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Trophology is the name given to the theory of eating only certain foods at certain times and not
mixing foods together in one meal. The best known term used when describing this practice is
“food combining”, oddly enough, whereas it should perhaps rather have been called “food
separation” due to the „rules‟ of separating protein from carbohydrates at each meal, and
eating fruit on it‟s own. Whilst this may be helpful for certain digestive complaints for short
periods of time, in the long term there are a host of problems which seem to surface with this
lifestyle from nutrient deficiencies to blood sugar problems and more. We have to throw away
our brains - the rationale is so absurd that a Grade 11 Biology student will be able to set one
straight here. In truth, modern science laughs at this myth, and threw it out as nonsense long
ago, according to Dr. Sheldon Margen, Professor Emeritus of Public Health Nutrition,
University of California at Berkley, California.
Trophology is based on the somewhat far-fetched concept that starches and proteins should
not be eaten in the same meal because they are not fully digested and tend to ferment in the
stomach. Of course this is scientifically inaccurate as fermentation cannot take place in the
presence of the hydrochloric acid in the stomach which would kill any yeasts which are
responsible for fermentation. At a pH of 1-3, gastric juice is powerfully acidic and one of the
functions of this acid is to kill micro-organisms in the food such as bacteria and fungi. Pure
concentrated hydrochloric acid has a pH of 0.
Food combining grew out of a trend with the unlikely name of „natural hygiene‟ [which actually
has nothing to do with hygiene, nor is it „natural‟]. To fully understand why this is an ancient,
unscientific lifestyle one has to examine the history of where this came from and look at it in
the light of scientific fact.
An interesting article from has this to say: “The natural hygiene
movement began around 1850 and has several mutations and philosophies, which range from
rational to extremist. The most recent promoter of the movement is Herbert M. Shelton, who
ran an unaccredited "school" in Texas from 1928 to 1981. After the school close, in 1982, a
federal court awarded US$873,000 to the family of a patient who died while being treated at
Shelton's school. In the last month of his life the patient had lost 50 pounds and was the sixth
person to die in five years while undergoing treatment at the school.” You can read more
about the disturbing philosophy on their website.
The author of the above article also mentions that the movement discourages any liquids being
taken with meals, and that „correct combinations‟ (separation of protein from starches, and fruit
eaten on it‟s own) should be followed, both notions of which he states are unscientific. The
theory hypothesizes that since fruits digest quickly, starches slowly, and proteins digest even
more slowly, mixing all of these items in one meal will cause food to ferment in the stomach
and create digestive upset. Scientists and anyone with the most basic medical training will of
course know this to be incorrect.
Interestingly, The International Hygiene Society (
has this to say, and I quote:
“Where does the term Hygiene came from? The Greek goddess Hygieia (Hygeia) gave the
name to "Hygiene", as the movement was first named in the 1800's - and "Natural Hygiene",
as Drs. Shelton and Cursio called the revived movement in the 1900's.”
The article on their site goes on to say: “INHS warns about long-term veganism because of
the dangers of deficiency. Short-term veganism is fine. We mention this, because since the
1940's, many NH doctors have recommended vegan diets. But this is beginning to change.
INHS agrees with modern anthropology that humans are omnivores.”
Natural Hygienists maintain that consuming a high-protein food and a high-carbohydrate food
at the same meal will, at the least, tax the body‟s enzymatic capacity. In Food Combining,
Shelton grouped foods into seven partially overlapping categories:
1. proteins such as nuts, peanuts, and avocados
2. starches, including sweet fruits, such as peanuts, chestnuts, pumpkins, bananas,
and mangos
3. fats such as most nuts and avocados
4. acid fruits such as citrus fruit and tomatoes
5. “sub-acid” fruits such as pears and apricots
6. non-starchy and green vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli, and watercress;
7. melons such as watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe.
The idea that protein and carbohydrate cannot be taken together is based on erroneous
theories regarding digestion. The body is perfectly capable of digesting mixtures of
nutrients. The stomach is an acidic environment while the small intestine is alkaline.
