All about food combining! Questions from the Body Ecology community on how to get gut smart

Jenni, a reader of the Body Ecology newsletter, recently asked about the Body Ecology Principle of Food Combining.

Jenni asks:

I suffer from digestive issues (IBS: severe distention/bloating and constipation) and have been following recommendations for IBS, which is to always eat soluble fiber at every meal and to make it the foundation of each meal. It has really helped me but I would like to try food combining as well… How would I do this and still get adequate protein? Is tempeh an exception because it is plant protein? 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Fiber

Research tells us that a low-fiber diet may be an ideal way to get the upper hand in your struggle with IBS.

Mark Pimentel, a researcher at the University of California Los Angeles and Director of the GI Motility Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, explains that IBS is often the result of bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. (1) Also referred to as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), this simply means that the microbes in your upper GI tract have had the chance to grow beyond the point of health. Signs of bacterial overgrowth include gas and bloating.

Your upper GI tract should be relatively clear of microbial communities—it’s your colon, or the large intestine, that houses long-term microbial residents.


Body Ecology Food Combining is one smart way to manage IBS. Food combining at each meal will optimize stomach acid and digestive enzymes to better break down food and move it through the small intestine.

Broadly speaking, researchers agree that while depression, anxiety, and an imbalance in serotonin are major hallmarks of IBS—they do not cause it. But an infection—or overgrowth—in the gut may. (2)(3)

Which brings us to “low residue” foods. These foods are easy to quickly and fully digest. In other words, they are low in fiber. So, contrary to most of the advice you will hear about IBS, cutting-edge research tells us that a low-fiber diet may be an ideal way to get the upper hand in your struggle with IBS.

That said, Body Ecology’s Principle of Food Combining is important to balance signs of IBS. This is because our food combining principles optimize stomach acid and digestive enzymes—both of which are needed to break down food and prevent it from rotting in the small intestine.

The Principles of Food Combining—with IBS

Tempeh is a plant protein and, because it is fermented, it is easier to digest than other forms of soy. But while soybeans, beans, lentils, and dried peas are all high in protein, they are also “high residue” foods that may generate signs of IBS.

The starch in soybeans, beans, lentils, and dried peas is made of short strands of simple sugars called oligosaccharides. The human gut is not equipped with the enzyme that breaks down this starch—but gut bacteria naturally are. This makes these foods hard to digest and leaves behind a lot for gut bacteria to feast upon.

This is why dried peas, beans, and soybeans are not on the initial stage of the Body Ecology Diet.

To ensure optimal digestion, 20% of your plate should be animal or plant protein, whereas the remaining 80% should be non-starchy vegetables, ocean vegetables, and cultured vegetables.


Fermented soy—like tempeh, miso, and natto—is acceptable on the initial stage because the fermentation process breaks down hard-to-digest starch. Whether you eat animal protein—such as eggs, muscle meat, or liver—or plant protein like tempeh and grain-like seeds, the Principle of Food Combining tells us:

Eat protein with non-starchy vegetables, ocean vegetables, and cultured vegetables.

Non-starchy vegetables include dark leafy greens, carrots, parsnips, celery, lettuces, fennel, chives, turnips, sprouts, red radish, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumber, and beets.

For example, an 80/20 Body Ecology plate with tempeh can meet over one third of your daily requirements for protein. It might look like this:

  • 6 ounces (3/4 cup) of tempeh
  • 1 cup of carrots sautéed in coconut oil
  • ½ cup of fresh salad dressed in olive oil and apple cider vinegar and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and Super Spirulina Plus
  • ½ cup of cultured vegetables

For those who struggle with IBS, we also suggest that you avoid:

  • Cruciferous vegetables, unless cultured. This includes cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, kale, and broccoli.
  • Avocado
  • Onions, scallion, leeks, shallots, and garlic

Cruciferous vegetables, avocado, and members of the onion family contain hard-to-digest sugars called fructans that can make IBS symptoms worse.

What About Protein?

According to the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), as adults we should consume 46–56 grams of protein each day. To give you an idea of what this looks like, 1 cup of tempeh contains 31 grams of protein.

Other vegetarian sources of protein include:

  • 1 cup of quinoa: 24 grams of protein
  • 1 cup of amaranth: 26 grams of protein
  • 1 egg: 6 grams of protein

Spirulina is another excellent source of macronutrients like protein and micronutrients like B vitamins, minerals, and omega 3 fats—but in order to utilize those nutrients, the spirulina must be fermented. One teaspoon of Super Spirulina Plus provides nearly 2 grams of protein.

Finally, when healing IBS, remember not to underestimate the value of beneficial microbes. You will find these beneficial microbes in cultured foods and probiotic drinks. Good microbes help to manage gut infection and overgrowth—the primary cause of IBS symptoms.

What To Remember Most About This Article:

IBS is often caused by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, where microbes in the upper GI tract grow beyond the point of health. Related symptoms may include gas and bloating. Eating low-fiber, or low residue, foods may provide one helpful way to manage symptoms of IBS. Low residue foods are easy to digest quickly and completely.

Using the Body Ecology Principle of Food Combining will help you to balance IBS by optimizing stomach acid and digestive enzymes:

  • Optimal digestion hinges on the 80/20 Principle. Make sure 20% of your plate is animal or plant protein, along with 80% non-starchy vegetables, ocean vegetables, or cultured vegetables.
  • IBS-friendly protein recommendations include tempeh, quinoa, amaranth, egg, or Super Spirulina Plus.
  • Avoid trigger foods like cruciferous vegetables, avocado, onions, scallions, leeks, shallots, and garlic.
  • Promote gut health with friendly bacteria found in cultured foods and probiotic drinks.
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  1. Pimentel, M. (2005). A New IBS Solution.
  2. Spiller, R., & Lam, C. (2012). An update on post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome: role of genetics, immune activation, serotonin and altered microbiome. Journal of neurogastroenterology and motility, 18(3), 258-268.
  3. Pimentel, M., Park, S., Mirocha, J., Kane, S. V., & Kong, Y. (2006). The Effect of a Nonabsorbed Oral Antibiotic (Rifaximin) on the Symptoms of the Irritable Bowel SyndromeA Randomized Trial. Annals of internal medicine, 145(8), 557-563.
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