A good diet that allows you to lose weight relies heavily on striking a balance. This means you need to find the right amount of carbs and protein to support your metabolism. Luckily, it is not hard to do this, since you can add nutrition bars, vitamins, and healthy meals to your day to be successful in gaining muscle and losing weight.
Getting the right amount of protein is essential for the growth of muscle, hair, skin, and bones. Your body cannot store the protein that comes from foods, so you have to make sure you are eating enough of it each day. When you add protein to your diet, make sure it falls under the complete protein category. This includes poultry, fish, red meat, and milk. Some plants offer incomplete proteins, which are still helpful. For the best results, you should eat a variety of high protein foods throughout the day..
Fiber, sugars, and starch are all considered different kinds of carbohydrates. Carbs provide energy to the body and are essential to your health. The body converts complex carbs into simple carbs in the form of glucose, to fuel your brain and muscles. Most foods contain some kind of simple or complex carb. You can find carbs in milk, honey, fruits, vegetables, grains and beans. For the best results, avoid processed foods and get your carbs from fresh, whole foods.
Protein and carbohydrates work together to keep your body healthy and functioning. The carbs you eat give you energy, while the protein builds muscles, skin, and hair. Both are needed in order to stabilize blood sugar and are best when eaten together. Simply put, without carbs, your body would not be able to function. In addition, without protein, you could not build muscle or grow skin and hair. They are equally essential!
This is why it is important to eat a combination of protein and carbs, especially around your workouts. Eating a good balance of both protein and carbs allows you to build muscle faster, which means you will burn more calories while active and at rest. This, in turn, helps you to lose weight and speed up your metabolism. The more active you are, the more important your daily nutrition is. It’s important to eat the right foods, nutrients and calories to support your fitness goals.
When you focus on your health, you must make sure you eat the right foods. To get your daily serving of carbs, you must consume 3 to 8 servings of whole grains, 2 cups of fruit, and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables. To get enough protein, you must eat several servings of complete proteins per day. Great sources of protein are: low fat dairy, chicken, turkey, fish, lean red meat, eggs and egg whites, isolated protein powders, tofu, tempeh, nutrition bars and isolated vegetable protein powders.
A well-balanced meal should offer a decent amount of protein and complex carbs. The easiest way to do this is to eat meals that include a lean protein, lots of vegetables, a small serving of grains, and a dash of healthy fat. Meals using this combination will retrain the body to start burning off fat and keep you energized.
For more information on how our delicious bars can help you maintain proper nutrition, contact us at Promax Nutrition.
- Eat protein before carbohydrates to lower post-meal glucose
- Glucose and insulin levels lower when carbohydrates were eaten last
- It may complicate digestion
- Protein foods are digested differently than carbohydrate foods
- When they are eaten together they can’t be digested properly
- What are the rules of the diet?
- Does it help you lose weight?
- So, should you combine proteins and carbs?
- On Nutrition
- Ask the Diet Doctor: Does the Food Combining Diet Work?
- The Best Time of The Day To Eat Protein, Carbs, and Fat
- Food Combining Myths
- Working at the Car Wash
- Most Starches Contain Protein, and Vice Versa
- An Unadvertised Benefit
- Does Food Combining Work? Fact or Fiction
- Days 1 – 3
- Day 4 – 7
- Day 8 – 10
- Mary Kate Fotch
- Is food combining healthy?
- Food Combining Rules
- Food combining is not a traditional practice
- The body is designed to digest all food combinations
- Why does food combining help?
- The root causes of digestive problems
- Food Combining Rules 2.0
Eat protein before carbohydrates to lower post-meal glucose
In a new study, researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, NY, found that the order in which different types of food are consumed has a significant impact on post-meal glucose and insulin levels in obese people. Writing in the journal Diabetes Care, the authors suggest their findings may have dietary implications for diabetic and other high-risk patients.
Share on PinterestEating protein, vegetables and fat before carbohydrates in a meal may help to keep glucose and insulin levels low.
For people with type 2 diabetes, it is important to maintain normal glucose levels after eating, because if their blood sugar level spikes then they are at increased risk of complications, including hardening of the arteries and heart disease, which can eventually lead to death.
Some previous studies had found that eating vegetables or protein before carbohydrates could be an effective way to lower post-meal glucose levels. The researchers behind the new study wanted to see whether this association applied to a typical Western diet, with meals consisting of a mix of vegetables, protein carbohydrates and fat.
In the study, 11 patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes who were taking metformin – a drug that helps control glucose levels – ate the same meals in different orders 1 week apart, so that the researchers could observe how their glucose levels were affected.
The set meal consisted of ciabatta bread, orange juice, chicken breast, lettuce and tomato salad with low-fat dressing and steamed broccoli with butter.
Glucose and insulin levels lower when carbohydrates were eaten last
The researchers first took the patients’ glucose levels in the morning, 12 hours after they last ate. On the first day of the study, the participants were told to consume the carbohydrates in their meal (ciabatta bread and orange juice) first, and to follow this 15 minutes later by the protein, vegetables and fat in the meal. The participants’ glucose levels were checked 30, 60 and 120 minutes after eating.
The experiment was then repeated 1 week later, except this time the food order was reversed – the protein, vegetables and fat were eaten first, with the carbohydrates consumed 15 minutes later.
When the vegetables and protein were eaten before the carbohydrates, the researchers found that glucose levels were 29%, 37% and 17% lower at the 30, 60 and 120-minute checks, compared with when carbohydrates were consumed first. Also, insulin was found to be significantly lower when the participants ate vegetables and protein first.
“Based on this finding, instead of saying ‘don’t eat that’ to their patients, clinicians might instead say, ‘eat this before that,'” says senior author Dr. Louis Aronne, the Sanford I. Weill Professor of Metabolic Research and a professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Dr. Aronne acknowledges that follow-up work is required – the findings are from a pilot study with a very small sample group – but says that “based on this finding, patients with type 2 might be able to make a simple change to lower their blood sugar throughout the day, decrease how much insulin they need to take, and potentially have a long-lasting, positive impact on their health.”
