The best food combining principles and why

We all know how specific foods can provide health benefits. (1) There is much research about food combining, and in fact, food combining was my first interest when I came into the field of nutrition at the age of 15. I then went to my local library to find the different digestive times of proteins, fruits, and starches. At the age of 15, I understood that improper food combinations might lead to weight gain, indigestion, gas, and bloating. But is this true?

When examining human evolution and taking a look at ancient human eating habits, we see that raw foods were eaten at the place and time they were gathered in nature. This, in itself, led to good food combining. Later, when humans could control fire and cooking was introduced, foods that were gathered could be cooked together with other foods gathered from different places at different times. Also, older foods could be consumed without the fear of contamination. The heat would kill off most of the available parasites, in meat, for example. But in general, foods were consumed the same day they were gathered or hunted and were from the same area.

Ancient humans ate what grew in the space they were in, and the foods that grew together were naturally very good when combined together for feeding.  

In the modern world, we can find everything sold together, so how do we know what is right and beneficial to eat together?  

Here are the basic principles of healthy food combining:

1. Eat Fruit Alone

When you eat fruit, aim to eat it alone. I even recommend one type of fruit in each sitting, which means that you want to aim for one or more of the same fruit as a snack.  

You definitely want to avoid eating fruit as a dessert after your meal since fruit is rich in fructose, which, when consumed with other starches, leads to a whole process that, in the end, will lead to a fatty liver. I explain this process in my article here:

Fruits can also be combined with fats such as nuts.

However, fruits are best consumed alone and on an empty stomach preventing fermentation and fatty liver.

The one exception to this is in a smoothie. The reason for this is when blending all of the ingredients of the smoothie together, all of the products get broken down into simple sugars making their digestion time similar.  

Smoothies should be consumed on their own and not with any starches since their high fructose content will lead to fat storage. Overall I do not recommend drinking smoothies very often. A one-off once every week is all right, but more than this is not as healthy as it is thought to be.  

2. Combine Protein and Non-Starchy Vegetables

Animal protein needs an acidic environment in order to be digested and is best not to be paired with starches.

Animal protein can be combined with high-water-content vegetables such as leafy greens, peppers, asparagus, broccoli, and celery.

However, animal protein food combining rules do not apply to plant-based protein foods, such as peas, beans, and lentils. Plant-based proteins are digested in a similar time as carbohydrates and can and even should be combined together.

The difference lies in the fact that the digestive tract cannot cope with too much animal protein. This leads to much protein not being digested in the stomach and small intestine as it optimally should. Instead, parts may reach the colon, where there are no digestive proteases to break the proteins down to amino acids. Colonic microbes feast on these proteins leading to microbial protein putrefaction. Having a good food source, these putrefactive bacteria and their metabolites increase in the gut, which is detrimental to health. These harmful bacteria take the space of healthy carbohydrate-fermenting bacteria.

So animal protein should not be consumed with starchy foods but can be consumed with non-starchy vegetables. In contrast, plant-based protein can also be consumed with starchy foods.  

3. Non-Starchy Vegetables and Leafy Greens Go Well with Everything

Non-Starchy Vegetables and Leafy Greens Go Well with Everything. But because leafy greens digest faster than other foods, you can eat the leafy greens first, for example, as a starter dish to get the most nutrition from them.

4. Water with Meals

I have heard of people suggesting that people should avoid drinking water with meals since liquid can dilute your digestive fluids and slow down digestion. Well, this is not based on science. Research has shown that consuming water with meals reduces the risk of esophageal cancer. Drinking water can aid digestion. Water help enzymes break down food so that your body can absorb the nutrients. Water also prevents constipation. You can drink water while eating foods, but I would aim to focus on getting nutrients from foods during a meal while in between meals getting sufficient hydration.

5. Herbs, Spices, and Citrus Are Neutral

Herbs and spices, like garlic, ginger, turmeric, curry powder, mustard, and a dash of lemon or lime, are considered neutral. They make proper food combinations with fruit, starch, proteins, or healthy fats. Any herb or spice can be used to elevate your favorite recipe.

To summarize:

Meals with Fewer Ingredients Digest Best

Should you ever forget any of the food combining rules, remember that minimalist meals digest the best. This is how our bodies are used to functioning for millennia, even much before cooking began.

Feel free to comment below and let me know what you liked best about this article.

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Thank You, 🙂

Dr. Galit Goldfarb


(1)Matthias B Schulze, Miguel A Martínez-González,   Teresa T Fung,   Alice H Lichtenstein, Gershoff,   Nita G Forouhi  €œFood based dietary patterns and chronic disease prevention €, 13 June 2018. BMJ 2018; 361 doi:


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