Dear Mark: Food Combining

Steak and TatersFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’ll be covering all the different questions I receive regarding the topic of food combining. Now, food combining can refer to different things. First, there’s the dietary philosophy known as “food combining,” which says things like “never eat carbs and proteins together,” or “always eat fruits alone,” or “never, under any circumstances, consume melons with any other food,” or “eat an acidic fruit with your nuts.” It gets very specific and sounds kinda hokey, but I’ll look into it. Then, you’ve got the more general questions around food combinations, such as “does eating fat with carbs promote fat gain?” Many of you are interested in food combining as a general concept. You want to know how to overeat without gaining fat, how to maximize nutrient absorption, and about the specific foods that can change how other foods affect you. I’ll cover those as well.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

Dear Mark,

I have heard two competing ideas on food combining and insulin release/fat storage. One says that you should combine high carb foods with fat or protein to minimize insulin spikes.  The other says that you should eat carbs by themselves because the insulin stimulated by the carbs will also store protein or fat as fat if eaten in the same meal as carbs. Which theory is correct and does it really matter for health/weight loss?

Thank you so much!


For the most part, there’s no need to separate fats from carbs from protein in a normal meal with reasonable amounts of calories. In one study, researchers put patients on one of two hypocaloric diets: either a balanced diet, where fat and protein and carbs were eaten together, or a food combining diet, where macronutrients were consumed mostly separately. Both groups lost the same amount of weight, though people who ate macronutrients together achieved better blood pressure numbers and lost slightly more fat. Those were low calorie diets, however, not massive ad libitum feedings. If you’re eating normal amounts of food (i.e. not stuffing yourself or purposely overfeeding), I see no reason why some sweet potato fries cooked in coconut oil or a bowl of Greek yogurt and berries will do any harm. Your body doesn’t have to handle extra energy, so switching between fuel substrates isn’t much of a problem.

When overfeeding, whether on purpose or inadvertently (the buffet effect), macronutrient selection begins to matter. One of the reasons why I recommend that folks doing a carb refeed for weight loss limit fat for the duration is that overfeeding with carbs boosts leptin and energy expenditure, while overfeeding with fat does not. It’s also why bodybuilders typically follow their workouts with a super high-carb, high-protein meal – to spike insulin and shuttle nutrients into their gaping, starving muscle cells – and go lower carb and higher fat on rest days – to keep fat burning elevated. As a general rule, burning massive amounts of fat precludes burning massive amounts of carbs, and vice versa. Plus, there’s the simple fact that carbs and fat are incredibly tasty together – think pizza, cookies, ice cream, french fries, and so on. Fat alone or carbs alone aren’t very appetizing, but combined they definitely promote overeating. That’s not a problem for people who want to gain weight, or have no issue with incredibly tasty foods, but it bears mentioning. For an idea of the long term effects of a high-carb diet with significant amounts of (bad, refined, seed-based) fat, just look at the obesity rates in America.

I will keep this short. Just a quick question about combining foods to make them more effective or less depending on which we combine. Take local raw honey and ingest it with organic cinnamon in a tea. If the honey causes a slight glycemic rise does the cinnamon reduce that from happening? Given cinnamon’s natural effect on the body’s insulin levels, is this a possibility? Thank you for your time.


When it comes to interactions between specific foods or nutrients, I could go on forever. To keep this post to a reasonable length, I’ll just mention a few.

Cinnamon + Carbs: Yes, you are correct. It appears that cinnamon, which is known to increase insulin sensitivity (even countering the insulin resistance caused by sleep loss), also reduces postprandial blood glucose area under the curve. In other words, having cinnamon with your carbs makes the glucose increase more gradually, rather than spike. Of course, cinnamon isn’t a panacea, judging from the collective body composition of a typical line for Cinnabon.

Vinegar + Carbs: Eating vinegar before or during a carb-rich meal blunts the glycemic response. So, if you have a salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing before your steak and sweet potatoes, or pickles and sauerkraut before your sausage and potatoes, the blood glucose spike that may have been will be lower and less “spikey” because of the vinegar. Not only that, but vinegar seems to increase satiety and lower insulin in addition to lowering postprandial blood glucose.

Plant Foods + Meat: Although the references are escaping me now, there’s evidence that polyphenol-containing foods, like leafy greens and berries, can inhibit the formation of carcinogens when eaten with meats cooked and seared over high heat. So, there’s a reason salad goes so well with steak, or orange slices go so well with bacon and eggs – they make the meal healthier.

Now, the “food combining diet” questions.

Finally…whats the deal with food combining???? Is it baloney? Should we not have fruits (sugary things) with proteins, etc?


The idea that our digestive systems evolved with a kind of built-in fragility that prevented us from eating different food groups at the same time is preposterous. In a normal, healthy stomach, gastric juice is released on an as-needed basis until the pH hits somewhere around 2. Pepsin – an enzyme geared toward breaking down protein – is also released in the stomach. Then, as the considerable musculature of the stomach churns and mixes the food together, bathing the lot in a wash of stomach acid and pepsin, the small intestine gets the cue to prepare digestive enzymes like lipase (for fat) and amylase (for starch) and more protein-digesting enzymes. When the small intestine begins receiving the first of the chyme (the partially-digested food smoothie your stomach just produced) from the stomach, those digestive enzymes are primed to break down the rest of it.

Here’s the thing about the pancreas: it’s a great multi-tasker. It can secrete lipase, amylase, and protease all at the same time. It can handle a mixed meal containing carbs, protein, and fat with grace and aplomb. Now, if food entered your small intestine in sequential order in its original form, I’d say the food combining folks are on to something. But food enters the small intestine after being churned and blended into chyme. It’s an unrecognizable mix of everything you just ate, not a layer of meat followed by a layer of potato followed by a layer of salad.

There are confounders, of course. If you have low stomach acid, your digestive flexibility may be impaired. If you do not chew your food, instead opting for the gulping method, your stomach will have to work harder to turn it into chyme, and it may fail at that task. If you’re coming off a no- or low-meat diet, your stomach may not be accustomed to producing the required amounts of acid. But that doesn’t mean a normal digestive system can’t handle a mixed meal.

