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Eating Carbs and Protein Separately

author image August McLaughlin
August McLaughlin is a certified nutritionist and health writer with more than nine years of professional experience. Her work has been featured in various magazines such as "Healthy Aging," "CitySmart," "IAmThatGirl" and "ULM." She holds specializations in eating disorders, healthy weight management and sports nutrition. She is currently completing her second cookbook and Weight Limit—a series of body image/nutrition-related PSAs.
Eating Carbs and Protein Separately
Fans of food-combining say separating carbohydrates and proteins improves wellness. Photo Credit: Yulia_Kotina/iStock/Getty Images

Although the body's need for carbohydrates and protein is well-known, varying beliefs exist regarding whether you should eat them together. Carbs provide glucose -- your body's main dietary source of energy. Protein provides amino acids -- the building blocks of lean tissue that enhance immune function and tissue repair. Gaining understanding regarding the potential benefits and risks involved with separating "carbs" and protein might help guide you toward making wise dietary decisions.

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Food-Combining Theory

Numerous weight loss plans and alternative health practitioners promote food combining, or eating foods in particular combinations, and avoiding "bad" pairings, for improved digestion, energy, weight and overall wellness. Eating foods with varying tastes, energy and post-digestive effects can increase toxins in your body and hinder digestion, according to Dr. Vasant Lad, an Ayurvedic physician and executive director of The Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Food-Combining Guidelines

To avoid the negative consequences of poor food combinations, Lad warns against pairing protein-rich foods, such as eggs and meat, with carb-containing foods, such as fruit or starches. In general, food-combining diets suggest eating fruit alone; starches, such as breads, pasta, rice and cereal, with vegetables only; and protein-rich foods, such as meat, fish and eggs, with fat sources and vegetables only. A typical day might include fresh fruit for breakfast, brown rice with vegetables for lunch and fish or eggs with vegetables and olive oil for dinner.

Potential Risks

Separating particular nutrient groups is not only unnecessary, according to Sara Boisen Schwertfeger, a registered dietitian and health blogger based in Iowa City, Iowa, but also potentially harmful. Your digestive system is designed to process a variety of nutrients and foods, regardless of whether they are consumed alone or with different foods. Food combining might lead to deficiencies of vital nutrients, including vitamin B-12, zinc, vitamin D and protein, and make dining with friends or at restaurants difficult. Many conventional dishes, such as meat-filled sandwiches, chicken or fish with rice or potatoes and cereal with milk, are prohibited. Food-combining techniques also lack scientific evidence of effectiveness.

Serving Suggestions

Food-combining diets emphasize nutritious, whole foods. If you find that following such a diet helps you make healthier food choices or better manage your daily portions, you might reap the proposed benefits, which may include strengthened immune function, energy levels, appetite control and weight. Seek guidance from a qualified health care professional to ensure that your nutrient needs are met. For improved digestion and wellness, the United States Department of Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating at least three 1-ounce servings of whole grains and plentiful fruits and vegetables daily. Eat balanced meals, which include protein and carb sources, to enhance blood sugar balance, lasting energy and fullness between meals, and overall nutrient intake.

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