Thursday, May 14, 2009

Criticism of the Diet of The Five Tibetan Rites' Monks

In my last post I outlined the recommendations of the monks who developed The Five Tibetan Rites of Rejuvenation. Similar to the dietary practice known as 'Food Combining'.

The following article basically negates food combining and is given to you not because I believe it - but simply to give the two opposing view points so you can assess for yourself (or do more research).

22 t h e s k e p t i c Vol 16, No 2
Food Combining
Glenn Cardwell

The TV puppet characters Wallace and Grommet constructed a rocket to take themselves to the moon. The only provisions they took was a packet of crackers, for the moon is made of cheese. Stilton? Wensleydale? They couldn’t decide, but cheese it certainly was. I have never met anybody that believes the moon is made of cheese. The Australian Dairy Corporation discounted all ideas of moon-sourced cheddar once the NASA moon landings of the 1960s proved beyond doubt that the moon had no cheese-like properties, at least on the surface.

Why is it then that people believe in food combining, a concept based on a similar ancient fantasy that has been proven time and again to be false? We know so much about the digestive system that the idea of food combining has the same credibility as lunar Edam. I can only guess that espousing the value of food combining suggests you have superior nutrition knowledge based upon a platform belief that the current food supply and eating patterns are inherently evil. Frankly, I don’t know.

Food combining is based on the premise that protein and carbohydrate cannot be digested together and such a combination will putrefy or ferment inside the stomach causing severe fatigue. Dr Martin Rehfuss is one of many in the medical fraternity who has used facts to try and discredit the food combining myth. “There is no evidence either in the literature or in my investigation to lead me to believe that proteins and carbohydrates are incompatible in the stomach” he said in an address to the American Medical Association on 15 June 1934, over 60 years ago!

He was referring to his own research studies and others published in the previous 20 years demonstrating the complete digestion of foods in all combinations. “One of their dictums is the presumed incompatibility of proteins and carbohydrates, the presumption being that proteins require an acid medium for their digestion while carbohydrates require an alkaline medium”.

“A fact that has apparently escaped the proponents of the carbohydrate-alkaline theory is that no carbohydrates are ingested which are not followed by a direct acid response on the part of the stomach” said Rehfuss. We had a fair inkling that protein and carbohydrates were digested simultaneously way back in 1833 when US Army doctor William Beaumont published studies on his patient Alexis St Martin. In a hunting accident St Martin suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach.

Once he had healed he still had an opening, or fistula, right into his stomach. Beaumont took the opportunity to conduct 238 experiments, including some where he put a range of foods on a piece of string through the hole into St Martin’s stomach. He found that all foods, regardless of the protein and carbohydrate content, disappeared through digestion. Beaumont had learned more about digestion than some people were ever to learn 160 years later.

Typical of the early food combining zealots was William Howard Hay who graduated from the medical school of the University of the City of New York in 1891. In his book How to always be well he believed that the combination of foods eaten was very important for health.

He wrote “Any carbohydrate foods require alkaline conditions for their complete digestion, so must not be combined with acids of any kind, as sour fruits, because the acid will neutralise. Neither should these be combined with a protein of concentrated sort as these protein foods will excite too much hydrochloric acid during their stomach digestion”.

The Hay System promotes the practice of eating three meals per day with meal one being alkaline foods only, meal two protein foods with salads, vegetables and fruit, and meal three comprising starchy foods with salads, vegetables and sweet fruit. There should be an interval of 4.0 to 4.5 hours between each meal.

In the 1930s Hay opened a sanatorium called Hay-ven in Pennsylvania where patients could try his philosophy of not mixing proteins with carbohydrates. Hay can be excused for his theory as textbooks of the time were not always clear on digestion.

In 1935 Dr Stewart Baxter proved that the pancreatic enzymes for digestion of carbohydrates and protein are secreted simultaneously regardless of the type of food eaten. The theory of protein carbohydrate incompatibility was in shreds. Every textbook of physiology since has covered this basic knowledge of digestion. Many self-proclaimed nutrition gurus have ignored the facts and continued to use Hay’s ideas. As they say, don’t let facts ruin your income generating potential.

A knowledge of basic physiology and digestion is not a claim that can be made by food combiners Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, authors of Fit for Life. In recycling myths of the last century, they say that meat needs an acid juice while potato needs an alkaline juice and if you eat the two together they neutralise each other (p40). The protein then putrefies and the starch ferments. ‘Because there’s all this putrefaction, fermentation, and resulting acid, what actually is in the stomach at that time is a mass of spoiled, rotting, foul-smelling food’ say the Diamonds. That’s the mathematical equivalent of claiming 2+2=5.