“Carbohydrates raise blood sugar, but if you tell someone not to eat them – or to drastically cut back – it’s hard for them to comply. This study points to an easier way that patients might lower their blood sugar and insulin levels,” Dr. Aronne concludes.
You may have pancakes and eggs for breakfast, a turkey sandwich for lunch and steak with potatoes for dinner and not think anything of it because it is normal for you. It is normal to consume carbs and protein at the same meal, and is probably something that you have been doing for your whole life. Is it something that you should do though?
It may complicate digestion
Carbohydrates and protein are digested differently, so by consuming them together, it may make digestion more complicated. Several diets have come out based around this concept and state that if you separate carbohydrates from protein, you will lose weight.
This concept was first suggested when William Howard Hay followed a diet that didn’t allow you to eat starches and proteins at the same meal, which resulted in him losing 50 pounds in 3 months, and also treated his medical conditions of heart and kidney disease. This was later named the Hay diet. Several other diets based around this theory have come out since.
Protein foods are digested differently than carbohydrate foods
When you eat carbohydrate or starchy foods, including pasta, potatoes, cereal, etc., the digestion process begins in the mouth using an alkaline process. As the food moves to the stomach, the digestive process continues, and acid is produced to aid in digestion and help destroy any bacteria in the food. The digestive process continues into the small and large intestines.
On the other hand, protein digestion begins in the stomach, using an acidic process. The protein bonds are broken up by the hydrochloric acid that is in the stomach, and pepsin breaks the protein strands into smaller fragments. Protein digestion continues into the small and large intestine.
When they are eaten together they can’t be digested properly
William Hay’s reasoning behind his theory is that when starches and proteins are eaten together, the body is not able to digest the foods correctly. It was discovered that it takes starches 2 hours to digest, and proteins take about 4 hours, but when eaten together, it could take up to 13 hours for the food to digest.
When the food takes that long to digest, it can lead to fermentation and toxic by-products. He stated that these by-products can lead to many different health problems, and that it is more difficult for the body to get rid of these toxins. He also stated that when starches and proteins are eaten separately, the alkaline and the acid in the body will be in proper balance, so the body is better able to eliminate toxins. The food will be pre-digested properly, digested properly and excreted regularly, which will make you feel healthy.
What are the rules of the diet?
- Don’t eat starches or sugars with proteins or other acids at the same meal.
- Vegetables and fruits should be a major part of the diet.
- Eat fruits alone and 30 minutes before any other food.
- Don’t drink milk with any other food.
- Wait 4 hours between starch and protein meals.
- Don’t eat 2 concentrated proteins at the same meal, such as nuts and meat.
- Vegetables can be combined with either a starch or a protein.
Does it help you lose weight?
There hasn’t been a lot of research done on combining carbohydrates and proteins, but one study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, evaluated the effect of a food combining diet vs. a balanced diet.
The subjects consisted of 54 obese patients who were randomly assigned either a food combining diet or a balanced diet. Both diets were very low in calories, with the total for the day being only 1100 calories. Both groups had a significant decrease in total body fat and waist-to-hip ratios. It was concluded that, although both groups experienced decrease in body fat and overall health, the food combining group did not have a greater amount of weight loss.
So, based on this study, following a food combining diet does not produce any greater weight loss results than just following a balanced diet. The weight loss that both groups experienced may have been from following a reduced calorie diet.
So, should you combine proteins and carbs?
Following a diet that separates carbs and proteins is very difficult to do but may have several benefits. (I personally have tried following a food combining diet in the past and experienced weight loss and felt better overall.) If you are someone who does have a more sensitive stomach, it may make the digestive process go more smoothly, and may make you feel better. It also can lead to weight loss. The weight loss may be a result of following a healthier overall diet as you will be paying very close attention to what you are eating.
In order to adopt a diet like this, though, you have to be disciplined as there are many rules to follow. This means that you have to really pay attention to what foods you are eating, what you are eating them with, and when you are eating them. You may have to wait a certain amount of hours after the end of one meal before eating your next meal. And, if you are someone who enjoys eating steak and potatoes or eggs and pancakes, you may have to give that up. But, if you are having trouble losing weight or if you are having some digestive issues, it may be worth giving a try. You may have results, and it may make you feel much better!
References used in this article
Should you eat fruit on an empty stomach? Should you keep your carbs separate from your proteins? These rumors keep getting recycled in a succession of fad diets. I fell for them 20 years ago, and I get asked about it today. They’ve become nutrition urban legends.
The idea is that if you eat fruit with other foods, the sugar in the fruit will cause all of the food in your stomach to ferment, rot or putrefy (pick your word). This allegedly causes weight gain, bloating, diarrhea, gas and a host of other health problems.
The “fruit on an empty stomach” myth is an offshoot of the larger myth that our bodies can’t digest certain food combinations. The most common version is that we shouldn’t eat foods high in carbohydrates in the same meal as foods high in proteins or fats. One frequent explanation is that protein, carbs and fat require different digestive enzymes. Another is that carbs are digested in an alkaline environment while proteins are digested in an acidic environment. Either way, the story goes, if you eat these foods in combination, they will “cancel each other out” and not be digested.
There is simply no science to support these ideas, despite the fact that proponents of food combining (or food segregation, really) speak in terms that sound scientific.
Fermentation happens when bacteria break down carbohydrates or protein. The highly acidic stomach environment is quite hostile to the bacteria we ingest with our food, killing most of them outright and preventing the reproduction and colonization necessary for fermentation to happen.
Now let’s look at carbs vs. protein. It’s true that most protein digestion happens in the acidic environment of your stomach, while most carbohydrate digestion happens in the alkaline environment of your small intestine. However, your stomach becomes acidic even when you eat carbs alone, because your stomach starts producing acid as soon as you anticipate eating, before you even take a bite.
