In 1985 we were introduced to “proper” food combining by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond in Fit for Life. For many years we have been taught that proper combining of foods optimizes the digestive processes. It has long been thought that eating a variety of foods together can interfere with the digestion of certain others. For example, fruits were to be eaten on their own to avoid fermentation. Grains were to be eaten separately from proteins. Likewise, it is possible to eat foods which enhance the digestion or, at least, do not interfere with the digestion of the others. For example, proteins were to be eaten with non-starchy vegetables.  “Grazing” every 2 hours, with six smaller meals a day has also been promoted as a more efficient means of digestion.  In reality, the difficulty in digesting certain combinations of foods may have more to do with the frequency of eating, the quality of the foods we are eating and our digestive enzyme capacity.

Completely digested carbohydrates yield monosaccharides; incompletely digested carbohydrates yield the poisonous substances, acetic acid and alcohol (fermentation). Completely digested proteins yield amino acids; incompletely digested proteins yield ptomaines, leucoamines, indoles and scatoles (putrefaction), all poisonous substances. Allergies are a manifestation of incompletely digested food molecules which auto intoxicate. There are now more recent physiological-based principles around food combining to prevent these reactions.

The myth is that “grazing” is good for you. The truth is that if you keep eating small amounts of food throughout the day, you will never burn any fat and the excess will store as visceral fat around the mid-section. This myth is an easy one to buy into, because at face value, it seems like it makes sense. By eating frequent, small meals, you’re continuously stimulating your metabolism, and thus burning more calories, right? WRONG. Here’s why:

By grazing around the clock, you’re preventing your body from burning fat. When you’re constantly eating, you’re consistently releasing insulin, which puts your body into its “absorptive phase.” Basically what this means is that the insulin in your body is storing sugar as fat. The goal is for your body to be in “post absorptive phase,” where insulin comes down and your body uses your energy stores for maintenance and burns fat.

Grazing can cause you to lose track of the actual amount of food being consumed. When you have three, well-balanced meals a day, the signaling of the appetite and satiety is turned on. Conversely, when you have six small meals, this signaling is lost. It also becomes more difficult to ensure that each time you’re eating; you’re consuming the appropriate combination of macronutrients like healthy proteins, fats, and carbs.

  • Leptin is a very powerful and influential hormone normally produced in fat cells.  If your Leptin signaling is working properly, when your fat stores are “full,” there will be a surge in your Leptin level. This surge signals your brain to stop feeling hungry, to stop eating, to stop storing fat and to start burning some extra fat off.  The only way to eat less in the long-term is to not be hungry and the only way to do this is to control the hormones that regulate hunger, the primary one being Leptin. It turns out that overweight people, especially children, produce large amounts of Leptin naturally, but the body has developed unresponsiveness or resistance to it, the same way they became resistant to insulin. Due to this resistance, satiation is not induced.  The only known way to re-establish proper Leptin and Insulin signaling is to prevent those surges.
  • Ghrelin is another hormone which regulates hunger. It is produced mainly by the stomach to stimulate appetite when the stomach is empty and the walls are not stretched.  Your body’s level of Ghrelin can be influenced by many factors, including your lifestyle habits. For instance, chronic lack of sleep increases Ghrelin, making you feel hungry when you don’t really need to eat. This is likely one reason why a lack of sleep can make you gain weight. Insulin is known to increase levels of Leptin, the hormone that tells your brain you are full, but when you eat certain foods that have no effect on Ghrelin and interfere with Leptin communication, this important cycle does not occur.
  • You’re left feeling unsatisfied. Studies have shown that many people don’t feel satiated following a small meal, which can then cause them to overeat later, to make up for it. Psychologically, grazing can leave you wanting more because you never sit down to have a full meal. You are not filling the stomach and shutting off the Ghrelin hormone.

New Guidelines:

Based on metabolic balance® by Dr. Med. Wolf Funfack, M.D., it is recommended to eat every five hours — three meals per day, no snacks in between, only water in between to stretch the stomach and signal satiety receptors. This pattern of eating every five hours stabilizes your blood sugar, optimizes insulin production and manages hunger. Each of the three meals needs to have a balance of carbohydrate, protein, vegetables and a fruit. The idea is to consume enough food at each meal to allow insulin and blood sugar to rise and fall in tandem over a five hour period. The natural reduction in insulin is a five hour time frame.

Jillian Michaels is a New York Times bestselling author of numerous books including Master Your Metabolism, Unlimited: How to Build an Exceptional Life, and her most recent bestselling release, Slim for Life: My Insider Secrets to Simple, Fast, And Lasting Weight Loss. Jillian recommends eating three meals a day as well, but with a small snack included between lunch and dinner.

With the three meals a day and five hours between meals prescribed by the metabolic balance® plan, one does not get hungry between meals.  This is due to foods that have a low glycemic load.  The difference between how these two eating styles affect the body can be seen in blood sugar and insulin levels throughout the day:  by constantly eating, insulin remains elevated and therefore, fat storage takes place, leaving minimal time for fat to be burned.  Blood sugar and insulin levels rise after each meal, but fat can only be burned off when both of these levels have fallen again. See Diagram 2.

