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guide to food combining with plate of detox spaghetti

Did you know that digesting food requires more energy than any other function in the human body? It’s no wonder we’re exhausted after a big lunch! It stands to reason, then, that the best way to free up some extra energy is to make our digestion as quick and efficient as possible.

Food combining is one of my favorite tricks to streamline the digestive process. Though food combining principles can get very complicated, depending on which expert you ask, I prefer to keep them simple. Simply pick just one dense food at each meal, whatever you’re craving most at that moment, and then fill the rest of your plate with raw and cooked non-starchy vegetables. Easy! By simplifying your meals, the digestive system doesn’t have to tackle too much in one sitting, helping you to avoid that bloated, sluggish feeling that can put a damper on the rest of your day.

Studies have shown that humans have a tendency to overeat when we are offered a wide variety of foods during a meal. (source) So, by simplifying our meals, we will naturally eat less, without counting calories or worrying about portion sizes.

Best of all, you don’t have to give up any food groups that you love– you just may not want to eat them all at the same time. The following guide should help!

food combining chart showing you how to properly combine foods(click on chart above to enlarge or print)

As you can see in the chart above, the foods have been divided into four general categories:

  • FRESH FRUIT
  • STARCH
  • ANIMAL PROTEIN
  • NUTS/SEEDS/DRIED FRUIT

Note: Look for these food combining labels clearly marked in my cookbooks, and here on the blog. All of the recipes in my cookbooks are properly combined, and both cookbooks include properly combined meal plans to help you easily get started. 

For a properly combined meal, simply choose ONE category and only eat foods out of that category for that particular meal. The foods listed within the same category combine well with each other, and you may also include anything from the “Neutral” column to fill out your plate.

Wait 3-4 hours between each meal, before switching categories.

Properly Combined Sample Meal Ideas

A properly-combined STARCH meal might look something like this:

A sandwich on whole-grain bread, filled with avocado, mustard, lettuce, tomato and sprouts. Served with a leafy side salad and a baked sweet potato topped with butter. You could follow this meal with some dark chocolate for dessert!

A properly-combined ANIMAL PROTEIN meal might look something like this:

A leafy green salad topped with cherry tomatoes and goat cheese, followed by a piece of baked fish served with a side of roasted broccoli and cauliflower. You could follow this meal with some dark chocolate or goat’s milk ice cream for dessert!

A properly-combined NUT/SEED/DRIED FRUIT meal might look something like this:

A leafy green salad topped with dried cranberries and raw walnuts, followed by a platter of raw hummus served with raw crudités. Dessert could be a slice of raw cheesecake, a few raw macaroons, or a couple raw almond butter cups!

FRESH FRUIT is best eaten in the mornings, on an empty stomach.

This is because fruit digests so quickly, typically within 30 minutes of eating. (However, fruit can be combined with leafy green vegetables in a green smoothie, if you like!) Fruit is not recommended as a dessert after a meal, as it could potentially cause fermentation, gas and bloating, and promote bacterial overgrowth in the body. You can eat fruit as an afternoon snack or post-workout, as long as it’s been 3-4 hours since your last properly-combined meal.

Note: There is a lot of debate over the science behind food combining, without much evidence to back it up. (There is little money to be made in this field, which probably accounts for the lack of funded studies.) Personally, I think why food combining works for me, and for many others, is that it encourages you to make better choices, without feeling restricted. When you’re choosing just ONE food category at a time, then filling the rest of your plate with raw and cooked vegetables, you’re bound to be making healthier choices! So, food combining may just work because it encourages the consumption of more whole foods and simpler meals.

I think it’s also important to note that there’s no need to be “perfect” with food combining rules all the time. I like to follow the 80/20 rule, because life’s too short to stress about what you’re eating.

For properly combined meal plans and entertaining menus, be sure to pick up a copy of my first cookbook, Everyday Detox.

My second cookbook, No Excuses Detox, has 3 more meal plans, including a Budget-Friendly properly combined meal plan that feeds you for less than $6 each day, and a Speedy Meal plan that has everything ready in 30 minutes or less. Both of my cookbooks are loaded with properly combined recipes to help make things easier for you.

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Megan Gilmore leaning on her white countertop.

Megan Gilmore

Hi, I’m Megan. A former fast food junkie turned best-selling cookbook author. I create healthy recipes made with simple ingredients to make your life easier.

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Comments

  1. I have recently bBeen note rested in food combinig and have been doing some research but there are a lot of contradictions out there! Some say that avocado is in the protein category, and then some say you should only have one concentrated protein at a meal, and that dairy products should be eaten on their own… !? I’m also curious about fruit … Some sources say that you can mix acid fruits with protein? And then in some baking recipes use applesauce or other fruits with grain or nut flours and then add eggs to that as well… Any thoughts on how to sort all of this out? I’m also wondering if you have ever read the book “eating Alive” by John matsen? Thanks!