There’s also a funny claim by food combiners that sounds reasonable on the surface yet falls apart under scrutiny: that the acidic environment required for protein digestion in the stomach impairs carbohydrate digestion by amylase, which requires a less acidic environment. It’s true that amylase requires a more alkaline environment. It’s also true that protein digestion requires an acidic environment, and that an acidic environment can impair amylase function. However, it’s also true that the release of acidic gastric juice in the stomach acts as a signal for the pancreas to begin secreting digestive enzymes, including amylase, into the small intestine. In fact, low stomach acid impedes this communication and results in lower levels of digestive enzymes, including amylase, in the small intestine. So, you see, a highly acidic stomach environment is actually essential for proper carbohydrate digestion. And, since eating meat tends to increase stomach acid, it might be even better to eat carbs with your meat.

There has been very little direct research into food combining. That study I mentioned up above, where researchers examined the effects of a “food combining diet” and a “balanced diet” and found that they both elicited similar effects on weight loss (with the normal diet causing an insignificantly greater amount of fat loss), is the only one to explicitly study food combining. While it found no effect on weight loss, it didn’t examine digestion. It may very well be that the food combiners experienced “better digestion,” which is tough to objectively measure, but we can’t say either way.

Hi Mark,

I like to blend fruit and vegetable smoothies in the morning in order to jump-start my greens (and other colors) intake for the day. Recently, I heard from a doctor that eating fruits and vegetables at the same time cancels out nutritional benefits and hurts digestion.

Is there any merit to this “food combining” principle? What about with other foods, like meat?

All the best,


This seems even sillier. Who was this doctor, and what exactly did he or she say? I can’t imagine a physiological mechanism that would make eating spinach and bananas at the same time cancel each other out. The only thing I can think of is that the fiber and oxalates in certain raw vegetables may bind to minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium and prevent their absorption and utilization by the body, but that effect doesn’t require food combining to occur. It could happen even if you ate a high-oxalate vegetable by itself, because it would simply bind the minerals present in the high-oxalate vegetable. It doesn’t only affect nutrients from other foods. Besides, as you might recall, all that food gets blended together in the stomach, effectively becoming one.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading!

I’d love to hear from you guys, if you’ve got any food combining stories, experiences, or pertinent research.

TAGS:  dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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105 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Food Combining”

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  1. If I eat fruit alone, I start to get sleepy, so it’s not an ideal snack for me. Does anyone know why this happens?

    1. You’re super carb sensitive. I can’t eat a medium-sized carrot, or it’s beddy-bye time in about 10 minutes. Hubby has this problem with raw broccoli.

    2. Have you checked what the fruit is doing to your blood sugar? Also, does it happen with all fruits? Berries won’t usually spike blood sugar but melons, pineapples and bananas will almost always. If you are getting a major blood sugar spike after eating fruit, that would explain the fatigue.

    3. Depends on the fruit of course, but it could be a sugar spike followed by a sugar crash. This effect could be magnified if you are eating it in the morning soon after waking up when the cortisol is already at its highest. The relative drop in cortisol plus the relative drop in blood sugar could be the culprit. I think leangains did a post on that recently.

      1. This was me even on the healthiest version of the SAD (little to no added sugars, high-carb, lots of whole grain, fruits and vegetables). A bowl of oatmeal (slow cook) and an apple had my blood sugar bottoming out in 90 minutes. Just the apple would do it in 30 minutes. I was losing weight but killing my pancreas slowly. Once I learned what that weak, shaky STARVING feeling was I realized I’ve had Reactive Hypoglycemia almost my whole life.

        1. Not quite as severe but my mother fed us oatmeal for breakfast–huge bowls of it, actually–for years with more sugar on top and I used to crash like clockwork at 10am and then would eat again–usually a relatively sweet-tasting low fat “bread” or muffin. Finally at lunch I would get some sort of real food, even if it was milk, peanut butter, and a piece of fruit (oh, the dreaded peanut butter!), and no more low blood sugar drowsiness.

          Thank heavens I finally got out of that house and stopped all that crap. I eat when I’m good and ready and bfast usually has protein, even if it’s just from greek yogurt. If I do just eat toast it’s like one slice (with real butter), not 2-3 servings of straight carb to put me on a blood sugar roller coaster.

          Eggs+veggies+tortillas or rice is a fave.

      2. I don’t think Leangains has done any posts recently. 🙂 Last one I saw was March when Martin seemed pissed off at everyone.

    4. Definitely carb-sensitive. I can’t do fruit alone, either, but am able to do large amounts of carbs with protein and fat. Paleo sure made me insulin-sensitive, versus insulin-resistant!

      I always thought the food combination diet was such BS. But, the combinations Mark mentions here are definitely interesting. It’s nice to see there’s actual evidence for these combos he lists.

  2. I’ve also been working on this puzzle for a bit, personally, and I have discovered many foods that don’t mix in the gut! Fun read.

    1. Wheat and meat, by any chance? Ugh!

      I used to eat sandwiches everyday for lunch in high school. Some days, I thought I had food poisoning! Gluten and chemical-laden cold-cuts are fairly harsh on my gut.

      1. You’re lucky in a way–I had almost daily peanut butter sandwiches (which I hated, btw)–no gut problems at all at the time but pretty severe acne that refused to respond to any medication, and we tried ’em all.

        Acne didn’t stop the minute I stopped gluten but it’s been two years and it’s amazing–I can touch my face without fear of breakout, use shampoo without breaking out on my scalp line. Only time I ever remember I had acne is when I get accidently glutened and something pops up on my chin a week later. Gluten must have given me a leaky gut is my guess.

    2. This is the first I have heard or read about “food combining”. This is a very interesting subject. I will have to pay more attention to this.

  3. Mark, what do you think of Robert Lustig’s argument (in his book, Fat Chance) that we are designed to be hunters (eating fat) OR gatherers (eating carbs), and the problems only started when we start eating (a lot) of fat and carbs together? Seems a bit bogus to me.

