What Is the Dissociated Diet?

disassociated 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 Dissociated Diet?

The dissociated diet essentially goes against everything we’ve been taught about nutrition for the last several decades. It’s based on the premise of food combining, which involves only eating certain food groups (for example, all starches or all vegetables) at a meal. The diet was developed in the early 1900s by Dr. William Howard Hay, who believed that your body must produce and secrete different digestive enzymes for alkaline and acidic foods.

Essentially, on the dissociated diet, you’re discouraged from eating well-rounded meals that include a variety of food groups.

What Experts Say

"The dissociated diet suggests alkaline and acidic foods can't be digested together, but experts agree there is no scientific rationale for this. Eating only one food group at a time and limiting protein/fat increases the risk of nutrient deficiencies and is unsustainable."

Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

What You Can Eat

The primary rule governing the dissociated diet is only to eat one food group at a time. You can follow that rule in a variety of ways:

  • Only eat one food group per meal
  • Only eat one food group per day
  • Only eat one food group per time of day (split your day into chunks, wherein you stick to certain food groups)

The dissociated diet consists of three food groups: proteins, starches, and neutral foods. You can combine proteins with neutral foods and starches with neutral foods, but you should avoid combining proteins and starches.

Acid Fruits

Combine with sub-acid fruits, nuts, and seeds. Don’t combine acid fruits with sweet fruits or other food groups, except tomatoes.

  • Grapefruit
  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Pineapples
  • Pomegranates
  • Tomatoes

Sub-Acid Fruits

Combine with acid fruits or sweet fruits, but not both at the same time. You can also combine sub-acid fruits with nuts and seeds. Don’t combine with other food groups.

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Berries
  • Grapes
  • Kiwi
  • Mangoes
  • Nectarines
  • Papaya
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Strawberries

Sweet Fruits

Don’t combine with acid fruits or other food groups.  Combine with sub-acid fruits, nuts, and seeds. 

  • Bananas
  • Coconut
  • Dates
  • Dried fruits
  • Prunes
  • Raisins

Melons

Eat these alone, not in combination with any other food groups.

  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydew
  • Watermelon

Non-Starchy Vegetables

Combine with protein, fats, carbohydrates, and starches.

  • Asparagus
  • Artichokes
  • Green beans
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Lettuce
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Peppers
  • Turnips
  • Mushrooms
  • Zucchini

Starchy Vegetables

Combine with non-starchy vegetables and fats. Do not combine with protein or fruits.

  • Pumpkin
  • Winter
  • Squash
  • Yams
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Peas

Carbohydrates and Starches

Combine with non-starchy vegetables and fats. Do not combine with protein or fruits.

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Grains
  • Cereals
  • Potatoes

Animal-Based Protein

Combine with plant-based protein, non-starchy vegetables. Do not combine more than one source of protein at a meal. Do not combine with starches or fruit.

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy

Plant-Based Protein

Combine with non-starchy vegetables. Do not combine with starches or fruit.

  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Soy products
  • Tofu

Fats

Combine with non-starchy vegetables, carbohydrates and starches, and protein. Do not combine with fruit.

  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Coconut butter
  • Cream
  • Olive
  • Avocado
  • Flax
  • Sesame
  • Canola oils

Red Wine, White Wine, and Cider

Drink these beverages with a protein-based (acidic) meal.

Whiskey and Gin

These are considered neutral beverages, so you can consume them with any meal.

Beer and Ale

Drink with a meal of carbohydrate-based (alkaline) meal.

What You Cannot Eat

Although the dissociated diet is more about food combining, there are some foods that are eliminated.

Refined Carbohydrates

  • White bread products
  • Refined grain cereal
  • Refined grain crackers
  • Refined grain pasta
  • White flour

Added Sugars

  • Candy
  • High sugar desserts
  • Cookies
  • Sweetened beverages

Processed Meats and Other Foods

  • Sausage
  • Bacon
  • Deli meat
  • Canned soups
  • Boxed meals
  • Frozen meals

How to Prepare the Dissociated Diet & Tips

You're encouraged to wait at least four hours before eating an "incompatible" meal. For instance, if you eat a fruit salad with acid and sub-acid fruits, you should wait at least four hours before eating a meal of chicken and steamed non-starchy vegetables. Other than that, timing is entirely up to you.