Digestion of protein starts in the stomach and is continued in the small intestine where
most food digestion occurs.
Virtually all foods contain a mixture of protein and carbohydrate.
Unfortunately, as with all fads, trophology lends itself to various versions of the original
concept, with various branches forming with different ideas. Vegetarianism is an offshoot to
some extent of this concept, as is veganism, raw foodism, fasting and near starvation. Whilst
all these may not be wrong per se, they lend themselves to extremism – and whilst there is
merit in a high vegetable diet and in eating a certain amount of food raw – the problem arises
when it becomes an obsession, and is practised to the point of being unbalanced and unsafe.
Worse still, it has in some quarters, where people are not educated to know the difference –
become an accepted means to attaining better health.
The rules are also for the most part difficult and unsustainable, anti-social and very timeconsuming. In nature carbohydrates and protein appear together in every single food source
other than lean animal protein – so technically one is never really separating proteins and
carbs. By eating only fruit until midday, the body is being set up for blood sugar imbalance
without any protein to prevent the sugar spike (which is what high-quality protein does).
People who begin the day with protein experience more energy, greater concentration without
being tired a few hours later, and do not experience the sugar highs and lows.
Trophology promotes regular fasting to „cleanse‟ the body. While fasting is not a bad thing if
you are fairly healthy, it can be problematic in very sick people, children, underweight persons
and the elderly – so this is not a diet for everyone, but for a select few. Health professionals
for the most part these days recommend strongly that fasting shouldn‟t be undertaken unless
supervised and monitored by a suitably qualified medical professional. The body is exquisitely
designed to be self-cleansing – that‟s what the liver, colon and lymphatic systems are for – in
fact each cell of the body has an intricate system of cleansing and waste disposal.
A safe and more sustainable alternative to fasting would be to train the body to self-cleanse
through sensible eating, vegetable juicing, targeted high-quality nutrient supplementation and a
balanced lifestyle. Liver support and healthy eating habits then enable the correct natural
processes to take place without forcing the body to do anything unnatural. Trophology
discourages nutritional supplementation however.
Patrick Holford, international nutritionist and author, more than 15 years ago had this to say in
his Spring 1994 edition of Optimum Nutrition: “The key elements in Dr Hay‟s original theory,
expounded in the 1930‟s, was to eat „alkaline forming foods‟, eat fruit on its own, avoid refined
and heavily processed foods, and not mix protein rich and carbohydrate rich foods.
Protein and carbohydrate are digested differently. That is a fact. Carbohydrate digestion starts
in the mouth when the digestive enzyme amylase, which is in the saliva, starts to interact with
the food you chew. Once you swallow food and it enters the relatively acid environment of the
stomach, amylase stops working. Only when the food leaves the stomach, where the digestive
environment becomes more alkaline, can the next wave of amylase enzymes, this time
secreted into the small intestine from the pancreas, continue and complete digesting
Protein, on the other hand, is not digested at all in the mouth. It needs the acid environment of
the stomach and may hang out there for 3 hours until all the complex proteins are broken down
into small groups of amino acids. This only happens in the stomach because of high levels of
hydrochloric acid, which is needed to activate the protein-digesting enzyme, pepsin. Once
small groups of amino acids leave the stomach they meet peptidase enzymes, again from the
pancreas, which break them down into amino acids, ready for absorption.”
It would seem trophology has no firm basis, scientific or otherwise. Bear in mind too that it is
out-dated by around 100 years, and the theories totally disagree with our present knowledge of
physiology and nutrition. “Food combining" originated at the turn of the century, when people
knew very little about basic physiology and nutrition. What other reputable discipline would still
be using imagination rather than scientific proof to promote a theory?
