When I got started on a raw food diet, in January 2011, I was mesmerized by food-combining charts, which became guidelines for me so as to experience optimal digestion, absorption and assimilation of foods. The more charts I see, however, reveal varying information in their classification of foods and combining suggestions.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been perplexed over food-combining discrepancies. I’ve long wanted to produce my own original chart for fledgling and seasoned raw fooders. I give this vision my best effort in the following chart, created by wizard designer Anna Chmielewska, drawing from the works of legendary and modern-day raw food enthusiasts and authors as well as my own experiences.
In this special interview, I chatted with Jesse Bogdanovich by e-mail and Dr. David Klein by phone to pick their very wise brains on the nuts and bolts of food combining. These individuals boast a combined 50-plus years of experience on a raw food diet and have worked with scores of clients in improving their health by eating our natural diet and combining foods properly.
Jesse started healing himself by returning to nature after a polio vaccine caused paralysis, juvenile diabetes, stomach problems and a poor immune system. He went wholly raw vegan in 1998, experiencing lasting health and happiness. He maintains that poor food combining is the leading reason people fail on a raw food diet. With his partner, Reny Kattel, he is the co-author of Simply Vibrant Recipes. They host retreats, often in Croatia. Visit TheWholeLifestyle.com for more information.
Dave is known as a world-leading digestion expert, having healed himself of colitis and Crohn’s disease in the mid-1980s. He wrote the definitive book on the subject, Self Healing Colitis & Crohn’s, and is also the co-author of Digestion Perfection with the Vegan Healing Diet Plan. He has counseled thousands on how to eat a raw food diet for vibrant health. Dave is the director of the Colitis & Crohn’s Health Recovery Center and dean of the Vibrant Health & Wealth Academy.
Food combining charts are wonderful for helping people learn to eat with optimal digestion, absorption and assimilation in mind. To a critical eye, however, charts differ in their guidance. Is any chart considered to be the “chart of record” or are all these based on personal experiences?
Jesse: There are many charts out there and so much different information. Food combining is a personal experience. Everyone is a little different and needs to know combining principles and then see what works for them. Charts are really helpful for optimal digestion, absorption and assimilation. We have a food-combining chart on our blog.
Dave: Food combining comes down to the biochemistry and physiology of human bodies. We’re all pretty much the same. We are the same as far as design. The variability comes in with the strength of our digestive organs and digestive secretions, which come down to our health history and our past and current nutrition.
Is food combining an exact science or should it be an exact science? Absolutely yes. If people read closely Dr. Herbert Shelton … his research and experience is more accurate than everybody else out there. If anybody reads it, they will understand. He clears up every misunderstanding and every nuance of all the food-combining questions.
There are gray areas when it comes to digestibility in a person. They may be able to compromise the perfect food-combining guidelines and do well and not get sick. That’s where there’s the controversy. People who put together these food-combining charts, there are gray areas. You know what they are, it’s with different sugars, different kinds of fats, combining some things which are borderline.
For example, orange juice, citrus, acid fruits are fine with nuts and seeds. Shelton says no way. That acid does not in any way digest protein. That’s exactly what he says. So people are saying that, are going by some kind of hearsay. They are saying that, as if they’re in authority, that this acid and the acid fruit and lemon lime juice, oranges, is going to help break down the protein. Shelton says no. It’s the digestive juice, the pepsin and the hydrochloric acid in the stomach which does that, not the acid in fruit. That’s a major example for raw fooders.
… There are different impressions but the bottom line is, is all the food digesting? You can test every single law, and to do a valid test on your body, you’d have to eat the exact same combination for several days until all the stool material came out. Then you’d have to analyze to see what digested best and what didn’t digest.
If it’s not giving you terrible odors and pains and cramps and mucous and all kinds of stuff then some of these combinations which are in the gray zone are OK for people. Some people with really sensitive digestion like the people who I’m counseling, colitis and Crohn’s patients, who have to do monomeals or just the simplest combination of two foods. They cannot compromise. They cannot go in the gray zone. They have to do the food combinations perfectly as per our digestive chemistry limitations, which is what Dr. Shelton wrote about.
