• Dec 2023

Food Combining for Glucose Levels: Does It Work?

Food Combining for Glucose Levels: Does It Work?
  • Food sequencing or food combining is a simple method you can use to manage your glucose.
  • Studies show the order in which you eat your food can impact post-meal glucose spikes.
  • There are easy ways to incorporate food sequencing that don’t require much advanced planning, no matter what and where you eat.

Managing your glucose is about more than just the food you eat. Food combining, or food sequencing, can be a great way to manage glucose spikes and another tool to use, especially when you are eating a meal that is higher in calories and carbohydrates than normal. A growing body of research shows that eating foods in a specific order — known as “food sequencing” — or combining certain foods together, can have an impact on your glucose after the meal. 

What is food combining?

A previous approach to food sequencing was called “food combining,” which came from the book Health via Food by William Hay in the 1920s and put strict rules around what types of foods should be eaten together and which ones should never be combined. (1) For example, it stated that protein should never be paired with carbohydrates and sweet fruits should be eaten on an empty stomach. However, this outdated approach has no scientific data to support these guidelines, especially when it comes to stabilising glucose. 

More current research shows that a new approach to food combining called “food sequencing” or “food order theory" can affect our glucose as well as our overall health and mood. This approach focuses on the order in which we eat our food and/or how we compose our meals. 

So, what is the optimal combination or sequence of foods? Ideally, to sequence your food in an optimal way, you will eat your meals in the following order:

  1. Protein and non-starchy vegetables
  2. Carbohydrates last

It is important to leave any carbohydrate-heavy foods until later in the meal, including starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas, and corn. However, some meals may not be broken down into these specific components. What if the foods are cooked into one dish such as a salad or casserole? In this case, you may think of “food combining” over “sequencing.” The most important thing is to ensure you have some protein and non-starchy vegetables in the meal, and it is not just carbohydrates on their own. For example, a salad with greens, salmon, and quinoa instead of noodles with marinara.

What effect does food combining have on glucose levels?

Studies have shown that eating vegetables and protein first before you eat carbohydrates can lead to lower levels of both insulin and glucose following the meal (2). Because fibre, protein, and fats take longer to digest, they can slow the rate at which the carbohydrates (aka glucose) get absorbed, therefore mitigating post-meal spikes (2,3).

Additionally, because food ends up leaving the stomach more slowly with this approach, it can help you feel fuller following the meal and help reduce the amount you eat during the meal itself. This, in turn, may help you manage your weight (3,4).

Ways to try food sequencing or food combining

If you are preparing a meal at home, make sure it contains protein and non-starchy vegetables along with whatever carb you may want to include. For example, if you’re planning on eating rice, cook a protein like steak or chicken. Make a simple green salad with olive oil and vinegar to start the meal with before you eat the rice. 

Want a quick meal you can throw together and pack for lunch? Prepare a large salad that includes greens, protein, and an olive-oil based dressing. You can throw in quinoa or roasted sweet potatoes as the carb. Even when eaten all together, the protein, greens, and fat from the dressing will slow down digestion and mitigate any post-meal glucose spikes. 

Eating out? Make sure to skip the breadbasket or chips and salsa before your meal. Carbs alone are more likely to cause a glucose spike than when eaten with or after protein and vegetables. If you really want the bread, save it to eat along your main course (that ideally contains both protein and vegetables) or even wait to savour it at the end of the meal.

Looking for some vegetarian options? Add beans as a great source of both protein and fibre to any dish and follow the same principles as above. When eating carbs like pasta, rice, starchy vegetables, or fruit, try combining them with vegetables, healthy fats, and protein to help slow down digestion. Pair an apple with peanut butter or add tofu to pasta, rice, or roasted sweet potatoes.

A final note from Lingo  

Food sequencing (or food combining) does not need to be complicated. The “rules” for this science-backed approach are simple: eat protein and vegetables before you eat carbs. If the meal is combined, make sure there is a source of protein, healthy fat, and/or vegetables along with carbs and not just carbs alone.

Following these tips can help mitigate glucose spikes, keep your hunger in check, and lead to steady glucose and steady energy throughout the day.


  1. Hay, W.H. (1929) Health via Food. East Aurora, NY: Sun Diet Health Service.

  2. Shukla AP, Iliescu RG, Thomas CE, Aronne LJ. Food Order Has a Significant Impact on Postprandial Glucose and Insulin Levels. Diabetes Care. 2015 Jul;38(7):e98-9. doi: 10.2337/dc15-0429. PMID: 26106234; PMCID: PMC4876745. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4876745/ 

  3. Giuntini EB, Sardá FAH, de Menezes EW. The Effects of Soluble Dietary Fibers on Glycemic Response: An Overview and Futures Perspectives. Foods. 2022 Dec 6;11(23):3934. doi: 10.3390/foods11233934. PMID: 36496742; PMCID: PMC9736284. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36496742/ 

  4. Roe LS, Meengs JS, Rolls BJ. Salad and satiety. The effect of timing of salad consumption on meal energy intake. Appetite. 2012 Feb;58(1):242-8. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.10.003. Epub 2011 Oct 8. PMID: 22008705; PMCID: PMC3264798. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3264798/

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