Any food that’s in your stomach gets churned and mixed with your stomach acid, then released into your small intestine. This prompts your pancreas to secrete bicarbonate into the small intestine to neutralize the acid, along with each of the enzymes needed to digest protein, carbohydrates and fat. In other words, the body is prepared to get a mixed meal, which makes sense when you consider that many single foods — like beans, milk and dairy products, nuts and seeds — are combinations of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates, fat and protein are digested the same way whether you eat them alone or not. What may vary is how fast your stomach empties. It’s true that if you eat a high-carb, low-fat, low-protein meal, your stomach will empty faster — but you’ll also get hungry sooner. To avoid spikes and crashes in your blood sugar — and your energy levels — mixed meals are the way to go. This does slow down digestion, in a good way, because it helps you stay satisfied longer after eating.
If poor food combining leads to poor digestion, then you would lose weight, not gain weight, because you aren’t extracting all the nutrients or calories. If food combining helps you lose weight, it’s mostly because this is just another variation of a restrictive diet. In people predisposed to eating disorders, this could become a real problem. There are better ways to improve your digestion, like eating slowly and mindfully and aiming to eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed.
Ask the Diet Doctor: Does the Food Combining Diet Work?
Q: I keep hearing about the “food combining diet.” Is it true that eating foods in certain orders or groups helps them be better digested? Will this also help with weight loss at all?
A: The idea behind food combining diets is that different foods digest at different rates and require different digestive environments, thus foods need to be eaten in groups that compliment these factors. While this sounds good on paper, it appears to be more of a misuse of biochemical information than anything else, as there is no real evidence to show that food combining diets improve digestion or enhance weight loss.
A guiding principle of this diet is to avoid eating protein and carbohydrates together since different enzymes digest each. Proponents say that eating the two together leaves you with partially digested food in your system that waits around while the other foods are being digested. During this waiting period, supposedly the partially digested food will rot or ferment, causing bloating, gas, and all kinds of other problems.
Another rule of food combining diets is that fruit should be eaten alone because it’s digested faster than protein-based or other carbohydrate-based foods and could also lead to rotting and the resulting upset stomach.
The problem with these guidelines is that there is no proof to show that this gut rot happens. In fact, the antioxidants in many fruits are absorbed better when part of a whole meal, so feel free to enjoy your high-protein fruit smoothies. And it’s nearly impossible to eat proteins and carbs separately since grain-like foods such as quinoa and even brown rice are packed with essential amino acids (protein) and carbs.
One big error with this food combining line of thinking is that in our body’s digestion is a process-that’s why we have a digestive tract, not a digestive sack. It starts in your mouth, continues in your stomach, continues some more in your small intestine, and even occurs to some extent in your large intestine. Your body has evolved the flexibility to handle the digestion of different types of foods at the same time over the course of this whole process. It is not as simple as saying that protein requires an acidic environment for digestion and carbohydrates require a more basic environment for digestion, thus when combined they cancel each other out and nothing gets digested (think of it like -5+5=0).
When people come up with diets that hinge on very specific events in the body, they often forget that the human body is amazing and adaptive. Digestion is a well carried out biochemical symphony that occurs in multiple areas of your digestive tract over several hours. This process has been optimized over the years to extract every nutrient possible from the foods we eat, despite their combination.
If you want to lose weight, stick with tried and true methods: Replace the sugars and some starchy carbohydrates in your diet with vegetables so you’ll eat less calories, eat a little more protein, and exercise almost every day.
- By Dr. Mike Roussell
The Best Time of The Day To Eat Protein, Carbs, and Fat
Sharing is caring…FacebookPinterestTwitterStumbleUponYummlyLinkedinemail
Have you ever noticed that breakfast foods are really carb heavy (cereal or toast anyone?) and dinner foods are very rich in protein? Although many Americans are programmed to eat certain macros at particular times, it might not be right for everyone. Should the time of the day influence your macro intake? The answer may not be as simple as the numbers on the clock.
The time of exercise matters more than the time of day
It’s the position of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) that timed ingestion of carbohydrate, protein, and fat may significantly affect how the body responds to exercise. In other words, timing nutrients properly can lead to significant training gains. But the question remains—when should you be eating protein, carbs and fat in relation to your workout?
Before a workout
In general, athletes perform best with some carbohydrates in their system. The ISSN agrees and notes that a mixture of pre-workout carbohydrates and protein can increase muscle growth. They recommend eating a meal with 1-2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram and 0.15-0.25 grams of protein per kilogram three to four hours before a workout. For a 140-pound woman, that’s about 70-90 grams of carbs and 10-15 grams of protein prior to a workout.
It’s good to know these recommendations, but many of us don’t want to break out our calculators at every meal. A good rule of thumb is to eat a well-balanced meal 2-3 hours before a workout, such as a turkey or egg sandwich on whole wheat bread with a side of fruit. Or opt for carbs with a dash of protein one hour before a workout, such as fruit with yogurt or nut butter.
After a workout
The post-workout recovery meal differs based on the type of workout. Cardio recovery requires primarily carbs with smaller portions of protein, while strength training recovery requires more protein. The ISSN suggests ingesting essential amino acids within 3 hours of exercise to increase muscle synthesis, and adding carbs to protein may increase this response. Research has also found that including 0.1 grams of creatine per kilogram of body weight to a carb and protein recovery meal may further stimulate muscle growth.
The biggest misconception about eating after a workout is that you need to load up on protein, which isn’t necessarily the case. Small snacks, like crunchy chickpeas or cinnamon roasted almonds, will suffice. Or for a tougher workout, try this smoothie formula or turmeric egg sandwich.
For weight loss
Many many (many) studies find that eating protein at breakfast promotes weight loss. For example, this study suggests that eating 30 or 39 grams of protein at breakfast can help with appetite control throughout the day. Participants in the study actually felt less hungry throughout the morning and ate less calories at lunch, therefore inducing weight loss. So, if you’re looking to shed a few pounds, feel free to add an extra egg at breakfast or double the yogurt in your smoothie.