Jesse: It all depends on who you ask, what one is doing and what time of the day a person is eating watermelon. This is a personal preference. I personally like to eat a quarter to half of a watermelon after a workout or exercise in the morning. Or on a hot summer day in the shade of a tree on the beach after a good swim. One thing to keep in mind is to always keep watermelons separate from other fruits or foods for at least 20 to 30 minutes.
Dave: It’s not necessary in every case. If someone has really good digestion and had melon or bananas for breakfast, then had some dates or figs or bananas for lunch and then, maybe two or three or four hours later, they had some melon. That might be absolutely perfect if they have a really good, healthy, robust digestive system, they’re in really good shape and their bowels are moving.
Other people have stagnant bowels because they haven’t gotten to the point where they’ve created really excellent health and digestive muscle tone. That may not work at all. So it depends on the individual. It may be perfectly fine to have five or 10 bananas for lunch for a really healthy person, then have a good meal of watermelon two, three or four hours later.
With other people, the watermelon would be held up in there, and they’d get a whole lot of gas and bloating. Another factor there, it’s not even a matter of food combining and sequencing, it’s also a matter of overgrowth of bacteria in the gut.
No matter what people eat in the beginning—I find this more and more this year—almost everybody’s at overgrowth of bacteria. So no matter even if they eat perfectly for the first few weeks or even a month or two, all the food sugar is fermenting because they haven’t cleared out the bad bacteria.
They need to stick with the fruit and a lot of greens in the form of juices and smoothies to clear out the excess overgrowth of bacteria, the excess goop that’s clogging up their intestines. Then they will be able to handle fruit better. They won’t get that bloating and fermentation gas. It takes time to do that. In the beginning, it may not be fun eating fruit, but they need to increase the proportion of greens in their diet, and just wait until the overgrowth of bacteria clears out.
I see that raspberries and grapes often get put into different categories, with subacid or acid for the former and sweet or subacid for the latter. Where do you place these fruits and what might be the reason for the differences?
Jesse: It really depends on the acidity and ripeness of particular fruit or berry. There are different varieties of grapes, too. So personal judgement and experience is the key in this situation, in our opinion.
Dave: There’s going to be discrepancy for those foods everywhere. Some grapes are tart; some are supersweet. Some raspberries are acidic; some are really ripe because they are grown in good soil and they’ve allowed to ripen and they are sweet. But they’re all going to be below 7.0 pH. It’s just a matter of combining them and avoiding fruits that are really acidic and don’t have any sugar in them because they are just going to be harmful to the teeth, mouth and gut.
There’s one answer when it comes to categorizing fruits. Measuring their pH with pH paper, pH strips or a pH machine. I did a test a few weeks a go to see if there are any fruits which are neutral or higher than 7 pH.
It’s amazing that after 31 years in this, I never knew that all fruits, even cucumbers, are slightly or more acidic. The term subacids confuses almost everybody. It doesn’t mean that they are acids; it just means it’s below the acid threshold. The acid threshold is 7.
So something that’s subacid is in the acid zone. Fruits that are acid are more acidic than the subacid groups. So you can think of the subacid groups as mildly acidic fruits.
Jesse: I consider them as nonsweet fruits and use these in veggie meals like most food-combining charts do. They seem to go best with other veggies. Tomatoes and bell peppers are good with mangos and oranges too, but then, I would not use any fat with this meal.
Dave: I’ve been calling lately cucumbers and bell peppers as vegetable fruits. Botanically, they are fruits, but their characteristics are more like a vegetable. They combine with all vegetables and they are probably better in a salad than eating with sweet fruit. I call them vegetable fruits.
How much acid fruit may be combined with an overt fat? Some combine these foods when making salad dressings or pies. Is there any risk of the fat crowding out the sugar’s eventual stream to our cells?
