancy, giving some attention to digestive wellness has the potential to leave you both better nourished and more comfortable. In addition to eating a variety of whole, unprocessed foods, we can use the principles of food combining to help the body break down and use the fuel we give it. Better breakdown means less digestive upset, better nutrition, more energy, better sleep and more consistent hydration.

So what does it mean to combine food?

When we combine food intentionally, we eat according to the natural chemistry of the body. Eating foods in easy-to-digest combinations ensures that the digestive tract works efficiently without causing a scene. It also means that waste matter travels through the body without being backlogged (hello to less bloating, gas, reflux and cramping). When things leave promptly we retain fewer toxins, which allows for increased mental clarity and more energy between meals.

During pregnancy—as the digestive tract becomes more crowded and hormone fluctuations interrupt regular functioning—cutting the system some slack can be beneficial to mom and baby. Becoming familiar with which combinations support healthy digestion can help the digestive tract do its job. (Just remember that every body is different and that it’s O.K. if every meal or snack isn’t paired perfectly.)

Here are the basics to get you started:


Best eaten alone on an empty stomach or 30 minutes before other foods. It is best to consume one type of fruit at a time (berries, apples, pitted fruits); raw leafy greens are an exception and pair well with most fruits. Melons digest more quickly than others and should be eaten alone. Avocados are fruits and do best with low-starch vegetables.

Grains and Starchy Vegetables

Rice, wheat, barley, quinoa, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots and beets combine with all low-starch veggies, especially greens.

Animal Proteins

Meat, fish, eggs and dairy combine well with all low- or non-starchy vegetables and other animal proteins. They do not work well with starches, so eat them separately whenever possible.

Legumes and Beans

Combine best with vegetables but can also be mixed with starches because of their high carbohydrate content. If you tend to have trouble with beans, try smaller varieties like lentils or split peas, and cook with garlic to aid digestion.


Best when combined with veggies and starches, but can generally be considered neutral and used with any category.

How do you plan a meal based on these guidelines? An easy way to work this into a few meals a week is to choose two neutral foods, such as green vegetables and your favorite oil, plus one other category and build from there. Try a few of these ideas:

  • Option 1: A smoothie made with banana, hemp hearts, spinach and dried soaked apricots.
  • Option 2: A half-cup of raspberries, followed at least 20 minutes later by a two-egg omelet (or tempeh scramble) made with spinach, mushrooms and onions.
  • Option 1: Quinoa mixed with fresh vegetables, lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt.
  • Option 2: A spinach salad topped with fresh veggies of your choice, plus a piece of baked fish.
  • Option 3: A sandwich made with avocado, hummus, tomato, lettuce and sprouts on sprouted-grain bread.
  • Option 1: Vegetable crudités with olives or hummus.
  • Option 2: Celery topped with almond butter and goji berries or dried cranberries.
  • Option 1: Romaine or chard topped with tomatoes, cucumber and avocado, plus a baked sweet potato topped with sea salt and olive oil.
  • Option 2: Baked chickpeas with roasted beets, plus steamed broccoli.
  • Option 3: A piece of baked chicken with roasted cauliflower and a leafy salad with flax oil.

Amy Height is the founder of From the Ground Up Wellness, a holistic nutrition and life coaching practice aimed at helping women rebuild a nourishing relationship with food, from pre-pregnancy to pregnancy and beyond. She is an avid home cook and triathlete with a passion for getting messy in the kitchen. When she’s not scouring the farmers market for obscure veggies or incessantly photographing new dishes for her blog, she can be found running in Central Park and taking in as many yoga and HIIT classes as she can. She is also co-founder of the Vive Detox, a whole-life food-based reset to kickstart weight loss and boost immune function. For recipes and more ideas on living vibrantly, visit


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