Food-combining diets do pretty much what you might think: They promote eating different types of foods, including starches, proteins and fats, in specific, controlled pairings—and avoiding eating some foods at the same time.
Proponents of food-combining dietary strategies believe that digestive processes—including the release of digestive enzymes—vary greatly depending on the type of food that’s being digested. Therefore, these diets claim, when the “wrong” foods are eaten together, unhealthful and even toxic effects occur in the digestive tract. Eating a protein-rich food, such as chicken, with a starch, like bread, is a common no-no of food-combining diets. These diets also often restrict eating fruits (which are high in carbohydrates and natural sugars) with other foods.
What are the supposed benefits of food combining, according to its proponents? These diets are purported to:
Decrease toxins in the body
Reduce food cravings
Promote weight loss
Improve energy and mood
So, how does food combining stack up as a dietary and health practice? Not so well, it turns out. There just isn’t enough evidence to support this type of eating plan. The benefits of food combining haven’t been demonstrated scientifically. At the same time, there exist other, more established ways to achieve the benefits and goals that people seek through food combining.
Let’s take a look at the basic claim behind food combining, that the body’s digestive system becomes hampered when it contends with different foods at once. The truth is, our bodies have an abundance of enzymes with which to digest and metabolize foods that are consumed at the same time. Rather than focusing on avoiding certain food combinations in a single meal, people are much better served by seeking a healthful balance of foods and portions, and by consuming whole, unprocessed foods.
A diet that is comprised of protein, vegetables, unrefined whole grains and healthy fats—and that also avoids refined sugars and processed foods—can deliver the same benefits that are often attached to food-combining diets, especially when used in combination with portion control and other basic healthy-living practices:
Eating a diverse array of whole foods can help to stabilize blood sugar, reducing food cravings and providing a steady stream of energy. Eat plants abundantly, healthy fats and lean proteins in moderation, and refined sugars sparingly.
Eating reasonable portions, avoiding overeating and eating regularly enough to avoid excessive hunger can also help to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and protect against food cravings. The precise schedule of eating is less important than finding a routine that works for you, and allows you to eat within a reasonable calorie limit for your age, weight and activity level—while also feeling satisfied by your diet. Some people do well with small, frequent meals, while others find greater success by eating three meals a day with little or no snacking in between meals.
A whole-foods diet combined with regular exercise can have a powerful stabilizing and uplifting effect on mood.
Selecting unprocessed and organic foods whenever possible can help reduce the burden of environmental toxins that worry many of us. Drinking water plentifully—and instead of calorie-laden drinks like sodas, juices and “energy” drinks—also may aid the body in its natural detoxification processes.
Rather than worrying about eating certain foods together, it’s better to focus on the quality of the foods you choose, and the amounts in which you eat them, while also working to incorporate a sustainable exercise routine to support a healthy lifestyle.