What Is a Food Combining Diet?

food combining diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

What Is the Food Combining Diet?

Food combining diets are based on the idea that eating certain foods separately from others can aid in digestion to support weight loss and overall health.

Food combining advocates believe that foods have unique effects on the pH level in the digestive tract and that these foods should not be consumed together. However, there is no scientific evidence to support these assumptions.

What Experts Say

"The food combining diet forbids eating carbohydrates with protein and requires fruit be eaten alone. Many health experts suggest eating protein with carbohydrates to stabilize blood sugar and provide satiation. This diet promotes distrust of our bodies and foods, and overly complicates eating."

Willow Jarosh, MS, RD

The 7-Day Diet Plan

While there is not one definitive version of the food combining diet, in general, a week on the plan might look something like this sample (but note that experts don't recommend following this plan).

  • Day 1: Eggs and bacon; raspberries; grain bowl with barley, leafy greens, and mixed vegetables; salmon with spinach, white wine
  • Day 2: Plain oatmeal; roast turkey with asparagus; raw carrots and cucumbers; hamburger patty with cheese
  • Day 3: Ham and cheese omelet; stir-fried shrimp and broccoli; figs; baked chicken thighs with kale
  • Day 4: Rice cereal with almond milk; raw celery and bell peppers; steak with green salad; seared tuna
  • Day 5: Mashed sweet potatoes; salmon with spinach; raw carrots and almonds; roast turkey with asparagus
  • Day 6: Eggs and sausage; apricots; poached chicken and zucchini noodles; grain bowl with barley, greens, and mixed vegetables, beer
  • Day 7: Plain oatmeal; baked chicken thighs with kale; raw celery and cucumbers; grilled scallops

What You Can Eat

Those who follow a standard American diet often pair meat and starch at mealtime: a turkey sandwich for lunch; eggs, bacon, and toast for breakfast; roast chicken and potatoes for dinner. On a food combining diet, protein and carbohydrates are never eaten together.

In addition to keeping proteins and starches separated, a food combining diet suggests consuming sweet fruit only in moderation and on an empty stomach—a few hours after or 20 minutes before a meal. It is also recommended to drink plenty of water—but not during meals.

Protein

Proteins are allowed, but never eaten with starchy foods like bread, rice, squash, or grains.

  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Cheese
  • Poultry
  • Seafood

Grains and Starchy Vegetables

Consume starchy vegetables and other carb-heavy foods with cooked non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens only (not proteins).

  • Potatoes
  • Squash
  • Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Bread
  • Quinoa

Fruit

Avoid sweet fruit as much as possible. Choose sour or low-sugar fruit instead. Eat nuts, seeds, and dried fruit only with raw vegetables. Low sugar fruits include:

  • Limes
  • Raspberries
  • Cranberries
  • Guavas
  • Apricots
  • Kiwi
  • Figs
  • Blackberries

Neutral Foods

There are many variations of the food combining diet. In most, non-starchy vegetables are placed in the neutral group and can be paired with starches or proteins. Some plans also consider other foods, such as dark chocolate, almond milk, cream, coconut water, lemons, butter, and oil, "neutral" and allow them to be eaten in combination with any foods.

Alcohol

Some alcohol can be consumed. Dry red and white wines fall into the protein category and should only be consumed with other proteins. Beer and ale are considered starchy, so they should only be consumed with other starches or cooked vegetables.

What You Cannot Eat

There are no limitations in general on what you can eat, just when you can eat certain foods. The diet's premise is based on avoiding combining specific foods at the same mealtime. However, several variations of food combining diets may eliminate certain foods altogether. These include:

  • Fruit (eaten in moderation only)
  • Refined sugar (and sugar-containing products like candy and baked goods)
  • Processed foods (chips, packaged snacks)

How to Prepare the Food Combining Diet & Tips

Proponents believe that when you eat the wrong foods together, digestion is impaired. As a result, undigested food is left in your stomach to ferment and rot. They believe this can lead to illness and/or weight gain, but this is unsupported by scientific evidence.

Food combining rules are strict and regimented. Those who follow these plans need to adhere to the basic principles. Some adjustments can be made to accommodate those with dietary restrictions, such as celiac disease or gluten intolerance. It could prove difficult to follow this diet as a vegetarian. Many plant-based proteins such as legumes and quinoa also contain carbs, which is an off-limits combination.

Pros of the Food Combining Diet

Like all restrictive diets, food combining diets have their benefits and drawbacks.

