Do you have an opinion on food combining?

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Dear Robyn,

Do you have an opinion on food combining?

---(several writers asked this question)


Thank you for your questions. Yes, I do have an opinion. Below I have pasted a segment that got cut from BodyFueling before its publication. (Why? Because my publisher had also published the key book in question.) I can tell you generally that I think food combining is essentially bunk (and the vast majority of nutritionists and educators are similarly inclined--just start checking into what other well-known health authors--conventional and natural alike--have written and said). I see no evidence whatsoever for restricting yourself in this manner. If people really want to do this, that's their business, but it is certainly not something I myself am interested in or see value in, let alone promote.

The best thing I can say about diets like these is that they are a perfect example of the vexing tendency of Americans to buy and believe the schemes most disconnected from reality and plain sense. It seems to me that the more outlandish, unlikely and even punishing the diet, the more fascination our society has with it. Some of the best-selling diet books of all time have also been the most ridiculous.

Fit For Life is, like so many other diets, programs, plans and books, designed for weight loss. It frankly states this purpose. If you've read BodyFueling, there's probably not much I need to repeat about "weight" loss as a pursuit.

But Fit for Life gets much worse than the mere distraction of "weight" as a goal. The core of the philosophy is premised on assertions about the human body which are not related to anything you would find in any biology book.

The authors claim human digestion happens according to three separate segments in every 24-hour period. From noon to 8 p.m., food is eaten; from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., food is broken down and absorbed; and from 4 a.m. through noon, the body processes and eliminates wastes.They believe the elimination phase is the key to "weight" loss, because "toxic wastes" they say are produced by the body during digestion "turn to fat" if not excreted. The purpose of their infamous food-combining moratorium is to avoid these toxic wastes; they say these toxins are produced when we eat carbohydrates and proteins together, because the body can only break down one type of food at a time.

Scientists note that that the food-combining theory actually preaches the opposite of what research shows about digestion. The fact is, doctors can use fiberoptic gastroscopes to look into the body and observe digestive processes as they take place in the stomach and intestines. The "neutralized digestion" food combiners caution you about does not exist. Digestion occurs when we eat, period--not during some time-sensitive day shift.

Think about this: our bodies can't tell time, and therefore can't distinguish 8 a.m. from 4 p.m. I mean, if your body starts breaking down food at 8 p.m., how does it figure out when to begin if you cross time zones? I idly asked this--long before I even became seriously interested in the subject--of a co-worker who was excitedly describing the diet to me. He turned beet red and never spoke to me again.

A college nutrition textbook, Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies, also points out, "...what the advocates of food combining don't tell you is that almost all foods, even when eaten individually, are combinations of fat, protein and carbohydrates to begin with." Which means that if our body really did neutralize carbs and proteins eaten together, we would not digest most of the food we ate, and we would die of starvation.

Fit For Life espouses eating only fruit from 4 a.m. to noon., because, they say, fruit's high water and "glucose" (?) content allows it to "digest itself." This reportedly conserves large amounts of ''vital energy,'' which is automatically channeled into the cleansing of those ''toxic wastes'' that somehow magically become fat. And they say dairy products "break down to create a sticky goo that adheres to the lining of our intestines and hampers digestion." While I definitely have real concerns about dairy products, this absurb notion is not among them--it is not possible for such "goo" to exist, because the surface on the inside of the intestines, with its millions of villi (tiny fingerlike projections), regenerates itself constantly, with cells sloughing off and new ones being made.

There have been other diets that espouse similar types of fabrications. The Beverly Hills Diet also says that protein and carbohydrate eaten together neutralize one another, leaving the food undigested and unabsorbed, so it (no matter what kind of food it is?!) turns into fat. The book states that as long as you don't eat these two types of food together, you can eat anything else you please and be "eternally slim." This book was especially famous for informing us that pineapple has special digestive powers, that all fruits can 'burn'' off "weight-producing" effects, and that "fruit has much higher protein levels than anyone thinks." The author claimed watermelon is 25 percent protein--when in fact, like all fruits, it is less than one percent protein. All you'd need to do to is check any food counter that provides fat, protein and carbohydrate values, and look up the protein content of any fruit.

Learn how your body works, and learn to tell sense from nonsense. That's the best lesson I think these theories have to offer!

NOTE: For more on fad diets, also see "Exiting The Zone" Myth Bust, the "Confused About Carbohydrates?" Myth Bust. and the "South Beach Diet" Myth Bust as well as Experts Talk Carbs.


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