Keep up with Modern Science
Biochemistry and nutrition have come a long way in the last 95 years since „food combining‟
was introduced; it‟s unfortunate some still promote this debunked theory. If food combining
theories were true, the human race would not have survived to this point, as most basic foods
contain a combination of proteins and carbohydrates in the one food. This applies to foods
such as beans, grains, seeds, nuts and breast milk. The only possible advantage to diets that
promote these theories are that they might encourage people to eat more fruit and possibly eat
less overall, but there is no evidence to support separation from other food groups.
Every major cuisine in the world combines protein and carbohydrates on the same plate, from
the traditional meat and potatoes, to Asian stir fry chicken with rice, Middle Eastern couscous
with lamb and the Mediterranean use of bread with all meals. It is also a myth that fruit should
be eaten on its own. Fruit is the perfect complement to every meal.
This movement also proclaims that food putrifies in the body if not eaten according to the rules.
Food cannot putrify in the body for at least three reasons: Firstly, as mentioned, the powerful
acid in the stomach would kill bacteria responsible for putrefaction. Secondly, bile which
neutralizes the acidic chyme which leaves the stomach has antiseptic properties which would
further retard putrefaction and thirdly there is simply no time for putrefaction to occur since the
food is pounced upon rapidly by a variety of digestive enzymes beginning selectively in the
mouth (for starches) and stomach (for proteins), but really speeding up in the small intestine as
pancreatic juice and intestinal juice are secreted into the small intestine to digest proteins,
carbohydrates, and fats simultaneously. We were designed to eat meals of mixed foods by
virtue of the enzymes secreted at the right time and the make-up of our incredibly complex
digestive system seems to expect foods to arrive as a mixture. Most food is totally digested
and absorbed into the blood within less than ten hours after eating so there is no time for
putrefaction. Only if constipation is a problem, the likely cause being a lack of dietary fibre, not
incorrect food combining, could putrefaction become a problem in the large intestine.
Whilst the food combiners claim different time frames for absorption, eating and waste
excretion - scientists note that that the food-combining theory actually preaches the opposite of
what research shows to be factual concerning digestion. Doctors can use fiberoptic
gastroscopes to look into the body and observe digestive processes as they take place in the
stomach and intestines. The "neutralized digestion" food combiners caution you about just
simply does not exist. Digestion occurs when we eat, period - not during some time-sensitive
day shift.
Food Combining May Create Deficiencies
Most importantly in the long term, these would include zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and more
than likely protein, since the diet limits (or avoids) animal protein and eliminates dairy products.
Whilst dairy products are unnecessary for most healthy human beings, and calcium can be
obtained from many other sources – those who do not possess some sort of nutritional
background could find themselves seriously deficient in many areas of their nutritional status.
Unsustainable and Unrealistic
All fad diets are unrealistic - you can't follow them forever, and this one is no exception. It's like
holding your breath; you can only do it for so long, eventually you have to breathe. Fad diets
deprive you so much that eventually you end up bingeing and overeating like there was no
tomorrow. The very best way to eat is in a balanced, healthy fashion, not completely excluding
any food group unless clearly intolerant or allergic to it (as in celiac patients who avoid gluten).
In fact learning to eat healthily is difficult enough for most untrained people today without
adding this heavy load onto their shoulders in the vain hope it will improve their health.
The Acid Foods Myth
Another branch of trophology seems to trap people into an obsession with being “alkaline”
rather than “acid”, and eating according to what they believe will make them more alkaline.
Many people believe eating foods that "make the body (or the blood) acid" is bad for our
health. The good news is that this is extremely simple – no matter what food you eat will not
make your blood or your body more or less acid. It simply does not make scientific sense.
Your blood and all your organs are buffered to maintain the pH level (the standard measure of
acidity) within very close limits. Any deviation from this narrow range results in severe, lifethreatening illness. You would need to consume a bottle of antacids at once to decrease the
acidity of your body, whilst putting your health seriously at risk. There is very little you can do
to increase the acidity because your kidneys respond very rapidly to maintain the pH of your
blood no matter what you eat.
