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The Benefits of Food Combining and How it Helps Us Achieve a Better Digestion

Updated on March 19, 2014
In order to combine foods correctly  and achieve optimum digestion, its important to know the chief nutrient in each food type.
In order to combine foods correctly and achieve optimum digestion, its important to know the chief nutrient in each food type.

Calorie counting is not what makes a diet successful. The composition of your food, and which enzymes your body uses to digest your food is the key, for both staying healthy and maintaining one's ideal weight. Our bodies are designed to digest the food we eat in a certain way and in order to maintain a healthy digestion and desirable weight we should eat in accordance to how we digest our food.

It has been observed in the animal kingdom, that animals eat in accordance with their digestive system. If the animal’s digestive system is designed for only digesting vegetables that animal will be a herbivore. Carnivores likewise, only consume meat and they do not consume meat with other food groups. We, human beings on the other hand, have a wide variety of foods to choose from and we tend to eat in accordance with our nationalities, or personal whims. Because our digestive system are designed to digest both plants and animals, we tend to eat both food groups in an indiscriminant way. This causes us to have many digestive problems, which even lead to serious health issues.

Food combining means to eat only foods that are suited for each other. This means that when we make food choices, we are guided by our digestive system, instead of our cultures, national backgrounds or whims. The theory of food combining began in 1939, when Dr. Howard Hay published a book on the subject. Then when Hay passed away in 1940, his work was further researched by his colleague, Dr. Herbert Shelton. Even though their work did not receive a lot of acceptance by the scientific community, it is still the backbone on how to eat in accordance with one’s digestion.

It is to one's advantage to truly understand the digestive system, this helps in the war against disease.
It is to one's advantage to truly understand the digestive system, this helps in the war against disease.

The Five Nutrients

Food is composed of five types of nutrients and they are: proteins, fats, sugars, starches and acids. Every type of food we eat is composed of all five, but one of these is dominant in each food type. The dominant nutrient is in greater proportion than the other nutrients contained in that particular food type. For example the dominant nutrient in steak is protein. Therefore, steak is considered a protein when being classified as a food type. It is the nutrient that is in the greatest proportion in that particular food type that programs the entire digestive process after you eats. Therefore, the protein in steak would be what determines which enzymes will be needed in order to digest the steak properly.

It is essential to know which one is the dominant nutrient in each of the food types we consume, in order to know how to combine it correctly with other food types and this way we can assure ourselves, we have an optimal digestion.

Listing of the Five Nutrients and How They are Processed by the Digestive System

  • Proteins: Proteins are polymers and they consist of the twenty amino acids. The number of different proteins derived from amino acids is quite high. There are eight amino acids that we do not manufacture in our bodies, therefore is essential that we consume foods that supply us with these needed amino acids. For a food to be considered a protein, the proportion of protein to other nutrients in that food type must be at least ten percent.
  • Fats: Include most substances that are insoluble in water and are present in all cells. In most foods, proteins and fats are usually contained together. Proteins tend to dominate when in conjunction with fats; fats are normally a subordinate to proteins.
  • Sugars: Are divided into milk sugars and vegetable sugars. Sugars as well as starches are carbohydrates. Although, sugars behave differently when combined with other foods than starches do. Fruits generally have a sugar content of twelve percent; therefore sugars are a dominant nutrient in fruits. Milk sugars, on the other hand, have a lower percentage than the sugars in fruits.
  • Starches: Starches belong to a group known as polysaccharides or complex sugars. This is an important form of sugar found in plant cells. It is a dominant nutrient in seeds and grasses like buckwheat. Starches are of the highest importance in terms of the food we consume. A large proportion of the world’s staple diets consist of mostly starches.
  • Acids: They normally have a lower ph value due to their higher degree of acidity. These are the acids that can cause the salivary enzyme ptyalin to slow down and cause the body to produce more gastric juices. Acidic foods include vinegar, wine vinegar and brewer’s yeast.

