Ask HE: Are Food Combining Diets Legit?

by in Ask the Experts, Healthy Tips, April 8, 2010


Recently, I suggested a client trade her usual cookies for some fruit with her lunch. She looked surprised and replied, “Don’t I always have to eat fruit on an empty stomach — otherwise it will rot and ferment in my stomach, right?” She probably got that idea to skip fruit with a main meal from some fad diet book. I hear wild theories about combining certain foods all the time. So are there really foods you can’t eat together?

Q: What is the idea behind food combining diets? Do they work?

A: Toss out the complicated charts and diet books that promise weight loss if you eat foods in a certain order or not mixed with others — they ignore many basic principles about the way your digestive system works.

So here’s what food combining gurus claim: If you only eat certain foods in a set order or enjoy them separately from other foods, you’ll have optimum digestion. Some common “rules” of proper food combining theorists include:

  • Eat protein and fats at separate meals.
  • Eat fruits and proteins at separate meals.
  • Don’t ever combine acidic foods (i.e. citrus and tomatoes) with starchy foods (i.e. beans and potatoes).

Ignoring these guidelines allegedly causes your body to not properly digest food, creates digestive distress and can lead to weight gain (but how can you gain weight if you’re not digesting anything?!). There are some people that stick to these rules and lose weight, but that’s probably because they’re following a more calorie-restricted diet now that many foods they once ate are off limits.

In reality, our bodies digest mixes of food very efficiently and at different points along the digestive track. The digestion of carbohydrates (including fruit) actually begins in the mouth! When you eat something, the food travels down our digestive tract, where a combination of stomach acid and pancreatic juices that have specialized enzymes breakdown the food’s carbohydrates, protein and fat. Once broken down, food gets absorbed in to the blood stream via the small intestine (it’s a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea).

When considering how we absorb nutrients in food, there is some truth to the benefit of combining certain foods. Fat-soluble vitamins (that is, vitamins A, D, E and K) need fat in order to be most beneficial. Drizzling olive oil on wilted green leafy veggies helps you absorb the vitamin K in the veggies.

    Here are some more winning combinations:

  • Lemon Chicken: Vitamin C in the lemon enhances our absorption of the chicken’s iron; having an iron-fortified cereal with a glass of OJ is another good example.
  • Rice and Beans: Together, grains and legumes (peas, beans and lentils) have all the protein building components that your body needs for strong muscles.
  • Sautéed Veggies: Vitamin A and many of the other antioxidants in vegetables need some fat for optimal absorption; salad with vinaigrette dressing is a good choice, too.
  • Trail Mix: Made with a combo of dried fruit, nuts and whole grain cereal, this mix has healthy carbs, protein and fat to satisfy immediate hunger; the protein and fat keep you full for the long haul — it’s also high in fiber, which keeps hunger bands at bay.

    Bottom Line: Don’t believe the hype. Eat a wide variety of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, seafood, legumes and low-fat or non-fat dairy products. Eat them alone or in combination — just eat (and enjoy) them.

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Comments (10)

  1. Lauri says:

    how about the idea that fruit alone after dinner spikes blood sugar and triggers the body to store calories?

    • danawhite says:

      Hi Lauri –
      All types of fruit are digested differently with regard to their effect on blood sugar. High fiber fruits like berries, oranges and pears are digested more slowly, causing less dramatic blood sugar shifts. Storage of calories is not a black or white issue. The only sure way calories will be stored is if you eat too many – beyond your needs for the day.

  2. sally says:

    This is kind of funny. I've never heard this before. That poor girl… "won't if ferment in my stomach?" Maybe someone realized that fresh fruits and veg can give you gas and made that connection. Lol.

  3. Kate says:

    So glad to see this post.

    Our bodies are smart! It has all the components to digest the food we take in. Sure, some people may be different (allergies, sensitivities etc…) so if there are adaptations that work for you then great, but for most people following a balanced, moderate diet with plenty of variety works just fine!

    Give your body some credit ya'll.

  4. I agree that combining in the sense of slowing digestion (a combo of carbs with fat/protein) is helpful for a stable blood sugar level. This also increases satiety. It is a good post to point out the myth of combining to prevent ‘rotting’ of food in digestion and weight issues–people will come up with anything!

  5. Wow, I've never heard these before.

  6. Susan says:

    After reading alot and taking nutrition courses, the most important thing I came away with is that our bodies need a little bit of alot of different nutrients, that eating a wide variety is the way to go. It would be difficult to do that if you worried too much about what didnt mix with what. I'm with everyone else…I have faith in my body!

  7. mary says:

    has anyone ever looked into the legitimacy of the "diet solutions" program ( Isabel De Los Rios)? It maintains that you should stay away from whole grains because they turn to sugar.

  8. spleen says:

    i can agree with all the post

  9. waltonchristy33 says:

    Thanks for sharing, Pat…I’m interested in adopting that smoothie formula as well. Could you tell me how much almond milk, peanut butter and spinach you add to the banana and 2 apples? Thanks!……for mre info. visit

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