The Healthiest Way to Lose Weight, Says This Nutritionist: Food Combining
You want to lose weight without risking your health, but all the usual diets out there seem to have their downsides: Keto can increase your risk of heart disease, the Sirtfood diet that Adele used is too low-calorie and restrictive, and most cleanses or detoxes are impossible to sustain. What if we told you that the healthiest and fastest way to lose weight was not to diet, but instead learn how to use food combining, leveraging specific nutrients in the foods you eat help fuel you while making you feel satiated and fuller longer, so you lose weight without restricting your calorie intake. This method of eating is gaining in popularity because Food Combining pairs high-quality, high-fiber carbohydrates with protein and "good" fat for healthy weight loss that lasts.
Food combining focuses on filling up your plate with food that lets you feel full, that's nutrient-dense but not calorie-dense. "If you have a bowl of cereal and juice, you aren’t going to feel very full. You could have the same amount of calories eating a bowl of oatmeal and peanut butter and some soy milk. You’re going to feel full way longer, even if they are both the same amount of calories," says Amy Goodson, Registered Dietician in the Dallas, Fort-Worth area.
The Beet asked Goodson to explain how to use food combing and to help you lose weight naturally without dieting. Find out what foods you should pair together to feel fuller longer, as well as foods to avoid eating together, and how to increase the nutrients in your food, to be healthiest. A plant-based diet helps make food combining easier and more effective, since many plant foods that are high in protein also contain carbs and healthy fat, so you get three nutrients in one.
The Beet: What is food combining?
Amy Goodson, RD: "The three main macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Carbohydrates digest the quickest, so you’ll hear people talk about having a “blood sugar spike” after eating carbs. When you eat carbohydrates by themselves, they spike your blood sugar faster than protein or fat do, because the carbohydrates are designed to be quickly digestible energy.
"The way a registered dietician would teach people to help manage blood sugar, which is important because it helps you manage your energy levels, is to combine a high-fiber carbohydrate (like oatmeal) with a protein, or with a protein and healthy fat (like almond butter), because when you eat oatmeal with almond butter or if you eat brown rice with tofu or whole-grain crackers with plant-based cheese that protein takes longer to digest and it's better for you than the crackers or carbs alone.
The Beet: How does food combining work for weight loss?
Amy Goodson, RD: "When we compare a high fiber, complex carbohydrate like quinoa, to a more refined carbohydrate like a Pop-Tart, obviously the fiber is going to help slow down digestion. The quinoa would have a lower glycemic effect and a lower blood sugar spike than the Pop-Tart would. But in relation to protein and fat, we know that protein digests the slowest, meaning it takes longer to break down, so research has shown that protein is more satiating than carbohydrates or fat. So if you are eating carbs, you need to combine them with fat or protein to slow down the digestion of those calories and leave you fuller longer."
"So someone who wants to lose weight can use food combining to still eat an adequate amount of carbs, and achieve weight loss, as long as they also add protein and fat each time they eat carbs. The main thing not to do is to eat a meal that is all carbohydrates. I tell people it’s all about finding that macronutrient balance, by adding some fat (like salad dressing or nuts or avocado) and protein like soy products, legumes like beans and lentils, or peas.
Here's another example: If you were eating Goldfish, you could eat Goldfish for a longer amount of time because that simple carbohydrate snack just doesn’t make you feel full. If you were snacking on vegan cheese or whole nuts, you’d get fuller a lot faster because of the protein and fat will work to slow down digestion. Fat slows down digestion and it really helps people feel more satisfied due to the hormones that are released when you eat fat.
"So instead of getting a blood sugar spike that looks like a peak of a mountain and a quick drop, you get blood sugar levels that look more like gently rolling hills. That’s important because your energy levels follow your blood sugar levels. so if my blood sugar looks like a rollercoaster, that's probably what my energy is going to look like. If my blood sugar looks like a steady, streamlined, nearly flat line or shows it gradually rising and gradually falling after I eat, then my energy will reflect that.
