Food Combining diet

Originally Published: May 8, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: October 1, 2010
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Dear Alice,

Please could you give me some information regarding The Hay System of Food Combining — the practice of not combining protein and starch in the same meal. If you know about this system, is it effective for general health maintenance and/or weight loss? Thanks for your help.

—Jim

Dear Jim,

What and when to eat is quite the interesting question. Food combining — not eating carbohydrates and proteins in the same meal — is a controversial, though not recent, practice. Some people swear by it, and others find it frustrating and ineffective.

The digestive tract's made to handle a variety of nutrients (including carbohydrates and proteins) at the same time. There's no clear evidence that food is digested better when carbohydrates and proteins are presented separately. Many foods naturally contain both carbohydrates and proteins. For example, spaghetti, commonly dubbed as a "carb," is about 14 percent protein in its total calories. Separating all carbohydrates and proteins may not be fully possible. Sometimes not drinking water during meals is recommended in the food combining diet. Physiologically, drinking beverages at meals is fine; in fact, the body naturally secretes water into the digestive tract after food is consumed to help break down both carbohydrates and proteins.

Some people believe that a food combining approach is effective for health maintenance and/or weight loss. This is often not because of the effect of eating proteins and carbohydrates separately, but because their food choices improve when they begin the plan. If someone changes from eating a diet of highly refined foods that are high in fat and calories to eating the variety of whole, minimally processed, basic foods that are recommended in a food combining diet, they may feel better and lose weight by virtue of the change in the quality of food. Correlation of weight and health changes doesn't mean causation. This may be a basic situation of not what you eat and when, but one of eating healthier foods and consuming fewer calories.

The food combining diet has no major detriment — if it works for you, use it. Note that you could get into nutritional trouble by restricting your eating to only carbohydrates (grains, breads, pasta, cereal, etc.) or only proteins (beans, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, and poultry). It's important to eat both, as well as plenty of fruit and vegetables, to have a healthy, balanced eating plan.

If you're at Columbia and would like to talk more about what eating approach might work best for you, consider making an appointment with a Nutritionist at Primary Care Medical Services. You can make an appointment online via Open Communicator or by calling x4-2284. If you're not a Columbia student, ask your primary care provider for a referral.

Whether you wish to incorporate the food combining diet or not, keep in mind the body's need of a balanced source of nutrition to efficiently fuel your lifestyle. Also, consider complementing a level of physical activity that works for you to effectively maintain general health and for potential weight loss.

Wishing you many happy and healthy meals,

Alice