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Simple Raw Food Combining

Raw food combining is fairly simple concept, but it has the power to change your relationship with food.

Ever suffer from after-dinner acid reflux or gas? Have you sworn off fruit because your stomach rebels after a meal of melons? Raw food combining can help.

There's a good reason why you experience these symptoms, and by learning how your digestive system works you can avoid putting food in it that will cause these unpleasant consequences.

Think this is a subject you can ignore?

You might be able to get away with it, but as a whole our civilization can't. The over-the-counter antacid pharmaceutical market alone is an $8 billion a year industry in the United States (1). That sum doesn't even include the money spent on laxatives and other drugs that address our various digestive and stomach complaints. Simply put, there are a lot of people with sour stomachs out there.

Although this guide covers raw food combining, I'm also including explanations that will assist those transitioning from diets that include meats, grains, dairy, starches and legumes. Although these foods are not optimal, and in some cases quite harmful, understanding how the body digests them will help you improve your food choices.

Raw Food Combining: Why

Raw Food Combining IndigestionThere are good physiological reasons for combining foods properly. 

The rules presented below are not based on my own whims, but on chemistry. Starchy foods, for instance, require an alkaline digestive medium. Protein-rich foods require an acid medium.

Most people learn in high school that acids and bases (alkalines) neutralize each other.

If you eat a starch together with a protein - which happens to be the  combination found in most western meals, such as the iconic meat and potatoes - digestion is impaired because the body produces two digestive mediums that neutralize each other. 

The end result is a partially digested mass of food in your gut that can cause many problems.

If your body can't digest your food, bacteria will quickly move in and start to ferment and decompose it. Unfortunately, one of the numerous byproducts of this process is poisonous alcohol, which inhibits nerve function, among other side effects. It quickly penetrates the gut lining and enters the blood stream, making you, for lack of a better term, a bit food drunk.

Another byproduct of the food fermenting in your gut is gas, which eventually makes its way out of the anus in foul-smelling bursts. Although some gas is natural, if yours smells badly you're either not properly combining meals or eating food that just doesn't digest well in the human gut, such as meat.

Raw Food Combining: The Case For Fruits and Veggies

Our species developed in equatorial Africa while eating mostly water-rich tender greens and fruit, and that is what our digestive systems are best suited for. Although our bodies are flexible enough to consume less-than-ideal food like tubers, we eventually pay the price in degraded health.

Raw fruits and vegetables, unlike the protein and starch-rich foods mentioned above, digest in a medium that is very close to neutral, but often slightly acid or
slightly alkaline.

Raw Food Combining Salad Greens

They require very little actual digestion in the stomach, and quickly move on to the intestines, where most of the nutrients are absorbed.

Because the body is not required to produce a constant deluge of digestive fluids to break these down, eating them uses up considerably less of your body's energy, leaving more for enjoying life. This at least partially accounts for the high energy levels claimed by most low fat, fruit-centered raw foodists.

There is no more perfect diet for a human than fruits and tender greens, and your meals should be centered around them.

Raw Food Combining: Questions To Ask

Outside of whether a food should be eaten at all, there are essentially three  questions you need to ask yourself when making food combining choices:
  1. Will this meal result in acids mixing with bases (either from the foods themselves or from the digestive mediums the body releases to break them down)?
  2. Will this meal result in quick-to-digest food being hampered by a slow-to-digest food?
  3. Will the meal overwhelm the digestive system?

To be able to answer these questions, you have to learn a bit more about the different types of food.

Raw Food Combining: Your Options

Your options for raw food combining fall into 11 categories based not on culinary classifications, but on the actual composition of the food. If you're eating well, though, there are only really eight categories you'll be eating from with any regularity.

It might seem complex, but once you get the hang of it you won't even need to think about it anymore. For me, it's pretty much instinct.

* = Unhealthy or hard-to-digest food included for completeness.

Raw Food Combining Leafy Green Vegetables and Celery
Leafy Green Vegetables and Celery

Examples: Romaine, Bibb, Iceberg and all other common lettuce varieties. Spinach, Celery, Celeriac. Fresh herbs such as Basil, Oregano, Parsley, Dill, and Mint.
Leafy green vegetables (not to be confused with the tougher greens) are easy to digest and can be combined with most other foods without a problem. They digest quickly like fruit, spending little time in the stomach.

Raw Food Combining Vegetables
Other Vegetables

Examples: Kale, Bok Choy, Asparagus, Eggplant, Fresh Corn, Brussel Sprouts*, Cabbage, Zucchini, Summer Squash, Okra, Broccoli, Swiss Chard, Sweet Peppers, Green Peas, beets, and Gourds*.

These vegetables are slightly harder to digest than the leafy greens above, often containing a bit more starch. They should not be combined with sweet fruits, melons and subacid fruits. Use caution when combining them with acid fruit. They combine well with proteins, fats and oils, starches and grains, legumes, vegetables, and leafy greens and fatty fruits.

