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Food Separation Diet

The Food Separation Diet is Digestive Ignorance

I recently had a client concerned about her naturopath’s advice. She had told this woman that fruit should be eaten at least one hour before eating the meal and if she did not do that, she would not get all the nutrients, especially when she combined it with other foods.
When I hear statements like this I get very upset because not only is the naturopath ignorant of the human digestive system, she is making life difficult for a working mom who wants to have a good breakfast before heading off to work.
If I make myself an omelette, I will add mushrooms, peppers, green onions, maybe some fruit such as nectarines and different types of berries. Does this mean that my body is shortchanged Vitamin C, folate, potassium and other nutrients contained in my berries and citrus fruit? Simply because I ate them all together. Of course not, because many naturopaths and health book authors do not understand the complexity of the human digestive system.
Proponents of separating your foods argue that the body is unable to digest foods properly, if they are eaten in the wrong combinations which they say can lead to bloating, gas, heart burn, malnutrition and even disease.
This ridiculous theory was created by an American physician William Hay, in the early 1900’s. Hay, after following his plan for 3 months lost 30 pounds and improved his health. In the 1980’s variants of the Hay diet included Judy Mazel’s The Beverly Hills Diet and Harvey and Marilyn Diamond’s Fit for Life.
(For the record, a food separation diet has been the subject of only one randomized control trial, which found NO evidence that it improved weight loss or health above and beyond a low calorie balanced diet.)
One of the staples of this diet is that fruit should be eaten on an empty stomach. Since fruit is digested more quickly than protein and starchy foods, supposedly you will get is maximal nutritional value if you eat it by itself, which is 30 to 60 minutes before a meal or 2 to 4 hours after a meal.
They also state that fruit, when eaten in combination with other foods, will get “trapped” in your stomach and start to “rot” before it can be digested into its nutrients. This of course will cause digestive stress.
Another one of these ridiculous rules is: Avoid eating protein (e.g. meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu) and starchy foods (e.g. bread, pasta, grains, winter squash, potato) together in the same meal. So much for meat and potatoes and chicken and fish pastas.
The convoluted theory is that since proteins and carbohydrates require different enzymes to be broken down, enzymes that operate at different pH levels in the gut, eating them together will “cancel out” or neutralize their digestive enzymes and prevent proper digestion of the food.
Digestion 101
The fact is that the human body is an amazing work of nature with a digestive tract that is exquisitely designed to effectively digest and absorb mixed meals.
Food separation proponents rely on half-truths. It is true that protein is partially digested in the acidic stomach and that carbohydrates are broken down into their building blocks in the alkaline environment of the small intestine.
But that’s not the whole story. When food reaches your stomach, be it beef, fish, grains, fruits or vegetables (alone or in combination) hydrochloric acid is released. The acidic environment of your stomach and its mechanical churning turn food into a partially digested mass called chyme.
Hydrochloric acid also activates a protein-digesting enzyme called pepsin that breaks down protein into smaller molecules, which must then undergo further digestion in the small intestine.
When chyme enters the small intestine, the pancreas secretes different enzymes needed to digest protein (protease) into amino acids, carbohydrates (amylase) into glucose and fats (lipase) into fatty acids and glycerol. These small molecules are then absorbed into the blood stream.
So here’s the real truth: your pancreas releases all of these digestive enzymes regardless of what you eat. Whether you eat a steak, a steak with mashed potatoes, broccoli or simply an apple your body is primed to digest a mixture of foods. It won’t choose between one or the other.
Furthermore, there is no proof that eating fruit with a meal, or eating brown rice with chicken, will result in “gut rot.” Besides, the harsh acidic conditions of the stomach keep it free of micro-organisms that would putrefy or decompose digested food.
So the good news is that I can enjoy my omelette with all its ingredients and all will be completely digested.
There are many reasons why people do not efficiently absorb nutrients from foods, including lack of stomach acid, prolonged antibiotic use, inflammatory bowel disease, Celiac disease and even intestinal infections. But these factors have nothing to do with the separation of foods.
Beneficial Food Combinations
Now that we know it is healthy to combine foods let’s consider the best ones to combine. Eating protein and carbohydrates together, for instance helps keep you feeling satisfied and energized longer after eating. That’s why you should always include food rich in both nutrients at breakfast, lunch and mid-day snacks.
Combining fruit that’s high in Vitamin C (e.g. strawberries, cantaloupe, citrus) with oatmeal will enhance your body’s ability to absorb iron from the cereal.
Adding calcium-rich milk or yogurt to a green smoothie can help bind oxalates from greens such as spinach, an important consideration for people with kidney stones.
And finally, let’s not forget that some of the healthiest foods on the planet, lentils, kidney beans, black beans and the like, are a combination of protein and carbohydrate.
Summer is almost here. Lots of great food to eat, especially farm fresh fruits and vegetables. Mix them all up with your favourite foods and enjoy them all without worry.