Hay Diet

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Hay Diet








Research and general acceptance



The Hay diet is named for the New York physician who created a plan that prohibited the consumption of starches and proteins during the same meal. William Howard Hay began developing the food-combining diet in 1904 to treat himself for medical conditions including a dilated heart. He lost 50 (22.7 kilograms) pounds in approximately three months and recovered from the conditions.


When William Howard Hay (1866–1940) graduated from New York University Medical College in 1891, he practiced medicine and specialized in surgery. That changed 16 years later when his own medical troubles led him to research the connection between diet and health. Hay then weighed 225 pounds (102 kilograms) and had high blood pressure and Bright’s Disease, a kidney condition. Hay discovered that his heart was dilated while running to catch a train.

The dilated heart caused by weakened heart muscles meant that his blood could not pump efficiently. Hay knew from treating patients that his future did not “look overlong or very bright,” according to his 1929 book Health via Food. The title described Hay’s health theories, his condition, and treatment.

Hay diagnosed the causes of his conditions as the “very familiar trinity of troubles” that then ranked as the primary cause of death: the combination of high blood pressure, kidney disease, and dilated heart.

Hay wrote that his legs had swelled; and he slept seated because he was afraid he would drown in his fluids if he slept lying down. He wasn’t able to lose the weight through exercise and what he thought was a proper diet. Hay wrote that the dilated heart made his prospects were bleak. He knew from treating patients that there was no medical treatment for a dilated heart. He advised them to prepare for the “final hop-off” (death). With that diagnosis applied to himself, Hay looked at his life to evaluate his own situation. He described himself as a “strong man of splendid heredity,” so Hay looked at his eating habits.

Plain food of the American table

After graduating from medical school, Hay ate at hotels, boarding houses, and restaurants for 11 years. He then married, and his wife prepared meals for the following five years. As a married man, Hay wrote that.

Food combining guidelines

Food groupsFoodsCombine withDo not combineExceptions
Acid fruitsGrapefruit, oranges, lemons, limes, pineapples, pomegranates, tomatoesSub-acid fruit and nuts and seedsSweet fruit and other food groupsTomatoes can be eaten with low and non-starchy vegetables and avocado
Sub-acid fruitsApples, apricots, berries, grapes, kiwi, mango, nectarines, papaya, peaches, pears, plums, strawberriesAcid or sweet fruits, not both, and nuts and seedsOther food groups 
Sweet fruitsBananas, coconut, dates, dried fruits, prunes, raisinsSub-acid fruits, and nuts and seedsAcid fruit and other food groups 
MelonsCantaloupe, honeydew, watermelonEat aloneAll groups 
ProteinMeat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, dry beans/peas, nuts & seeds, peanuts, soy beans, soy products, tofuLow and non-starchy vegetablesOther proteins, fats, carbohydrates and starches, and fruitsDrink milk alone
Low and non-starchy vegetablesAsparagus, artichokes, green beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, lettuce, celery, carrots, onions, parsley, peas, peppers, turnips, mushrooms, zucchiniProtein, fats, carbohydrates, and starchesFruits 
Carbohydrates and starchesBread, pasta, grains/cereals, potatoes, pumpkin, winter squashes, yamsLow and non-starchy vegetables and fatsFruits and protein 
FatsAvocado, olives, coconut, butter, cream, and olive, avocado, flax, sesame, and canola oilsLow and non-starchy vegetables, carbohydrates and starches, and proteinProtein, fruitsAvocado can be eaten with fruits

(Illustration by GGS Information Services/Thomson Gale.).

he could control what he ate. However, his food preferences were formed during hid years of “public eating.”.

At home, each of Hay’s meals consisted of meat or other concentrated protein . He usually combined this with white bread and generally ate a potato of some form. Hay described this meal as the “plain food of the American table.” His meal ended with pastries and two to three cups of coffee that he sweetened with sugar and cream.

