Like every new year, motivation levels are soaring and fad diets continue to pop up. Even though it’s been proven countless times that exercise & a balanced diet are the most effective means to weight loss, there’s no stopping new diets from gaining popularity. One that stands out particularly to me is the not-so-new Food Combining Diet. Especially given the amount of success it’s had over the years, there is probably some truth to it. It centers around the notion that eating inappropriate combinations of certain foods can hinder weight loss, digestive & metabolic process as well as lead to various ailments. Although various diets are based on this theory, they tend to share similar principles. Three points in particular stood out, especially as newer studies reveal the opposite for weight loss:
- Do not pair proteins with starchy carbs
- Do not mix starches
- Eat fruit separately
The underlying guideline of Food Combining is to not pair proteins with starchy carbs. As proteins digest best in an acidic solution whereas starches require an alkaline base for digestion, the digestive tract cannot properly digest both foods simultaneously. As true as that may be, it doesn’t really take into account the macro effect of combining the 2 food groups i.e. eating a source of protein with a carb lowers the meal’s overall GI value and the rate at which is sugar is released into the bloodstream. As a result, this combination can also reduce cravings for high-fat, sugary foods later on in the day.
And speaking of insulin & blood sugar levels, another food combination “guideline” is to not mix starches. The premise behind this is that an overload of carbs will make your blood sugar levels skyrocket and then crash, leaving you hungry and tired. While in theory that makes sense, it’s far too simplistic to classify all starches within the same category. As somebody who eats a largely plant-based diet, I often rely on complimentary proteins for a protein-rich meal. In other words I try to combine certain plant-based proteins to compensate for each other’s lack of essential amino acids. Daal (a.k.a. lentils) with brown rice is an ideal example of this. Whereas daal isn’t a good source of tryptophan, methionine, and cystine, all 3 are found in brown rice. On the flip side, grains like rice are low in the essential amino acid lysine whereas lentils contain decent amounts. Suddenly starch-combining doesn’t seem so bad does it?
And finally my favorite, and most frequently heard: Eat fruits separately, as they digest very quickly given their simple carbohydrate structure. According to Food Combining principles, pairing them with other foods slows down the process, leaving the fruit juices to rot & ferment. That would mean cereal without blueberries, smoothies without oats and bananas without almond butter. That doesn’t sound right, does it? Aside from keeping things regular, adding some fiber in the form of fruit to my breakfast every morning keeps me from gnawing at my arm all morning…and everything in my kitchen for that matter.
It’s great that the Food Combining Diet’s guidelines focus on unprocessed, whole foods. However I think that any weight loss generated from this approach is more likely to be a result of limiting one’s options during mealtime (and hence increasing the caloric deficit), rather than a result of certain combinations. For those individuals who have successfully lost weight by following a food combining diet, hats off to you…I mean it! However my biggest tip to anyone contemplating this approach is to do your research. For every new diet or nutrition-related ‘tip’ which creeps up, I can guarantee we’ll find another one that counters it. Keep experimenting until you find one that suits YOUR lifestyle, goals & preferences…even it means throwing certain ‘rules’ out the window. And most importantly, always keep in mind the crux of weight loss: Eat less calories than your body burns off daily.
What’s your favorite food combination?
What nutrition-related “tip” doesn’ t work for you?