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


Rajendar Menen said...

Criticism doesn't have teeth. Everyone knows how important food combinations are. One can't eat everything in sight. Bad for the body and bad for the environment. In fact, if anything, it has been proved in man and animals that fewer and qualitative calorie consumption is necessary for good health. But food combinations are also personal.

Rajendar Menen said...

Long time criticism??? I would go with the Tibetan take on food combinations.

Carolinda Witt said...

These are just two viewpoints. I think the best one of the lot isn't mentioned - our own body's reaction to individual foods and combinations of food.

Most people don't have the time to listen to their teacher - their own body - until they get ill or suffer digestive problems etc.

We are so used to thinking of eating as coming from the outside and going into us that we don't stop to listen to our bodies reactions. To do that we need to eat more consciously. If we do that, we eat from the inside out.

T5T (The Five Tibetans) are all about re-vitalizing the body with Qi, Prana, Chi etc. We can do this with food, air, nature, sunshine, positive emotions, meditation, joy etc. If we focus on filling our bodies with life-force instead of 'diets' we would naturally eat what is right for our bodies.

Rick Henderson said...

I think Carolinda has it right that we need to look at our own eating. But take into consideration the time of Keldar's writing... close to the time when Dr. Hay's work was still popular.

People, this is the twenty-first century! If you were really interested, find out the diet of Buddhist monks now and not what as written about over 100 years ago.

Jan said...

Well, I still believe one ounce of practical experience to be more valuable than a tonne of theory. My girlfriend has been suffering from intestinal aches for a very long time, no matter what she ate, until the day we learned about food combination in our Healthcoach study. We tried it, and gone were the pains. So we stick to the food combinations since then. It should also be said that human is the only species on earth that eats proteins, carbohydrates and fats all together in one meal. Just my two cents.

Carolinda Witt said...

Jan - that's great it worked for her. My daughter discovered her problems were caused by eating fruit - regardless of the type!

rajendar menen said...

No question about it -- one has to choose food carefully; combinations are vital and personal.

Machelle said...

In all honestly, I have not consciously tried food combinations to have the experiment of how I feel and digest differently... However, I do have a unique story on the intelligence of the body's digestive track that may be of interest.
I have three children, and during each pregnancy, I get very VERY sick. I am unable to keep food or water down for much of the pregnancy - this condition is referred to as hyperemesis. To avoid IV's for hydration and nutrients, I would often try to eat and see what would stay down... and if several days of "nothing" stayed down, then I had to go on a round of IVs. What I witnessed MANY times, was that after eating carbs with protein (lets say beans and rice). If I threw up within 20 minutes of eating - both rice and beans were present in the toilet. If I threw up after 30 minutes or so, the rice would be gone and the beans remained. The beans, a protein and thus longer to digest, would be there for an hour or so longer than the rice. After that time, if I vomited, it would be stomach acid.

My many months of these experience 3 times, reveled to me how the body knows and timely breaks down the fruits and veggies first, then the carbs, and then the protein. Its has its own cycle and wisdom.

On another note, I have a question for Carolinda. I am considering including a movements from T5T rites in a yoga dvd - are there any copyright protection that I would have to consider before doing so??? If you know.

Blessings in your offerings,

Carolinda Witt said...

Machelle, that's fascinating and incredibly revealing! So often we tend to think of our stomachs as blenders, mixing and churning everything together which of course is as false as pulling your stomach inwards when you breathe in - and pushing it outwards when you breathe out! Thanks so much for your great comments. You must have had a very difficult pregnancies and I admire you for your fortitude!

On the matter of using a T5T move, please could you contact me directly at Looking forward to hearing from you and thanks for checking about copyright first. It honors my enormous hours of effort, time and expense in developing a system of doing the Rites that is safer for doing over the short and long-term. All the best.