Let’s stick to the facts (or 2+2=4). Every morsel of food you swallow has two choices. It can be either regurgitated (not pleasant) or it can go through the digestive system (a lot more fun). Most takes the latter route. The stomach is acidic because the acids help kill the nasty bacteria in food and begin the process of protein digestion. All food must experience the acidity of the stomach before reaching the intestines, just like you have to go through primary school before attending secondary school. Like, there’s no choice.

By far the majority of digestion happens in the small intestine. It is alkaline to neutralise the stomach acids and provide the best environment for all digestive enzymes, mainly from the pancreas, to fully digest all the food components: protein, fat and carbohydrate.

The acidity of the stomach and the alkalinity of the intestines is very closely controlled by the natural processes of the body and isn’t affected by the type of diet or the combination of foods eaten. Indeed, the acidity of the body (pH 7.4) is kept within tightly defined limits independent of the acidity of foods eaten. If it wasn’t you would become very sick, very quickly. (A woman in the US died of severe acidosis with a pH of 6.9, thought to be caused by Kombucha, a home-made yeast drink).

Even if we rely on just a little commonsense, the concept of food combining doesn’t stand up. If you couldn’t digest protein and carbohydrate together most of the world’s population would be in serious trouble. The world’s favourite food is rice, a delicious combination of protein and carbohydrate. The same goes for bread, pasta, baked beans, breakfast cereals, milk, yogurt and many vegetables. What would you eat if all these foods ‘fermented’ in your body?

The Diamonds suggest avoiding milk and yogurt altogether, yet make the ludicrous statement that “if a food is a natural protein starch combination (such as beans) is eaten alone, the body is capable of modifying its digestive juices and timing their secretions in such ways that digestion can go on with a fair degree of efficiency” (p43). Wow! Any explanation or proof offered? Nope.

A major reason humans have survived as a species is because they were able to eat, digest and absorb the nutrients from any edible food that came their way. There isn’t a single culture that based their eating habits on food combining. It is only in recent years where food has been in abundance that people have had the luxury to fantasise about what they eat. Those who are starving eat whatever’s available, with not a thought for food combining.

Lost in the quackery is that there are some food combinations that can be useful to the body. For example, eating a vitamin C containing food as part of your meals improves the absorption of iron. A good reason to include fruit or vegetables (raw or quickly cooked) with your meals. On the other hand drinking tea or coffee with meals can reduce iron absorption. The tannins in tea and coffee combine with the iron to make it very difficult to absorb. (I also find that a good shiraz combines wonderfully with almost any food).

Probably the best example of humans being able to digest protein and carbohydrate together happens at the start of life. Breast milk is a perfect blend of protein, carbohydrate and fat. No woman has been born with one breast labelled ‘protein’ and the other ‘carbohydrate'.

So, the next time someone tells you that meat and vegetables cannot be eaten together, give them a quick lesson in history and basic digestion. Of course, if they ride a horse and cart, use a kerosene lamp and are still awaiting the outcome of World War 1 then their thinking could be up-to-date.

Deutsch RM. The New Nuts Among the Berries. Bull Publishing 1977
Rehfuss ME. Proteins versus the carbohydrates. JAMA 1934; 103 (21): 1600-1605
Sherwood L. Human Physiology.2nd edition. West Pub1ishing Company 1993.
Diamond H, Diamond M. Fit for Life. Eden Paperbacks 1985
Baxter SG. The parallel concentration of enzymes in the pancreatic juice. American J Digestive Diseases & Nutrition 1935; 2: 108-111
Diet for The Five Tibetans?

In 1939 Peter Kelder published his book ‘The Eye of Revelation” about the discovery of the monks who developed The Five Tibetan Rites. In this book he also revealed the health-giving diet secrets of the monks which is fairly similar to what we call “Food Combining” today.