Let me set the record straight—the thought that eating after 8pm will make you fat is a MYTH. The research on nighttime eating is very limited, but the few studies on this topic demonstrate that this is not true. One study actually found that consuming a caloric beverage prior to sleep, regardless of type, increased resting energy expenditure—aka the amount of calories your body naturally burns—the next morning. Another review suggests that when training or competition occurs late in the evening or early in the morning, pre-sleep nutrition can help maximize athletic performance.
Above all else, the quality of your macros matters much more than the timing. This may sound like common sense, but if your carbs consist of donuts and your protein is bacon, it doesn’t matter what time of the day you eat—you won’t be able to achieve your athletic goals. Opt for lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and fruits and vegetables to see the biggest gains, no matter when you eat.
Food Combining Myths
“I’ve read a lot about food combining, for example, that you should always eat certain types of foods together and avoid certain combinations. Will I lose weight or feel better if I follow these guidelines?”
There is an old but persistent idea that combining certain types of foods at the same meal causes all kinds of bad things to happen to you—everything from indigestion to fatigue to weight gain. There are several variations on this theme but the most common one is that proteins and starches should never be eaten together.
As with so many of the nutrition myths I’ve talked about on this show, this one has a very scientific-sounding explanation, which goes like this: Starches require an alkaline environment for digestion; proteins, on the other hand, require an acidic environment for proper digestion. When you eat these foods at the same time, the digestive system, pulled into two opposite directions, sort of stalls. Food then gets “stuck” in your system, where the carbohydrates ferment and the proteins putrefy, or rot.
When this theory was first put forward at the end of the 19th century, we didn’t completely understand how the human digestive system worked. So, I guess we can cut the originators of this notion a little slack, even though their theory was inherently illogical, for reasons we’ll get to in a moment.
These days, we have a pretty solid understanding of how food gets digested and we can say for sure that this idea is completely false. So, it’s hard for me to understand why these ideas are still floating around. Worse than that, people are still publishing diet books based on them. Let’s see if we can set the record straight.
Working at the Car Wash
Your digestive system is a little like a car wash. When you drive your car through the car wash, a sequence of different chemicals squirts out of a series of nozzles, aimed at various parts of your car. But your whole car goes through the entire car wash together.
Similarly, everything you eat passes through your entire digestive system and the trip is pretty much the same, no matter what kind or combination of food you eat.
First stop, after you chew and swallow your food, is the stomach. Here, food is treated to an acid bath, which serves a couple of purposes. First, the acid kills bacteria and other pathogens that could otherwise make you sick. Secondly, stomach acid begins to break down any proteins and prepare them for later phases of digestion.
Here’s the first chink in the food-combining theory. As Dr. Martin Rehfuss so brilliantly put it, in his 1934 address to the American Medical Association, “A fact that has apparently escaped the proponents of the carbohydrate-alkaline theory is that no carbohydrates are ingested which are not followed by a direct acid response on the part of the stomach.” I wish I had known Dr. Rehfuss. He sounds like my kind of guy.
Next stop in the digestive car wash is the small intestine. Here the stomach acid is neutralized by pancreatic juices and this allows a variety of enzymes to go to work. (Most enzymes don’t work too well in acidic environments.) There are enzymes that digest protein, enzymes that digest carbohydrates, and enzymes that digest fat. But the full array of enzymes is produced every time, no matter what you eat.
Not only is your digestive system capable of digesting a combination of protein and carbohydrates, but it appears as if this is the default setting. And if you think for just a moment, you’ll realize how illogical it is to think that the body might have been designed to digest proteins separately from carbohydrates.
Most Starches Contain Protein, and Vice Versa
We could spend the rest of the day arguing about whether humans are meant to consume grains or animal proteins but I think we’d all have to agree that humans were definitely meant to consume breast milk as infants. Breast milk contains both protein and carbohydrates. And as Glenn Cardwell so colorfully put it, in an article for The Skeptic, “No woman has been born with one breast labeled ‘protein’ and the other ‘carbohydrate.’” Quite a visual, isn’t it?
In fact, most foods that we would identify as starches contain protein. About 14% of the calories in spaghetti, for example, are from protein. Rice and potatoes contain about 8% of calories from protein and wheat bread contains about 16% of calories from protein.
On the flip side, beans and legumes, foods which supply much of the world’s protein needs, contain roughly as much carbohydrate as they do protein. Proponents of food combining recoil in horror at the idea of eating steak and potato at the same meal but would approve of a nice bowl of black bean soup. And yet the two meals contain roughly the same proportion of protein and carbohydrate.
Now, despite everything I’ve just said, a lot of people swear that following these guidelines makes them feel better or helps them lose weight. And you know what? It just might. And here’s why:
An Unadvertised Benefit
Food-combining rules have an unadvertised benefit: You often end up eating less when you are following them. Typical restaurant meals, for example, include protein, starch, and vegetables. If you are following the rules, some portion of that meal will remain on your plate. And even when you are cooking for yourself, research shows that when a meal contains fewer different things, you tend to eat fewer calories. (If that sounds unlikely, stop for a moment to recall how much you ate the last time you were faced with a buffet.)
Not overfilling your stomach can definitely improve digestion, reduce fatigue, and enhance weight loss. You could probably get the same results by simply cutting back on portion sizes. But, if following these rules works for you, go for it. Just know that there is no physiological or biochemical reason to avoid combining protein and starch.
In fact, there is at least one reason you might want to go out of your way to combine protein with starch. Eating protein with carbohydrates tends to smooth out the rise in blood sugar that happens when you eat carbs by themselves. And that sounds like a good topic for a future show.
This is Monica Reinagel, the Nutrition Diva, with your quick and dirty tips for eating well and feeling fabulous.
Have a great day and eat something good for me!
Food Combining Myths Debunked (Glenn Cardwell for The Skeptic)
Variety in a Meal Enhances Food Intake (Barbara Rolls, et al., in Physiology and Behavior)
Effects of Protein and Fat on Glycemic Response (Elham Moghaddam, et al. in Journal of Nutrition)
Does Food Combining Work? Fact or Fiction
So far, only one study has examined the principles of food combining. It tested whether a diet based on food combining had an effect on weight loss.