Jesse: It all depends on the condition of the person’s digestive tract and the strength of their digestive fire. It’s not optimal to combine acid fruit (except lemons and nonsweet fruit) with overt fats since it still has lots of sugar in it. Some people can’t even digest tomatoes with avocado well, but again, one has to see how they feel afterward. For me, personally a little squeeze of orange or grapefruit goes well on a salad. But I usually don’t recommend to eat substantial quantities of sweet acid fruits together with an overt fat.
Dave: As little as possible. Of course, there is little sugar in lemons, limes and tomatoes. But with sweet tangerines, oranges and pineapple, it is beneficial to minimize the fruit addition, because the sugar will ferment because fatty foods move slowly through the bowel. Grapefruit is borderline.
So people can be aware of digestion times before eating more foods, how long does it take to clear the stomach of melons? How about water-rich acid fruits such as oranges and strawberries? How about mangos and peaches, subacid fruits? How about the dense sweet fruits bananas and dates? How about avocados, nuts and seeds? Finally, this is likely the best test of all: Is there a telltale feeling in the stomach that tells you that you’re in the clear to eat more food?
Jesse: Digestive time is quite individual and can take up to three or even four times longer than normal in some individuals. Sadly, more and more people are getting very weak digestion and need to listen to their own bellies. Only their feeling of an empty stomach can tell for sure that food went through all the way. So to learn to recognize this is crucial for good digestion.
Dave: Shelton made a chart on that, and that’s in my Digestion Perfection book. He gives times for all those things. [Editor’s note: See “Meal Interval Guidelines” box below.] Here’s the thing you need to teach people: What does it mean to digest the food? There’s stomach detention time, then there’s the time of transit to the bowel, the 20 feet of small intestine where nutrients are being digested and absorbed. Maybe digestion happens in the upper part of it, where all the digestive enzymes are working on it, or maybe in the lower part of the smaller intestine, where nutrients are being absorbed.
But the bottom line is, what does it mean to digest the food? Food is going to be detained in the stomach for 15 to 60 minutes with fruit. If you’re eating a whole package of dates, it might be a couple of hours for some people. That’s the stomach detention time.
Then it goes into the small intestine, then you’ve got your liver secretions, your pancreatic secretions and so forth, working more on the nutrients. Of course, if it’s a fruit, it needs hardly any digestive secretions to digest the amino acids, fatty acids and sugar.
So how long does it take to digest all those things? I would start by saying the best way to help people is to show them how long the food is going to be detained in the stomach. Melons maybe 15 minutes to 30 minutes, denser fruits—of course, it all depends on the quantity of the fruits.
If you eat one to two dates, it’s probably going to go through the stomach in 30 minutes. If you eat a good-size meal or a big bowl of banana ice cream, maybe that’s going to be an hour or two. The way it works in the stomach is that the stomach churns a little bit, and then the aperture at the bottom of the stomach—it’s not a valve it’s called the pylorus sphincter, you can call it the stomach valve. It’s the same thing; it’s actually a sphincter.
The stomach churns a little bit and mixes things up, and every 10 or 30 seconds or a minute—I don’t know the exact time—the aperture opens a bit and releases a bit of food. Then it closes, and then there’s more churning.
It’s not like a pulsing schedule. The contents of the stomach don’t just go through there in 30 minutes. If a melon is going to be 15 minutes, it doesn’t mean it’s going to sit in there for 15 minutes, and all of a sudden, the flood gates open and the stomach releases it. Maybe that’s a bad example because melon is so watery. Maybe with juices and melon, they might go through that quickly—immediately.
With denser food, a better example like bananas, they might be churning in there for an hour and slowly releasing bit by bit by bit every 30 or 60 seconds as that stomach valve opens.
Then it goes in the small intestine, where further gastric secretions are secreted in the duodenum. As it moves down the small intestine, things are still digesting, molecules are being broken apart by the enzymes, and it’s absorbed through the length of the small intestine.
