Double Trouble

Bad food combinations and their better replacements.


Fish and chips, spaghetti and meatballs, peanut butter and jam … our gastronomic world is packed with star pairings we just can’t get enough of. Some double acts, though, are not better together – reacting with each other to create a nutritional horror show. Emma Rose, head nutritionist at Fresh Fitness Food takes you through some of the scariest matches and shows you how to avoid the nutritional nasties they bring.


THE DOUBLE Latte and croissant

THE TROUBLE “This pair is the perfect match when it comes to spiking blood insulin levels,” says Rose. “The simple and highly processed carbohydrates of this combo are absorbed quickly and they lack fibre. This means they hit your system quickly rather than supplying the desirable slow-release energy that will keep your blood sugar stable.” The kicker, though, is the combination of simple carbs and rich fats. This results in reduced cellular energy production, causing the liver to store the kilojoules as fat rather than using them efficiently for fuel.

THE FIX Go for black coffee and a wholegrain English muffin. This combination is lower in fat and higher in fibre, making it the perfect start to fuel a busy day. An English muffin will provide the body with the slow release of carbs needed to supply energy to the working muscles, says Rose. “Caffeine helps to mobilise fat stores and burn them quicker,” she says. “The longer the body is using fat as its fuel source, the more glycogen is spared. A delay in the depletion of glycogen can extend exercise capacity, meaning you can train – and race – harder, longer and faster.


THE DOUBLE Baked beans and cheese

THE TROUBLE Beans, beans, good for your heart, the more you eat, the more … well, you know the rest of the kid’s rhyme. And it’s true says Rose: “Although baked beans are actually a fairly nutritious option, their high levels of soluble fibre can cause flatulence. The gut bacteria break down the fibre meaning hydrogen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen are produced as byproducts.” And adding dairy to the mix makes matters worse, as it’s another gas-generating foodstuff. The effects will depend on the person’s ability to break down lactose – something that decreases with age.

THE FIX Baked beans and eggs. “The beans contribute an array of nutrients, including iron, which is required for energy production, as well as magnesium and potassium, which aid muscle contraction and growth,” says Rose. Add the eggs, which not only give a decent protein hit, but also provide you with vitamin A (immune boost), B vitamins (support the nervous system and aid energy release), and phosphorus (strengthens bones and teeth) and you have an excellent recovery meal that can confidently be eaten in polite company.


THE DOUBLE Breakfast cereal and orange juice

THE TROUBLE Orange juice is naturally acidic. In the first stage of digestion an enzyme called ptyalin, secreted in your saliva, breaks down starch into smaller fragments that will then be digested further as they progress down the digestive tract. In an acidic environment, however, the ptyalin stops working, says Rose. So consuming orange juice at the same time as a starch source means the first stage of digestion, initiated in the mouth, is halted. This results in less-efficient digestion and, possibly, heartburn.

THE FIX “Swap your orange juice for a green juice,” says Rose. “As well as providing less sugar and a plethora of minerals and vitamins, this is a better alternative because of where it sits on the pH scale. Orange juice has a pH of around 3.4 (below 7 is acidic), whereas green juice sits much closer to the alkaline end.” If you don’t want to splash out at a juice bar, check the labels of shop-bought juices and select the one with the highest proportion of vegetables vs fruit. As far as digestion is concerned, the greener the better.


THE DOUBLE Pasta with tomato sauce (and cheese)

THE TROUBLE A similar scenario to the cereal-and-juice combo. The high acidity of tomatoes prevents the efficient digestion of starch from the pasta. The addition of cheese adds further digestive strain and the meal can end up weighing you down by sitting in the stomach, thanks to the time and energy required to fully digest it. Not great for a classic prerace carb-loading option.

THE FIX Swap the tomato sauce for pesto. Not only is pesto less acidic (so less of a digestion blocker), it also offers other star qualities. “Pesto’s ingredients all provide different dietary benefits,” says Rose. “Basil – the star of this sauce – is rich is phytochemicals, which act like antioxidants to neutralise free radicals, which can cause cell damage. Olive oil is a heart-healthy fat that can help to lower cholesterol and stabilise blood sugars, and garlic can help prevent heart conditions, as it works to slow the development of atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries].” Short-term digestive bliss, long-term health benefits and damned tasty, too.


THE DOUBLE Bacon and eggs

THE TROUBLE You may not have held the classic greasy spoon combo up as a nutritional powerhouse, but even with health-conscious prep you should approach it with caution. Bacon and eggs are both rich sources of protein and while that’s no bad thing in itself, the digestion time required for this protein double whammy means it’s definitely not something to consume before going out for a run. “Protein takes longer to digest than carbs or fats because of its structure,” says Rose. “It is a long chain of amino acid, with solid bonds holding the chain together. Breaking the bonds and absorbing the amino acids requires more energy and takes longer than it does to break down the constituents of carbohydrate and fat molecules.”

THE FIX Sadly, the bacon has to go. Replacing it with wholegrain toast will not only speed up digestion time but also supply your running body with the slow-release carbs it needs. “Studies prove that low muscle-glycogen stores result in muscle fatigue, muscle weakness and an inability to complete long or high intensity training sessions,” says Rose. Eggs on toast it is, then.


Dream tickets

Banana and milk

Dairy is a great source of bone-building calcium, and bananas contain a compound called inulin that, when consumed at the same time, has been shown to boost calcium absorption.


Steak and broccoli

The iron in steak is more readily absorbed when paired with a vitamin C source, such as broccoli.


Avocado and tomato

The fat in avocado aids absorption of carotenoids (which protect the body’s cells from damage) from the tomatoes. Fat is also needed to convert the form of provitamin A found in tomatoes to the form the body can use to support your immune system.




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