Participants were split into two groups and given either a balanced diet or a diet based on the principles of food combining.
On both diets, they were only allowed to eat 1,100 calories per day.
After six weeks, participants in both groups had lost an average of about 13–18 lbs (6–8 kg), but the food-combining diet offered no benefit over the balanced diet (1).
In fact, there is no evidence to support most of the supposedly scientific principles of food combining.
Many of the original food-combining diets were developed more than 100 years ago, when much less was known about human nutrition and digestion.
But what is now known about basic biochemistry and nutritional science directly contradicts most of the principles of food combining.
Here’s a closer look at the science behind the claims.
On Avoiding Mixed Meals
The term “mixed meals” refers to meals that contain a combination of fat, carbs and protein.
The rules of food combining are largely based on the idea that the body is not equipped to digest mixed meals.
However, this is simply not the case. The human body evolved on a diet of whole foods, which almost always contain some combination of carbs, protein and fat.
For example, vegetables and grains are typically considered to be carb-containing foods. But they all also contain several grams of protein per serving. And meat is considered to be a protein food, but even lean meat contains some fat.
Therefore — because many foods contain a combination of carbs, fat and protein — your digestive tract is always prepared to digest a mixed meal.
When food enters your stomach, gastric acid is released. The enzymes pepsin and lipase are also released, which help start protein and fat digestion.
Evidence shows that pepsin and lipase are released even if there is no protein or fat present in your food (2, 3).
Next, food moves into the small intestine. There, the gastric acid from the stomach is neutralized and the intestine is flooded with enzymes that work to break down proteins, fats and carbs (3, 4, 5).
Therefore, there’s no need to worry that your body will have to choose between digesting protein and fat or starches and proteins.
In fact, it’s specifically prepared for this type of multitasking.
On Food Altering the pH of the Digestive Tract
Another theory behind food combining is that eating the wrong foods together can hinder digestion by creating the wrong pH for certain enzymes to function.
First, a quick refresher on pH. It’s a scale that measures how acidic or alkaline a solution is. The scale ranges from 0–14, where 0 is the most acidic, 7 is neutral and 14 is the most alkaline.
It is true that enzymes need a specific pH range in order to function properly and that not all enzymes in the digestive tract require the same pH.
However, eating foods that are more alkaline or acidic does not significantly change the pH of your digestive tract. Your body has several ways of keeping the pH of each part of your digestive tract in the correct range.
For example, the stomach is usually very acidic with a low pH of 1–2.5, but when you eat a meal, it may initially rise as high as 5. However, more gastric acid is quickly released until the pH is brought back down again (6).
It is important to maintain this low pH because it helps start the digestion of proteins and activates the enzymes produced in the stomach. It also helps kill any bacteria in your food.
In fact, the pH inside your stomach is so acidic that the only reason the stomach lining isn’t destroyed is because it’s protected by a layer of mucus.
The small intestine, on the other hand, is not equipped to handle such an acidic pH.
Your small intestine adds bicarbonate to the mix as soon as the contents of your stomach enter it. Bicarbonate is your body’s natural buffering system. It’s very alkaline, so it neutralizes the gastric acid, keeping the pH between 5.5 and 7.8 (6, 7).
This is the pH at which the enzymes in the small intestine function best.
In this way, the different levels of acidity in your digestive tract are well controlled by the body’s own sensors.
If you eat a very acidic or alkaline meal, your body will simply add more or less digestive juices in order to achieve the necessary pH level.
On Food Fermenting in the Stomach
Lastly, one of the most common claimed effects of improper food combining is that food ferments or putrefies in the stomach.
Supposedly, when a fast-digesting food is combined with a slow-digesting food, the fast-digesting food stays in the stomach so long that it begins to ferment.
This simply does not happen.
Fermentation and rotting occur when microorganisms start to digest your food. But, as mentioned earlier, the stomach maintains such an acidic pH that your food is essentially sterilized and almost no bacteria can survive (2).
However, there is one place in your digestive tract where bacteria thrive and fermentation does occur. This is in your large intestine, also known as your colon, where trillions of beneficial bacteria live (8).
The bacteria in your large intestine ferment any undigested carbs, such as fiber, that were not broken down in your small intestine. They release gas and beneficial short-chain fatty acids as waste products (8).
In this case, fermentation is actually a good thing. The fatty acids the bacteria produce have been linked to health benefits such as reduced inflammation, improved blood sugar control and a lower risk of colon cancer (9, 10).
This also means that the gas you experience after a meal is not necessarily a bad thing. It can just be a sign that your friendly bacteria are well fed.
Bottom Line: There is no evidence that the practice of food combining offers any benefits. In fact, modern science directly contradicts many of its principles.
Hey, it’s me. The girl who tries terrible fad diets and writes about them. You may remember me from the time I ate Halo Top ice cream and nothing else for a week. Or the time I accidentally set off a war in the Whole30 community. Or you don’t understand either of those references and are just here today to learn about the confusing and scientifically unfounded lifestyle that is Food Combining. Regardless, welcome.
A few weeks ago I found myself at a happy hour discussing, what else, fad diets. Usually once people hear that this is something I do willingly, they start throwing out wild suggestions that only lead me to believe that they are hoping I die in the process of attempting. May I present to you, a shortlist of diets that have been suggested to me by friends and strangers alike:
- The Potato Diet in which you eat, you guessed it, plain cooked potatoes and nothing else
- That insane Vogue diet that circulated Twitter and allows you an entire bottle of wine, three hardboiled eggs, and one steak a day (still not off the table tbh)
- The sushi and Jamba Juice diet, which is less a fad diet and more the very real eating habits of my suburban Californian high school self
- “Just like…eggs?” – a man who wasn’t even involved in the conversation but had to stop and offer his two cents
- “Vegan!!” – any Vegan in a two mile radius
But this particular happy hour was different, because a woman there offered up a viable and interesting option that I actually hadn’t heard of before: Food Combining. In its essence, Food Combining is driven by the principle that the less energy your body exerts on digestion, the better. To achieve that, the goal is to eat food in a certain order or in certain combinations to aid digestion and promote weight loss, better nutrient abruption, increased energy levels, and various other benefits.
