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Rethinking Food Combining Rules on the Raw Foods Diet

The other day I was eating a delicious salad made with the following ingredients:

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

I can’t express how delicious this salad was. It was truly amazing! And part of the
reason why it was so good is because it was made with fresh and ripe ingredients.

But another reason was 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.

I was telling another raw-food friend about this salad, and her reaction was: “Yeah, but what about food combining rules! You say that we should never mix fat with sugar”.

Indeed, what about food combining rules?

The raw food diet is a pretty strict diet to begin with.

We don’t eat bread. We don’t eat meat. We don’t eat dairy products. We don’t eat eggs (at least most of us don’t!)… and we don’t eat most of what other people eat as well.

But on top of that, we have these rules about not being able to combine certain foods with each other, and how just eating one food at a time is best.

And I must say, for a long time I subscribed to all of these rules. But I also knew that not all food combining rules are valid.

For example, the original book “Food Combining Made Easy” by Dr. Shelton gave a lot of rules with no reasoning at all 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:

–    Do not combine fat with sugar
–    Do not combine acids with starch
–    Do not 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 necessary.

At this point, I have eliminated most of the “rules” I once thought were essential.

How did I get to this?

Over the years, I’ve watched some other raw-foodists eat who didn’t know these food combining rules.

She simply made combinations she liked that tasted good, without paying too much attention to the combinations like I did.

My big surprise was to realize that I could eat many combinations that I thought were “bad” without any negative effect whatsoever.

The main combination I’m talking about has to do with mixing fat and sugar together.

Why Certain Combinations Occur in Nature

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

In the raw food diet, we 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.

So far so good…

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 fruits.

This line of reasoning always appeared a little suspicious, but I noticed that the effects of that combination were generally positive, as long as I ate very small amounts of fat.

But there’s one strange observation:

–    Many foods in nature contain the combination of fat and sugar in significant proportions!

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

Even avocados contain some sugar and carbohydrates, and so do nuts.

And surprisingly, all fruits and vegetables contain a certain percentage of fatty acids.

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 seems to me a little strange to completely ban this combination, when you can enjoy a ripe durian which contains a mixture of fat and sugar.

Raw-Foodists Eating Too Much Fat

After thinking about this a lot, I realized that most raw-foodists who benefit from these food combining rules have something in common: they eat too much fat!

I agree that the combination of a huge handful of almonds with a bag of dates is a nasty mixture that leads to a lot of fermentation and gas.

But try eating three dates and three almonds together. You’ll probably find that this combination goes down perfectly well.

The same goes for other fatty foods:

Eat a huge guacamole and then have all the figs you can eat, and you probably will experience some gas.

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

So my main observation with the rule of not combining fruit and fat together has to do with quantities.

When small quantities of fat are used in the diet, there is no reason to fear combining some fruit with some fatty foods once in a while.

So my new “rule” is: you can throw in some fruit in a salad containing some fat. Try to avoid fruits that are very concentrated in sugar such as dates or dried fruits or bananas, and instead use juicy fruits. Also, avoid large quantities of fat.

Eating Fruit is Better than Eating Fat (in spite of food combining rules)

Another problem with the food combining rules that have been presented before are the restrictions they pose on people.

Let’s say you have a salad that contains some avocado.

According to food combining, you should not eat anything for several hours after that, or only eat more of the same ingredients for optimal digestion.

So if you’re not satisfied after a meal of salad and avocado (and most people aren’t) because you didn’t eat enough fruit during the day or before the meal, then your only option is to wait several hours or eat more avocado.

What I recommend now is to eat fruit, whenever you feel like it or feel hungry, even if the combination is not perfect.

Eating some fruit after a salad containing avocado will be a LOT better than eating more avocado and more fat after that same meal.

The Spirit of Food Combining Rules

I still believe in the spirit of food combining rules, which is about keeping things simple and avoiding long lists of ingredients.

However, it’s probably not necessary to obsess about these rules, when you can enjoy some simple, tasty and low fat combinations that will taste great and digest well, even if they don’t follow the rules 100%.

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.