One of the most quickly upcoming nutritional trends is food combining. Despite its new following, food combining has ancient roots dating back to Ayurvedic medicine. It doesn’t require calorie counting or macro counting, because it’s not about how much you eat. It does require attention to when you eat, in what order you eat, and what foods combine well with others. Food combining is all about optimal digestion.
Foods are grouped based on how your body digests them, and from there, it is determined the most beneficial combination and order to eat them in. If it sounds confusing, that’s because it’s very complicated, and modern research is still very scarce. Though despite that, food combining is still very much trending, and many insist on the benefits from it.
What Are the Food Groups?
- Proteins- Proteins include the obvious like meat, poultry, eggs, and fish but also high protein foods such as cheese, milk, yogurt, and nut/seed butter.
- Fats- Fats include butter, oils, and high-fat foods like avocado.
- Fruits- All fruits fall under one group (sweet fruits, acidic fruits, and melons).
- Nonstartchy vegetables- Nonstartchy vegetables are leafy greens and other vegetables with high water content.
- Starchy carbohydrates- Starchy carbohydrates include grains, bread, and cereals, as well as starchy plants such as potatoes, beans, and squash.
Foods are mostly grouped by their macronutrient (carbohydrates, fat, and protein), except for fruit and vegetables, which are slightly more complicated.
Combinations and Rules
Correctly following the rules of food combining can be quite the task. The first is to start the day eating fruit on an empty stomach because it is very high in water content and so easy to digest. Any food group can be combined with nonstarchy vegetables and leafy greens. That even applies to fruit first thing in the morning, so feel free to add some spinach to your morning smoothie. In regards to timing meals, leave ample time to digest meals before eating another, a recommended four to four and a half hours in between meals. As far as meals go, there are favorable combinations and bad combinations.
- Proteins and nonstarchy vegetables
- Fats and nonstarchy vegetables
- Starchy carbohydrates and nonstarchy vegetables
- Fats and starchy carbohydrates
- Eating fruits with any other group (except nonstarchy vegetables; however, some even avoid that)
- Protein and starchy carbohydrates
- Proteins and fats
Why All the Rules?
It may seem like a lot of rules, but the theory behind food combining is interesting. The goal is optimal digestion. When it comes to digesting different food groups, some are quicker to digest than others. In theory, if you eat a slowly digested food first, it can block quickly digested foods from digestion. Hence fruit recommended first thing in the morning. Fruit is absorbed super fast, in as little as thirty minutes, and so it clears the path of digestion for the rest of the day’s meals.
The second fundamental theory of food combining regards the pH levels in foods. Since foods have different levels of acidity, supposedly, your stomach requires different enzymes to digest them. It’s argued that if you do combine varying levels of acidity, food will not break down and will remain and rot in your stomach.
The Benefits of Food Combining
Seemingly, streamlining the digestive process requires less energy following in many advantages. Proponents of food combining argue the following benefits:
- Weight loss
- Improved digestion
- More energy
- Clearer skin and less acne
- Enhanced detoxification
- Better nutrient absorption
- Less digestive issues (gas, bloating, acid reflux)
- Less fatigue
The Research Behind Food Combining
You won’t find much scientific research on food combining. Critics argue because science doesn’t support it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those who have experimented using it themselves have false results. Advocates say there’s no research on food combining because there is no financial gain in researching.
The little research on food combining that does exist does not show any more weight loss benefits than eating a balanced diet.
What Do the Critics Say?
Critics of food combining feel very strongly that there is no advantage in grouping foods. The body’s digestive process isn’t as simple as one enzyme breaking down one type of food at a time. In short, food combining’s theory grossly underestimates the body’s ability to multitask digesting.
Additionally, digestion is not limited to your stomach. Digestion starts when you put food in your mouth and continues into your small and large intestines. Food combining gives far too much credit to the stomach as a means of and very little credit to the rest of the tract.
The idea that food can sit and rot in your stomach is also scientifically unfounded. Any food, in any combination, does not stand a chance to your stomach’s pH levels. It’s relatively impossible for any meal to sit and rot in your stomach.
Lastly, even the idea that you can separate foods by macronutrients is triggering. Almost all foods are a combination of macronutrients—for example, a large egg has five grams of fat and six grams of protein. If you recall above, according to food combining rules, proteins and fats should not be combined. Why then, does our body not go into digestive disarray when we eat an egg?
Potential Harms of Food Combining
Even though current scientific evidence does not support food combining as a means of weight loss or digestive optimization, there’s not much physical risk or harm in trying it. Since it doesn’t specifically eliminate any food groups or mention restrictive caloric intake, it cannot do significant damage physically.
There could be psychological harms associated with food combining, however. Any diet that requires extremely tedious tracking, counting, or monitoring can harm psychologically. When we rely so much on control and following rules, we create a habit of ignoring the perfectly functioning internal trackers we already have in our bodies! If you find food combining to be mentally overwhelming, it’s not for you. The added stress will outweigh any good food combing may do for digestion and weight.