Meal Interval Guidelines
Based upon Dr. Arthur C. Guyton, Textbook of Medical Physiology, eighth edition, W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, PA, 1991, and notes from Dr. V. Virginia Vetrano.
Following are the recommended minimum intervals for subsequent meals after meals comprising the following foods:
Acid and subacid fruits: 1 to 2 hours
Sweet fruits: 2 to 3 hours
Vegetables: 4 hours
Fats: 5 hours
… True hunger is that uncomfortable—not unpleasant or painful—but a little uncomfortable feeling in the back of the throat. That tells you, “OK, I’m ready for some food here.” If someone’s stomach is empty, their stomach’s going to feel flat, and there’s not going to be any sensation in the stomach, and that’s a good sign that it’s OK to eat.
If people don’t feel hungry and their energy is good, of course they should not eat. If people are active and they have that uncomfortable feeling in the back of their throat, and the stomach doesn’t feel full and heavy and bloated, then yeah, it’s a good time to eat.
Sometimes, even if people have a stuffed-up stomach and they get that uncomfortable feeling in the back of their throat, they may be genuinely hungry even if their stomach is still loaded up. Their stomach may be malfunctioning. It’s not releasing the contents quickly enough, so they need to rectify that by doing some water fasting or doing some days of juicing.
How do you know if it’s OK to eat? You should not feel a full, stuffed-up feeling in your stomach, you shouldn’t be having belching, and you should feel that uncomfortable feeling in the back of your throat. Some people go for years or a lifetime without ever feeling that. I think the greatest benefit to people who want to know how to eat correctly is to tell them upfront about that feeling and to help them be aware of that’s what’s the signal to hunger. You can actually feel that if you eat correctly and tune in.
Jesse: Mixing more then two nuts or seeds at a time is not recommended to do too often. It’s a lot of stress on the digestive system, especially if a person has a hard time breaking down fats. I prefer to keep it to one type of a fat at time. Although, sometimes I do combine two nuts or seeds together. Right away, I will notice it, and my energy dips a little.
Dave: They certainly can. Avocado is higher water content so that should be kept separate, but even a little bit of avocado with some nuts is probably not going to make much of a difference in a good digestive system. But yeah, keep your avocados and your soft coconut meat separate from nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds can be eaten together.
Many gourmet raw food recipes, still eaten on rare occasions by even dedicated mostly fruitarians, such as Mexican-style salads call for taco “meat” made of walnuts or sunflower seeds with cashew “cheese” and guacamole. Is even a drizzle of this cashew sauce as well as guacamole over a helping of taco “meat” enough to cause digestive stalemate?
Jesse: After my research, I find that most cashews are not raw because of the way they have to be cleaned and the way they are harvested. Also, they are heavy to digest, being legumes. I personally don’t use them. Guacamole is OK as long as it’s doesn’t contain or is poured over sweet fruits. These kinds of recipes have too many types of fats together.
Dave: That’s over-killing the fat to me. Keep the nuts and guacamole separate. One fatty food is enough. That is just gluttony. When I’m sitting down eating a meal, I want to taste one kind of fat. Nobody needs to be tasting nuts and seeds and avocado in the same meal. It’s like so many different accessories and flavors. It’s overload for the brain sensory system. We want to be tasting one kind of fat a time and enjoying that fat. If we’re tasting several different fatty flavors at the same time, that’s just flat-out gluttony.
Keep it simple. It’ll be much more enjoyable to just taste an avocado, with maybe some seasoning in it or an herb or something. … There’s no point in having nuts and seeds in the same recipe, even though those will combine fine, and have an avocado with that. Keep it separate. Enjoy the simplest meals. … That gives us better health benefits than eating all these fancy concoctions. It’s guaranteed.
I’ve sometimes seen “Melons are best eaten alone” or similar language in food-combining charts. But it’s never been crystal clear to me whether two or more melons may be eaten at the same time. What is your experience?
