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Raw Food Combining

The other day I was thinking about summer. For most of us in North America, the change of seasons is definitely in the air, and it had me yearning for the tastes of summer. This brought me right to one of my favorite salads, ingredients as follows:

– Crisp romaine lettuce
– Sweet and ripe raw corn
– Garden-ripen tomatoes
– Diced mango
– Creamy avocado
– Fresh herbs picked from the garden
– Lemon juice

If you haven’t had a chance to try a good salad with quality ingredients like this, I highly recommend you try it out! Par of what makes it so good is the quality and freshness of the ingredients. I always opt for the freshest I can find.

But another reason it tastes so great is the combination of the sweetness in the mango and corn, the savory taste of the tomatoes and vegetables and herbs, and the creaminess of the avocado.

Many people who adhere to food combining rules would have a fit over this concoction. Sure, it will taste like heaven in the mouth, they say, but hell in the stomach!

Well, maybe not quite. Let’s take a look.

Indeed, what about food combining rules?

Most people who are following a raw food diet or health-conscious diet have heard something about food combining, or consciously combining (or not combining!) certain foods for the sake of ideal digestion.

For example, the original book where many food combining advocates base many of their ideals, “Food Combining Made Easy” by Dr. Herbert Shelton, presented many “rules”, but no real reasons behind them.

Also, a lot of people have misinterpreted that book. Because Shelton said “eat melons on their own”, some people think they should never eat melons with other fruits (such as peaches), when in fact Shelton clearly stated you could do so.

Essentially, his rule was meant to avoid the common combination/abomination in those days of a big slice of watermelon after of rich meal of meat and pasta.

In my book the “Raw Secrets”, I simplified food combining rules in the raw diet to three essential rules:

  • Don’t combine fat with sugar
  • Don’t combine acids with starch
  • Don’t combine different types of fatty foods within one meal

Today, I’m going to simplify these rules even more, and completely deconstruct the food combining theory.

How I Reconsidered These Rules

For many years, I followed food combining rules blindly without questioning them. Then I started simplifying them over the years, and realized that some of them weren’t really necessary.

At this point, I have eliminated most of the “rules” I once thought were absolutely essential. Over the years, I’ve watched how other raw foodist and raw food enthusiast actually ate.

Many of them didn’t pay attention to any of these food combining rules and just ate the combinations of foods they felt like eating or that tasted good to them.

Yet when I saw what they were eating, they were breaking all the rules! What I’ve learned over time is that many of these rules didn’t really have much validity for most people, and you don’t really need to follow them so strictly.

The idea behind many food combining rules is to simplify the process of digestion. So naturally, the “sandwich” is one of the worst combinations ever, because it combines many classes of foods which are optimally digested in a completely different acidic or non-acidic environment in the stomach.

In the raw food diet, people naturally avoid most of these combinations, leaving mainly one: the combination of fat and sugar.

The idea behind this rule is that combining fat and sugar, such as dates and almonds together, will let the sugar ferment in the stomach.

The reason is simple: almonds and other fats take a lot more time to digest than simple sugars. If you eat them together, the sugar you eat will spend much more time in the stomach and intestines and start to ferment.

But even with that rule, the traditional rules of food combining allow for certain exceptions. For example, you can combine acid fruits with nuts together.
The idea is that because nuts digest well in an acidic environment, acid fruits don’t compromise that picture, and also contain less sugar than other sweeter fruits.

This line of reasoning always appeared a little suspicious to me, and I noticed that this combination didn’t really bother me at all.

But one thing that struck me as particularly bizarre is that many foods in nature naturally contained the dreaded fat and sugar combination.

For example, the durian, a beloved fruit of many raw-foodists, is very rich in sugar and quite rich in fat (20-30% on average).

Even avocados contain some sugar and carbohydrates, and so do nuts (especially cashews).

There are also other fruits in nature that contain this forbidden mixture of fat and sugar, such as the Ackee fruit, popular in Jamaica.

So it always seemed a little bizarre to me that the argument was that it was “natural” to follow these food combining rules, yet nature broke it’s own rules, as it were.

I find that many people who are suffering from indigestion or other ailments blamed on a lack of proper food combining tend to have something in common: they’re eating a LOT of fat with a LOT of sugar, for example.

Eating a pound of raisins and almonds together might not leave you feeling the best. But try eating a few dates and few almonds together. You’ll probably find that this combination goes down just fine.

The same goes for other fatty foods too.

Eat a giant bowl of guacamole and chase it with a bunch of bananas and figs, you might experience a bit of digestive upset.

But dice up a third of an avocado in a salad that contains lettuce and mango, and you’ll probably be fine.

I’ve found that this rule of avoiding fat and sugar mostly has to do with the quantities that are eaten together.

So to simplify it all, my new single rule (if you can call it that!) is that it’s fine to eat some fatty foods with some sweet foods, just don’t go crazy on the amounts of each thing you combine.

I would just recommend trying to avoid fruits that are very concentrated in sugar such as dates, dried fruits or bananas, and instead use juicy fruits. It also helps to avoid large amounts of fats like oil.

I sill appreciate the essence and spirit of food combining, as I do feel that it’s great to get more in tune with eating simpler and in combinations that make you and your body happy. However, I don’t think you need to deal with any of the stress or restriction that strict food combining devotees can fall prey to.

I’ve found that much of it is really mind over matter in this case. Just eat your healthy food and enjoy it!

Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.


Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.