Listed below are the main details of the monks’ diet:

The monks ate wholesome, good food in the following manner:
  • They were vegetarians but ate eggs, butter and cheese in sufficient quantities to 'serve certain functions of the brain, body and nervous system'. They had no need of meat, fish or fowl since they are strong and virile from practicing the Rites.
  • One of the secrets of health they describe is to only eat one type of food at a meal, to avoid clashing in the stomach. Sometimes Colonel Bradford ate a meal consisting only of bread. At others he had fresh fruits and vegetables, or just a feast of one vegetable. At first he missed the variety of foods to which he was accustomed but after a short while came to enjoy the benefits he gained from sharing their diet.
  • The monks said you should keep starches, fruits and vegetables separate from meats, fish and fowl.
  • Starches clash with proteins. If you eat bread (starch) with meats, egg or cheese (protein) a reaction is set up in the stomach which not only causes discomfort, but more importantly contributes to a shorter lifespan.
  • You could however have several kinds of meats to a meal. You can have butter, eggs and cheese with the meat meal, but nothing sweet or starchy - no cakes, puddings etc.
  • Alternatively you could have all starches together, bread, butter, pies, cakes, puddings, fruit and fresh and cooked vegetables.
  • Butter is neutral, it can be used with a starchy meal or with a meat meal. However milk mixes better with meat.
  • Coffee and tea should always be taken black
  • The Lamas never ate whole eggs unless they were involved in hard physical labor, in which case they might eat one, medium boiled. However they did eat lots of egg yolks, discarding the white part. They say that one should never eat the while part unless involved in hard manual labor as the egg whites are used only by the muscles. The egg yolks on the other hand are used by the brain, nerves, blood and tissues. They recommend eating them raw not during a meal, but before or after it!
  • You must eat slowly, chewing your food to almost a liquid before swallowing it. They said food must first be 'digested' in the mouth to obtain the full nourishment of the food.
  • By obtaining the full nourishment from the food, less food needs to be eaten overall.
  • Around the same time (1933) Dr William Howard Hay published a ground-breaking book, A New Health Era in which he maintains that all disease is caused by autotoxication (or "self-poisoning") due to acid accumulation in the body:
Now we depart from health in just the proportion to which we have allowed our alkalies to be dissipated by introduction of acid-forming food in too great amount... It may seem strange to say that all disease is the same thing, no matter what its myriad modes of expression, but it is verily so. William Howard Hay, M.D.

Dr William Howard Hay, creator of the Hay diet, was born in Hartstown, Pennsylvania, USA in 1866. He graduated from the University of New York in 1891, and practiced medicine for the next sixteen years.

He then became very ill, and was diagnosed as having Bright’s Disease, high blood pressure and a dilated heart, and thought his career was over. He decided to treat his symptoms himself by eating a healthy, natural diet, and after three months, he felt much improved, to the surprise of his doctors. His experience strengthened his belief that the medical establishment was approaching the treatment of disease in the wrong way; that it should be attempting to remove the cause of illness rather than treating the end-results of a condition.

By 1911, Dr Hay was convinced that he had discovered a successful treatment for diabetes. For the next four years, he treated his patients through diet, and successfully demonstrated that people could achieve optimum health with the correct diet, providing there was no irreversible organic change. He thus developed over the years the dietary system now known as the ‘Hay Diet’.

His assertion was that disease had one underlying cause: an incorrect chemical balance in the body, caused by the production and accumulation of acid end-products of digestion and metabolism, which the body is unable to eliminate. The result of this is a reduction in the body’s alkaline reserve, which causes a breakdown in good health. He maintained that there were four main causes of this accumulation of acid end-products: over consumption of meat; over-consumption of refined carbohydrates, e.g., white flour and refined sugar; ignorance of the laws of chemistry in respect of the digestion of foods; and constipation. He taught his patients that, although people could build up a tolerance of incompatible foods, they did so at the expense of the body’s vitality. He also taught the importance of daily baths, exercise, fresh air, rest, and sunshine.

Despite Dr Hay’s enormously successful treatment of many seriously ill patients with his system, it was criticized vehemently by the medical establishment, which, at that time, was focused on the germ theory of disease, and the increasing use of drug treatment. However, he defended his system courageously, continuing to treat patients, and lecture, until his death in 1940.

The Hay Diet, also known as ‘food combining’, consists of five basic rules:
  1. Do not eat carbohydrates with proteins and acid fruits at the same meal.
  2. Eat vegetables, salads and fruits as the main part of your diet.
  3. Eat proteins, starches and fats in small quantities.
  4. Eat only whole grain and unprocessed starches, excluding refined, processed foods such as white flour, white sugar, and margarine.
  5. Allow an interval of at least four to four and a half hours between meals of different types.
  6. The above information about Dr Hay and his diet is from
In my next post you can read an interesting article on Food Combining written in “The Skeptic” Magazine Vol 16, No 2 in which the work of Dr Hay and others are basically trashed! I thought you’d find the two opposing views as interesting as I did.