Food combining has sparked quite the buzz the past few months via social media, so I thought I’d share my personal and professional opinion on the diet trend. To be honest, when I first heard of it I wasn’t too familiar as they didn’t teach it in school, so I had to dive a bit deeper and do my own research to see what it was all about.
WHAT IS FOOD COMBINING?
The idea behind Food Combining is that different foods digest at different rates in the body and require different pH levels, or acidic environments. The theory refers to eating or not eating certain foods together in the same sitting in order to achieve optimal digestion. Basically, the less energy used in digestion, the better.
The main rules include:
- Only eat fruit on an empty stomach: from the idea that fruit takes the least amount of time to digest.
- Don’t combine starches and proteins.
- Don’t combine starches with acidic foods.
- Don’t combine different types of protein.
- Only consume dairy products on an empty stomach, especially milk
Proponents of this diet believe that there are different enzymes in the body that digest protein and carbohydrates (which, there are), but if you eat them together it will cause digestive issues. Another common claim is to say that when different food groups are combined in order, the last eaten & slower-to-digest foods will simply rot and ferment in your gut while other foods are being digested. This generally leads to bloating.
The proposed benefits of food combining include weight loss, improved digestion, better energy, reduced acne and skin blemishes, better absorption of nutrients and improved detoxification.
THE ISSUES WITH THIS DIET
The issue with this food combining theory is that our bodies do contain all the necessary enzymes to break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates at the same time. PLUS, our food doesn’t all digest at once, in one sac. The digestive process starts far before that, in the mouth when amylase is secreted to start the break down of carbohydrates. Food then travels down to the stomach where pepsin is released to breakdown proteins, and HCl (hydrochloric acid), which activates enzymes and breaks up food. It continues further into our small intestine for additional digestion of carbs, fats & proteins, and some even in the large intestine.
When the rules say to separate proteins, carbohydrates and fats due to our digestive system only being able to do one job at a time, they’re forgetting that although vegetables are considered a carbohydrate-containing food, they’re also made up of proteins. Same with, let’s say beef, which is mostly protein, but also partly fat.
Eating fruit on an empty stomach in the morning may work for some, but me on the other hand, I’m never going to feel full after a piece of fruit– not to mention a 100% fruit smoothie that will lead to a spike in blood sugar, cravings and feelings of hunger not long after. I personally need a satisfying meal of protein, healthy fats, complex carbs and greens to hold me over until lunch time, especially if I’m working out in the AM.
In regards to foods fermenting in the stomach, it’s easy to say this just doesn’t happen. Our stomachs maintain such an acidic environment, high enough to kill off harmful bacteria or pathogens (source). When we move further down the digestive tract to the large intestine, this IS where beneficial bacteria lives and where fermentation occurs. The bacteria is responsible for fermenting any undigested carbs, a normal and healthy process in the body (source). They release gas and beneficial short chain fatty acids as waste products.
Food combining has actually been around for a long time and there really isn’t sufficient evidence to show that this diet improves digestive or enhances weight loss. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t work for people– again, everyone is so different and may find a certain way of eating that works for them. I think one way people who follow this diet may have found success is because it naturally removes foods that may cause bloating— like fast foods and unhealthy packaged snacks throughout the day that are also linked to digestive issues. If anything, this diet could make someone more mindful of the foods they’re eating, which isn’t a bad thing.
But in my practice as a dietitian, I believe in promoting eating meals to feel satisfied, balancing your blood sugar levels, supporting hormone production and proper gut health. It’s important to make sure you’re getting the essential nutrients you need for cell growth from each meal and that happens through eating a combination of healthy fats, quality protein, and complex carbs found in plant foods.
I hope that makes more sense! xx