"So in the world of dietician food combining, we’re always combining a high fiber carbohydrate, and that can be a grain or a piece of fruit with a protein, or even a protein and healthy fat. Think of this as eating an apple with peanut butter, something like that, because it’s going to blunt that blood sugar spike you would get if you only ate the apple or the crackers or whatever that carb is or you."
TB: What are some plant-based foods you’d recommend eating together?
AG: "One of the ultimate favorites that I eat every day for breakfast is oatmeal and peanut butter in the morning. So you're getting a high-fiber carbohydrate with protein and healthy fat. Another great one for lunch would be black beans and brown rice, or it could even be dinner of soy-foods like tofu or tempeh paired with a high fiber carbohydrate, such as quinoa or whole-grain pasta. Always ask yourself where is my protein coming from and is my carbohydrate a whole food (not processed).
"In trying to eat a plant-based diet, I always joke that in committing to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, people can become "carbotarians" because carbohydrates are so often easily and readily available on a plant-based diet. It's easier to grab a bagel or a granola bar than it is to go find a plant-based protein like tofu or soy yogurt. In my experience, you'll sometimes see people who are plant-based, not get enough protein, which can contribute to feeling hungrier over the course of the day, and not satisfied. So get that plant-based protein."
TB: What foods would you suggest not eating together?
AG: "Typically, from a blood sugar perspective, I tell people that just because a food is healthy, if you eat it with another similar food, it can be unhealthy. So having a bowl of cereal with a banana and orange juice in the morning, you end up with three carbs and only one protein, the almond milk, or oat milk. But that’s still going to cause a pretty significant blood sugar spike due to the ratio of carbohydrates to the small amount of protein that you got in the plant-based milk.
"So a lot of times people will eat pasta with sauce on it and munch on breadsticks. Or they have a granola bar and fruit. So I’ll tell them, actually, you missed the mark here because the carbs in the bar and the fruit are likely to cause a blood sugar spike and then a few hours later you're hungry again because of the drop in blood sugar, so if instead, you were to add more protein or even healthy fat with it, then it will stabilize your blood sugar, which is important.
"When you look at the population and the percentage of Americans who have diabetes or are pre-diabetic, most people tend to eat just very sporadically over the course of the day, and using food combining, it’s amazing what you can do to help people manage their hunger levels.
"So when someone comes to me trying to lose weight, I show them that just by doing a really good job of pairing an adequate amount of protein with their carbohydrates you can achieve so much since they can control their hunger and choose the healthier foods. I have found that if you starve people of carbohydrates completely or they try to cut out carbs entirely, they usually end up really craving carbs later.
TB: Is food combining a good strategy for healthy weight loss?
AG: "Yes, this kind of healthy food combining works for long-term weight loss. When we help a person who is trying to lose weight, the goal is to consume fewer calories than what the body needs to maintain your weight. So when you do that, you’re giving the body less energy than it needs so the body will burn its energy reserves which are glycogen and then your body's fat supply. So the chances are that during this process you will feel hungry. I always tell people that if you’re going to go into a calorie deficit, don’t think you’re not ever going to feel hungry. So when you help people lose weight they need to pair high-fiber carbohydrates with their food, since the fiber will help slow down digestion, because it really doesn’t digest, it just pushes things through your system.
When you consume a protein and or healthy fat, it helps you feel more satiated with fewer calories, which can be really important for feeling better over the course of the day and stay on the plan. Some of my clients, when I tell them to eat foods like peanut butter, or nuts, they get freaked out that these healthy fats have more calories per serving than they want to eat, and instead they try to eat low-calorie foods. But what ends up happening is that those low-calorie foods leave you feeling hungry again, faster. So if you just ate the spoonful of peanut butter, you would probably feel fuller a lot longer and not reach for carbs soon after."