Raw Food Combining Legumes

Examples: Peanuts, Navy Beans*, White Beans*, Lentils*, Black Beans*, Fava Beans*, Kidney Beans*, Mung Beans*, Chick Peas*, Green Beans*, Lima Beans*, and Soy Beans*.

Most legumes require cooking to be digestible. Even when they're cooked, they don't digest well, as evidenced by the gas they cause, which means they're putrefying. Humans lack the ability to produce large-quantities of the starch-digestive enzymes known as amylases needed to break them down in an efficient manner. Their high protein levels also causes problems. If you're going to eat these foods, they combine well with other legumes, vegetables and leafy greens. Use caution when combining them with starches and grains as well as fats and oils. Do not combine them with proteins or any type of fruit. Peanuts -which are not actually a nut - are an odd food. You can read more about their unique digestive challenges here.

Raw Food Combining Grains and Starches
Starches and Grains

Examples: Potatoes*, Sweet Potatoes*, Yams*, Dried Corn*, Barley*, Buckwheat*, Carrot, Yucca, Winter Squash*, Wheat*, Breads and Pastas*, Quinoa*, and Rice*.
As we lack sufficient amylase production to tackle these foods properly, and they generally wreak havoc on the digestive system, they cannot be considered optimal. They combine well with leafy greens and vegetables. Use caution when combining them with legumes and fats and oils. Do not combine them with proteins or any type of fruit.

Raw Food Combining Oils and Fats
Fats And Oils

Examples: Butter*, Cream* Margerine*, Vegetable-Based Oils*, Seed-Based Oils*, Nut-Based Oils*, and Lard*.
Fats and oils have a number of health drawbacks that make them unsuitable for consumption. Read about oils here and why a low fat diet is necessary for health here. In terms of food combining, fats tend to slow down the digestion of whatever they're eaten with. They should not be combined with sweet fruit, high-fat fruit, melons, proteins and sub acid fruit. Use caution when combining them with acid fruits, starches and legumes. They combine well with leafy greens and vegetables.

Raw Food Combining Protein

Examples: Meat*, Dairy*, Eggs* Almonds, Brazil Nuts, Cashews, Pine Nuts, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Walnuts, Filberts.
Because meat and the other animal proteins have no fiber, they pass through the digestive system at a crawl, requiring a barrage of acids to break them down. Animal proteins are traditionally eaten with a starch, which means they rarely completely digest due to conflicting digestive mediums. The mass of undigested meat that results meanders through the dark, fetid interior of your body in temperatures around 100 degrees and quickly starts to rot.

Many people say they are "allergic" to fruit or that it gives them an upset stomach. The reality is usually that they've mixed a meal of animal protein and starch at dinner, and when they try to eat fruit the next morning their previous meal is still being digested. The fruit meets up with this rotting mixture in the stomach or intestines and combines to create an even worse combination. A stomach ache can only be expected. 

Proteins should not be mixed together, and the general rule of thumb is to stop at a handful. It's ok to eat nuts, and they provide us with some important nutrients, but the body does not digest proteins and fats as easily as it does fruits and leafy greens. It's best to eat them in limited quantities.

Proteins combine well with leafy greens, vegetables and acid fruits. Use caution combining them with sub acid fruits. Do not combine them with legumes, starches, fats and oils, melons, high-fat fruits, or sweet fruit.

Raw Food Combinin Acid Fruits
Acid Fruit

Examples: Grapefruit, Kiwi, Lemon, Lime, Orange, Pineapple, Tangerine, Tomato, Pommelo, Kumquat, Carambola.
Acid fruits should not be eaten with sweet fruits, melons, legumes, or starches. Use caution when combining them with vegetables, fats and high-fat fruit. They combine well with leafy greens, proteins, and sub acid fruit. At least partially because of their high water content, acid fruit tends to digest very quickly.

Raw Food Combining Sub Acid Fruits
Sub Acid Fruit

Examples: Pear, Plum, Apple, Blackberry, Cherry, Grape, Peach, Paw Paw, Raspberry, Longan, Mango, Blueberry, Tamarillo, Papaya, Guava.
Sub acid fruit combines well with acid fruit, sweet fruit and leafy greens. Use caution when combining them with proteins. Do not combine them with sweet fruit, melons, high-fat fruit, vegetables, legumes, starches, or fats and oils.

Raw Food Combining Melons

Examples: Watermelon, Canary, Santa Claus, Winter Melon, Muskmelon, Persian, Crenshaw, Christmas, Cantaloupe, Banana Melon, Gala, Honeydew.
Melons move through the stomach and digestive system faster than any other fruit, and they often combine poorly with most other foods. This is why melons, perhaps more than any other fruit, are often signaled out as upsetting people's stomachs. They combine well with leafy greens, and that's about it.