    1. I don’t like to get too complicated with food combining rules, so the chart above is what I follow to keep things simple. Also, I feature some recipes on my site that are not properly combined, but they could be considered helpful “transition foods” for people who are coming off the Standard American Diet. I always encourage people to upgrade the quality of their foods, even if they aren’t perfectly combined, so any step in the right direction is a good thing, if you ask me!

  2. Hi Megan,

    I like to use organic canned coconut milk in creamy soup recipes. Can I combine canned coconut milk with starches to make creamy squash soups? Also is it okay in curry recipes that contain flesh?

    Thanks!

    1. Canned coconut milk actually falls into the nut/seed category, because it’s made from mature coconuts. Unless you’re making your own coconut milk, blending together young coconut meat and water, it wouldn’t be a perfect combination to mix it with starches. However, I find that the more liquid a substance (such as a soup) the easier it is to digest overall, so it wouldn’t be the biggest deal to mis-combine there.

  3. Hi Megan,
    I have a question about baking with almond flour. I suppose using eggs in a recipe with almond flour (and coconut flour for that matter) would make it miscombined, is that right? If so, I guess it’s best to not bake too often then. Or just stick to your chocolate chip cookies recipe. YUM YUM!

    1. Yes, technically those recipes are mis-combined– though, they do still stick to the most basic rule, which is not to combine starches with protein. They should definitely be considered a treat!

    2. I would use a ground flax egg instead of regular egg if you want to keep to the same category. It works great!

  4. I have been making morning smoothies that combine fruits – bananas, pineapple, cantaloupe and berries with veggies such as kale, spinach, cucumbers, zucchini and other greens. I also add in some fresh ginger, almond meal and flaxseeds. Oh and occasionally avocado. It is jammed packed : ) Is this not a good idea?

      1. For food combining purposes, the almond meal and flaxseeds wouldn’t work with all that fresh fruit, but food combining isn’t for everyone. If you enjoy the smoothies, they sound pretty nutrient rich!

  5. I saw on some websites that artichoke hearts are considered a starch. In your opinion, or according to your studies, would you categorize it as a starch? Meaning I could combine it with avocado and non starchy veggies?
    What about tahini? it is made from sesame seeds so only add a tahini dressing on a salad with no flesh and no starch? Meaning just raw veggies?
    Thank youuu!

    1. I tend to keep my food combining as simple and easy as possible– there are definitely more strict charts out there! Personally, I know that if it’s too complicated, I won’t follow it. So, for my purposes, artichokes fall into the neutral category. If you find that they disagree with you in that category, however, you can change how to combine them! Combining will definitely vary from person to person– usually people start having simpler meals as they become more accustomed to combining over the years.

      Tahini does fall into the nut category, so yes, it can combine with raw veggies, dried fruit and bananas.

  6. What about hemp seed or hazelnut milk (store bought)- can this combine the same as almond milk (nuetral and with avacados in smoothies)? Thanks :)!

    1. Yes, all nut and seed milks can be considered neutral for our purposes, since the pulp has been removed. Be sure to look for store-bought milks with little to no fillers, for best digestion. I believe Pacific brand makes some good options!

    1. I include dried fruit in some of my dessert recipes, which do combine properly with nuts and seeds. Fresh bananas also combine with nuts and seeds.

  7. this is great! I have a qurstion,

    I like to have oatmeal on the morning. so could i do then oatmeal, almond milk, coconut oil, but I like to add some protein like whey protein is that okay or would the whey be considerend as a flesh?

    I do suffer from a lot of tummy discomfort even after going wheat free and mostly dairy free except for the whey protein adn yogurt.

    1. I have this issues too? I like oatmeal and protein powder for breakfast. I tried doing a banana and felt shaky an hour later bc I’m up at 4am daily, I don’t have time to eat a hour later bc I’m heading to work. Maybe I should try a smoothie? Any advice?

  8. Hi Megan,

    I would like to please ask a question about other vegetables not mentioned on the chart. I saw the raw leafy greens are under teh neutral category, but I am wondering how other veggies combine, like tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, mushrooms, and so on and so forth.

    Thanks so much! Your site is great!

    ~Alexia

    1. People who practice food combining don’t necessarily agree with that idea, but bananas are an exception to the fruit rule– you can enjoy them with any nuts or seeds for a protein boost. Also, leafy green veggies are surprisingly protein-rich, and they combine with any fruit. Green smoothies are a good option!