But because of that recommended wait period, many people who follow the dissociated diet restrict their entire day's food intake to one food group. For example, you might choose to eat only fruit one day, protein and non-starchy vegetables the next day, and starchy vegetables and carbohydrates the following day. 

To be successful on this diet, you'd need to know what to eat and when to eat it. Meal planning and preparing food for an entire week can help you adhere to the diet's rules with less effort or mental strain. 

If you're interested in the dissociated diet but think it sounds a bit too confusing and restrictive, you can try a softer introduction to food combining. For example, the dissociated diet rules that you can't combine carbohydrates and starches with fruit. But a bowl of oatmeal with sliced bananas and berries is a hearty, healthy meal, and there's nothing wrong with combining those foods into a yummy breakfast. 

Essentially, you can place foods into less restrictive categories, perhaps something like "starches, fruits, and grains" and "proteins, dairy, and vegetables." Having just two groups to think about can make the dissociated diet less restrictive and easier to adhere to. Nothing is technically off-limits, but the diet encourages you to avoid overly processed foods and high-sugar foods.

Pros of the Dissociated Diet

The dissociated diet is not recommended, but it does encourage some healthy changes.

  • Focuses on nutrient-dense food: Perhaps the best thing about the dissociated diet is that it teaches people to choose whole, nutrient-dense foods.
  • May help you eat less: A concept called “sensory-specific satiety” states that food becomes less appetizing when an entire meal consists of similar flavor profiles and textures. So separating your food into the dissociated diet groups may make you feel satisfied with smaller portions, thus helping you eat less and aiding in weight loss.
  • Provides nutrients for optimal health: There isn’t much room for processed food within the food groups that Dr. Hay developed because processed foods often contain multiple properties and macronutrient profiles that would fit into more than one food group.

Some of the food groups, including all of the fruit and vegetable groups, have a pretty low calorie density. This means you can eat larger quantities of food for fewer calories. For example, 100 calories worth of melon is a lot more food than 100 calories worth of cashews.

Cons of the Dissociated Diet

The dissociated diet may cause psychological issues around food due to its restrictive nature, and it has other drawbacks as well.

  • Confusing: It might take a while to get the hang of the dissociated diet — it’s quite a hassle to learn which foods can and cannot be eaten with other foods.
  • May be overly restrictive: According to the limited research on food combining, there’s no reason to eat your meals in the fashion dictated by the dissociated diet. This eating plan does not allow you to listen to your internal hunger cues or practice mindful or intuitive eating.
  • May lead to disordered eating: For some people, the three food groups and limited combinations might feel overly restrictive. Food restriction can lead to feelings of guilt and shame around food and eventually to disordered eating. If you’re trying the dissociated diet and feel restricted, it might be best to try a different healthy eating plan.

Is the Dissociated Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

Dietary recommendations from the U.S Department of Agriculture include five food groups: fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein. The key recommendations in the federal guidelines include:

  •  A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red, and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils
  • Limited saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium

The dissociated diet recommendations align with the federal guidelines in that the dissociated diet encourages whole foods. However, the USDA recommendations encourage you to eat balanced meals with foods from multiple groups, whereas the dissociated diet encourages you to avoid meals with multiple food groups.

To reach your weight loss (or weight gain) and fitness goals, you must know how many calories you need to eat each day. A personalized calorie estimator can hep.

There's not much science behind the concept of food combining in general or the dissociated diet in particular. What little research there is does not show food combining to be any more effective than an overall healthy diet.

A Word From Verywell

Choosing a diet is a personal decision that involves many considerations, including your dietary needs and preferences, your current relationship with food, your health goals, and more. Before attempting any diet, make sure to consider those factors and ask yourself questions like, “Do I have enough time in my schedule to commit to this diet?”

While not backed up by science, the dissociated diet may appeal to you as a new, non-traditional way of eating that doesn’t necessarily feel like a diet. However, there is a risk of nutrient deficiency, as well as the possibility of developing a restrictive mindset about your meals. If you’re curious about the dissociated diet, talk to your doctor about whether it would work for you.

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.

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3 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.
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  2. Haynos AF, Watts AW, Loth KA, Pearson CM, Neumark-Stzainer D. Factors predicting an escalation of restrictive eating during adolescenceJ Adolesc Health. 2016;59(4):391-396. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.03.011

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