Raw Food Combining Sweet Fruit
Sweet Fruit

Plantain, Banana, Sapote, Canistel/Egg Fruit, Carob, Date, Persimmon, Lychee, Cherimoya, Mammea, Abayut, Jackfruit.
Sweet fruit contain less water than most other fruit, and digests slower. They combine well with leafy green vegetables, sweet fruit and sub acid fruits. They do not combine well with vegetables, legumes, starches, fats, proteins, and acid fruit.

Raw Food Combining High-Fat Fruits
High-Fat Fruit

Coconut, Avocado, Durian, Olive *, Akee.
High-fat fruit is an odd-ball category. Many could be placed in either the fats/oils category or the sweet fruit category. These fruits are unique, though, in their higher-than-usual fat content, increased digestion time, and propensity for slowing down the secretion of digestive fluids. They should generally be eaten by themselves or with leafy green vegetables for optimal digestion. You may be able to get away with combining some of them - such as avocado- with acid fruit like tomato as part of a salad or dressing.

Raw Food Combining: Dried Fruit

Dried Fruit of most types is generally considered to fall into the sweet fruit category. However, without its natural water content, dried fruit tends to digest poorly and needs to draw water from the body. Mild dehydration usually results when consuming more than minimal amounts of dried fruit.

This problem can be partially overcome by soaking dried fruit overnight.

Although fine on occasion, it should probably not be a major staple of any diet.

Raw Food Combining: The Implications

What conclusions can we draw from the above information?

Namely, that the way most people on this planet eat makes no sense from a digestive standpoint, and this bring on the vast majority of digestive disorders people suffer from.

If you're going to include harmful foods like meat, dairy, and eggs, it makes sense to eat them by themselves, for instance, which clashes with our traditional idea of a meal.

Raw Food Combining Fruit SaladProper raw food combining demands that we rethink how we eat things.

Even the standard idea of a fruit salad, which may combine bananas from the sweet fruit category, watermelon and cantaloupe from the melon category, grapes from the sub acid category, and pineapple from the acid category, really doesn't make sense. You're just asking for gas and digestive complaints.

Although the idea of mixing foods together seems normal, it is only normal to our species.

In nature you won't find animals mixing foods. A bonobo camps out under a mango tree and eats his fill. Afterward he'll wander away, tracking down a banana tree three hours later for his next meal. 

What you won't see him doing is grabbing an armful of mangoes and wandering a mile to the banana tree to mash the mangoes between the bananas to create sandwiches.

If you understand the chemistry of the stomach, it becomes clear that we have to rearrange our ideas of what constitutes a meal. 

Raw Food Combining: Practical Conclusions For Good Digestion

Here are some practical conclusions you can draw on  when planning your meals based on the above information.

  1. The most easily digested meals consist of one type of fruit eaten to satiation. If you must mix fruit, do so according to the rules outlined above.
  2. Leafy green vegetables digest well with virtually anything. This allows us to follow up a dinner meal of oranges, for example, with a salad of lettuce, spinach, celery, tomatoes, and and acid-based dressing with no problems. 
  3. Eat acids and starches at separate meals because acids neutralize the alkaline digestive medium needed for starch digestion. The result of this combination is usually indigestion.
  4. Eat proteins by themselves or with leafy greens. Don't mix proteins.
  5. Be careful when you mix anything with a food that has a high fat content. This includes fats and oils, high-fat fruits, and even nuts, which are over 50 percent fat and take hours to digest. Do not combine fats and proteins. Keep fats under 10 percent of calories consumed. Our body has a limited ability to digest fat, so do not overwhelm the digestive system with too much.
  6. Eat melons alone.

Raw Food Combining: In the Real World

There are numerous subtilties and nuances of food combining that are not covered here, and leeway must always be given for individual digestive abilities.

It's very clear that some people can get away with the worst dietary abuses without immediate repercussions. This does not mean these ideas are any less valid.

For instance, when I combine cantaloupe with any other food I get a stomach ache. I am able to combine watermelon with other very watery fruit like tomatoes without a problem, however.

Most people have no problems with subacid and sweet combinations, but they certainly bother me.

Always try for eating meals of just fruit. Throw in a large salad once a day. Strive toward that, and you'll do fine.

Raw Food Combining: Can We Simplify This?

There's certainly something to be said for simplicity. If you're on a raw food diet you can try a simplification of the above rules, although your results are unlikely to be as good.

Try this: When it comes to fruit, just make a distinction between dry fruit and wet fruit. Bananas and dates, for instances, which are fairly dry, would not be eaten with oranges or tomatoes, which are wet.

I know those who tackle raw food combining this way, although they sometimes run into problems with melons and other combinations.

Raw Food Combining: Following Up

This raw food combining chart will visualize the ideas in this article for you.

Ready about a healthy raw food diet here.

Learn about your nutritional needs.

Raw Food Combining Sources

1) Alper, Joseph. Ulcers as an infectious disease. Science, Vol. 260, April 9, 1993, pp. 159-60

General References:

Shelton, Herbert M. "Food Combining Made Easy."

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