    (In general, I am finding the book informative and annoying in equal measure. Interesting nuggets are sprinkled liberally across acres of self-help swagger. I’m especially bothered by his neglect of carbs / starch in general, in order to blame fructose exclusively for the world’s problems.)

  4. Not necessarily on topic, but while driving the other day, I saw the following on the marquis of a fast food joint (Arby’s):
    I got excited then realized they left out the L 😉

  5. Atkin’s always said high fat was safe in a low carb environment. I think it’s prudent to make sure you aren’t flooring the accelerator on both macro energy sources at the same time or I think you may be burning one and storing the other in your fat cells or worse your arteries.

    1. I agree and I think there is more to here then Mark is addressing. Starch and protein exists together. Fat and protein exist together. But all three in high quantities do not; it may help explain why meat eaters are getting clogged arteries. Its not the meat, its not the potato, its not the butter…it is the combination.

      1. Which makes the clogged artery problem, ultimately, about eating too much potato. Out of all the macronutrients, a pure carb play is the hardest for humans to gather in nature. Even honey is seasonal. I think we’re wired to “pig out” when we find carbs because they are so hard to find in temperate climates, especially. It’s the endless modern carb feast that can become damaging to arteries.

        (Starch and protein don’t really exist together, by the way. If we’re talking grains/tubers, my understanding is the accompanying protein is usually pretty minimal. Fat and protien are almost always intertwined.)

      2. meat eaters are get clogged arteries because their also eating sugar, wheat, vegetable oils and processed foods. It has nothing to do with combining macronutrients. In fact their are plenty of examples of hunter gatherers who eat a wide range of macronutrients with no ill effects.

  6. Just so everyone’s aware, ordinary cinnamon (cassia) is NOT the one most useful to diabetics for sugar issues–Ceylon cinnamon (a.k.a. true cinnamon) is the one. Ordinary cinnamon has no effect in lowering blood sugar.

    If you’re looking for blood sugar-lowering properties with cinnamon, be sure to use the Ceylon variety.

    1. Exactly! Discovered the difference only recently when I bought “cinnamon” in an Indian food store and it tasted different from the one I ordinarily used.

    2. Is that right? I thought it was the other way around. I thought the cassia had the higher amounts of the oil involved.

      1. If my comment never comes out of moderation (I included a link), let me reiterate that it is, indeed, cassia.

        Cassia is sold as “cinnamon” in the USA. However, many Western countries prefer Ceylon cinnamon. Thus in the English-speaking sphere which includes many countries other than the USA there has been considerable confusion. Add in that most Americans do not realize that their cinnamon is cassia, and you have Americans reading British articles assuming that they should be buying some other other cinnamon when in fact that stuff at $CHAIN_SUPERMARKET is the one.

    3. I’m so glad you pointed out the very important difference between Cassia cinnamon and true cinnamon, Ceylon. I only learned there even were two types about a year ago and would never go back to “false” cinnamon. I use cinnamon daily, and my research uncovered other important health-related differences between the two types.

      Gotta love the Internet; when I think of the years it took to discover truths in nutrition (despite eating what I considered a very healthy diet which, though not SAD, did (gulp!) include sprouted whole grain with gobs of peanut butter).

      Though trite to ask, Who knew?!, it really does come down to that, now doesn’t it?

      Thanks for spreading the word on cinnamon.

  7. My search for better health began when I read “Fit For Life” by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond about 20 years ago. I was in my late teens, and was suffering from some health problems. There are three basic principles in the book: (1) eat fruit by itself and on an empty stomach; (2) combine other foods properly (don’t mix proteins and starches, etc.); (3) eat high-water content foods (fruits and vegetables). The book promoted a vegetarian diet and was based largely on the work of Hygienists like Herbert Shelton, T.C. Fry, etc. (The lives of Shelton and Fry didn’t end well.) I gave up vegetarianism many years ago, and my health is better for it, but I still avoid combining proteins and starches most of the time. I have found that it helps my digestion. And I still eat fruit on an empty stomach because I find that it digests better.

    1. Fruit alone on an empty stomach will cause sugar spikes for me. It makes a great appetite stimulant, but other than I’m always looking to eat something substantial afterwards.

      1. I find the same true for me. If I eat a plain apple as a snack (no almond butter or cheese with it, for example) after about 10 minutes I find I am ravenous – the empty stomach feeling and wishing I’d not eaten at all.

        1. I get hungry even if I eat the fruit with some fat. If I add protein, it’s ok.

        2. Me too. I avoid apples especially, they seem to stimulate my appetite to ravenous levels, especially on an empty stomach.

        3. + 1
          I thought I was the only one. Apple as a good midday snack? What a joke that was. I ALWAYS get ravenously hungry within a very short time.

  8. This post answered a ton of questions. I’ve experimented with what foods I can eat together and rarely stray from that. If I’m in need of a large amount of food I might make exceptions; in which case I eat foods in a certain order or blend while moving to the next dish.
    When I mix foods that way, I fast and make sure my stomach clears before I feed again. Low level cardio (or groking about a forest or the beach etc) and sleeping may be prudent.

  9. What about the idea that consuming water (or any liquid) during or after eating impairs digestion because it will dilute the enzymes juices in the stomach? Typically, food combining advocates say to avoid consuming any kind of liquid until 2 hours after eating (and 30 minutes before),

    1. Anecdotally, since I couldn’t get my tripe shake, I treated myself to lamb tartare and crisp roasted 1/2 pig’s head at “Cannibal” restaurant in NYC. We walked there….about 3+ miles in 90 degree, humid weather. Needless to say I drank a ton of water with my meal. Spent the next day in the bathroom. No more water and tartare for me….

    2. Ever think about why animals drink water after eating? Dogs are a good example. Instincts are driving them to naturally do things that benefit them. Same deal with humans. We naturally want to drink with a meal. I think it’s because water (which is what you’re supposed to be drinking) helps get the stomach contents into a solution. The food has to be adequately softened, churned, and broken up in the stomach at the same time acid and other things are added to make the chime.

