The Myth of Food Combining

I'm posting this because I have been labouring under the misapprehension that vegetarians needed to combine grains with dairy or pulses to obtain the full benefit of the protein. I referred to to this theory in the post below.

I was a vegetarian myself for 24 years and spent most of those meatless years aiming to combine my grains with pulses or dairy in order to 'get the most' out of them, as each food does not contain the complete range of amino acids on its own and I believed, along with millions of other vegetarians that it was therefore incomplete until combined with a food that filled in the gaps.

I now realise that this is a myth based on the misguided assumptions of Frances Moore Lappé in her book, Diet For a Small Planet. I'm pretty sure that everyone had read this book in the commune where I grew up and probably continue to give life to the myth that they must eat their grains with pulses in order to use the protein within them. I even read articles to that effect during my nutrition studies! But Lappé actually published a retraction ten years later stating that it was not necessary to combine at all to obtain enough protein from a vegetarian diet. The only exception is if most of the carbohydrate in your diet comes from refined (or junk) foods, or a very high proportion of fruit, or if your only starch is cassava or sweet potato - in these cases you would need to increase the protein in your diet overall to compensate for the lack of amino acids in your carbohydrates. The liver is capable of storing the amino acids long enough to make complete chains, as long as you eat a varied diet.

I can even confirm this from experience because I tried the Hay diet for a while during my time as a vegetarian and found that I felt better whilst eating like this. The Hay diet focusses on a different type of food combining where proteins are not eaten with starches - almost the opposite of Lappé's original method. Although I didn't feel great on this diet, my digestion was slightly improved and I certainly didn't waste away due to lack of protein. As I was still eating wheat at this point, I imagine this was the real culprit in my lack of energy.

So to all you 'A' types and vegetarians out there - relax! eat some toast and don't worry about spreading nut butter, hummus or cheese on it! Just make sure that each day has a good spread of different vegetables, grains, pulses, nuts and some fruit in it and you should be just fine. 

Bear in mind though that you still need to focus on low GI grains - if you eat a whole bowl of popcorn or a big plate of white rice, you will still get a corresponding spike in insulin that will unbalance your blood sugar in a very unhealthy way. You can avoid this by making sure you consume foods that are as unprocessed as possible, that way you will be eating the fibre that slows down the conversion of starch into blood glucose and gives you sustained energy rather than a short lived burst.