If you believe the advice of certain “food combining” nutritionists, this apparently is the key to successful weight loss and better health. Standard food combining protocol consists of fruit in the morning, fruit and a salad for lunch, vegetables and either a starch or protein food for dinner, and fruit again for a late-night snack. No egg whites and oatmeal. No turkey breast on multi-grain bread. No beans of any kind!
Although the genesis of food combining can be traced back to the 19th century, its most prominent modern-day promoter was a man named Dr. Herbert Shelton. In recent years, Harvey Diamond, Susanne Somers and Marilu Henner have each popularized Shelton’s views in best-selling books, bringing food combining into the mainstream.
The central premise behind food combining is that nutrition is more a function of when and how you eat rather than what or how much you eat. This is based on the idea that digestion of protein and carbs require different pH levels: Protein thrives in an acidic environment while carbs require a more alkaline milieu. According to food combining proponents, eating these foods at the same time neutralizes stomach acids and therefore prevents proper nutrient assimilation. Without a means to be metabolized, the nutrients simply putrefy and rot in the stomach. Over time, there is a buildup of toxic waste material (called toxemia) which ultimately causes the body to store excess fat.
Truth is, however, food combining has no scientific basis. None! Zero! Nada! There isn’t a shred of evidence that any negative complications are directly attributable to eating protein and carbs in the same meal. In fact, it has repeatedly been shown in clinically controlled studies that mixed diets are actually an excellent means to improve health and sustain weight loss.
The premise of food combining is, in itself, faulty. The genius who came up with the theory apparently based it on the fact that the digestion of carbohydrate begins in the mouth—which is a basic environment—before undergoing further metabolism in the gut. One little flaw with the reasoning: The gut is always acidic, regardless of whether protein is consumed with carbs or not. In reality, carbs have no problem being fully digested in the gut, with or without protein.
But let’s throw physiology out the window for a moment and give the pH theory credence. Even if this were the case, the incomplete breakdown of carbs still wouldn’t result in toxemia. Nutrients can’t rot in the stomach, plain and simple. Once ingested, they are either assimilated or eliminated. Whatever your body can’t digest passes through to the colon and is excreted in the feces. Except for constipation, there simply is no mechanism by which food can remain in your system in a degraded form for an extended period of time. And if constipation is a problem, the likely cause is a lack of dietary fiber, not food combining.
Along the same lines, toxic waste cannot turn into fat—it’s a physiologic impossibility. In order for foods to be stored as fat, they must be first broken down and then converted into triglycerides. If a food is left undigested, it can’t be absorbed—period. And if a food can’t be absorbed, then it can’t be metabolized into a triglyceride (or anything else, for that matter).
Not convinced? Well, consider the typical bodybuilding diet. In their pre-competition phase, bodybuilders often subsist on nothing but chicken and rice (eaten at the same time). According to food combining proponents, these athletes should be packing on the pounds. Instead, they manage to attain body fat percentages as low as four percent—so much for the combination of protein and carbs causing fat storage!
There are practical reasons why it’s actually beneficial to consume protein and carbs together. Food combining is energetically wasteful. When you eat only one or two large protein-based meals a day, there is a tendency for the body to utilize protein for energy, rather than tissue-building purposes. Conversely, frequent consumption of protein provides the body with a steady source of amino acids. In fact, studies have shown muscular growth is about 20 percent greater when protein is consumed on a frequent basis as opposed to a twice-daily basis.
In final analysis, food combining is nothing more than another gimmick diet that uses a shred of fact to make an outrageous conclusion. Throughout history, humans have eaten an endless combination of foods without ill effect. Heck, the Japanese thrive on sushi and have amongst the lowest rates of obesity and highest life-expectancy in the world. So don’t feel guilty about eating carbs and protein together. Focus on the quality and quantity of what you eat and you’ll ultimately keep your body lean and mean.
TAGS: food combining, protein and carbs together, Suzanne Somers, Marilu Henner, Herbert Shelton, Harvey Diamond