How Digestion Works

The digestive system is comprised of the alimentary canal, which is the long track that begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. The process of digestion is basically one of decomposition. It is the process of breaking down various substances into their basic constituents. Digestion takes place with the aid of enzymes that are the catalyst that promote the biochemical process of breaking down the food and turning them into you. Digestion begins in the mouth, aided by the salivary glands. From the mouth the food goes down the tubular passage, referred to as the esophagus. The food then travels from the esophagus to the stomach. The stomach is a J shaped organ that fills gradually and the food is then layered in the stomach, the bottom layer is composed of what you eat first, and each subsequent layer is composed of the rest of the food you eat. Here in the stomach the food is mixed with gastric juices and kneaded by the muscles of the stomach wall. Bile is secreted by the gallbladder in order to emulsify fats. The pancreas also secretes three fluids that are for digesting fats, carbohydrate and proteins. The food then goes to the small intestine, here the elements are broken down and absorbed through the intestinal wall, leaving waste matters and water to go further. The absorbed nutrients are taken to the bloodstream to the liver, where they are further processed.

The function of the large intestine is critical for completing digestion. In the large intestine water and other fluids are removed from the waste matter, and feces are formed and compacted and finally extracted through the anus. There you have the digestive process, in a nutshell.

For more information on food combining and how to food combine, as well as the benefits of food combining, I highly recommend, The Complete Book of Food Combining, by Jan Dries & Inge Dries.
For more information on food combining and how to food combine, as well as the benefits of food combining, I highly recommend, The Complete Book of Food Combining, by Jan Dries & Inge Dries.

Basic Rule for Food Combining

In a nutshell, the basic rules for food combining are as follows: the cardinal rule is to never eat a starch and a protein in the same meal. This will cause many digestive problems. Starches require enzymes that are alkaline, therefore should only be eaten with other vegetables.  Proteins on the other hand require enzymes that are acidic and therefore should only be eaten with non starchy vegetables.  Fruits have a unique set of enzymes and should be eaten alone and best eaten in the morning.   Water should be consumed either before meals, or half an hour later for best digestion. There are number of good and bad food combinations. It is essential to avoid bad food combinations, so that optimal digestion can be achieved. 

Good and Bad Food Combinations

Bad Combinations:

  • Combining a Protein and a Starch: As previously stated, the mother of all bad food combinations is eating a protein and a starch in the same meal. I can tell you, form personal experience, that when I have eaten rice and beans with steak in the same meal, I have had to supplement with enzymes, not to mention, going through a great deal of digestive discomfort. This combination is one of the most common in most cuisines, in all cultures throughout the world, yet it should be avoided.
  • Combining Starch with Sugar: Ever wonder why even looking at a donut makes you fat. It’s mainly because of its composition. Combining starch and sugar is to juxtapose two dominant nutrients that are digested differently. Each one requires a different digestive process. Sugars digest very rapidly, so they are absorbed quickly into the small intestine. On the hand, starches digest rather slowly, therefore is we eat both starch and sugar together in one meal, we run the risk of the sugar fermenting in our gut. Slow and incomplete digestion leads to the presence of indigested disaccharides and the starch that resides in the chyme within the intestines, causing more fermentation and eventually bloating. All this fermented and badly digested foods leads to fat.
  • Combining Starch and Acid: Since predigestion begins in the mouth, aided by they salivary enzyme ptyalin, which works in an environment of mild acidity, this process can be disrupted, if we eat a food that has an even higher degree of acidity. The starch is therefore, not predigested. This causes the pancreas to have to work even harder. This creates the problem of the starch not properly being broken down and the sugars that reside will ferment in your intestines. The consequence being, intestinal bloating and flatulence.
  • Combining Fat and Sugar: This combination is most unfavorable for one’s digestion. Whenever there is sugar in a food, it is accompanied by a high concentration of water. Water and fat are opposites. If we eat sugar together with foods that are high in fat, the sugar gets mixed with the fat. When sugar is digested it is broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream rather rapidly. However, the presence of fat slows this process down. The fat inhibits the kneading action of the stomach wall. There the sugar does not make contact with the gastric juices necessary for its proper digestion. The sugar then starts to ferment as a result of remaining undigested.  As previously stated, this will cause a person to become fat.
  • Combining Protein with Sugar: Because high protein foods generally are also high in fat, they tend to cause many of the same problems associated with combining fats with sugar. Therefore this combination should be avoided as well.