Jesse: I would not like to eat watermelon together with melons, but cantaloupes with honeydews would be OK. I personally like to blend cantaloupe or honeydew with bananas, too, but I am not sure how other people’s stomachs would handle this combination.
Dave: That’s no problem because they both have really high water content—way over 95 percent or at least 95 percent. We’re supposed to chew our food. Once you chew two different melons together, it’s all going to end up being mixed up in the stomach, so it really just becomes one high-water content fruity mass in the stomach. It’s not an issue, with the stomach recognizing what it is. It’s all going to be moving through the stomach at the rate as if it was one melon.
Many low-fat raw fooders save the consumption of overt fats until the day’s final meal, but some consume avocados, nuts or seeds in their “heavier meals” for lunch. What do you recommend and why? Also, do you have a lunch with overt fat on an occasional or regular basis? If so, what do you eat after this meal? Or do you stick with fruit for lunch and fat for dinner?
Jesse: I would say that it is more optimal to eat overt fats for dinner. That allows a person to have two fruity meals before consuming the overt fat. I can handle eating a veggie meal with fat for lunch and then eat a fruity dinner sometimes, since my digestion is strong enough to digest a veggie meal quickly enough.
Dave: Two meals of fat a day is too much. It’s suppressing your health. It’s suppressing your level of vibrance. It’s overworking your digestive system, keeping you at a lower level of health than you could get by eating the natural way we’re recommending. Which is to have your heavy meal at the end of the day, if you want to have a heavy meal.
You don’t have to have a fatty meal every day, but if you can have a heavy meal, which, to me, is a fatty meal, make it for dinner. Two to 4 ounces of nuts or seeds. It’s best that you soak and germinate them. Or 4 ounces of avocado, which is maybe a quarter or a half of avocado, making it into a dressing to have with your salad or some kind of a blend at the end of the day. It takes up too much energy to be having a fatty meal for lunch.
When we eat more of any nutrient than the body needs, it causes problems. Nothing causes more problems than eating too much fat … overloading our bowels and bloodstream with more fat than the body possibly can use, that it needs … . We don’t need to eat an avocado a day. That’s more fat than the body can possibly use.
For me, the awesome way to eat is fruits and greens, cucumbers, maybe some tomatoes, if they are in season, during the day. Three minimeals throughout the day. With greens, I can munch on lettuce, cucumbers, celery in-between. I’m going to have a fatty meal, it’s going to be for dinner. I’m going to soak and blend some sunflower or pumpkin seeds.
I try to stay away from nuts these days. I realized after eating them for 30 years that they actually do nothing for me except give me a few minutes of pleasure and then just clog up my system. They don’t give me good health results. I don’t think they are very digestible, and the body doesn’t really get much nutritional value out of nuts. If we’re soaking and germinating sunflower seeds, especially, you’ll have a growing seed. When you germinate sunflower and pumpkin seeds, up to 75 percent of the fat content goes away in the wash water after just 24 hours. That’s what Viktoras Kulvinskas found out. That’s what we discussed in an article in Vibrance.
I like to have the lightest, most-easily-digested fats with my dinner, which might be 2 or 3 spoonfuls of avocado, or a small handful of soaked and germinated sunflower or pumpkin seeds. I’ll blend them up with maybe tomato and a bunch of veggies in a blender and make a dressing out of it or make it into a veggie porridge, which is high in veggies and tomatoes and low in the seeds. That’s the way I prefer to do it.
This question is geared strictly toward digestion, but because proper food combining is about optimal digestion, I’ll ask it: Many guides differ in their recommendations on times for soaking nuts and seeds. Is there any definitive primary source on optimal soaking times for these foods? How long is too short and how long is too long?
Jesse: I would say, three to four hours for smaller seeds and six to seven hours for bigger nuts would be the minimum. The maximum would be one day in a warm place or two days in the fridge. It’s simplest to put seeds or nuts to soak in the morning, and they will be ready for your evening meal. Or you can keep it simple and just soak them from evening to the next evening to make sure they are activated.