While the origins of Food Combining are a little cloudy, like most modern wellness trends it can be traced back to the Ayurvedic medicine practices of ancient India. Shout out to the ancient Indians for providing 90% of my subject matter. I can never thank you enough for the Golden Milk.
Food Combining reemerged into public consciousness in the mid-1800s and then again later in the early 1900s, rebranded at those times as Tropology and the Hay diet, respectively. But no matter what you call it, the sentiment is the same: different foods should be combined in different ways for optimal digestion.
It became immediately clear in my initial research that scientists do not agree with the logic behind Food Combining. The theory is this: different enzymes in your intestines digest different food groups, so by eating those groups separately you are creating the most optimal digestive environment. If you were to combine those groups, the digestive process would take longer, giving the food in your stomach time to rot or ferment, which leads to bloating. It’s not the most insane thing I’ve ever heard, but that probably shouldn’t be the litmus for effective diet practices.
It turns out digestion is an incredibly complicated scientific process that can’t just be hacked by eating foods in certain orders. In fact, digestion starts in the mouth, which kind of negates the entire idea that all the food you eat is sitting wholly untouched in your gut waiting to turn you into Violet Beauregarde if those enzymes don’t get working ASAP.
All that being said, just because Food Combining’s principles may not be entirely based in scientific reason doesn’t make the diet unhealthy by nature. In fact, I found it to be helpful for kickstarting a cleanse that I’ve been trying, and failing, to get after for weeks now. At its heart, Food Combining is just a process that promotes clean eating and mindfulness, because you have to think exceptionally hard before you eat anything. It wasn’t so much that I found myself unable to eat things I wanted, just that I had to plan when I could do so effectively. In fact, I had to create an Excel sheet just so I could plan out my meals, which, tragically, is my most efficient use of Excel to date.
I would like to make it clear that even after 10 days, I am not an expert here. In fact, I think I merely scratched the surface of what I believe to be the Titanic-sized iceberg that is Food Combining. If you are someone who follows it religiously or, better yet, grasps anything beyond the basics, you’re probably going to be annoyed from here on out. My sincerest apologies.
There are many nuanced rules to this diet that, to be completely honest, I do not understand. While there are many articles about why Food Combining doesn’t actually make sense, there are very few that offer hard and stringent rules to follow. I am but a simple girl looking for a Buzzfeed list of recipes to follow, but no such thing existed, apparently. So without any official (reputable) source to go off of, I found myself cobbling together bits and pieces from various blogs, one poorly designed website, and information shared with me by the woman who turned me onto Food Combining in the first place. This, combined with a general sense of disregard for anything that would complicate my life more than necessary, led to 10 fairly regimented days of vegetable-laden salads with varying bits of protein, because previous fad diet endeavors have left me with what I now believe to be a pathological fear of ingesting carbs.
The first thing you need to understand about Food Combining is the food groups, which are broken out as follows:
- Protein – any meat (red or otherwise), dairy, or eggs
- Starches/Carbohydrates – any kind of grain, bread, legume, pasta, or starchy vegetable like potatoes, squash, and corn
- Neutral Vegetables – pretty much any vegetable that isn’t a starch
- Fresh fruit – self-explanatory perhaps, but this encompasses all fruits
There is much dissent amongst the Food Combining community about where certain foods belong—the one with the greatest effect on my daily life being avocados. After much deliberation and a little bit of self-interested research, I decided avocados were neutral. It was a controversial move, but I stand by it, because a vegetable sandwich without any kind of dairy or avocado attached to it is a sad site to behold.
From there, you have one cardinal rule that you must follow: you cannot mix protein (meat, eggs, dairy) with carbs (all the things you love). Ever. There are about 100 other limitations or regulations stemming from that, but this mantra is the foundation upon which your new life is built.
View this post on Instagram
I love when i’m on top of the latest trends | tw: @dgafhope
After ample research, I landed on a few other rules that I thought gave me an authentic enough experience for the sake of this experiment. So for the past week and a half, these are the guidelines that have dictated my life:
No combining carbs/starches and proteins: This is the single phrase you will find yourself repeating ad nauseam to friends, family, and coworkers when they inevitably ask what half-cocked diet you’ve decided to take up this time.
Fruit on an empty stomach only: Fruit takes the least amount of time to digest and thus should be eaten first, lest you fall victim to bloating.
You must wait three hours between meals when switching food groups: No one offered any real logic here, so I’m going to go ahead and assume it’s because the enzymes are tired.
But if you do get hungry between meals, eat neutral vegetables: Apparently the enzymes are never too tired to digest a leafy green composed of nearly 70% water.
Drink lots of water, but not while you’re actually eating: Hydration is a pillar of most diets, but what’s wild about Food Combining is you’re not actually allowed to drink anything during meals. The idea is that doing so will dilute the enzymes and stall digestion. So guess what happens when you eat something exceptionally spicy at the beginning of a meal?? You suffer.
No nuts/legumes in the first week: Both of these groups have long digestive periods, so most followers of Food Combining recommend forgoing them during your first week as your body adapts to its new lifestyle.
Start every meal with some kind of raw vegetable/leafy green: This supposedly kickstarts the enzymes and/or wakes them up from their nap. Idk.
No added sugar: The digestive period of sugar was never mentioned, but I think this aligns more to the general idea of eating healthy than anything else.
A couple of blogs also recommended that you pair your regimen with Intermittent Fasting, something that I attempted with varying degrees of success throughout the 10 days. Sometimes you’re on top of your sh*t, and sometimes you go to a work dinner and the entrees don’t even arrive until 9:00pm. Sue me.
View this post on Instagram
is this intermittent fasting? | tw: @zoemcglade
Days 1 – 3
The only way I can describe the onset of this experience was overwhelming. If you were to have come across me while I was researching this diet, you’d probably have thought I was studying for a test. I had notebooks out. Word docs up. More tabs than I’m comfortable with open on my computer. I was manically highlighting things without reason. It was like finals week all over again, but without the Adderall or sense of impending doom. But once I took a step back and really thought about it, I realized that Food Combining was less a diet and more of a lifestyle. That sentence in itself makes my skin crawl, but bear with me here.
