Food combining is a trend that suggests we should be eating certain food items alone and not in combination with other foods. So what is food combining and should you be worried about it, should we be following it? Or is it just another fad?
What is the food combining diet?
This diet suggests that some food items should be eaten alone and others paired together. By doing this the
diet suggests you can prevent digestive issues, improve immune function, heal gut issues and even promote weight loss.
What is the reason for food combining?
The theory is based on three major areas; PH levels, enzymatic activity and rate of digestion.
The principals are based on the idea that different macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrate) require specific PH levels in your stomach to be digested properly.
The theory suggests that protein requires an acidic environment while carbohydrates require a more alkaline environment to digest better.
It is believed that the different macronutrients we eat require different enzymes for proper digestion and therefore we should avoid combining certain macronutrients in one meal - especially protein and carbohydrate.
The principle of food combining suggests that because different food items require different PH levels and different enzymes when certain foods are eaten together, some are digested slower than others and the food is left in the gut for longer causing issues (gas, bloating) and poor nutrient absorption.
The food combining diets 5 major principals:
Always eat fruit on an empty stomach
Never eat protein with carbohydrates
Eat carbohydrates alone or with cooked non-starchy veg
Eat protein alone or with cooked non-starchy veg
Eat dried fruit, nuts and seeds with raw veg
The scientific approach to food combining, should you be considering it?
It is a very difficult topic to test scientifically, gut health issues are so individual to the person and can vary so much person to person that often people have to find what is right for them and this most likely won’t work for the next person.
However there has been one study done that tested the claims made by the food combining diet, and it was found that there were no benefits to food combining that a well balanced lower-calorie diet did not provide.
Let's break the principals down:
Fruit on an empty stomach - The theory of this in the food combination diet is because fruit digests quickly, and if eaten with slower dieting foods it may get stuck in the digestive tract for longer. However, our body produces enzymes to break down the different macronutrients and regardless of what the mixture of food is in the digestive system the body will send the enzyme amylase to digest carbohydrate when needed. So the fruit will not get “stuck”, the body is more than capable of digesting it with other foods.
Protein and carbohydrates shouldn’t be eaten together - This is based on the fact that protein needs an acidic environment and carbohydrates need a more alkaline environment to digest properly. The issue with this statement is that the stomach has an acidic environment, though the release of gastric acid when we eat any food. The acidity kills bacteria in the food before it goes to the small intestine.
If carbohydrate is eaten with protein or without it will still enter an acidic environment, which is fine, then it passes through the stomach into a more alkaline environment where most of the digestion happens. The presence of protein does not interfere with the PH balance in the stomach.
Eat Carbohydrate alone or with cooked non starchy veg - Eating carbohydrates alone digests very easily and therefore can cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a drop (which can interfere with your hunger levels and possibly excess fat storage over time), therefore it is actually better not to eat them alone and I would recommend pairing carbohydrates with protein and fat to slow down the glucose absorption (from carbohydrate) and therefore prevent a spike in blood sugar which will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Non-starchy veg is certainly one that should be incorporated into the diet more often, however, there is no rule about when it should be eaten.
Eat protein alone or with cooked non-starchy veg- This is totally personal preference, having a meal full of protein and non-starchy veg is great, but don’t be scared to add some carbohydrate in there. Cooked versus raw veg all depends on your digestive system, some people can handle more raw veg and higher fibre than others.
Eating dried fruit, nuts and seeds with raw veg- There is no evidence proving this is needed or even better for the digestive system. Vegetables are great to pair them with everything. But you can have nuts and seeds without the veg perfectly- they do not spike blood sugar as they are sources of fats and protein so can be eaten alone no problem.
Dried fruit is a little different, it contains a lot more sugar, therefore, is better paired with a protein or fat source to slow down digestions and avoid that blood sugar spike.
To combine or not to combine?
The principals may sound very easy and persuasive and the food combining diet may have been around for a very long time, however, there really isn’t any science to support the theory.
The body is very clever and is designed to digest a well rounded balanced diet of protein, fats and carbohydrates.
What I would always say is that everybody and digestive system is different, if you do struggle with digestive or gut health issues, you may want to go through a process of elimination to find what is causing it. If you are extremely sensitive it could be that when you combine certain foods you may experience a problem, however, this is very unique to the individual and most likely not any of the combinations mentioned above and therefore cannot be put together into a “one size fits all diet”.
Hope you find this useful, as always, any questions fire them across,
BSc Sports Science, Women’s Fitness Specialist and Personal Trainer