Proponents of food-combining diets say that you can eat meat, potatoes and even cake and still lose weight. “Basically all foods are allowed. They just have to be eaten in the proper combination,” remarked Ursula Summ, a German author of books on food combining who lives in Spain.
A food-combining diet was developed about a century ago by the American physician William Howard Hay, who divided foods into three groups: protein-rich, carbohydrate-rich and neutral. Protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, cheese and eggs require acidic digestive juices, he said, while carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes, rice, noodles and bread require alkaline ones.
Neutral foods harmonize with both of the other groups. This means, according to food combiners, that neither potatoes nor noodles should be eaten with a Sunday roast, for example. Vegetables are all right, though. Vegetables can also be eaten with potatoes and noodles, but minus meat.
“It’s a proven fact that people whose diet follows the food-combining principle lose weight,” agreed Michael Krawinkel, a professor at the University of Giessen’s Institute for Nutritional Sciences in Germany. But this is mainly because they practice healthier nutrition, he said. Eating the foods separately or together makes no difference.
“I’m not aware of any scientific evidence that food combining detoxifies the body,” Krawinkel said. Nor is there proof, he added, that food combining prevents diseases, let alone cures them. But he approves recommendations to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, little meat, and to avoid heavily processed foods.
According to Summ, one way that food-combining promotes weight loss is by keeping blood sugar levels balanced and thereby preventing binge eating. In addition, she said, it keeps insulin levels low and increases fat burning.
Food-combining diets do not allow everything, however. Sweets and white-flour products should be eaten in moderation. Meat can be eaten every day, but the rule of thumb is to eat three to four times more salads and vegetables at every meal with meat, fish, eggs or cheese.
“Many modern diets are based on the food-combining principle,” noted German Nutrition Society (DGE) spokesperson Antje Gahl. This means that the relative percentage of alkali-forming foods - such as fruit, vegetables and salad - to acid-forming ones - such as meat and fish - should be about 80 to 20.
Uncooked vegetarian food supplies the body with essential vitamins, minerals, trace elements and dietary fibre.
In Gahl’s view, food combiners lose weight because they eat less meat and cheese - foods rich in fat and calories. “On the whole, food combining is beneficial,” remarked Gahl, who said it was not harmful to healthy adults. The DGE advises against food-combining diets for children, however.