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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Food Fight in your Gut? Ayurvedic Advice for Good Digestion

Mar 01, 2021 08:30AM ● By Ayesha D’cruz

Svetlana Cherruty/DepositPhotos.com

As I poured over my Instagram feed today, I witnessed people adding Irish sea moss into their complex smoothies, ghee to their coffee and turmeric to their milk. Social media has enabled some of the world’s oldest food traditions to resurface, become accessible and rise to superfood status. I love the fact that we can now hack our diets and find ways to maximize micro-nutrients.

Food is most nourishing when it is in its simplest form. But who doesn’t love variety, mixing ingredients and whipping up something new? In our quest to try out the exotic or even rustle up something quick and simple, we often overlook two important factors: the compatibility of the ingredients with each other and the compatibility of the foods with our body types and digestive systems.

Ayurvedic principles have withstood the test of time—5,000 years and counting—and provide fundamental guidelines to almost every aspect of lifestyle. Ayurveda is focused on each individual and their body type, or doshas, in the context of your whole self, including lifestyle, history and current health.

According to Ayurveda, every food has its own taste, a heating or cooling energy and a post-digestive effect. Agni is the Sanskrit term for the “digestive fire” that breaks down food and other things from the environment that we ingest, assimilating what is useful and eliminating the rest. While, for the most part, agni dictates how well food is digested, food combinations are of great importance. When two or more foods that have different tastes, energy and post-digestive effects are combined, the agni can get overloaded, which inhibits the enzyme system, resulting in the production of toxins. Yet, if eaten separately, these same foods help stimulate agni and can be digested more quickly, therefore helping rid the body of toxins.

Below is a list of compatible and incompatible foods. Remember that these are broad guidelines only; it is recommended that you take your own food journey deeper based on how your body responds to each of them as well as what your lifestyle and life-stage permits.

1. Honey and heat:  While, technically, heat is not a food, it’s important to address this combination since its use is so widespread, often being the first step people take to reduce their intake of processed sugar. Honey is a great alternative because raw honey has many benefits. However, it is important to know that when honey is heated above 104° F, its molecules become like glue. They tend to adhere to mucous membranes in the digestive tract, producing toxins called ama. Ama is waste that arises out of improper digestion but is not discarded. Ayurveda considers it to be the root cause of most ill health.

2. Fruit and dairy:  In general, fruit should be eaten by itself and not combined with anything, especially milk. Fresh fruit is light and very easy to digest so it ferments very easily. If you eat fruit with food or after a heavier meal that is more difficult to digest, it will stay in the belly too long, over-digest and turn stomach contents into slightly fermented goo. It is best to avoid eating fruit with, or just after, heavier foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, nuts and eggs. However, dates can be eaten safely with milk.

3. Dairy and seafood:  According to Ayurvedic principles, the two types of food that should never be combined are dairy foods—including cream, cheese, milk and yogurt—and fish or seafood. They have deeply antagonistic qualities. That means, unfortunately, that those smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels and fish or seafood pastas covered in cream sauce are a definite “no-no.”

4. Liquids with food:  Liquid tends to pass immediately into the intestines, taking away the digestive enzymes from the stomach and inhibiting digestion. Liquids should be consumed at least 20 minutes prior to a meal and one hour after a meal but not with or immediately after a meal. Small sips of warm water during a meal might be OK. Drinking cold water puts a strain on the digestive system and redirects the energy away from its main task of digesting your meal, so drinking extremely cold water during a meal is not recommended.

5. Beans and dairy or beans and seafood:  If the vision of loading on black beans, cheese and sour cream on taco night just came shattering down, you’re not alone. According to Ayurveda, beans are astringent and have a cold, dry and heavy quality. Dairy is cold and heavy, too, so the two together can work against the digestive fire. That’s why beans often are prepared with heating spices, since the combination helps to optimize digestion. Similarly, combining beans and seafood overwhelms the digestive system and results in poor digestion and production of ama.
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We can’t and don’t always eat perfectly. Here are a few tips and workarounds that are in sync with Ayurvedic principles for optimal digestion. They can be beneficial as part of a routine and prove to be even more useful when one is consuming food that is typically difficult to digest.

•    Take a half teaspoon of grated ginger and a pinch of rock salt before meals to stimulate the digestive system.

•    Add spices and herbs to meals to make them more compatible or reduce the dominant effect. For example, cilantro can bring a cooling quality and help to digest spicy foods. Sipping ginger tea with a meal can also help the body assimilate it better.

•    Drink a cup of lassi at the end of the meal to aid digestion. Lassi is made from a quarter cup of yogurt, one cup of water and two pinches of ginger and cumin powder.

•    Cook ingredients together to make them more compatible. One-pot stews can be very nourishing.

•    Eat only until you are two-thirds full and then stop. Like a blender or spice grinder, if your stomach is full, it can’t process the food inside very well.

Making small, consistent shifts in routine is more sustainable than trying to overhaul a diet and lifestyle. Take small steps, be mindful of how it is affecting your body, evaluate and improve. ❧

A “techpreneur,” Ayesha D’cruz is the founder of Fitriffic.com, a fitness and wellness portal where members can sign up for classes and consultations with fitness and wellness experts from around the world. See more at Fitriffic.com.

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