      1. Dogs don’t chew their food. Humans (having a very short gut) should chew very, very carefully, until the bite of food is really liquidy. Then swallow. No need to dilute the stomach’s acids with water. Most people nowadays have little stomach acid, so they should give it a try to not drink while and one hour after eating. I did and found that it works very well for me. I start drinking my water throughout the morning (don’t eat breakfast), then have lunch and wait for one hour or two, then drink the other half of my daily water intake and then have dinner. I have no “natural want to drink with a meal”.

    3. I’ve been trying to drink more water when eating to avoid constipation. You need water to prevent the stool from getting hard. Maybe you don’t necessarily need it precisely when you eat but if you leave it too late then surely there wont be enough time for the water to mix with the food material? Regardless, I’m trying to drink all throughout the day and I’ve taken some probiotics and so far things have improved for me.

      1. I believe the colon extracts the final amounts of water from the digested food, right at the end of its passage through the body, so if you’re taking in water during the later hours, the food in there might not be squeezed so hard for its liquid.

  10. Wonder if Grok, when running around collecting and consuming food was thinking “oh my God I just ate a piece fruit now I can’t eat that, that, that, that green stuff. What is that stuff anyway and what is fruit?”

    1. Lol Kirk!
      I agree, but Grok also didn’t have his stomach acid levels screwed up by being on Prilosec or other drugs affecting his body ( antibiotics) for years!

  11. I wonder if kombucha counts in the vinegar effect… I know that I feel greater satiety when combining some KT with a meal.

  12. One of my favorite things about ancestral eating is never worrying about things like portion sizes calories, macronutrient grams, or food combining. My absolutely favorite thing, of course, is feeling great 🙂 I know there’s a place for these considerations, and pondering these matters can be helpful to some people (whether recovering from illness or injury, or looking to build performance, or just embarking on a big lifestyle change). I’m just really glad to have all the extra energy to focus on flavor and fun (in food and exercise/life, respectively).

  13. Namaste Mark,

    I must say, I have been a paleo-dieter since 2007, and did see quite remarkable benefits of the lifestyle; however, in recent years, I have been eating fewer and fewer paleo meals (almost none these days). Oddly enough, I have never been more fit, leaner, and more peaceful. Why am I posting this on a food-combining article? Well, the Ayurvedists, the original proponents of a vegetarian diet and food combining, have been practicing their dietary principles for thousands of years (at least). I observe their food combining guidlines, and rather incredibly I no longer gain inflammation after meals, I am rarely (if ever) tired until I am ready for bed, and I never (never) get sick (even on the paleo diet, I used to have to deal with allergies, colds, and even the flu once in a while). I am quite surprised to see that you say there is no real research into the benefits of food-combining (there is likewise very little research for the paleo diet), but there are thousands and thousands of years of anecdotal evidence that is nearly impossible to dismiss. Look at some of the hundred year old Yogis in India (there are many). So, in summation, I feel more research into Ayurveda and its dietary principles are necessary before you go about writing on the matter.

    1. I am a vegetarian but I eat a lot of free range eggs and consume protein shakes and try to focus on lots of veggies, a little fruit, leafy greens, some nuts, olive oil etc. … kind of a paleo – veggie approach. I do think there are some herbs and practices that Ayurveda can provide that are useful, but the idea of special diets for each of three “body types” … let’s just say that not all “knowledge” that is ancient is necessarily viable. Also, the Yogis who claim to be 100 years old … how many of them have birth certificates? In a country of almost 1 billion people you are going to have your fair share of centenarian just from a statistical standpoint I’ll grant you that. If there ever is scientific proof that food combining has any value, I’ll definitely study the research and give it consideration.

        1. People of Asian descent, including Indians, are far more at risk of Type 2 diabetes than (typically meat eating) caucasians, or people from Africa whose diet is high in meat.

          This seems to suggest an epigenetic effect by which insulin resistance is passed down through the generations. I can respect not wishing to slaughter animals for religious reasons, but it doesn’t seem healthier for the human body.

          A lot of Hindus will fast for one day a week, as well, which (aside from the very real spiritual and will-power benefits) creates a chance for their bodies to experience a rest from carb intake. This practice may be a kind of necessary adjunct to a carb-based diet in which vegetable proteins always carry a carb hit from combining pulses or dairy with grains.

          There’s also some dispute about how far vegetarianism for all (as opposed to some members of some castes) was ever a central tenet for Hindus before the advent of the bhakti (devotional) movement, which had its origins in the relatively recent Muslim conquest of India – look up information in the Vedas on horse sacrifice to see that non-violence towards animals isn’t universally observed in even the most sacred scriptures. There are also several ritual uses for tigers’ skin, and goat sacrifice is common to this day in some Shakti sects.

          And finally, it was always the custom for the men of the warrior castes to eat meat, regardless of their sect, which is something that continues to this day, and they may cease this practice when they retire or take up another line of work, but vegetarianism for all castes was never the norm.

        2. Patrick below, actually the Vedas and Mahabharata do have verses on vegetarianism and compassion. The horse sacrifice you are referring to is a myth created by British when they translated Sanskrit texts. Pandit Taranath of Calcutta Sanskrit College explained

          Ashvamedh yagna had nothing to do with horses being sacrificed. In the ACTUAL Vedas, there is no talk of it. The British in their attempt to change Indian ideologies published a book called Vachaspatyam: a Book of Wrong Translations.

          You can find the verses easily on compassion and vegetarianism in the Mahabharat and Vedas. Mammals, such as cows and all others, were considered to be humans’ friends, akin to us, and especially not touched.

        3. Patrick, also please research Yajna —- what it was —-Bhakti, Moksha, all these pertain to sacrifice –except the term is meant with regard to sacrificing ourselves, worldly desires, and devotion. Yajna is a havan (fire) built with mantras chanted and offerings of rice, and other things to the God as a means of devoting ourself. No human or animal were ever harmed in these Yajnas, if you go by actual Vedic scriptures.

          In Hindu temples, meat is not even allowed ——vegetarianism is so ingrained. Vedic texts definitely exist re: forbidding all killing, including animals and especially mammals like horses and cows. They are quoted to be humans’ helpers.