  • Emphasizes whole foods: Following this diet will likely lead to more consumption of whole foods. Processed foods are usually a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and different kinds of fat. The food-combining protocol bans any foods with added sugars, which eliminates a lot of processed foods (such as sauces, granola bars, and cereals). It is also easier to keep different types of food separate from each other if they are eaten closer to their natural state.
  • No carb or calorie counting: There's no need for calorie or carb counting, or portion control, which simplifies this otherwise complicated eating plan.
  • May promote weight loss: A stringent set of rules may help followers make more mindful food choices. When meals and snacks are consciously planned, it's possible to consume more nutrient-dense foods while also eating less food. As a result, you could lose weight. While eating more whole foods and reducing calorie intake could improve health and promote weight loss, there is no evidence to show that food combining is an effective strategy.

Any weight loss experienced on this plan is likely the result of a calorie deficit (taking in fewer calories than you're burning) rather than a specific combination of foods. Only one recent randomized clinical trial has been conducted on this subject,, and researchers were not able to determine that combining foods had any impact on weight loss or reduced body fat.

Cons of the Food Combining Diet

Though there are no known health risks associated with food combining diets, a strict and regimented diet may lead to an unhealthy obsession with food for some people. It is also unnecessarily overly restrictive and complicated with no scientific evidence to support it.

  • Confusing to follow: The diet's rules are complex and could be hard for some people to follow. That impracticality, along with having to give up certain convenience foods and remember when it's OK to drink water and when it's OK to have fruit, makes this diet challenging to comply with.
  • Difficult to categorize: Most foods can't be classified as simply carbs or protein. For example, grains like quinoa provide both starchy carbohydrates and protein. It is nearly impossible to neatly categorize foods according to the rules of this plan.
  • Not sustainable: Diets like these are tough to follow. Additionally, any weight loss experienced on this restrictive plan will likely come back once everyday eating habits are resumed. And lastly, following a diet with so many restrictive rules prevents a person from learning to eat intuitively.
  • Unsafe for some people: Those with certain health conditions should be cautious with food combining. People with diabetes should not consume carbs alone—they also need some protein or fat to keep their blood sugar levels from spiking. If you have a chronic health condition, be sure to check with your doctor before attempting this diet.
  • No scientific evidence: Proponents of food combining believe that proteins and carbs are digested at different rates, so it's harder for the body to process them when they are consumed together. They also suggest that different foods respond to different pH levels in the digestive tract. So if two foods requiring different pH levels are combined, they can't be digested together. Neither of these beliefs is based on scientific facts.
  • May not provide enough calories: The restrictive nature of this plan may also cause some people to not get enough calories in an effort to avoid combining the "wrong foods." Not getting enough calories can lead to fatigue and create other health problems, such as slowed metabolism.

The body's digestive system (i.e., saliva in the mouth, acids in the stomach, enzymes in the small intestine, bacteria in the large intestine) works as a unit to digest food and make it usable for the rest of the body. It is capable of performing this function without following food combining principles.

Is a Food Combining Diet a Healthy Choice For You?

Dietary guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggest filling your plate with a combination of protein, grains, fruits or vegetables, and dairy products (if you can tolerate those). While these guidelines don't specify including every item at every meal, they do suggest it as a goal for a healthy, balanced diet. Of course, this counters the basic premise of food combining.

To achieve your weight loss goal, the USDA recommends cutting your intake by approximately 500 calories per day. There are no calorie targets on food combining diets—it's all about what you eat and when and not necessarily how much. This may help some people lose weight, but others may benefit from monitoring their calorie intake. This calculator can help you determine an appropriate calorie goal that's based on factors such as your age, sex, and activity level.

Due to the restrictive protocol, food combining does not include a variety of nutrient-dense foods at meals and is not aligned with federal guidelines for a well-rounded diet.

A Word From Verywell

Food combining (and other eating plans with unique guidelines) are often appealing because they are a departure from traditional diet rules. Sometimes these plans provide interesting routines or a novel approach to weight loss that some people may find intriguing. But the bottom line is that food combining is not a realistic eating plan for the long term.

The strict protocol is likely unnecessary—weight loss and better health can be achieved with a balanced diet that includes all the major food groups combined with regular exercise. If you would like to lose weight, you may want to consult a registered dietitian or your healthcare provider to set goals and monitor your progress. You're much more likely to see results that last if you follow plans that are rooted in science.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Freuman Duker T. Debunking the Myth of Food Combining. U.S. News & World Report.

  2. Golay A, Allaz AF, Ybarra J, et al. Similar weight loss with low-energy food combining or balanced diets. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000;24(4):492-6. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0801185

  3. Benton D, Young HA. Reducing calorie intake may not help you lose body weightPerspect Psychol Sci. 2017;12(5):703-714. doi:10.1177/1745691617690878

  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Ninth Edition.

By Malia Frey
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.