Food Combining isn’t meant to restrict what you can eat, rather it’s just there to make you think about what you’re eating. By slowing down and actually recognizing each individual ingredient, I found I was able make better decisions than if I had just ordered something at a restaurant and assumed it was all healthy. It was tedious, but….rewarding? I don’t even know who I am anymore.
Day 4 – 7
The enlightened wisdom of days 1–3 slowly waned as I realized that I hated salads without cheese. Food Combining isn’t a fan of premade dressing and highly recommends a combo of olive oil and lemon juice, which while light and refreshing, isn’t exactly packed with flavor. But then it was like God heard my cries for help and threw down a single olive branch in the form of this list that I found online of neutral cheeses.
Listen, I know this website looks like it was created on a word processor in 1998. I know that some of the info on it directly contradicts rules that I’d already established for myself above. And I know that you shouldn’t blindly trust things you read on the internet, but none of that mattered. Suddenly I could have feta on my salads and ricotta on my avocado toast, and I was a woman renewed.
Day 8 – 10
After my first week, the routine of Food Combining was so completely ingrained in me that I didn’t even realize I was still following it. I had abandoned the Excel spreadsheet long ago, and no longer eagerly counted down the seconds until noon when Intermittent Fasting allowed me my first meal. The sight of the rampant baked goods in my office didn’t send a painful jolt through my chest like they had a mere few days ago. I was drinking water without setting reminders for myself to do so. In short, I was behaving in the ways that I think a functional human being might, and it felt good.
But then, on the eve of my last night, disaster struck in the form of a fancy work dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant full of fancy pasta and fancy desserts and the social expectation that you eat those things to avoid looking like an asshole.
Food Combining is a proponent of moderation, and so I thought, why not? I’ve worked hard, I’ve been diligent, what’s the issue with one little bowl of pasta, even though I had a meat entrée on the way? What could one tiny dessert hurt, after already having combined the cursed carbs and protein? What could possibly happen to me and my pristine, temple-like body at this point?
Uh, everything could happen, it turns out. I learned this on the drive home, at which point my stomach expanded to what I can only describe as a second trimester level of bloat. I waddled into my apartment and threw myself onto my bed, immediately passing out from what I’m assuming was the over-exertion of my sad stomach enzymes. I woke the next morning to find myself still in terrible shape, and dug out the loosest possible outfit to wear to work. I continued to feel like sh*t for the rest of the day, eventually going to bed without dinner because the thought of eating anything at all made me nauseous.
While I’d been lulled into a false sense of security by the serenity of my new routine, in the end Food Combining ended up being like every other lifestyle/diet I’ve tried thus far. Sure, you feel great in the moment, but one misstep sends you on a downward spiral of shame and despair that leaves you feeling slightly betrayed and with a lingering sense of guilt.
Over the 10 days I tried Food Combining, I lost about five pounds. Over the course of a single Italian dinner, I gained two of them back. Nearly half my progress, erased by a moment of weakness. This isn’t an experience exclusive to Food Combining, but indicative of the fallout of any drastic lifestyle diet. You feel invincible during the highs, but you have to remember that there will be lows. The honest truth is that most of these regimens are not sustainable. You know what is? A healthy lifestyle of moderation and exercise. That’s it. That’s the secret.
Eat healthy. Be active. Treat yourself on occasion. Don’t rely on scientific hacks to fool your body into weight loss. Your enzymes know what they’re doing without your help, I promise. But most importantly, be kind to your body. It endures all the stupid sh*t you inflict upon it on a daily basis, the least you can do is put up with a little weight fluctuation here and there.
Have any fad diet ideas that eclipse the stunning suggestions above? Leave them in the comments section and maybe I’ll find myself feeling brave enough to try them out in the future.
Images: Giphy (2); Amy Shamblen / Unsplash; dietstartstomorrow / Instagram
Mary Kate Fotch
Mary Kate lives in Portland, OR, where she spends a substantial amount of her free time destroying her metabolism for this website. She was forced to develop a sense of humor at an early age for myriad reasons, not the least of which being she grew up in Orange County, CA, with the name Mary Kate during the Olsen twin era. Follow her on Instagram if you’re exclusively interested in pictures from high quality bar photo booths.
Is food combining healthy?
Buying and preparing nutrient-dense foods is a lifestyle challenge in itself. Pair that with the practice of food combining and you’ve got a complicated mealtime dance. Over the years, I’ve been emailed and messaged with this question: Is food combining really worth the effort?
The movement of food combining purports that certain food groups cause digestive distress and weight gain when eaten at the same meal. It traces its popularity to the 1980’s with the publication of Fit for Life. Since then, it has enjoyed the lime light on The Dr. Oz Show and Oprah.
Food Combining Rules
Although there are many variations and minute details, the basic principles of food combining include:
- Don’t combine meat and starches in the same meal
- Combine vegetables with meat or starches
- Eat fruit (except lemons and limes) away from other food groups
- Avoid dairy or eat it alone
While food combining is a step in the right direction for many people, because it encourages freshly-prepared meals, it is a limited approach to wellness that overlooks basic physiology.
Here are the problems with the food combining philosophy, followed by the food combining rules that support wellness at a deeper level.
Food combining is not a traditional practice
Some say that the current food combining theory races its roots back to Ayurvedic texts. This literature discusses the energy of the food, since foods have either a “heating energy” and other foods have a “cooling energy”. This system also says that strong and vibrant digestion, called the digestive fire or “agni,” can help ameliorate the supposedly harmful effects of poor food combining.
But while modern food combining has much in common with Ayurvedic instructions, the vast majority of traditional cultures thoroughly contradict food combining principles. According to Nourishing Traditions,
A final argument against food combining notes that we find no such strictures among traditional societies whose intuitive wisdom has dictated the food choices that kept them healthy for generations.