First protein, then carbohydrates

When protein is the first thing to hit your stomach, your pancreas releases the hormone glucagon. Glucagon is the antagonist of insulin. It blocks insulin production which leads to lower insulin levels and stimulates fat burning, blocks fat synthesis and prevents the dreaded attacks of a ravenous appetite. Carbohydrates and proteins start a kind of fire burning in your body, a fire in which fat can be favourably burned.  We need to eat correct amounts of carbohydrates and proteins, for this fat to burn at all.  If we skip a meal, this fire cannot burn effectively, thus less fat is burned.  Similarly, if we eat smaller portions, a smaller fire is started, and again less fat can be burned.  Biochemically, this can be explained with the “citric acid cycle”, well-known in the scientific community.  One could also call it a fire cycle, in which fat is burned in the carbohydrate and protein fire.  This cycle proves that it really is proteins and carbohydrates in corresponding measures that form the basis of our nourishment. Without protein and carbohydrates, fat doesn’t have enough fuel.  This is why we need protein, fats and carbs together; if a part is missing, or even the whole meal, the fat fire will not burn as efficiently as it could.  With some people this fire seems to have gone out completely.

Begin each meal with one or two bites of the protein food first, so that the digestive enzymes that are necessary to break those proteins down can start working.  If carbohydrates are then consumed, insulin production is stimulated, but with a slight delay.  This results in a slower increase of insulin levels in the blood (and a slower onset of hunger). After that, the other parts of the meal can (but don’t have to) be mixed in.  The five hour pause begins exactly after the last bite has been eaten.

David Rowland talks about food combining in his text, Digestion: Inner Pathway to Health. He states, “Healthy youngsters have the amazing ability to digest just about anything they eat, in almost any combination, at any time of day. When digestive juices are at peak capacity, the entire digestive system works very efficiently…..At this enviable time of life, overeating or eating unwisely does not necessarily result in indigestion.” If food is eaten at five hour intervals and in the combinations described above, the digestive juices should have time to re-boot and start the cycle again at the next meal just like a healthy youngster. It is our current habits of the wrong amounts of the indigestible, processed, overcooked foods at the wrong times that are creating the dilemma of no digestive juices and the need to think that we need to eat less and more frequently and not combine certain foods. This is not based on scientific fact. Human digestion is innately able to handle an omnivorous diet with some cautions:

  • Rowland recommends no proteins and/or fats (e.g. meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, milk, butter) with refined and concentrated sugars (e.g. commercial fruit juices, sweet and sour sauces, pastries, pies, cakes, soft drinks, candy and sweet liqueurs). This is true because these kinds of sugars are held in the digestion longer and fermentation produces putrefactive gases.
  • Rowland also recommends fruits and fruit juices on an empty stomach, 30 minutes before a meal. However, the physiological response will be a rapid increase in blood sugar and insulin and this is not a good idea. By consuming a fruit with a low glycemic load at the end of the meal, the blood sugar delivery is slowed down to keep the necessary satiety up for five hours.
  • Do not mix acid foods and starches. Eat a bite or two of the protein food first, as suggested above and then the carbohydrate food, followed by the acid food last. Citrus fruits or vinegar will inhibit the action of ptyalin, a starch-digesting enzyme which originates in salivary secretions. Ptyalin will not act in even a mildly acidic medium. Proper chewing assures mixing of foods with ptyalin. Once Ptyalin in the saliva has begun its job and the food is swallowed, gastric hydrochloric acid is secreted and continues the digestion.
  • Do not mix refined sugars and starches. These sweets in the mouth also inhibit the formation of ptyalin. Refined sugars also ferment if delayed in the stomach. Such a delay can occur if the sweets in the mouth inhibit the production of ptyalin. This enzyme is necessary for the preparatory stages of starch digestion to trigger the movement on to the intestine where proper digestion of starches takes place. Do not drink sweetened drinks and eat breads at the same time.
  • Do not drink milk. Man is the only creature which drinks milk beyond the age of weaning. Milk causes mucous in the colon, allergies and malabsorption of nutrients. Milk neutralizes the hydrochloric acid in the stomach and it should consequently, not be taken with any protein. The lesson is “don’t touch!”
  • Select your proteins wisely.  Muscle meat is difficult to digest, even when combined properly with other foods. The best and most digestible source of protein is the egg, and it should be soft cooked — never fried, scrambled, or hard cooked.
  • Separate the proteins in such a way that each type of protein only appears once per day, so that they are not mixed.  This is important in order to avoid superfluous, over-acidified amino acids.
  • It is also important to eat only one kind of protein at each meal. The utilization capacity of dietary protein at each meal depends on the lowest fraction of essential amino acids. If a food like soybeans has all eight essential amino acids, methionine is in this food in the lowest proportion. The biological value of soybeans is 0.75, based on the biological value in this food of 0.6 of methionine.