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Food Combining: A Key To Better Health?

Updated on September 5, 2012
Some say food combining is vital for health in the body.
Some say food combining is vital for health in the body. | Source

The idea of food combining was introduced by Dr. William Howard Day early in the 20th century. The reasoning behind it was based on body chemistry principles. Simply put, the body uses certain acids and bases, or alkalis, to help digest certain foods.

When those different foods are eaten together, Day asserted, the juices can neutralize each other, blocking if not stopping the digestion process. Out of that came a set of guidelines meant to help in planning the day's and week's meals.

Many others since then have embraced this concept and elaborated on it. Dr. Herbert M. Shelton, an author in the area of alternative medicine, wrote extensively about how food pairings effect health. in his book, Dr. Shelton's Hygienic Review, he set down his "nine basic rules for food combining".

Some of those include:

  1. Eat protein foods and carbohydrate foods at separate meals.
  2. Eat only one kind of protein food at a meal.
  3. Eat fats and proteins at separate meals.
  4. Eat fruits and proteins at separate meals.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Avocado is full of fiber and good fat.Nuts are protein-rich.Flaxseed oil has antioxidants.
Avocado is full of fiber and good fat.
Avocado is full of fiber and good fat. | Source
Nuts are protein-rich.
Nuts are protein-rich. | Source
Flaxseed oil has antioxidants.
Flaxseed oil has antioxidants. | Source

More recently, the Body Ecology website was set up to offer a diet created around the proper combining of foods. After cleansing the body, the new method of choosing food is introduced.

As with Dr. Shelton's principles, eating proteins with non-starchy vegetables is recommended, as well as pairing non-starchy vegetables with grains or starchy vegetables. Suggested fats include avocado, nuts and seeds. Some oils are olive, flaxseed and coconut.

Alder Brooke Healing Arts in Oregon has a printable chart that clearly illustrates the different food "groups" and how they should or should not go together. There is also advice ranging from eating fruit before a meal to what temperature liquid with a meal should be.

Food Categories in Combining

Acid Fruits:

Blackberry; Plum (sour); Cranberries; Pomegranate; Grapefruit; Raspberry; Lemon/Lime; Sour Apple; Orange; Strawberry; Pineapple; Sour Cherries

Sub-Acid Fruits:

Apple; Mango; Apricot; Blueberry; Peach; Cherry; Pear; Kiwi; Plum (sweet)

Sweet Fruits:

Banana; Date; Papaya; Persimmon; Currant; Dried Fruits; Fig; Prunes; Grapes; Raisins

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Sources of proteinFresh veggiesYogurt smoothieFlaxseed crackers
Sources of protein
Sources of protein | Source
Fresh veggies
Fresh veggies | Source
Yogurt smoothie
Yogurt smoothie | Source
Flaxseed crackers
Flaxseed crackers | Source


Kefir; Yogurt; Tempeh; Miso; Sauerkraut

Sea/Water Vegetables:

Agar; Kelp; Sea Palm; Wakame

Non-Starchy Vegetables:

Greens; Cabbage; Broccoli, Root; Eggplant; Sweet Peppers; Squash; Onions (scallions); Mushrooms; Celery; Cucumber; Cauliflower; Asparagus

Complex Carbs:

Beans; Breads; Potatoes; Cereals; Grains; Lentils; Squash

Concentrated Proteins:

Nuts; Seeds; Eggs; Fish; Fowl; Meat; Milk; Soybeans; Yogurt

Possible Food Combinations

Good Combinations
High Protein + Non Starch Vegetable
Chicken Breast + Broccoli
High Starch + Non Starch Vegetable
Lentils + Peppers/Onions/Mushrooms
Poor Combinations
High Protein-Fruits
Eggs + Fruit Salad
High Protein - High Starch
Steak + Bread/Rolls
Fruits-Non Starch Veg
Apples + Green salad
Fruits-High Starch
Banana + cereal

So exactly how effective is this way of eating? It depends on who you ask. Testimonials from alternative health experts and lay people alike point to the eating changes having some positive effect. Improved digestion and weight loss are two of the direct benefits touted.

But mainstream professionals in general don't believe the basic tenants of this mindset. The human body, they say, has always been designed to handle many different possible food combinations. In fact, some foods, like beans and yogurt, already contain combined properties that Dr. Day would not have approved of putting together.

Studies such as the one carried out by researchers at University Hospital in Geneva, Switzerland show that there is no major difference in weight loss between people who pair certain foods and those who don't. And in various publications like the "American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide", experts say that pairings do not significantly improve digestion.

Some doctors even express concern about limiting foods and combinations, saying that can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Wheat Berry Salad is one way to combine food deliciously!
Wheat Berry Salad is one way to combine food deliciously! | Source

Taking certain foods out of the diet might be helpful for people who have intense digestive issues. For instance, beans or roughage can aggravate irritable bowl syndrome.

But in terms of every day diet, aiming for balance rather than ideal combinations seems to be the safest way to better health. Choose My Plate, a USDA-sponsored website, explains how to fill up segments of a 9-inch plate with items from the traditional food groups to meet daily nutritional needs. The emphasis is variety and healthy choices in the diet.


For Food Combining:

  • Body Ecology (
  • Alder Brooke Healing Arts (

For Other Approaches:

  • Choose My Plate (
  • Livestrong (


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    • profile image

      Heather63 5 years ago

      I totally agree - food combining takes a lot of brain power, at least at first! And you have your hands full. I guess you kind of do your own version of it already...You probably are doing the thing that I think is most effective about food combining - eating smaller and simpler meals.

    • kissayer profile image

      Kristy Sayer 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I don't know if I could ever do food combining as I think I'd get annoyed with thinking so much about food (especially as I already have to analyse ingredients list/make sure there's no contamination with my food allergies and intolerances) - it's definitely something interesting to learn about though. I have extreme IBS so I wondered if it would help some time ago, but then the mental stress of thinking so much deterred me :P

    • profile image

      Camille Pegram 5 years ago

      yes this would probably be best for the digestive system

    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Hi Maddie! I've just started trying out meal plans, so I personally haven't had much in terms of results yet. But I know people who swear by it. I honestly think it's the combination of choosing healthier foods and eating lighter meals that is giving them the benefits. Either way, I'm glad they're getting relief!

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 5 years ago from Oakland, CA

      Very interesting. Do you find that this kind of eating improves your digestion at all?