    2. I am 26 and had digestive issues for years, including chronic heartburn and gas. I have always been a healthy weight and mindful of my diet, trying to eat as healthy as possible. I discovered Ayurveda after trying to research foods that are easy to digest and after implementing only basic food combining guidelines was completely rid of my digestive issues. I am happy to see someone else mention it!
      I am so excited about having discovered the Primal Blueprint. Until now I was certainly at the mercy of the chronic cardio mindset. I feel that I’ve built more muscle in a few weeks following the PB than I have in years of trying to run as far as possible and doing as many crunches as I could handle. I was so excited about seeing a post about food combining but sad to see it doesn’t seem to have a place in the PB. I have found that they actually complement each other wonderfully!

      1. There is definitely a place for food combining. Research it on your own, and then use your body as a test subject. You will notice differences.

    3. What exactly were you eating on the paleo diet? You may have simply got the proportions wrong for you. Everyone can thrive on the paleo diet but some people do better emphasizing more animal foods and fats while others do better emphasizing more plant foods and good carbs. That’s the rationale behind metabolic typing.
      You’re right that there is limited clinical studies testing the paleo diet at this point, however there is a vast wealth of science in the literature from paleoanthropology, nutrigenetics, evolutionary science and clinical observations of modern hunter gatherers to establish a great deal of biological plausibility. The same cannot be said for food combining.

      1. Food combining makes sense anthropologically, go out and forage for food. Take notice of what you can find, and when you can find it. Fruits are only available during certain times of the year. Fatty meats are more available during other times. Not all food was readily available at the same time, and therefore we developed little nuances in our digestion. Do your own research, and you will be amazed at what you find; especially when you apply logic to it.

        1. In temperate Europe, fruit and fatty meat would occur together at the end of summer – animals would be fat from having foraged all summer (laying down fat to survive the winter), and the spring-born calves, lambs, fawns etc would have plumped up a bit, while berries and apples etc would just be ripe enough to eat. Late winter and early spring would probably be the leanest time, with almost all food being scarce then.

  14. Good post. It’s a good reminder about a re-feeding and/or if one needs to gain weight or not. It seems in those cases that the food combining or not is most relevant.

    I saw in a running magazine of which I’m usually highly critical of that only if a run is more than 90 mins do you need any sort of mid-run ‘snack’. Even then it said about 30-50 g carbs. So if it’s 30 g that’s not overloading and the person could still be fairly low carb outside of training/racing time. I was very shocked and happy to see this considering these types of magazines usually focus too much on ‘gluten free pastas’ and other such junk. I mean, what’s wrong with a good old sweet potatoe or regular potatoes, or heck even rice. Why need pasta at all? LOL

    I’ll know for next time if I have to go (for extended length of time) a bit low on overall food intake due to financial reasons (and ensuing infection) on how to put on weight faster, but then how to halt it when I am fully up to speed (and recovered from infection). *I hope I don’t have to go through that again though—I’d rather be able to afford good healthy, whole foods. 😉

    1. Mid run snack is absurd. The body has thousands of calories stored in adipose tissue (body fat) that it can tap into for energy. Sucking down carbs while exercising is the surest way NOT to burn fat – the usual reason why people are exercising. Only if you are a competing runner (athlete) is there a reason to carb up during a run.

    2. you only need carbs for high intensity exercise, like sprinting. low to moderate intensitiy long duration exercise is well adapted to burning fat for fuel instead of carbs.

  15. Love this article! I get this question countless times by my clients. Such a great concise post I may start referring people for a quick read 😉 Thanks!

  16. Thank you for this timely post. I’m just getting into a new yoga plan, and the instructor also gives a nutritional plan. At first blush it looks pretty primal/paleo, but upon closer examination, I see that it is advising food combining. I figured it was bunk, but it’s good to see it here.

  17. Hey Tim, I wondered if anyone posting here was familiar with Harvey Diamond and the Fit for Life book you mentioned.
    I too, used it many years ago and found it turned my weight/health issues around. I was/am very grateful to him for writing it.
    Even though it seems slanted toward vegetarianism, he makes the point that meat eating works fine, if a person combines it with plenty of green vegetables instead of refined carbs…hey that sounds just like primal/paleo doesn’t it? I think he was way ahead of his time and right on about his combining ideas. I still use the principles in his book along with Mark’s primal approach and seem to get great results.
    Grok on.

  18. One thing I discovered (that I originally discounted and thought was flaky when I first read about it) that helps my digestion is to not slug down fluids during a meal. I typically drinks fluids all day but not during a meal and wait a half hour to an hour after a meal before drinking. Most of my meals have a little bit of fruit or moist veggies so it’s not a problem for me. My GERD virtually disappeared after adopting this approach … maybe a coincidence but seems to work for me. When you are on the leangains protocol you have 16 hours to drink a lot of fluids without worrying about food intake LOL.

    1. I think a little water is good with, or shortly after a meal. It’s what nature wants you to do. My dog instinctively drinks water after every meal. Just don’t drink a ton. A little is enough to help the stomach liquify the chime.

      1. Is your dog drinking water because you just gave it dry commercial kibble? Do dogs drink a lot after eating a meal of raw meat? I’m really asking. It may be *what* the dog is eating, not *that* the dog is eating.

        1. that’s exactly what it is. since i feed my dog raw she barely drinks anymore. with kibble is a whole different story.

  19. Wait, so I’m actually a little confused- I am underweight and trying to gain weight. Since eating fat and carbs together promotes fat storage, does that mean I shouldn’t eat the two together when trying to gain weight, to minimize fat gains? Or should I be eating a higher carb or higher fat diet?

    1. Are you trying to gain muscle? There is good evidence you should only eat up to 800 calories of carbs (if you are exercising intensely) per day and make the majority of your calories up from fat. You can gain a lot of muscle mass on a high fat diet.

      1. I would prefer to gain muscle, but I’m just doing light weights and no intense exercise. I only eat about 130-150g carbs per day, but I’m wondering should I just not eat fat & carb together in my meals since I’m gaining weight?

