Food combination dos and don’ts

Eating foods in the right combination increases their benefits

couple cooking togetherWe can achieve efficient metabolism and proper digestion naturally by simply watching our food combinations. It helps promote weight loss and ensures that we get the maximum benefit and nutrition from foods.

Food basics


Since fruits take lesser time to get digested than other foods, they should ideally not be had with any other food or meal. If they are eaten with a meal or immediately after, they tend to remain in the stomach longer, along with the other foods, causing indigestion.

Also, acid-containing fruits such as tomatoes and grapefruit should not be combined with sugary fruits like bananas and dates. Contrary to popular belief, lemons and limes do not come under acid-forming foods as they leave behind an alkaline ash/residue after being metabolised and are, in fact, a great addition to meals.


Since proteins and carbohydrates require conflicting environments to digest, avoid having proteins with sugar and starches. Also, if you take two or more different kinds of proteins together—say milk and fish—in a meal, then it too may create digestive problems as both require different duration and level of action.

Typically, meats get acted upon first, followed by eggs, and then milk. Proteins get digested only in presence of hydrochloric acid, formed in the stomach and not any acid [like citric acid present in acidic fruits]. Hence, avoid eating acid-forming fruits with protein-rich foods.

Starch or carbohydrates

Our salivary glands secrete ptyalin, an enzyme to digest starchy foods. This enzyme is secreted only in an alkaline environment. So we must not combine starches with acid-producing foods. Some acidic foods include cranberries, vinegar, corns, lentils, chickpeas, wheat, rice, cheese, butter, cashews, peanuts, beef, fish, olive and sunflower oils, and alcoholic beverages.

Another interesting thing here is that even starch and sugar is not a good combination. Interestingly, not just acidic foods but even the presence of sugar interferes with the secretion of ptyalin in the mouth. And when starch doesn’t get completely digested, it does not allow the sugar to be acted upon as well.

This incomplete digestion of sugar produces acid as a by-product, which further impairs the digestion of both starch and sugar. So, adding honey on breads or having oats with sugar may not be such a good idea. It’s also definitely a bad news for those of you who relish your French fries with cola.


Fats should always be used sparingly as they tend to interfere with secretion of digestive juices. Nuts and oils are best eaten alone or with salads.

Combination dos and don’ts

  • Avoid drinking water or juices with your meals as they hinder the process of digestion by diluting the digestive juices.
  • Maintain a gap of at least 2 – 3 hours between two consequent meals, so that the foods get ample time to be acted upon.
  • Have a single concentrated source of protein or starch in any one meal and a combination of not more than 2 – 3 food groups. Having sweet dishes after a lavish meal is best avoided as they only delay digestion.
  • Pair vegetables and salads with any food group [chapattis, meats or dairy products] in any amount.
  • Eat fruits on an empty stomach or as an in-between-meal snack, especially the melons and the acidic ones like blueberries, cranberries, currants, plums and prunes.
  • Curb the tendency to combine carbohydrates with proteins. So have fish with greens and breads with cooked vegetables.

Tip: Eat raw and live foods such as sprouts, green vegetables, nuts and seeds as they contain lots of biologically active components or natural enzymes that play an active role in all metabolic activities that occur in the body. They are way healthier than processed or pre-packaged foods.

The final verdict

While the proponents of food combining principles claim great health-promoting benefits, it might become a bit impractical to follow the guidelines too diligently. Especially, for those who we are used to eating our rice with dals, chicken with chapattis and cereals with milk.

However, it would be equally wrong to ignore the theory completely as the correlation of the food with the way it is digested in the body and subsequent nutrient uptake does make a lot of sense. The best bet would be to ensure that you eat a well-balanced diet, comprising complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, good fats and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whilst trying to follow the simple rules of food combination and group mixing.

Panchali Moitra
Panchali Moitra holds a Masters in Food and Nutrition from Delhi University. She is a qualified nutritionist with a decade old experience of active clinical practice in Mumbai and specialises in providing dietary advice for lifestyle disorders like diabetes, hypertension and obesity.


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