Examples of Bad Food Combinations: That you should avoid

  • Bread and Cheese: Starch and protein
  • Meat and Potatoes: Starch and protein
  • Sandwich filled with sweet filling: Starch and sugar
  • Bread and honey: Starch and sugar
  • Bread and Tomatoes: Starch and acid
  • Bread and Apple: Starch and acid
  • Rice with Curry Sauce: Protein and acid
  • Chicken with Pineapple: Protein and acid
  • Avocado with Sweet Fruit: Fat and sugar
  • Cheese and Jam: Fat and sugar
  • Meat with Sweet Sauce: Protein and sugar
  • Fish with Fruit: Protein and sugar 

Good Combinations:

  • Combining Protein and Fat: We normally find that most foods high in protein are naturally high in fat. This is a favorable combination, because the fat slow down the digestive process, allowing for a more complete and thorough digestion of proteins.
  • Combining Starches and Fats: Digesting starches has its complexities, with predigestion taking place in the mouth aided by the enzyme ptyalin. Since ptyalin is defused by the presence of acids, and fats are usually paired with some acids that contain antioxidants that prevent the fat from becoming rancid.  Even though the presence of fats weakens this salivary enzyme, it improves digestion by lengthening the process. Fats slow down the peristaltic motion of the stomach wall, and this permits enhanced digestion of proteins as well. The combination of fat and starches is favorable mainly because it creates a favorable level of acidity that can easily be exceeded. This allows for the food to be digested more thoroughly.
  • Combining Fat and Acid: Acid has a useful effect on fat, acid has an emulsifying effect on fat, virtually dissolving the fat and making it easier to digest. Otherwise the fat may settle in the stomach for long periods causing digestive ills for those who’s digestive systems are not doing well. Therefore, it is advisable to add something acidic to a very fatty meal. A good example of this would be avocado with lemon juice.
  • Sugar and Acid: The digestion of starch which begins in the mouth aided by the enzyme ptyalin is temporarily sustained in the stomach, where the sugars are stabilized.  It is not the gastric acid that stabilizes the sugars and any fermentation that does occurs is not a consequence of ptyalin being destroyed but by the presence of unstabilized sugars, that haven’t made contact with the gastric acid in the gut, and this prevents the ptyalin from continuing its reaction. The upper part of the stomach acts as a storage chamber and in a full stomach the food in the middle of the stomach chamber does not touch the wall and therefore starts to ferment. The stomach is after all very humid and hot. Obviously, the acid aids in the digestion of the sugars and helps to prevent further fermentation. That is why yogurt and honey make for a wonderful food combination. 

Examples of Good Food Combinations: You may consider trying these

  • Bread and Butter: Starch and fat
  • Spaghetti and Butter: Starch and fat
  • Avocado with Lemon: Fat and acid
  • Cheese and Tomato: Fat and acid
  • Yoghurt with Honey: Sugar and acid
  • Buttermilk with Sugar: Sugar and acid 

When you avoid bad food combinations and strive for favorable ones, you are helping your stomach to work more efficiently and to struggle less. This in turn will allow for more energy to do other things, because less energy is needed to for digestion. You will also experience better sleep. Overall, your health will improve, because better digestion leads to less putrefied foods in your gut and this lessens the toxicity levels in your body. 

Try these simple rules next time you eat, you may be pleasantly surprised at your increased energy levels, not to mention better sleep patterns, as well as an increased ability to concentrate and think more clearly.  I practice food combining when I try to organize my menu plans, and I just couldn't believe how alive I feel, when I adhere to these principles.  My energy levels are just amazing.  


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    • akshaya varma profile image

      Dr Cimi Bhaskaran 7 months ago from redmond, washington

      I totally agree...but one thing I think should be considered is the quantity of food. Even if we were to take the wrong combinations of food occasionally, we could reverse the harm done by moderating the quantity of food taken in that manner.

      Thank you for introducing me to Dr. Hay.

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 3 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Hello Mary, I agree I'm not the world's best speller and I appreciate that you pointed that out, I will change it, since I do want my article to be spelled correctly. I thank you and I'm glad you love the article, and please do share it.

    • profile image

      Mary 3 years ago

      I love this article, and would love to share it. However, I found a mispelled in this sentence - "Acids: They normally have a lower ph value due to there higher degree of" I think the word should be "their"

    • profile image

      bern 5 years ago

      thanks. suggestion well noted.

      God bless u.