        1. Elle, cyclic ketogenic is basically what Mark was describing for muscle building (it’s what I use to gain muscle without adding fat)… refeed post work out (high carb, low fat), otherwise eat low carb (low carb, high fat). Good luck

  20. Before I knew about primal living, about six years ago, a lady I knew tried to encourage me to follow a food-combining diet where I couldn’t mix carbs and proteins and certain fruits with each other. We actually were encouraged to not eat any meat because of toxins and had to wait four hours between meals. I tried really hard! It lasted about a week, lol. I ate fruit for breakfast and about an hour later, I had the shakes and could barely cope. How would I cope for four hours without eating anything?

    Now that I have eggs and bacon and sometimes veggies also for breakfast, I can go on until late without eating. I feel great, have gone down two dress sizes and have so much energy. I’m so grateful not to have to worry about food combining at all. I just eat what I like with the boundaries of high protein, lots of good fat and low carb.

    My IBS has gone completely. It came back when I ate a piece of birthday cake for my daughter’s birthday. I just can’t stomach gluten anymore – I get a severe migraine the next day and feel awful. I do even cheat the paleo diet sometimes – I tolerate dairy well and do eat a bit of white rice, potatoes and peanut butter. With a very tight budget, I can’t afford the very expensive coconut products.

    1. Kathy, I had similar experiences with food combining. It didn’t work for me either. Now I usually eat a little fruit as an appetizer while I’m making my bacon and eggs. I also experienced the weight loss and a similar disappearance of IBS after eliminating sweets and grains from my diet, other than a little rice once in a blue moon. That really did the trick for me.

      I recognize that everyone is different, but I have a lot of trouble understanding people who say they’re unable to lose weight on a primal/paleo eating plan. For me, it was literally effortless.

  21. Nora Gedgaudas, in Primal Body Primal Mind, says “Avoid combining proteins with starches and sugars, even fruit, at mealtime. Stick to fibrous, non-starchy vegetables and greens”. Apparently this is meant to aid digestion.

    I haven’t really bothered implementing this recommendation (love me some roasted root veggies with dinner, and berries for dessert in season) so I’m happy to find that Mark does not agree. But it does surprise me a little since Nora’s stuff seems to usually be pretty well researched…

    1. I’m dubious because it mentions an “alkaline digestive environment” and there’s no such thing – stomach acid is, well, acidic, very much so – and anything that dereases that acidity is harmful – while Mark’s dealt with the post-stomach environment above, in the third part of the post.

      I’m also dubious about the claim that “Cooking at high temperatures actually creates health harming compounds in the food” – they don’t define what “high” is, so it’s maybe true with heating fats past their smoke-point, charring meat or processed starch foods, but reading that site, which mentions beans as a protein source, one could equally conclude those dried organic kidney beans just need a soak then they’ll be far healthier than boiled beans – which is, of course, dangerously false!!

      Based on those two specifics, and the general feel of it, I’d say it’s one of those sites that promotes truthy-FEELING things (like the idea that the less you mess with food, the better) while ignoring biological reality and the fact some veg give up more nutrients when cooked, and that sometimes even canned (carrots, tomatoes) or frozen (peas) foods are actually more nutritious.

      My 2¢ and I’m not a doctor any anything! 😉

      1. Hello. You wrote: “which mentions beans as a protein source, one could equally conclude those dried organic kidney beans just need a soak then they’ll be far healthier than boiled beans – which is, of course, dangerously false!!”
        Please explain more.

        1. Uncooked kidney beans are toxic and will cause food poisoning – not the type a strong immune system can combat, either, because it’s caused by a chemical not a bug.

          So my concern with that page’s sweeping statement was that if a reader wasn’t aware of this, and followed the advice on that webpage to avoid cooking, or to avoid prolonged cooking at a high heat (which beans need) they would become very ill. “Soaking” is often mentioned for things like grains so it would be a fairly simple mistake to make. I’ve linked to a site about the reasons they’re dangerous when undercooked from my name, below this post.

          There are also a few pages online where people talk about getting sick from just soaking the beans, without cooking them – if you search terms like “sick undercooked kidney beans” you’ll find quite a few examples. Hope that helps. 🙂

  22. HI Mark,

    So I’m actually a little confused- seeing as I’m underweight and intentionally want to overfeed, what does this mean in terms of combining carbs and fat in my meals? Would eating the two together contribute to more fat gain-which I would like to minimize? Or does it just mean I can eat the two together, but have fat as a larger percentage of my diet?


  23. I guess you have to be nearly dead with IBS, GERD and unable to eat anything without getting a huge immune reaction that paralyses you to appreciate food combining. I faced massive surgery for leaky gut etc (you name it), years of colonoscopies, gastroscopies, hospitalisation etc. I could only eat apples, pears and rolled oats. Food combining was the only thing that ‘saved’ me, and now at age 82 I lead a normal life. Play golf etc. .

  24. This was one of the best articles and comments I’ve seen on the topic in over a dozen years. What I’d like to see is a follow-up from the author with any corrections / additions (trending, studies, etc.). Thanks for the great read!

  25. 12 years ago, right before I turned 50, I began sommersizing (Suzanne somers food combing diet) I lost the 30 lbs I had gained in my 40’s. I loved eating all the food I wanted without counting calories or carbs. I had excellent blood work and my sugar cravings were pretty much gone. Whole fruit 30 minutes before a meal, protein, fats,and low starch vegis together. Whole grains and non starch vegis together. Red wine and dark chocolate on occasion. Nothing that combines fat and carbs in one food (avocados, most nuts, bananas ) and no high sugar veggies (carrots, beets). I kept the weight off for 5 years. I gained it back after my husband died of ALS and I started eating starch and quit the food combining. Even though I still eat pretty heathy, the cravings came back along with the weight. I am thinking I need to go back to it now as my bad cholesterol is on the rise and I am now pre-diabetic. Just searching if there is any science to why this way of eating works so well for me and some of my friends.

