Up to 70% of people I work with have digestive complains of some sort or another. Anything from bloating and indigestion to infrequent bowl movements to too many bowl movements. Our digestion is linked to so much more than just filling our bellies – its fuel for our brains, hormonal production, healthy immune system, as well as keeping our energy steady and our lives full of vitality. Our ability to absorb our nutrients as well as eliminate our waste is crucial in our overall health. What we eat, how we absorb, assimilate and how we eliminate can also affect our moods and mental health.
TIP #1 Eat 3 Meals a day not 6
Ayurveda recommends and I have not only experienced in my life but in so many of my clients that gradually switching to eating 3 meals a day from 6 not only improves digestion but also energy. When we are consistently eating or have been told for years to eat up to 6 meals a day our body starts to depend on food every 2-3 hours which can over work the digestive system. Not only that by eating 3 times a day it gives our body the change to burn its fat reserves.
This kind of fat burning isn’t about weight loss. Fat burning as fuel is long lasting, stable, and calming. As a culture we have lost our ability or the reason to fat burn and as a result we consistently reach and crave refined carbohydrates and stimulants to get us through our day.
TIP # 2 Relax and Take Time to Eat Your Food
The digestive system is turned on by the parasympathetic system – this engages in time of reset and relaxation – when the body is stress free – that being said - think about your day and what you are doing when you are eating. Are you on the go? Talking, multitasking, in front of the tv or on your phone? For most people this is the modern way – however our bodies are not designed that way. When we eat on the run or while we are in an elevated stress mode actually activates the “fight or flight” nervous system, which literally turns off the ability to digest properly.
I think one of the most important Ayurvedic digestive tips I can offer is to sit down and relax, and put your awareness and appreciation on your food and dining experience.
TIP # 3 Eat in Season
Our microbiome is designed to make dramatic changes from one season to another. This can only happen if we eat the foods harvested in each season. Seasonal foods carry specific seasonal microbes that amp up immunity, increase or decrease digestive strength and can create the perfect seasonal microbiome to thrive in each season. Another reason I like this tip is that is supports your local community and farmers.
TIP # 4 Turn on your Digestive Fire Before You Eat
Digestion is first triggered by thought, sight or scent of a meal. The digestive fire – agni or our hydrochloric acid or HCI is required to be extremely strong in order to break down all the hard to digest nutrients, protein and toxins we put in our bodies. In order for our stomachs to produce HCI and for the production to be sufficient it can require a variety of things. Feedback loops tell the stomach how much and how strong to make the HCI. The first buffer is a bicarbonate layer of cells that surrounds the stomach.
These buffer cells are 80% water. If you drink a large glass of water 15-30 min before a meal, the water will pre-hydrate the layer sending a message to the stomach that its ok to make some HCI.
FYI: drinking that much water right before or during the meal can actually dilute the stomach acid and there for isn’t’ recommended.
TIP # 5 Fibre
We were designed to eat fibre – hunter-gatherers ate about 100g of fibre a day we eat on average 20%. Fibre is the indigestible portion of a vegetable, so why do we need so much?
Fibre aids along bile – which is loaded with toxins (Ama) such as heavy metals, environmental pollutants, pesticides and preservatives right into the toilet. When there is not enough fibre in the diet up to 93% of the toxic bile could be reabsorbed back into the liver and blood.
Secondly fibre feeds our healthy microbiome and research suggests that gut with numerous diverse strains of beneficial microbes is ideal. Microbial diversity supports healthy immunity, stable moods, energy and blood sugar, strong bone density, increased vitality and just about everything else. Your good microbes eat fiber. – Try to get at least 50 grams a day.
TIP # 6 Out with Toxic Oils
An ingredient found in just about everything is cooked polyunsaturated fats. Basically, these are vegetable oils that are found in just about every packaged food.
Even most organic chips, crackers, energy bars, breads and condiments are loaded with these oils – just because its organic or expeller pressed, once these oils are heated and cooked they are now rancid and become indigestible. Eating these oils (and most of us have been for most of our lives) is like trying to clean the grease of your stove top that you have left there for years. Gross right? The body does not know what to do with it. What ends up happening is it ends up storing in our fat cells, congestion the gallbladder, the liver and/or the bile ducts – these all play an important part in our bodies cleansing abilities and they can really cause havoc on our hormones too.
TIP # 7 Eat More Good Fat
For years fats where thought of the as not good. We were told for years – like 60 years (oh man ) that saturated or animal fats were evil and to only eat unsatrurated fats which we now know are linked to heart disease – big whoops – but ancient Ayurveda has always known the benefits of good quality saturated fats.
However before jumping in and adding all the butter, coconut oils and fatty meats in to your diet, you must do the following things as to not overwhelm your liver and gallbladder, as I am going to assume has become very congested from years and years of consuming poor quality fats:
Avoid sugars to reduce the damaging effects of glycation.
Exercise, increase circulation
Remove bad fats from your diet - refined, processed or cooked vegetable oils
TIP #8 Avoid Sugars
There are two major sources of fuel in the body fat and sugars. We are genetically adapted to digest fats well, we have fallen into the allure of the sweet tastes. Having been told that fat is bad for decades – you can’t blame yourself for that but what it has done is compounded and hastened our reliance on sugar as a primary fuel. Because we have an insatiable desire for the sweet taste – farmers have hybridized fruits, grains and starches to be sweeter. We have also seen over the decades that fats have been replaced with sugars for energy, cravings, mood and energy swings, gas, bloating and a host of other digestive issues - and somehow these are seen as normal.
Take away: avoid foods with added sugars or sweeteners.
TIP # 9 Eat For Your Body Type
Ayurveda is all about individuality – one size does not fit all. The primary rule in Ayurveda regarding eating is to eat seasonally as best as you can, and understanding your own body so that you can eat in accordance to body type.
The three basic body types are vata(air), pitta(fire) and kapha(earth-water). The qualities of vata predominate in the winter, such as cold, dry, windy, brittle and rough. The qualities of pitta predominate in the summer such as hot and dry, and the qualities of kapha predominate in the spring such as wet, heavy and damp.
Nature responds to these seasonal influences by giving us foods for harvest that balance the extreme of each season. Warm, heavy, higher protein and fat foods are harvested in the winter to insulate against the coldness and dryness of winter. In the spring, leafy greens and bitter roots are harvested to help dry out springs congestive dampness and the accumulate heaviness of winter foods. To offset the heat of summer, nature harvests cooking fruits and veggies.
The key to adjusting foods to body type is not to let the quality of vata, pitta or kapha over-accumulate; this is done by emphasizing the diet in the season of your body type.