Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Food combining

Photo by Tom Ipri on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence

Photo by Tom Ipri on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence

Not long ago I had the pleasure(?) of overhearing a conversation about digestion over a meal. One woman was explaining why she wasn’t having carbs at her her meal (this despite the fact that the hummus she ate certainly contain carbohydrate, as did some of the vegetables with her meal). Her logic was that to aid digestion it’s better to consume food groups separately. Hence, she was just eating vegetables and meat. Someone else piped in that this made sense and added that eating foods in a specific order must also be beneficial. I did my best not to bite off my tongue and eat it along with my vegetables, meat, and (gasp!) rice.

Not everyone knows about how digestion works and I can see how these myths perpetuate. But please give your body some credit; it can handle more than one macronutrient at a time.

I’ve addressed the issues of food “layering” and combining before. Just a quick reminder: digestion starts in the mouth with amylase breaking down starches. Your stomach does an excellent job of churning all of the food you eat, breaking it down, and making it into an acidic stew. Believe me, nothing is sitting in there on top of everything fermenting. Most of nutrient absorption occurs in the intestine. Consuming more than one food at a time may actually aid in nutrient absorption as some nutrients, such as the fat soluble vitamins ADEK, need other nutrients to be absorbed (in this case fat).

This doesn’t even address the fact that many foods taste better together. Think: chocolate and peanut butter, apples and cheese, bread and butter. There’s no need to deny yourself the pleasure of these foods. Variety is the spice of life and choosing healthy foods is complicated enough without adding the element of what to eat with (or without) something else.


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How important are the enzymes in your food?

fight cancer

This headline: Cancer fighting with food caught my eye. As did the preview in my Google alert:

Eat as much raw food as you can, because anything you cook over 116 degrees is devoid of enzymes, which are necessary for breaking downfood so …

Reading through the article I realised that there was a lot more that I could address. However, I don’t feel like spending hours writing a super long post so I’m only going to address the initial statement that caught my eye.

There are pros and cons to both raw and cooked food. I’d like to think that it goes without saying that cooking meat (eggs, fish) and heating milk (aka pasteurization) is important for food safety, but it’s never wise to make assumptions. Yes, cooking can destroy certain nutrients, vitamin C is notoriously easily destroyed by cooking (1). However, the article’s not talking about vitamins here, it’s talking about enzymes.

The statement is a little puzzling to me. The enzymes contained in foods are not the same as our digestive enzymes. No matter the method of preparing food, most healthy people will release digestive enzymes to aid in the breakdown of food into particles small enough for absorption. These enzymes include amylases to breakdown starches, lipases to breakdown fats, and proteases to breakdown proteins. Yes, some foods such as papaya and pineapple contain the enzymes papain and bromelain, respectively, which both breakdown proteins. Protip: this is why your chicken stored with pineapple salsa will be mush when you reheat it. Aside from that, the enzymes in plant foods are proteins used in plant processes, not in our digestive processes.

There may be some benefits to consuming plant-based enzymes but there is currently no evidence to support a raw food diet for optimal nutrition and there is certainly no reason to expect that the enzymes in foods will aid with your digestion of them. In addition, it’s well-known that cooking can actually increase the bioavailability of certain nutrients. Cooking tomatoes makes lycopene (a carotenoid that may provide a number of health benefits, not least of which, reducing risk of prostate cancer) more available to us. Cooking spinach and other leafy greens makes the lutein (an antioxidant important for eyesight) in them more available for us to absorb.

The key here, as always, is variety. There are pros and cons to both raw and cooked vegetables eating an assortment of both is ideal.

Let’s also not forget that enjoyment is important as well. Eating is not just about obtaining nutrients. It’s also a pleasurable activity. I prefer raw carrots but cooked mushrooms. It’s far better to consume a vegetable in a manner you enjoy it than to not consume it at all.