Recently, one of the daily health tips for the 365 Days of Health Twitter campaign stirred some interesting discussion. The health tip was: “It is crucial not to mix different foods in the same mouthful.” For this entry, I am going to describe the reasons I make this recommendation and address the questions and points raised on the Facebook thread.
Before beginning, I would like to strike the word crucial from the recommendation, as it is a strong word. My intention behind creating and forming the 7 Steps was not to prove what I was saying or make an argument. I simply wanted to speak in common sense. My recommendations are based on the observation of history and human experience reinterpreted through the unifying principle in macrobiotics. The best way to experience these recommendations is to try them for a few weeks to decide if you want to adopt them into your regular health practices.
The tip is now:
It is generally recommended not to mix different foods in the same mouthful.
Why is it important to keep foods separate?
We have two digestive systems, one for physical food that is the gut, and another for vibrational food that is the nervous system. What we eat directly affects and in many ways controls our brain and nervous system. Although this knowledge has been available in Oriental Medicine for quite a long time, this relationship has also been accepted and verified recently by modern science. This idea is the basis for macrobiotic practice. Digestion of physical nutrients is largely a mechanical process. It follows that how we eat is as important as what we eat. Taking time for meals, eating slowly, and chewing thoroughly greatly enhances digestion, satisfaction, and overall health and well-being. Eating foods separately further creates calmness and clarity.
Healthy saliva is mildly alkaline, and our stomachs are strongly acidic. The duodenum is strongly alkaline, which aids the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Ingredients that are prepared together combine together and become one. For example, sauerkraut is no longer salt and cabbage, but a unique food that is more than the sum of its parts. It’s the same with rice and lentils cooked together. On the other hand, if rice and lentils are cooked separately, yet mixed in the same mouthful, one will attract more saliva. It is easy to observe that a conversation between three people is usually not equally distributed. Imagine this “conversation” being food in your mouth. Further imagine trying to hear two people talk at the same time; how much are you able to process when trying to listen? Each mouthful matters when it comes to the digestion of a meal.
My experience is how we eat directly affects our thinking. Children everywhere want simple, distinct, non-touching dishes. They also, unlike most adults, often finish each dish before moving on to the next. Children generally have simple, direct, uncluttered thinking and have not yet fully developed complex social integration and thinking. A pasta dish that commonly satisfies macrobiotic children is noodles with oil, brown rice vinegar and salt or shoyu. Children mix foods from separate dishes when they do not want to eat those foods.
As adults, we have much more complex social integration and thinking. We also often switch and rotate between dishes during the course of the meal. In cooking, we can increase the complexity of a dish by its preparation. When foods are cooked or prepared together, they become combined as one. This makes dishes like pizza, sandwiches, salads, burritos, falafels, and rice or noodle bowls all become one dish and oftentimes a complete meal. These meals are found all over the world.
What makes these complete meals is the combination of ingredients that creates balance and enhances digestibility. Falafel sandwiches are a great example. The falafel is dry and cooked in hot oil, and the tahini, lettuce, and pickles provide a cooling, refreshing element that makes the falafel more digestible and satisfying. An unhealthy example is ketchup with french fries. French fries are salty, yet when combined with either beer or ketchup, digestibility increases. For this reason, sauces, dressings, and condiments are also foods that can aid with digestion and bring harmony to a dish.
The other exceptions are long grain rice, corn (including polenta) and cracked grain products (such as bulgur and couscous). It is often common with these grains from warmer climates to put beans or sauces on top. These complements add more harmony and stability. A burrito requires the combination of the rice and beans together. Pizza dough alone without sauce would be neither digestible nor satisfying.
If you’re still not convinced, try not mixing mouthfuls from separate dishes for a few weeks and notice if you have improved digestion and clarity of thinking. In the cases of the exceptions, to observe these traditional combinations from all over the world and see if you can sense a pattern as to why these foods are combined.