Do meat and carbs make a good pair? Experts tell you how to match-make your foods for health.
Calories are not the only element that you should watch out for when putting your favourite food item in your mouth. The chemical breakdown of different foods in the body differs and your health (even weight gain and loss) depends on the precarious balance. Clinical nutritionist Dr Nupur Krishnan says certain food combinations, when consumed together, conflict with the digestive metabolism and alter absorption of nutrients. The resulting indigestion, adds macrobiotic nutritionist Shonali Sabherwal, could cause, "Allergies, migraine, skin disorders, irritable bowel disorder, urinary tract infections, mental fuzziness, chronic fatigue and eventually different cancers as well." Fortunately, the science of getting it right is simple.
THE PH TEST
All foods can be categorised as either alkaline or acidic. Alkaline forming foods include most fruits, green vegetables, peas, beans, lentils, spices, herbs and seasonings, seeds and nuts, while acid forming foods include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, grains, and legumes. And your diet can be moulded according to your needs, says Dr Krishnan. For instance, if all you want is to maintain your health's status quo, your diet should consist of 60 per cent alkaline forming foods and 40 per cent acid forming foods. "If you have ben unwell you need to alter the alkaline to acidic ratio to 80:20," she adds.
Sabherwal says, "The stomach produces hydrocloric acid and an enzyme called pepsin while trying to digest animal protein from meats and eggs. Starchy foods such as potato, white rice or bread, lead to the production of the ptyalin enzyme and result in an alkaline condition." When proteins and starch are consumed together, the resultant acidic and alkaline conditions neutralize each other, effectively stopping all digestion.
So never combine a protein dish with a starchy dish. Meat, fish or eggs should not be eaten with rice, bread or potatoes. However, protein can be eaten with simple carbs such as brown rice or millets, or non-starchy vegetables.
Animal protein takes longer to digest than grains. So, you should keep a three-hour gap between a grain-based and protein meal of animal foods, advises Sabherwal.
Concentrated proteins (red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, cheese, yoghurt and beans) must be eaten in small amounts. Ghee must not be used to roast meat as it is fat on fat. To aid digestion, green veggies should be combined with protein as they have a higher fibre content and help the liver metabolise the protein — fish with stir-fried or sauteed greens works. Dal and meat should also not be combined as the body can process only one form of protein at a time.
ALL GREENS NOT EQUAL
It's okay to mix whole grains and starchy vegetables with non-starchy vegetables (cabbage, tomatoes, spinach). Grains assimilate better when eaten with vegetables low in starch. Fruits, say experts, must be considered a meal unto their own and must be eaten on an empty stomach. Dr Krishnan says fruits contain fibre which takes longer to digest. "Eaten with or after a meal, they remain undigested for a longer time, preventing absorption of nutrients." Fruits and dairy aren't the best partners, says Sabherwal. "Dairy — milk, curd — creates an acidic reaction. Eating fruits, which get digested faster, along with dairy causes more gases to be released, increasing toxicity in the body."
Ayurveda believes that when fruits are mixed with hot or warm milk, the milk turns into a curd-like substance which has characters neither of milk nor of curds and is tasteless and bad for health. "However, fruits can be mixed with cold or chilled milk as in fruit salad or milk shake, but must be consumed fresh. Kept for a while, this gets spoiled at room temperature. As the nature of our gastric secretions is acidic in nature; ultimately such combinations increase acidity," says Ayruveda practitioner Dr Anaya Pathrikar.
CHECK THE THALI
Can the traditional Indian thali pass the muster? Sabherwal says yes. "The traditional Indian thali has vegetarian protein (dals) and rotis. This is fine if the rotis are made of whole wheat. Bringing rice into the equation will spoil it."
Ayurveda believes that foods with different tastes, if eaten in the right proportion, aid digestion and nutrient absorption. Dr Pathrikar adds, "The traditional Indian thali comprises five tastes — sweet, sour, salty, spicy and bitter. This is the ideal combination. The percentage of all these rasas (tastes) should not be the same. Sour foods stimulate secretion of ptylin and other digestive juices. So, it should be taken at the start of the meal and in a small quantity. Dal, rice, lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and one teaspoon of pure ghee, is the ideal combination."