Dave: That’s a good question. Obviously, if it’s a really tough dried nut, you can actually soak it for an hour, two hours, five hours and cut it open and see if the inside became moist. People really are ambitious. They can do that for themselves. Nuts often are going to absorb the water within a short time. I’ve been experimenting with germinating sunflower and pumpkin seeds for the last three years like never before. I found out, with sunflower seeds, it maybe only takes half an hour for them to become moist enough for them to start germinating.
I sometimes, when I’m turning in at night, I’ll soak a small handful of sunflower seeds. I’ll put them in my sprouting jar and cover them with a lot of water and let them soak overnight. Then, in the morning, I’ll drain it off and let them germinate all day long, and then I’ll blend them up for dinner with some tomato and greens. Something like that. One caveat is that you don’t want to soak seeds or nuts so long that they become oxygen-starved then die. You actually can soak the germinating seed too long.
In the case of nuts, some nuts, they are not going to germinate for maybe two or three months. You’re not going germinate nuts in your kitchen. One question always comes up: What about almonds? I soak almonds for a few hours. I see a little tail sprouting at the end. I’ve never heard a definitive answer to whether the almond is growing or if it just got moistened and that thing popped out. The bottom line is you’re not going to germinate nuts in your kitchen in a day or two or three.
They’re going to become soft so soak them for a few hours—maybe overnight is fine—and drain them. In the case of almonds and pecans, they have bitter tannins in the skin, so you want to definitely rinse them off really well. I always pinch off the skin of almonds. The seeds are the main interests and, to me, the best seeds to germinate are sunflower seeds. They germinate faster than anything else, and as they germinate, they become delicious. Blend up sunflower seeds with tomato and maybe a stalk of celery or a chunk of celery or cucumber. It’s an absolutely delicious porridge.
Pumpkin seeds, they probably take a few more days to germinate. It’s just not going to happen in one day, but they will start germinating if they are viable. The word I want to say about pumpkin seeds is most of them that you find at health food stores, are old and taste terrible. They’re off-color, the yellow dull color, they taste cheesy. When I blend them up, those little ones you get in the health store, they taste lousy. The answer to that is a supplier of absolutely fantastic, big, fresh, delicious-tasting sunflower and pumpkin seeds, grown by farmers, I think, in Oregon. The website is LivingTreeCommunity.com.
Jessie Schwartz has been serving for 20-plus years with mail orders of all kinds of dry foods. He has these amazing dried pumpkin seeds. Order the pumpkin seeds, and you’ll be absolutely amazing how delicious and fresh they taste. I soak those for one to four hours. That’s all they need. I don’t think they’re going to be germinating in my kitchen for a few days. They have lost flavor when I let them germinate for a whole day. I like to just soak them for two to four hours, then just rinse really well and just blend them up with some tomato, cucumber and celery. Makes some nice delicious dressing or pâté.
I want to add one more thing: The third seed I recommend is sesame seeds. Don’t get the ones with the brown hulls on them because those hulls are very irritating. Get the white sesame seeds that have been hulled. You can also soak them, just like pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and then blend them up. They make a delicious dressing, too. That’s much better for us than a really thick globs of sunflower or almond butter or other nut butters or tahini. They’re delicious if you have one or two spoonfuls. That’s probably OK for most people, but if you’re soaking them, then blend them up yourself.
- The 80/10/10 Reference Guide on Food Combinations & Nutrition by Doug Graham
- “Banana Girl Diet Food-Combining Chart” by Freelee
- “The Biggest Secret to Raw Food Success” by Jesse Bogdanovich
- “Food Combining Chart” published in Digestion Perfection with the Vegan Healing Diet Plan by Drs. T.C. Fry, Herbert M. Shelton, David Klein, et al.
- Food Combining Made Easy by Dr. Herbert M. Shelton
- Introducing Natural Hygiene by Dr. T.C. Fry
- “Simple Raw Food Combining” by Andrew Perlot
Check out Jesse’s transformation profile!
Check out Dave’s transformation profile!