Hay’s eating habits weren’t unusual. Meat and potatoes were long part of a traditional American meal. In addition, Americans during the early 1800s tended to eat large meals. Excess weight was regarded as a sign of prosperity. That perspective began to change later in the century, with a range of weight-loss solutions proposed during the 1890s.

Dr. Edward Hooker Dewey’s plan involved skipping breakfast. Horace Fletcher, a businessman, created a plan after he couldn’t get life insurance because of his weight. He lost 40 pounds (18.1 kilograms) by slowly chewing his food until it liquefied. He then swallowed it. The slow-chewing technique became a popular weight-loss method known as “Fletcherism.”.

Developing a new diet

Hay started his special diet by eliminating two meals and eating only vegetables for the third. He stopped drinking coffee, but continued to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. Hay wrote that his craving for coffee ended in two weeks. Several months later, he gave up smoking. By the third month, Hay weighed 175 pounds (79.4 kilograms).

Hay considered that a normal weight. He spent the next four years researching diet and exercise, examining those issues from the conventional and alternative perspectives. His research included studying the work of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, the Russian physiologist known for his research involving dogs. Pavlov’s studies of the digestion process of dogs indicated that it took about two hours to digest starches and four hours to digest proteins. However, it could take 13 hours to digest a mixture of protein and starch.


Body Mass Index —Also known as BMI, the index rates a person’s weight as healthy, underweight, overweight, or obese.

Calorie —The nutritional term for a kilocalorie, the unit of energy needed to raise the temperature of one liter of water by one degree centigrade at sea level. A nutritional calorie equals 1,000 calories.

Carbohydrate —A nutrient that the body uses as an energy source. A carbohydrate provide 4 calories of energy per gram.

Edema —Swelling caused by caused by the buildup of fluid in the body’s tissues.

Fat —A nutrient that the body uses as an energy source. Fats produce 9 calories per gram.

Fiber —A complex carbohydrate not digested by the human body. Plants are the source of fiber.

Morbidly obese —Also known as extremely obese, the condition of someone with a BMI of more than 40.

Obese —A person with a high amount of body fat; someone with a Body Mass Index of 30 or higher.

Overweight —A person is too heavy for his or her height; someone with a Body Mass Index of from 25 to 30.

Protein —A nutrient that the body uses as an energy source. Proteins produce 4 calories per gram.

Hay’s research led to a diet based on the theory that health was affected by the chemical process of digestion. The body uses an alkaline digestive process for carbohydrates , the group that Hay classified as consisting of starchy foods and sweet things. The digestion of proteins involved acid. If carbohydrates and proteins were consumed at the same time, the alkaline process was interrupted by the acid process. Combining incompatible foods caused acidosis, the accumulation of excess acid in body fluids. Hay linked the combination of foods to medical conditions like Bright’s disease and diabetes. The wrong combinations “drained vitality” and caused people to gain weight.

Hay maintained that the solution was to eat proteins at one meal and carbohydrates at another. He classified fruits with acids. Hay labeled vegetables in the neutral category that could be consumed with either group. He also advocated the daily administration of an enema to cleanse the colon.

The Hay diet was credited with curing the doctor. He pointed out in Health via Food that the book was written 24 years after his bleak diagnosis. Hay said that after changing his eating habits that his blood pressure was lower, the swelling caused by fluid was gone, and he could run quickly and at a distance.

He gave up his traditional medical practice, surgery and administering drugs. He believed that his eating plan was more beneficial. Hay introduced his diet in 1911 and spent the rest of his life promoting it. He lectured in the United States and Canada and wrote books. The Medical Millennium was published in 1927, followed by Health via Food in 1929 and A New Health Era in 1939.

In addition to writing diet books, Hay used the diet to treats patients at sanatoriums. He worked as the medical director of the East Aurora Sun Diet and Health Sanatorium in New York state from 1927 through 1932. He then founded the Pocono Haven Sanatorium Hotel in Mount Pocono, Pa. He served as its director until he died in a traffic accident in 1940.

Hay’s eating plan was the forerunner of late 20th century food-combining diet including Stephen’s Twiggs’ Kensington Diet and Judy Mazel’s New Beverly Hills Diet .