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 5 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      I guess nuts should be eaten by themselves. Protein should be eaten with complex carbs such as salad or veggies.

      I have a suggestion that I think may help you. Online you can find food combining charts. All you need is a printer and they are free. I printed one out and put it on my refrigerator and it really helped me. I hope my suggestion help.

      I do thank you for your interest in my article and in food combining in general. I hope you find yourself more energetic and in better health than ever.

    • profile image

      bern 5 years ago


      what should my (nuts & seeds); pumpkin seeds, flaxseed,sesame seeds, tigernuts, blackseed BE EATEN WITH?

      what should protein be eaten with?

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 5 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Hi Bern,

      I see you already are starting to understand food combining. Bread and avocado = fat and a carb, although an avocado would be classified as a fruit.

    • profile image

      bern 5 years ago

      bread and avocado ?

      protien and ?

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thanks Lanealanea, I'm glad you found it informative.

    • lanealanea profile image

      lanealanea 7 years ago from Orange County, California

      Great information. Thank you. Lanea

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Hi Dardia

      I'm glad you feel that way because I couldn't give up cooked foods either. I know raw foods are healthy and they contain more enzymes, but if you combine your food correctly and take plant enzymes when eating cooked foods it should have the same effects on your body as eating raw foods. An excellent reference on this subject is Fit for Life not Fat for Live by Harvey Diamond. In his book he talks about cooked and raw foods as well as taking enzymes. Whatever you decide to do I hope you stay healthy and feel your best.

    • Dardia profile image

      Darlene Yager 7 years ago from Michigan

      That is good because I don't know if I could give up cooked foods through the fall and winter.

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thank you Dardia, Many of the best and most sound diets tend to have similar principles. The Raw food diet is excellent, this one allows more for cooked food which gives more flexibility to the person. It is also great for weight loss I lost 25 pounds following these principles.

    • Dardia profile image

      Darlene Yager 7 years ago from Michigan

      Many of these rules are used in "The Raw Food Diet." I believe that I felt healthier and had more energy while following that diet. This sounds like it might even be easier to adapt to. Nice hub.

    • profile image

      Adrian Scandrett 7 years ago

      Great information, I can tell from my own experience that green living is the easiest way to loose weight and stay healthy without painful diets.

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thank you Fucsia, I'm glad you found it useful.

    • fucsia profile image

      fucsia 7 years ago

      gret hub... very useful and detailed

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thank you Purple Perl, I'm glad you like the hub. I will be sure to check your hub out.

    • Purple Perl profile image

      Purple Perl 7 years ago from Bangalore,India

      An excellent hub well researched and extremely useful for anyone wanting the best out of foods! Thanks very much,I am bookmarking this. My hub on The Correct Way To Eat Fruits will be beneficial as a recommended read.

      And my congratulations to you!

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thank you ruminator, I remember when I started food combining, I sort of felt like I was living in some alternative universe. You can do is try some food combining combinations and be creative. Instead of a regular burger try Morning Star Farm Patties. Also don't give up you favorite cuisine all together, never make it too rigid. If you need energy it may help.

    • ruminator profile image

      ruminator 7 years ago from Big Skies, NM

      oh my, it seems all of my favorite foods shouldn't be consumed together! you didn't mention the quintessential hamburger on a bun with french fries - no wonder America is so fat! My downfall is the fresh hot Italian bread with a fine gorgonzola, yum. A glass of red wine with it does tend to help the digestion. Very interesting - thanks for all the information.

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      thank you money glitch. It helps for the food to be tasty, otherwise its a struggle to eat right. I never win anything so this is really nice surprise.

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 7 years ago from Texas

      Hhhhmmm, great info! I've been doing some of the suggestions just because they taste good. Great to know that it is assisting in the digestion process. Thanks for sharing and congrats on the win!

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thanks MyWebs, As a matter of fact the book that I got all this information from also has a recipe section. I might consider sharing a few.

    • MyWebs profile image

      Anthony Goodley 7 years ago from Sheridan, WY

      I am always amazed at the amount of technical details you provide in your hubs. They are always so informative and educational.

      I would sure pay you to prepare my meal list if it was practical. I'm sure my body would thank me for it. Maybe this would make for a good related hub: a list of recipes that follow the guidelines given in this hub.