  26. Well, this is certainly refreshing! I was searching the Internet hoping to find some suggestions about what would be good to eat at the same time as what else in order to make sure I was getting a healthy balance of macro-nutrients and all the essential vitamins, minerals, etc. Of course I accidentally stumbled across this “food combining” stuff (which I think should really be called “food NOT combining”), which all sounded to me like a lot of nonsense. It entirely ignores, for example, what I thought I already understood–and is clearly confirmed here–about the very different roles that the stomach and the small intestine play in the overall digestion process. Then I found this page and said to myself, “I already subscribe to this site, and I bet I’ll find something sensible here.” I was certainly right about that. Thank you, Mark!

    Now back to my original quest. I wouldn’t be surprised if I eventually find the kind of information I’m actually looking for on this site as well.

  27. I’ve heard dark chocolate to be the best snackie … i tried it … and yeh, it works for me. Unfortunately, i discovered dark chocolate with lime zest at the shopper’s drug mart, and CANNOT, absolutely cannot, just eat one square. But the nutrition list posts per 3 squares, so, in actuality, it’s not that bad. 😀 Yahoo. But it’s that little afternoon perk without resorting to the bad snacks thang … holds you over till dinnertime quite well.

  28. I’ve been talking about food combining for i’d say a good 20 or so years now … and people STILL look at me like i’ve got four eyes. Or if I send a link to someone I care about … they get offended. Seem to think i’m calling them fat or something. I’ll say it again. Food combining is beneficial for anyone and everyone. Even kids. I first learned about it when I discovered I had major, and I mean MAJOR food allergies surface at the age of 40. I became a little confused when I asked the doctor what i COULD eat then, and he said “well, have you ever heard of Millet?” … i said … “But. Isn’t that … budgie food?” … I am hungarian. And if you know anything at all about hungarians, you’ll know that making a super extreme lifestyle change in your eating/lifestyle habits is not the kind of thing they go for. I am so glad I did. It’s now 20 years later, my food allergies have all but disappeared (and they were severe let me tell you … hives so bad I couldn’t walk some days) … I finally dropped the baby fat I was carrying (lol the joke was too bad my baby is 12 now) … all 56 pounds of it that I gained while carrying my daughter. It is definitely no joke that exercise and good diet go together. But one shouldn’t think of it as exercise in the sense of the word where you MUST trudge into your gym, or workout, or some other exercise chore. I mean regular day to day exercise. Walking your dog. Climbing the hill in the park whilst chasing your dog or your child. Everyday life includes exercise whether you care to admit it or not. My thing is at least ALWAYS going out for a small trip with the dog after every meal. Yours could be a trip to the store for the paper. Whatever. Burn the calories you eat. Jump up and down on the couch if you want. And by making the progression of digestion work for you even easier when you learn that it’s your digestion that’s been working against you all this time really, well. It just makes everything all that much happier. Everything, and I mean everything, in your life will improve. I tend to even have a little bit of a depressive side to me, and am learning about different things that bring even THAT

  29. oops … hit the wrong button. Anyways, my point is is that food combining is real. It is science. And you can’t go wrong with that. Happy eating!

  30. Just as I suspected. “Food Combining” rules DO make me feel better. But, I always attributed it to low stomach acid and problems digesting protein rather than enzyme competition. Thanks for the confirmation! This article clarified further- it is not simply my body struggling to process proteins, but that without acid the pancreas is not provoked to release the enzymes for carb digestion.

    While I agree that those with normal digestive systems need not worry about this, the truth is that so, so many have compromised systems. Therefore, I think it would be most helpful to revise the food combining concept to reflect the truths pointed out and highlight it as a really helpful player for those with digestive issues.

    Further, I have read helpful tips to increase stomach acid without supplements, and that would be a great thing to investigate.

    1. “Further, I have read helpful tips to increase stomach acid without supplements, and that would be a great thing to investigate.”

      I’d be glad to hear more about what you read, as I definitely have low stomach acid, too. I know about unpasteurized apple cider vinegar and limes, as being helpful to the cause. Do you know of something else?

      I did try HCI supplements and they did no good at all. Then, I read somewhere that if you take them with carbohydrates it cancels them out, because, they are meant to help you digest proteins only. Not sure if that’s true, but, it could explain why it just wasn’t working for me.

  31. “Here’s the thing about the pancreas: it’s a great multi-tasker. It can secrete lipase, amylase, and protease all at the same time.”

    Only the stomach secretes pepsin, and the proteases secreted by the pancreas would be the “next step” in the break down of proteins. Wouldn’t it make sense that the chyme produced by the stomach needs to be in a certain condition for the proteases from the pancreas to do their job best? And isn’t that what food combining is all about? to make sure each step of the digestive process does it as efficiently as possible so the whole chain is on point?

  32. i always have banana with 2 tbsp. of coconut oil pre it

  33. Hello. I’ve been reading the Fit for Life book and trying to sort out just exactly how much of it I care to believe.

    I should point out that the book, while it does go into “whole life” ideals, is primarily about a detox program for people who don’t have normal digestion.

    I know I don’t believe the stuff about cooked food not having any real nutritional value. I actually did quite well on losing weight by increasing my vegetable and fruit intake by quite a bit, which definitely included raw foods, but, also included very combined meals, sauteed apples or blueberries added to oatmeal and sometimes seeds or nuts being added to, along with an egg (at times). I lost around 50-60 lbs. without even putting in an effort and while really enjoying a wide variety of foods in all sorts of combinatons. And, by continuing to do it, to a lesser extent (due to circumstances beyond my control) I kept the weight off, with minor fluctuations up or down.

    The thing is, I have incredibly low stomach acid. I know why, but, I won’t go into that all here. The point is, I do have it and even though my digestion was better, with eating more fruits and vegetables and whole grains, less processed anything, etc. I still never actually felt good. I felt better than not doing it, but, I was still tired all the time, stuffy headed, sore .. because, I have Fibromyalgia and a thyroid problem of some sort.

    Looking into this book, I decided to try one thing, first. I began eating only fruit before noon. I feel much less dehydrated, more energetic, have better bowel movements (sorry but, it had to be said), and I really think there is something to be said for their ideas on the natural cycles of the body, which I have also heard from other sources.