A few examples culled from the research of Dr. Weston Price will suffice: isolated Swiss villagers ate milk products with rye bead; primitive Gaelic peoples subsisted on fish and oats; natives of the Caribbean consumed seafood along with starchy tubers of the manoic family; Indians in the Andes mountains ate potatoes with small animals and seafood; Polynesians consumed starchy tubers, fruit and seafood. Semitic peoples combined meat and milk with grains.
Primitive peoples, with their unerring native wisdom, put no restrictions on combining starches and proteins or even fruits and proteins.
The body is designed to digest all food combinations
The evolutionary masterpiece of human digestion illustrates the bodys’ capacity to absorb all macronutrients (fats, carbs, and protein) in a single meal.
- Digestion starts in the brain, when the sight, smell, thought, and taste of food triggers saliva and stomach acid production. Saliva contains an enzyme – amylase – which begins to break down carbohydrates.
- The stomach should be a literal acid tank with a pH of about 2, by the time food reaches it. This highly acidic environment turns steak into soup in minutes.
- The contents of the stomach empties into the small intestine, where the acidity triggers the pancreas to release neutralizing bicarbonate and digestive enzymes. Bile from the gallbladder is also released, which allows the absorption of the fats.
Here is the takeaway: if we show up to our meal with mindful presence, the brain readies the body to digest fats, carbs, and protein in the same meal. If we are producing adequate stomach acid, which can be considered digestive fire, the body responds downline with the materials necessary for complete digestion.
Successful digestion renders the food combining rules arbitrary and unsubstantiated.
Why does food combining help?
So why does food combining frequently work? People try a food combining diet and give exultant testimonials of vastly improved digestion and weight loss.
First, food combining creates a mindful, ritualized approach to mealtime. A food combining diet can be a huge step in the right direction for many people. It forces them to give significant attention to the things they are putting in their body.
Fresh produce and whole proteins sources are emphasized, while excluding many harmful processed foods. For example, processed cereal with pasteurized milk (a highly unhealthful but ubiquitous meal) is already out of the game. The emphasis on enzyme-rich raw foods and the reduction of processed non-foods means a healthy change from the Standard American Diet.
Second, food combining may reduce food intake or problematic foods. Food combining leads to mindful portion size and freshly-prepared meals, which supports weight loss.
Additionally, food combining can act as a band-aid for numerous digestive issues by reducing intake of problem foods. For example, eating starches can cause symptoms of bloating, gas, and belching when there is inadequate stomach acid and enzyme production. Food combining often reduces the amount and frequency of starch someone consumes. This ameliorates the symptom, but does not solve the underlying cause.
The root causes of digestive problems
As I mentioned, many people attempt the complex choreography of food combining to lose weight or ameliorate chronic digestive issues. There are a few common reasons why we have digestive issues in the first place, and these issues underly obesity and hormone imbalance.
1. We are not in parasympathetic mode when we eat. Parasympathetic mode is the state of the nervous system which turns on all digestive processes, from stomach acid production to the muscle contractions of the intestines.
How do you show up to your food? If you eat on the go, or while reading work emails, or while angry with your dinner companion, you are not in parasympathetic mode. As a result, you cheat your body of nutrients and, over time, may lead to a stress-induced condition of leaky gut.
2. Due to chronic stress, age, or acid-reducing medication, we may have inadequate stomach acid. Jonathan Wright wrote Why Stomach Acid is Good for You because 90% of his patients were deficient in stomach acid.
Low stomach acid leaves protein, carbohydrates and fats improperly digested. Symptoms including heartburn and leaky gut result. Please see my post How to Heal Low Stomach Acid Naturally and The Heartburn Myth for more information.
3. We have depleted digestive enzyme production. Chronic stress and a sugar-laden lifestyle take a toll on the pancreas, which produces the enzymes necessary to digest food. Additionally, low stomach acid creates a lack of digestive enzymes. The acid in the stomach is responsible for triggering the release of pancreatic enzymes.
To bolster the enzyme production in your pancreas, start by balancing your blood sugar and supporting your adrenals. In addition, support your stomach acid production as discussed above.
4. We have problems digesting fat due to years on a low-fat or poor-fat diet. This means the gallbladder can’t release bile so we can’t digest fat. Greasy stools, constipation, gallstones, and nausea after eating may indicate fat malabsorption. Please see my post 8 Ways to Improve Fat Malabsorption Naturally.
Food Combining Rules 2.0
A poor understanding of physiology underlies the popular method of food combining. Here are food combining rules that support nutrient absorption and digestive wellbeing at the foundational level.
- Combine your food with the practice of mindful mealtime. Sit at the table and set aside your electronics. Create a ritual, such as setting the table or blessing your food, to transition your body into the parasympathetic mode.
- Do not gulp liquids before, during, or right after meals. Gulping a giant glass of water with a meal, a recommendation to reduce hunger, literally dampens the digestive fire. It dilutes the acidity of stomach acid, which in turn compromises enzymatic action. Avoid gulping liquids within 30 minutes of a meal, although you can enjoy a cup or liquid gradually sipped over the course of a meal.
- Enjoy protein with healthy fats. The body cannot use protein unless it is accompanied by fat. Chronic consumption of low-fat protein can deplete the body of the vitamins A and D. A grilled chicken breast with naked steamed veggies is poor food combining, indeed. Add a dollop of hormone-balancing ghee to absorb your nutrients!
- Serve leafy greens with a source of healthy fat. This could be a dressing made with olive oil, a fillet of salmon on the side, or a poached egg on your salad. The fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins improve your absorption of nutrients in the greens.
- Enjoy carbohydrates with healthy fats. All carbohydrates break down quickly into glucose, the form of sugar that enters the blood stream. Fat slows down the absorption of glucose, supporting balanced blood sugar and stable energy levels. Additionally, when you incorporate healthy fats in your meals, you give your body long-burning fuel to keep you full. A low fat diet is not a successful weight loss diet.
Have you tried food combining? What is your experience?