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Food combining is a nutritional strategy that advocates eating specific foods at the same time and avoiding the intake of other specific food combinations.

The argument for food combining is based on the idea that different kinds of foods require different digestive processes. Thus, eating certain food combinations, specifically protein-rich foods with carbohydrate-rich foods, decreases absorption of nutrients, causes food to “sit and ferment” in the GI tract, which then leads to a build-up of toxins, finally causing a host of chronic diseases.

Where Does The Theory Of Food Combining Come From?

The practice of separating intake of specific foods has been around since ancient times (i.e. Kosher eating, where milk and meat can never be consumed together), but food combining for purposes of improved health is a newer concept. The Hay Diet, developed in the 1920s by a physician named William Hay, placed all foods into one of three groups: acidic, alkaline or neutral. He argued that combining acidic foods (protein-rich foods such as meat, fish and dairy) with alkaline foods (carbohydrate-rich foods like grains, potatoes and rice) causes a build-up of acidic end-products that are harmful to the body.

Other food combining plans cite the fact that protein-rich foods need acidic enzymes for digestion, whereas carb-rich foods need more alkaline enzymes, and eating the two at the same time cause the enzymes to “cancel each other out” and stops digestions and assimilation of nutrients.

Common “Rules” In Food Combining1

  1. Always eat fruit on an empty stomach or at least 20 minutes before eating anything else.
  2. Eat starches alone or with cooked, non-starchy vegetables
  3. Eat meat, dairy, fish and eggs alone or with cooked, non-starchy vegetables
  4. Eat nuts, seeds and dried fruit with raw vegetables

There are numerous slight variations from specific plan to specific plan, but they all essentially follow the above rules.

Is There Any Evidence That Food Combining Is Beneficial?

In short, there is absolutely no evidence that eating protein with carbs at the same time interferes with digestion of either. I did a pretty extensive literature search and was only able to find one peer-reviewed article that related to food combining.2 It examined the effects on weight loss of traditional versus a food combining diet. The authors found no difference in weight loss between the two approaches. Additionally, I found it odd that, at least according to some food combining advocates dried fruits should be grouped separately from fresh fruits. They argue that fruit should be eaten alone on an empty stomach due to its rapid absorption rate, yet dried fruit has an identical chemical make-up to fresh fruit but is absorbed more rapidly. Still, food combining proponents recommended that dried fruit be combined with other foods. This makes no sense to me.

Moreover, many fibrous vegetables have significant amounts of protein. For example, 3 ounces of raw broccoli has 2-3 grams of protein and 4 grams of carbohydrate. I would argue eating broccoli should cause the same issues as eating rice with meat according to the “enzyme cancellation” theory of food combining. I could not find any food combining sites that addressed this issue.

Are There Any Potential Benefits To Food Combining?

Food-combining diet proponents advocate non-processed, wholesome and nutritious foods. While this is not revolutionary by any means, it is a great way to eat. Should you chose to follow a food combining diet made up of these whole foods (which I do not recommend as I will discuss below) , you will probably feel much better than you would feel eating a “normal” diet – not due to the food combining but because of the types of food emphasized in the plan.

Should I Try A Food Combining Diet?

Nutrition plans must be maintainable and practical, and the rigid rules of food combining may be difficult for many people to practice in the real world. Additionally, as most people are looking to lose at least some body fat, reducing calories is a common goal. Eating carbohydrates alone (especially high glycemic load sources like bananas) often causes rebound hunger, as without protein and fat to slow absorption, there is a real risk of a rapid rise in blood sugar, an insulin spike followed by a drop on blood sugar and finally a strong feeling of hunger.

I recommend a nutrition plan based around whole, unprocessed foods, with each meal containing protein, unprocessed carbohydrates and healthy fats. This type of eating has been shown again and again to aid in losing fat and improving health and energy.

Show 2 References

  1. One Stop Guide To Food Combining . Detoxinista. Jul 2013.
  2. Golay, A, Allaz, A, Ybarra J, Bianchi P, Saraiva S, Mensi N, Gmois R, Tonnac N. Similar Weight Loss With Low Energy Food Combining Or Balanced Diets. International Journal of Obesity. Apr 2000. V 24. 492-496.


Comments are closed 30 days from the publication date.

  1. profile avatar
    d Aug 05, 2013 - 12:49 #

    I strongly suspect Food Combining of being a nonsense. It was championed in the UK by the now discredited Gillian McKeith, and has little or no scientific backing.

  2. profile avatar
    Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Aug 06, 2013 - 09:39 #

    I had mixed feelings about this subject for a while because my intuition tells me if someone has an unhealthy gut, or some type of digestive problem, some aspects of food combining may actually make sense, but for a healthy individual with a healthy gut, it’s contrary to biology and how the digestive process actually works. Thanks for writing this article.

    1. profile avatar
      Chris Huston Aug 09, 2013 - 14:25 #

      “Some aspects” and “may”, just to emphasize, for anyone who needs it. I was in generally the same boat as you about this subject, Mark; so, very glad to see this article here.

      One additional suggestion for those who really want to experiment with this: note this article is written by an M.D. — get your doctor’s take on any unusual diet practices you’re considering. (Full disclosure, I’m NOT a doctor.)

  3. profile avatar
    Carson Danyluik Aug 09, 2013 - 13:54 #

    Excellent article Charlie!
    i also have done quite a bit research because so many people recommend this is the way to go nowadays (especially vegans).
    I found similar results as to yours (basically no hard evidence showing its great digestive benefits)
    I also agree with you that with the majority people should keep it simple and just eat a well balanced healthy diet limiting processed foods. (or as i say do what bruce lee did!)

    Great article Charlie!

    1. profile avatar
      Charlie Seltzer, MD Aug 12, 2013 - 08:36 #

      Thanks so much, Carson. I am glad you found this useful.

  4. profile avatar
    Stacey Aug 09, 2013 - 21:06 #

    We have been following the food combining program for over a month now, so far so good.
    I was pretty much a non processed foods vegan prior to trying food combining, but I made the whole family get on the program.

    Our results so far:
    My husband is a 68yo vegan, former body builder, and has candida, for the first time in years he has begun to lose weight. It was not a drastic weight loss (6 lbs in a month) but that is close to a miracle for him.

    For me personally I noticed that my stomach is not bloated at the end of the day. That change was all I needed to encourage me to keep food combining.

    For our teens their cravings for junk food has subsided greatly. They have been vegetarians for 10 years now, but they ate junk food and pizza at least twice a month.

    We are 9 days into our 2nd month, so far I have no complaints from the family.

    (the teens and I don’t have weight issues, we initially started this to help their dad lose weight)

    Hope posting our experience helps

  5. profile avatar
    Brandon Marks Aug 10, 2013 - 15:34 #

    Great article! I’m so glad to hear the truth on this stuff! Thanks for all the info!

  6. profile avatar
    Khaled Aug 11, 2013 - 01:51 #

    Great article Charlie, thanks for helping clarify the subject.

    I did try this many years ago, and I think the resultant weight loss was from focusing on whole unprocessed foods rather than on eating food groups separately – for me at least.

    The biggest challenge I found, which you highlight, was the intense hunger I would get so shortly after eating carbs without protein or fat.

  7. profile avatar
    Frank Aug 13, 2013 - 17:15 #

    I followed the food combining rules and for me it had a definite effect in that my bowels worked better and I was never bloated – no gaseous problems – It may be better for some people. I would never make a generalisation as we are all different but for me it worked very well. And no I kept eating the same foods but not at the same time.