William Howard Hay evaluated health theories and weight-loss methods while developing his plan. When he concluded that proper food combination was the solution to improved health, he saw some benefits in Fletcherism. The slow-chewing method could aid in the digestion of incompatible foods in some cases, Hay wrote in Health via Food. Bread could be chewed into a liquid, but the process wasn’t effective with foods like cheese.

Exercise did not provide the answer, Hay said. He pointed out that farmers who were physically active were diagnosed with some of the same conditions that less sedentary people were. Hay concluded that the solution was a lifetime of his diet and a daily enema. Hay regarded the enema as vital to providing relief to the colon and eliminating the toxins produced by a poor diet. He pointed out that some patients were constipated for two weeks because of their poor eating habits.

Hay also maintained that fresh air provided a benefit, especially when people slept. However, the Hay diet was the foundation of his treatment. The plan that scheduled when food was consumed generally consisted of one food group per meal. Foods were classified as Proteins, Starches, and Neutral Foods that could be combined with proteins or starches. Health via Foodincluded a month-long schedule of suitable meals. It gave the public a guide to follow. For the contemporary reader, the diet plan offers a perspective on the Hay diet and the eating habits of those times. Although food items were limited, people could eat as much as they wanted.

The Hay diet menus for the summer included the following meal recommendations:.

  • A Friday plan began with a breakfast of orange juice and milk. Lunch was tomato bullion, a baked onion, a tomato-and-cucumber salad with mayonnaise dressing, and apricots for dessert. Dinner was broiled fish or steak, steamed chicory, steamed carrots, and a salad of shredded cabbage, onions, and radishes. Mayonnaise dressing was allowed, and dessert consisted of lemon ice.
  • A Saturday plan started with a breakfast of wholewheat muffins, honey, butter, and black coffee. Lunch was cream of carrot soup, steamed celery, and a salad of pineapples, pears, and grapes. Salad was served with mayonnaise dressing. Dessert was lemon fluff. Dinner was broiled lamb chops, steamed cauliflower, steamed kale, and a salad of grapefruit and sauerkraut with mayonnaise dressing. The dessert was fresh peaches with unsweetened cream.

The contemporary Hay diet

Contemporary versions of the Hay diet no longer recommend a daily enema. The eating plan still follows Hay’s classification of foods into three categories, along with the rules about how the foods are combined at mealtime. The diet consists primarily of fruits and vegetables, and dieters are advised to wait at least four hours before consuming a meal from an incompatible category.

Some versions of the Hay diet recommend eating small portions of proteins, starches, and fats . There is also an emphasis on eating whole-grain products and unprocessed starches. Some plans allow alcoholic beverages; others prohibit processed foods with ingredients such as refined sugar, margarine, and white flour.

The Hay diet meal plan is based on the categories of Proteins, Starches, and Neutral Foods. Proteins and Neutral Foods may be combined, and Neutral Foods may be combined with Starches. The combination of Proteins and Starches should be avoided.

The Protein category consists of:.

  • Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products including milk, cheese, and yogurt. Milk should be avoided with meat, but combines well with fruit.
  • Beans including lentils, pinto beans, kidney beans, soy beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), haricot beans, and lima beans.
  • The majority of fruits. In this category are apples, apricots, berries, cherries, currants, gooseberries, grapefruit, grapes, guavas, kiwis, lemons, limes, lychees, mangoes, nectarines, oranges, passionfruit, pears pineapples, prunes, raspberries, strawberries, and tangerines. Melons are in this category but should be consumed separately.
  • Beverages allowed are red wine, white wine, and cider In the Neutral Foods category are:
  • All vegetables except those in the Starches category.
  • All nuts except peanuts.
  • Fats including butter, cream, egg yolks, and olive oil.
  • Beverages in this category are whisky and gin

    In the “Starches category” are:

  • Cereal, bread, rice, and products made from flour and whole-grains such as wheat, oats, corn, and barley.
  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and Jerusalem artichokes.
  • Sweet fruits such as raisins, dates, figs, sweet grapes, and ripe bananas. Extremely ripe fruit is not allowed because the sugar content is higher.
  • Beverages in this category are beer and ale.