Foods as they Appear in Nature
Most foods in nature comprise both protein and starch, and most fat as well – the best
example of which is breast milk. Human breast milk is actually a combination of all three starch, protein, and fat. If combining starch and protein were so bad, why didn't God invent
breast milk to carry these nutrients separately? We need to be using our grey cells more often
instead of falling for the latest fads.
Food combining diets separate protein foods from carbohydrate foods - nature doesn‟t.
Beans, lentils, nuts and seeds all contain both, and the healthiest nations of the world are the
nut, bean and seed eaters. Combining protein with carbohydrate- eg. fish with rice - reduces
the GL of a meal considerably, which in turn helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.
The textbook, Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies points out, “…what the advocates of food
combining don‟t tell you is that almost all foods, even when eaten individually, are
combinations of fat, protein and carbohydrates to begin with. In other words, very few foods
are exclusively one of the 3 macronutrients. This kind of nonsense works best with people who
have little idea of what constitutes food and how their bodies work. They don‟t understand how
a common food like bread is a combination of starch, protein, a number of minerals and
vitamins including most of the B vitamins. If you eat the whole grain (the brown wheat kernel
with the germ that can sprout), you‟ll also get considerable fiber from the outer brown layers
and some fat and vitamin E from the germ. Other ingredients in bread usually include some
sugar, fat, and salt. Thus foods are combinations of nutrients and many other natural
chemicals”. (UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, April 1996, p. 6,7)
A combination of nutrients and other food components can often improve absorption
dramatically rather than the opposite. For example, the vitamin C in the orange juice can
enhance the absorption of the iron in cereals. Variety aids digestion rather than making it more
difficult. The fact is, the human digestive system is wonderfully equipped to handle foods in
any combination. One can eat a varied diet of vegetables, fruits, cereals, pulses, etc all in the
same meal, without any apprehension. If the food eaten is rich in fibre, unrefined and healthy
– the colon will do an excellent job of eliminating waste under these circumstances. It appears
that there is overwhelming evidence on the side of a varied, balanced and natural diet, not a
philosophy out of the mind of one man‟s imagination.
As for that supposedly fermenting fruit, anyone who has studied human physiology can tell you
that fermentation does not occur in the stomach due to the very high naturally acidic nature of
the stomach. Fruit is nutritious, raw or cooked, and is readily digested in combination with
other foods, including vegetables, grains and dairy products. Fruit is not always a hard-andfast category anyway: many things we call vegetables, such as tomatoes and avocadoes, are
really fruits. Virtually all foods then are themselves combinations. It is beneficial to eat fruit
after a protein meal rather than having fruit on an empty stomach. The protein helps slow down
the absorption of sugar, preventing the sugar swings that can unsettle some people. Most
people today have digestive troubles because of the low quality of foods ingested – not
because of “incorrectly” combined foods!
The fact is, most human digestive systems are equipped to handle foods in any combination, if
the colon, if fed with a fibrous, unrefined diet. It does an excellent job of eliminating waste in
those circumstances. So the overwhelming evidence is on the side of a varied, balanced and
natural diet, not a philosophy out of the mind of one man‟s imagination.
"There is no truth to the concept that the 'wrong' combination of food (protein and starch) will
make you fat or will rot in your stomach. If this were true, then millions of Japanese, Chinese,
and other Asians would be very overweight since their traditional diet consists of rice, fish and
vegetables or noodles, chicken/beef/pork, and vegetables. Regarding weight loss, Dr Jeremy
Sims MB BS FRIPH FRSH DipN&H says "For healthy weight loss it is important to ensure your
meals contain all the major food groups. Separating carbohydrates and proteins, for instance,
has no basis in logic (or scientific evidence)."
The Role of Enzymes
Protein and carbohydrates require separate digestive enzymes to break them down. These are
secreted in response to the presence of food in the intestine and not whether the food is
protein or carbohydrate even though they work independently of each other. All foods, as
previously stated regardless of their „acidity‟, are processed in an acidic environment in the
stomach before being neutralised in the intestine. Most foods naturally contain all the
macronutrients in different ratios.