TB: It seems like nutritionists often recommend eating this way without calling it food combining, and it feels like just a smart way to eat.
AG: "For sure. Not everyone calls it food combining, but it is a smart way to eat. If you eat protein and fat with your carbs, this is going to help with weight loss, it’s going to help your energy levels, it’s going to help stabilize your blood sugar. So if you are a person who has energy issues, which are actually spiking blood sugar issues, which tens of millions of Americans have issues with, then the best way to manage your blood sugar is with this kind of healthy food combining. When you hear that someone is pre-diabetic, the thing that is going to help them manage their blood sugar levels is eating a high fiber diet that has protein and healthy fat and cutting down on carbs as the ratio of foods they eat. This is also important for overall health. And it’s also just a great way to eat in general to feel good and have all-day energy.
TB: How does it help with muscle building, especially for guys who are training?
AG: "When you look at most of the protein research, it shows that the best way to eat for building muscle is to have protein at every meal and snack, and make sure to have your food intake distributed throughout the day because your body is always turning over the muscle. Of course it happens during and after a workout when your body is repairing, rebuilding, and creating more muscle fiber, but to build muscle tone, when you give your body adequate protein throughout the day, you’re really promoting that muscle rebuilding process.
"So the best thing is to provide protein to the body at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. And if you’re building muscle mass from the standpoint of training for an event, or just to get fitter, that’s going to be really important because it’s going to help you get that strength and energy that you need to create toned muscles, over the course of the day."
TB: Would you recommend food combining over eating Keto?
AG: "For most people, yes. Most people find that a Keto diet isn’t sustainable long term because people just love carbs. Some people can do it for a period of time, but after a while, the carb cravings are just too intense. Sometimes what will happen is that after stopping a low carb diet, instead of slowly introducing carbohydrates, they just go back to eating as many carbs as they were before. In doing so, they just gain the weight back that they lost.
"Whereas if someone is strategically combining the three macronutrient groups of carbs, fat, and protein, then maintaining a caloric deficit is much easier. The amount of carbohydrates you eat is also related to how much you exercise. Simple carbs need to be watched on any diet, of course: For people who are not physically active, they need to eat much lower carbohydrates than someone who works out a lot, but no matter how active you are, we know that it's best to include less processed carbohydrates into your diet, especially to lose weight.
TB: Does food combining increase the nutrient value of the food you eat?
AG: "Actually it does. There are a few ways to pair foods to increase the body's nutrient absorption, so if you eat plant-based foods, the bio-availability of the nutrients can be increased by adding healthy fat to a big leafy green salad, for instance.
"From a plant-based diet perspective specifically, iron that comes in things like nuts, seeds, and leafy greens can be better absorbed when eaten with vitamin C rich foods like citrus. That could look like a spinach salad with beans or seeds with orange and strawberries. Consuming healthy fats can also help iron absorption or the absorption of any other fat-soluble nutrients, so a small dash of dressing is good. Most people get their iron from plant-based foods."
TB: So should high-fiber foods be the base of your meals when food combining?
AG: " Typically, eating a high-fiber carbohydrate such as plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, combined with plant-based protein, or with fat, especially as a snack is healthiest, and if you're also exercising, losing weight is that much easier.
"At a meal, try to choose a high-fiber carbohydrate with some protein. To me, that looks like a whole grain like quinoa or brown rice, or high-fiber vegetables, but it could also be a fruit because that’s also a high-fiber carbohydrate.
"The perfect snack is to eat apple slices and peanut butter because that’s a high-fiber carbohydrate with a protein. With plant-based protein typically they are not just protein. They are usually protein with carbohydrates or fat. So unless you’re eating tofu or tempeh, or plant-based protein powder. you’re picking up some of the other macronutrients so be aware of those as well. But plant-based proteins are also in most of the beans, lentils, peas, soy, and legumes that you love, so that's a great source of protein and carbs in one food."