    Today, i made an honest effort to also only have vegetables with a starch for my lunch. I’m testing out the idea that, as a detox, it’s a good idea to eat meat and veggies, starch and veggies, or seeds or nuts and veggies, but, never all of them together. For my purposes, all flesh foods and eggs are called meat, just to save some typing.

    I am not sure this will be the key to feeling better. But, I can say I have been much less gassy, my intestines are no longer inflamed all day every day, and, I do feel that same sort of both good but bad detox feeling that I had when I was trying to follow Dr. Crook’s Yeast Overgrowth diet.

    I have read reviews of this book, from people who tried the program around 20 years ago, when it came out, who say that it worked great for them. Though, none of them showed pictorial proof that it continued working past the first year. There was a lady, though, who said she did it for quite some time, eating only raw fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds at that; but, she slowly moved away from it, including combined meals, more cooked food, eating other things besides fruit in the morning; but, where she still maintained the basic principles at least some of the time, and, her view was that she really needed it to lose weight and get healthy, but, now that she is healthy, she doesn’t need such a stringent routine.

    Sorry this is so long, but, I felt it was relevant to many thngs you wrote about.

    Thank you for your time and the information you have provided.

  34. I had IBS, chronic migrain including fatigue and unable to lose baby weight by calorie restriction, just by going strict primal i have effortlessly lost weight, no IBS, no more headaches. I love this way of eating as I feel great! My teeth are great too.

    Why complicate it with no real need. Eating primally seems to heal a lot of gut issues given a chance. Now working on building strength! Thanks Mark!

  35. It’s funny that so many people talk about things like Food Combining, Metabolic Typing, low-carb, keto etc etc….when in fact it all comes down to: Does it work for you? Do you feel better? Do you have more energy, less bloating,…..? And you can only do this with something like questionnaires: 2 weeks of regular eating and writing down the symptoms, changing to xyz and testing again. Results better? Good, works. No change? Alright, you can forget about xyz for now (maybe it works later). Everything else is nonsense and just talking about something where science can only share a certain amount of knowledge, aswell as the professionals. Goals, seasons, origin, digestion health (absorption,…), stress response, stress levels, sleep quality, movement, eating habits,…everything plays into it and therefore the needs can be greatly different. Also, I really hope that people stop saying that something doesn’t work when they have no experience with it whatsoever, and hopefully people who seem to have success with something stop saying that it works for everyone. Always test it for yourself.

    That said, I’d say that some things may not give you immediate feedback but can have an impact over the long-run (little things, frequently done over a long time will eventually lead to a result) – this is where science and a great amount of experience can point out tendencies (be aware of money-based science and professionals and dogmas). An example of no immediate feedback is to go vegan, which sometimes makes people feel awesome first, because it actually works for them at this point of time, then they feel worse but try to push through because they think it’s the best and only way, because they don’t want to change their diet, because they don’t want to loose their “vegan friends” and that group thing….but then it’s “suddenly” severe digestion problems, joint problems etc. It’s like getting fat, it’s a habit of eating every day a little bit too much. Or everyday a little bit too little sleep, too much stress, too much stress for the digestion system, too little water,…

    I try to follow a 90/10 rule. I don’t combine different proteins, I eat fruit alone, I rotate foods (3days+ not the same food, see Paul Chek), I eat according to my Metabolic Type, I don’t drink during, 15min before and 1hour after a meal, and I don’t mix too many foods into one meal. Some work at the beginning, but it’s really not that tough and these are some things that can truly have an impact over the long-run. I also go through a questionnaire to readjust my macros quite frequently right now since my body gets more and more into balance and sometimes needs more protein, sometimes needs more carbs etc (which varies not exactly with the amount of protein but moreso with different foods due to different micronutrients, amino profile, fiber content, cooking method, food combination etc).

  36. Let’s go back into time to Grok’s day. What would he or Grokette do for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Well let’s say Grok and family or tribe/ community lived near a water source that provided fresh water and fish. So no matter what they always had an option of eating fish or other water creature. Now let’s say that Gork gets tired of fish and wants a land animal to eat. He gets up in the morning and tries to find food. What does he find? Maybe some berries, nuts, fruit, veggies, other plants, maybe eggs if he is lucky and finds a nest. Maybe even insects or lizards. But no meat yet, hunting takes time. So maybe by midday or early evening he manages to kill an animal, remove any undesirable parts, and eat it, probably raw. Then maybe he has a handful of berries before bed or whatever he stored from the days find. Did he combine all of his food? Maybe not all at once, but I don’t think he cared what he was eating because it was food that he could eat. I can understand some things though like eating certain fruit would take more time because they lacked the proper tools, like a pineapple. Getting to the flesh would take a lot of time and Grok would probably eat it alone because he would be starving trying to get to the meat. I don’t really have a point just rambling really. Also, did Grok cook his food or make stews? If not, then wouldn’t all of his food be eaten separately? Eating leaves and berries while walking or killing an animal, skinning it and then diving in and eating it right then and there before the meat goes bad. I don’t know, just how I imagine things.

    In conclusion, maybe sometimes you can combine food and sometimes you eat it separate. Also, try to live near water and fish.

  37. Dear Mark, I have a thyroid nodule that is visible. My blood tests are OK (tsh, FT3 and FT4). I do not want to undergo surgery because I dont want my thyroid removed. I have read that regular consumption of selenium, iodine and vitamin D can help shrink these nodules. I, however, do not want to over consume any of these. May I ask what is the best food combination that contains the necessary nutrients for a healthy thyroid?

    Thank you.

    1. Annie, thanks for writing. I don’t give medical advice and need to defer to your doctor’s care here for any recommended testing, diagnosis or treatment for your circumstances. That said, if you’re interested in learning more about how a Primal Blueprint lifestyle can support general thyroid health, I’d point out these posts and book.

      If you’d like to seek out a Primal-minded care provider, feel free to explore these networks. Neither is affiliated with our company. Be well!