Though food combining may be tempting, the reality is that it is based on a theory that has
since been well and truly debunked by science. In fact, trying to eat a diet where carbohydrate
is not eaten at the same time as protein is impossible – food simply doesn‟t come like that; and
your digestive system is quite happy to process all these components together. If you are
having digestive issues or decreased energy levels, it‟s probably time to see a suitably
qualified nutritionist or health professional concerning the state of your digestive system and
overall lifestyle.
Britain's leading nutritionist, Jane Clarke, says “Sorry, but food combining is just a silly fad!”
When asked whether there was any truth to this lifestyle, she answered: “Food-combining
doesn't make scientific sense. Our bodies are designed to digest different foods together, and
there isn't any physiological reason why we can't digest and absorb proteins and
carbohydrates from the same meal.
Different foods are broken down and absorbed in different parts of the body. For instance, with
sugars, this process starts in the mouth with the enzymes in our saliva. Some of the sugar is
quickly absorbed through the mouth, which explains why we get an instant sugar hit from a
chocolate bar, for instance.
More complex and difficult-to-digest foods, such as wholemeal bread and red meat, first have
to be crushed and squeezed by the teeth and the muscles in the stomach before the enzymes
which have been released into the small intestine can break them down into absorbable form.
This is why these foods take longer to digest. The plus side is that they keep us satisfied for
longer. Some foods, such as wholewheat bread, can't be completely broken down and
digested, which is why, nutritionally, these high-fibre foods are so wonderful for gut health. The
undigested elements of fibrous foods produce fatty acids in the colon.
These prevent abnormal cell activity, reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease. High-fibre
foods also help to produce softer stools that are easy for the gut to deal with. Meanwhile our
liver and pancreas produce digestive juices. These contain enzymes to digest proteins, some
that digest carbohydrates, and others that work on fat. Why would the body do this if it wasn't
meant to have all types of food put into it? It certainly does not put the body under any sort of
strain eating both protein and carbohydrates in one meal. Furthermore, most foods contain
both carbohydrate and protein, so the theory of food combining just doesn't stack up.”
Andrew Weil, M.D states “From a medical point of view, there really is no reason to avoid any
food combination except those that you find distasteful or physically unsettling. The human
body is built to handle whatever foods you consume, regardless of whether you eat them
separately or together”.
Whilst on the subject of enzymes, trophology teaches that water should never be consumed
with meals because it will „dilute the enzymes‟. The word „dilute‟ implies „to weaken and
thereby render less effective‟. This is also complete nonsense because enzymes are used
over and over again with small amounts being able to perform many acts of digestion. If
anything the presence of liquid allows them to move around more rapidly to attack more
substrate than if they were stuck in stodge. To this end the gut will remove water from the
blood to make the food less viscous so drinking water with a meal spares this sacrificial act by
the blood.
In final analysis, food combining is nothing more than another gimmick diet that uses a shred
of fact to make an outrageous conclusion according to Joel Fuhrman, MD. He states:
“Unfortunately, while advocates of raw-food and other fad diets sometimes present valuable
advice for optimal health, too many incorrect and unscientific claims are mixed in for my taste”.
This is in essence so true – many of the faddish type diets do contain many elements of truth,
but they lose their way turning it into a hard-and-fast one-and-only way to health, and this is
where the wheels come off.
The food combining concept of Trophology is simply another fad diet. It has been around in its
modern format since 1985 when the book, written by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, was first
published. Biochemistry and nutrition have come a long way in the last 95 years since the
concept of „food combining‟ was introduced; it‟s unfortunate some still promote this theory.
It would be wiser to choose a way of eating and exercise that you can live with for the rest of
your life. Yes, it's easy to lose weight on a fad diet if you are determined, but how can you
prevent the pounds from coming back if you don't know how to eat healthy and exercise
regularly? Weight loss diets have a failure rate of over 90%.
The moral of the story: learn how your body really works, stick to solid science, and learn to tell
sense from nonsense. That's the best lesson I think these theories have to offer!
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