Hay created his meal plan to treat medical problems associated with obesity . He claimed that a change in eating habits rather than medication was beneficial in the treatment of conditions such as cardiac disease, kidney disease, and kidney disorders.

In contemporary times, the Hay diet is used as a weight-loss plan by the general public and people interested in alternative treatments. Advocates of natural health maintain that the plan reverses conditions such as arthritis, indigestion, constipation , and flatulence. The Hay diet is also regarded as a natural method for providing relief to people diagnosed with asthma and allergies.


Hay wrote in Health via Food that he saw “the comeback of thousands of patients” who followed his regimen. The Hay diet features some nutritional principles endorsed by organizations including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the American Dietetic Association, and the medical community. Their recommendations call for eating lean meat and poultry that is that is prepared by grilling and baking. Nutritional guidelines also advocate the consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Those recommendations are also found in the Hay diet. People who follow those recommendations and fill up on fruits and vegetables will lose weight. Those are low-calorie foods that are rich in fiber . Whole-grain products also contain fiber. Eating high-fiber food produces the sense of fullness more quickly than the consumption of foods with fat does.


Although there are some nutritional aspects of the Hay diet, there are some flaws. The diet does not include serving sizes and portion control is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy weight. In addition, people may miss out on vitamins and nutrients by restricting food groups to one meal per day.


Although the consumption of fruits and vegetables will help to relieve constipation, people should not rely solely on the Hay diet to treat condition such as heart disease, arthritis, allergies, and asthma. People diagnosed with those conditions may need medication and should consult their physician before undertaking the Hay diet or any weight-loss plan.

Research and general acceptance

The Hay diet as designed by the late doctor featured variety within all food groups. Eating an assortment of foods was also recommended in Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. The guidelines prepared by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services recommended the consumption of a variety of foods within each of the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, calcium-rich foods like milk and cheese, grains, and proteins.

Contemporary research also showed that eating high-fiber foods helps people to feel full, and eating less means that people will lose weight. While research proved that Hay was correct about those nutritional.


  • How much weight do I need to lose?
  • Will the Hay diet’s food-combining rules help me to lose weight more quickly?
  • Does the Hay diet help to improve conditions like diabetes or indigestion?
  • Would any health condition prevent me from starting the Hay diet?
  • Should I avoid certain foods because of medications I’m taking or because of a health condition?
  • What portion sizes do you recommend from each of the food groups?

principles, his food-combining plan has been criticized over the years.

Critics countered that the human digestive system was able to process the proteins and starches from one meal. They also pointed out that some foods contained both carbohydrates and proteins.

General acceptance

The Hay diet brought people to sanatorium hotels during the first three decades of the 20th century. It was modified into other food-combining diets towards the end of the century. However, Hay’s diet remained popular with natural-health advocates. Information about the plan was posted on several websites in the United Kingdom in the spring of 2007.



Hay, William Howard. Health via Food. Sun-Diet Health Service, 1929. Public domain material, Soil and Health Library, http://www.soilandhealth.org/02/0201hyglibcat/020165.hay.pdf> (April 20, 2007).


Blonz, Ed. “Logic behind call to avoid certain food combinations is faulty.” The San Diego Union Tribune (Sept. 14, 2005): http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050914/news_lz1f14focus.html> (April 20, 2007).


American Dietetic Association, 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, IL 60606. (800) 877-1600. http://eatright.org>.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Physical Activity and Good Nutrition: Essential Elementsto Prevent Chronic Diseases and Obesity At A Glance 2007. http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/publications/aag/dnpa.htm> (April 9, 2007).

Synergy UK Natural Health Directory: Hay Diet. http://www.synergy-health.co.uk/healthnews/hay_diet19991130.html> (April 20, 2007).

U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document> (April 9, 2007).

Liz Swain.

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