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What to Eat First: Protein, Vegetables, or Carb?

Posted by Carmen Chu

The last few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with how my body reacts to eating either protein or vegetables first.  I wanted to see if it would affect my digestion and whether eating either food groups first would decrease my bloating.

Let’s play out a few different scenarios…

Imagine you were me…

You sit down at the dinner table and you are given this plate of food.

balanced-plate

You grab your fork and now what do you do? What would you dive into first?

Scenario One: Protein First

chicken1

High protein foods take longer to digest and really put the acid in your stomach at war to break them down.  For this reason, protein should be eaten first because you want your stomache to get working on breaking down these foods before anything else gets a chance to absorb the acid.

Moreover, by starting a meal with protein, it will help reduce the blood sugar spike that typically will occur after eating most refined carbohydrates.  Therefore, when you keep your blood sugar levels stable, your body will be less likely to store extra calories as fat at your next meal.  Eating protein first may also promote weight loss as the signal travelling to your brain that you are full is faster than consuming other foods first.  By starting your day with protein, research has also shown that it is better for appetite control throughout the day.

Scenario Two: Vegetables First

eatingvegetables

For me, I prefer to eat vegetables first because I definitely enjoy my greens.   Studies have also shown that similarly to protein, vegetables can help with keeping your weight down as your insulin spike is inhibited and you feel fuller faster.  Vegetables are full of fibre and when you consume your greens first, everything you eat after (protein and carbs) gets covered with this fibre, which slows down your insulin spikes and the speed that sugar is transported into the blood.

Greens also make you full quicker because of the fibre in them is absorbing all the liquid in your stomach.  Proteins are harder to digest so when they are eaten first, everything else after may not get enough time to get digested properly and therefore, it forces other foods to remain in the stomach, slowing down the overall digestion process.  Raw vegetables actually contain a certain digestive enzyme that helps break down proteins so you may consider eating more raw greens than cooked.

Now the question about carbohydrates…

carbs

Personally, I try to limit my carbohydrates (unless it’s my guilty pleasure – cereal).  However, there are many good complex carbs your body needs for energy.  However, when your body receives carbs first, a message is sent to your brain that you are lacking fat and protein.  Therefore, your body may react by storing fat for use later but if protein is digested first, your body feels comfortable that it has enough reserve for basic functioning.

Carbs is quite a complex food group (no pun intended haha) and you should only really eat this food group with vegetables.  It is not a group of foods that goes well with protein because of the way it digests in your stomach.  Therefore, I’ve listed some basic food combining rules by the Life Empowerment Institute below for your reference.

  1. Do not eat proteins and starches together. Your body requires an acid base to digest proteins and an alkaline base to digest starches. Proteins and starches combine well with green, leafy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables, but they do not combine well with each other.
  2. Generally fruits should be eaten alone or with other fruits. If fruits seem too sweet, then eat a handful of nuts (80% fruit, 20% nuts). Fruits digest so quickly that by the time they reach your stomach, they are already partially digested. If they arc combined with other foods, they will rot and ferment.
  3. Melons digest faster than any other food. Therefore, you should never eat melons with any other food including other fruits.
  4. Do not mix acid and/or sub-acid fruits with sweet fruits at the same meal. Acid fruits, such as grapefruits, pineapple, and strawberries, can be mixed with sub-acid fruits, such as apples, grapes, and peaches, but neither of these categories can be mixed with sweet fruits, such as bananas, dates, or raisins.
  5. Eat only four to six different fruits or vegetables at one meal.
  6. Fats and oils combine with everything (except fruits) but should be used in limited amounts because while they won’t inhibit digestion, they will slow it down.

Wait the following lengths of time between meals that don’t combine.

  • Two hours after eating fruit.
  • Three hours after eating starches.
  • Four hours after eating proteins.

food_combining_chart

It all comes down to bio-individuality.  For me, I enjoy eating my vegetables first as I’ve experienced less bloating and my digestion is much better.  If eating protein makes you feel better, then do what works for you! However, I do find some truth in different food combinations and it is something worth exploring.  Try keeping a mental diary of how you feel after mixing certain foods and tailor to what you think works best for your own body.