The Myth of Food Combining

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Does food combining really improve your health?  A more recent camp of nutritionists recommended eating the different food groups at different times and in different combinations to improve nutrient absorption and overall health.

This creates an almost impossible dietary regimen that requires more planning, preparing and self discipline than I can manage.  But is this really necessary?  Does your body require such a meticulous and disciplined approach to optimize your health?

Science answers with a resounding No!

In 1911 Dr. William Howard Hay developed the concept of food combining to improve health.  His theory described the combining of proteins/fats, carbohydrates, and starches and sugar.  Dr. Hay’s number one rule for the diet is not combining starch and sugar with acid fruits and protein in the same meal. Second, salads, fruits and vegetables should be given importance within the course of the diet, and protein, fats and starch must be taken in moderation or very less amounts. Wholegrain and unprocessed starches are the only ones recommendable. It is also advisable to give at least four hours interval for the next meal of another food group, Dr. Hay calls this a “food combining” diet. Acidic foods include those that are rich in protein, dairy, meat, and fish, while carbohydrate-rich foods include, grains, potatoes and rice should be consumed in very limited amounts.  Sounds very similar to a nutrient dense diet doesn’t it?

From his early work, numerous variations developed describing a litany of nearly impossible food combinations that left people exhausted, frustrated, and eager to return to a more normal dietary pattern.  Unfortunately, this crazy food alchemy led again to yet another dietary failure for a number of people as they turned their backs on nutrition and returned to the disease promoting standard American diet.

There are some food combinations that can be useful to the body. For example, eating a vitamin C containing food as part of your meals improves the absorption of iron. A good reason to include fruit or vegetables (raw or quickly cooked) with your meals.  On the other hand drinking tea or coffee with meals can reduce iron absorption. The tannins in tea and coffee combine with the iron to make it very difficult to absorb.  Recent experiments have shown that digesting fats releases various carcinogens and oxidants which can only be countered by the release of antioxidants and polyphenols in the stomach, not in the bloodstream because they don’t reach the bloodstream. Therefore it is much better for your health to eat fruit and vegetables simultaneously with any fatty foods and ultimately to cut down on the total fats ingested.

Finally, all foods are combinations of protein, carbohydrates, and fats including vegetables.  One cup of broccoli, for example, has approximately 2.6  grams of protein, 4.6 grams of carbohydrate and 0.3 grams of fat-yes broccoli does contain protein and fat!  Some foods are more fat and protein and others more carbohydrate, but all foods are combinations of these three basic macronutrients and are easily assimilated by the body.  Another example is breast milk.  It is a perfect blend of protein, carbohydrate and fat that is perfectly suited to the digestive tract of an infant.  It provides all the necessary building blocks for the little body to grow.

The incredibly intricate, and synchronized process of digestion is not limited by various combinations of macronutrients eaten at just the right time.  Likewise, your health is not determined by the combinations of macronutrients but rather the total intake of micronutrients(vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals/antioxidants) contained in those macronutrients.  Dr. Hay was on the right track recommending a diet focused on fruits and vegetables and naturally occurring, unprocessed grains and this is why he and his patients experienced improved health.  Don’t get caught up in playing the macronutrient game of most diets through endless variations combinations.  Instead, remember to eat for health by focusing on the micronutrients and those foods containing the most micronutrients per calorie-naturally occurring fruits, vegetables-especially the green leafy vegetables-, bean/lentils, and nuts/seeds.  Your body will know what to do with these foods and your health will dramatically improve.