Should you eat protein and carbs together?

by Kelly Forness on August 22, 2012 · 9 comments


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You may have pancakes and eggs for breakfast, a turkey sandwich for lunch and steak with potatoes for dinner and not think anything of it because it is normal for you.  It is normal to consume carbs and protein at the same meal, and is probably something that you have been doing for your whole life.  Is it something that you should do though?

It may complicate digestion

Carbohydrates and protein are digested differently, so by consuming them together, it may make digestion more complicated.  Several diets have come out based around this concept and state that if you separate carbohydrates from protein, you will lose weight.

This concept was first suggested when William Howard Hay followed a diet that didn’t allow you to eat starches and proteins at the same meal, which resulted in him losing 50 pounds in 3 months, and also treated his medical conditions of heart and kidney disease.  This was later named the Hay diet.  Several other diets based around this theory have come out since.

Protein foods are digested differently than carbohydrate foods

When you eat carbohydrate or starchy foods, including pasta, potatoes, cereal, etc., the digestion process begins in the mouth using an alkaline process.  As the food moves to the stomach, the digestive process continues, and acid is produced to aid in digestion and help destroy any bacteria in the food.  The digestive process continues into the small and large intestines.

On the other hand, protein digestion begins in the stomach, using an acidic process.  The protein bonds are broken up by the hydrochloric acid that is in the stomach, and pepsin breaks the protein strands into smaller fragments.  Protein digestion continues into the small and large intestine.

When they are eaten together they can’t be digested properly

William Hay’s reasoning behind his theory is that when starches and proteins are eaten together, the body is not able to digest the foods correctly.  It was discovered that it takes starches 2 hours to digest, and proteins take about 4 hours, but when eaten together, it could take up to 13 hours for the food to digest.

When the food takes that long to digest, it can lead to fermentation and toxic by-products.  He stated that these by-products can lead to many different health problems, and that it is more difficult for the body to get rid of these toxins.  He also stated that when starches and proteins are eaten separately, the alkaline and the acid in the body will be in proper balance, so the body is better able to eliminate toxins.  The food will be pre-digested properly, digested properly and excreted regularly, which will make you feel healthy.

What are the rules of the diet?

  1. Don’t eat starches or sugars with proteins or other acids at the same meal.
  2. Vegetables and fruits should be a major part of the diet.
  3. Eat fruits alone and 30 minutes before any other food.
  4. Don’t drink milk with any other food.
  5. Wait 4 hours between starch and protein meals.
  6. Don’t eat 2 concentrated proteins at the same meal, such as nuts and meat.
  7. Vegetables can be combined with either a starch or a protein.

Does it help you lose weight?

There hasn’t been a lot of research done on combining carbohydrates and proteins, but one study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, evaluated the effect of a food combining diet vs. a balanced diet.

The subjects consisted of 54 obese patients who were randomly assigned either a food combining diet or a balanced diet.  Both diets were very low in calories, with the total for the day being only 1100 calories.  Both groups had a significant decrease in total body fat and waist-to-hip ratios.  It was concluded that, although both groups experienced decrease in body fat and overall health, the food combining group did not have a greater amount of weight loss.

So, based on this study, following a food combining diet does not produce any greater weight loss results than just following a balanced diet.  The weight loss that both groups experienced may have been from following a reduced calorie diet.

So, should you combine proteins and carbs?

Following a diet that separates carbs and proteins is very difficult to do but may have several benefits.  (I personally have tried following a food combining diet in the past and experienced weight loss and felt better overall.)  If you are someone who does have a more sensitive stomach, it may make the digestive process go more smoothly, and may make you feel better.  It also can lead to weight loss.  The weight loss may be a result of following a healthier overall diet as you will be paying very close attention to what you are eating.

In order to adopt a diet like this, though, you have to be disciplined as there are many rules to follow.  This means that you have to really pay attention to what foods you are eating, what you are eating them with, and when you are eating them.  You may have to wait a certain amount of hours after the end of one meal before eating your next meal.  And, if you are someone who enjoys eating steak and potatoes or eggs and pancakes, you may have to give that up.  But, if you are having trouble losing weight or if you are having some digestive issues, it may be worth giving a try.  You may have results, and it may make you feel much better!

References used in this article

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Kelly Forness
About the author

Kelly is a registered Dietetic Technician. She has a Master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion and she is also a NASM certified personal trainer. You can connect with her on Google+

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