According to Ayurveda, disease is a result of poor digestion and poor assimilation of food into the body. Therefore, when we take care to attend to our digestive health, we prevent the occurrence of disease.
Here are some tips from an excellent book a classmate lent me; The Path of Practice: A Woman’s Book of Ayurvedic Healing by Bri. Maya Tiwari, taken from page 355. These suggestions also happen to coincide with a talk that Erica gave to a group of colleagues at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and so I have to give her credit as well!
1) Meal Sizing:
The largest meal of the day should be lunch. This is a very European method of eating and I practiced this tip while living in Colombia. It helped me feel balanced and nourished throughout the day. It also ensured I had a restful sleep in which I didn’t need to digest a large dinner. The size of the largest meal, according to Ayurvedic practice, should be the size of two anjali, two hands cupped together, or two cups (500 ml) of food. This is the maximum volume of food that the average human stomach can hold at a time.
The size of the other meals should be one anjali (one cup) or less. If you are a mentally and physically active person and eating this way over time results in hunger, then it is suggested that you increase the amount of meals in your day, limiting each one to the size of one anjali.
2) Food combining:
Fruits are best eaten alone, one hour before or after a meal. Fruit tends to ferment in the digestive tract and can interact with the digestion of other foods. Eating fruit and dairy products together should also be avoided (e.g.: fruit and yogurt or ice cream) because the acidity of the fruit can rot the milk in the stomach, leading to poor digestion and assimilation.
Avoid combining sweet and sour foods in the same meal. The two tastes counteract one another and irritate the digestive tract, which interferes with proper digestion. Also avoid complex combinations of food, which include dairy (basically every Standard American Diet food staple): tacos, lasagna, meat lover’s pizza, poutine, chili cheese fries and so on.
3) Preparing meals:
A nice tip from Matthew Remski, teacher of my “Everyday Nectar” Continuing Education Ayurvedic class (at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine) is that you should limit meals to no more than three different foods at a time. Making more complicated meals also complicates digestion. A great rule of thumb, especially as we move into Fall, is to try to cook all of your food in the same pot; think stews, soups, curries and rice dishes. This allows your stove to partially “digest” the food for you, making it easier on your body, which should conserve all the energy it can during this stressful season.
4) Stoking the digestive fires:
Drink 1/2 a cup (125 ml) of warm water before eating each meal. This helps to activate agni, the digestive fire that helps “burn” food and increase it’s absorption. Avoid drinking during or after a meal, especially cold water. This can affect the digestive fire in the stomach, prevent proper food breakdown and even lead to weight gain.
5) Eating mindfully:
Practice eating mindfully and chewing eat bite of food thoroughly. In naturopathic medicine it is common to hear people say “drink your food and chew your water”, meaning that food is chewed into a liquid before being swallowed. My family and I eat like wolves and this practice is extremely difficult for me to adhere to. However, I find that, when I try to chew properly, I experience less abdominal bloating after meals. I also feel more satisfied after eating and experience less food cravings. According to ayurveda, proper chewing ensures thorough digestion and assimilation, which also satisfies emotional cravings for food. This is especially helpful for people who crave unhealthy foods or who tend to binge eat.
Lastly, Bri. Maya Tiwari tells us to “practice eating our meals in a spirit of harmony and gratitude.” When we engage in serious, stressful conversation at the dinner table or eat on the run we are essentially wasting our body’s digestive juices and preventing their secretion. Digestion is a very difficult, energy-consuming task for the body. It is essential that we acknowledge the effort our body is making to break down our food and absorb the nutrients. Food should be eaten slowly and mindfully, sitting down, and preferably in silence. In many cultures grace is given before a meal. It may help you to silently say your own grace, giving thanks for the opportunity to eat the food before you and to your body for the ability to digest and assimilate the nutritious food that you have prepared for it.
I’ll admit that these tips are not easy to incorporate into one’s busy lifestyle, especially if you love to inhale your food (like me) or if you tend to rush through meals on auto-pilot. At first, these tips can be daunting, however, giving each one thoughtful consideration and taking the time to mindfully assimilate each one into your daily routine can have profound effects on your health, preventing gut irritation, bloating, food cravings and weight gain.
This article was also featured on active.com, and received by many dissenting commenters! Feel free to check it out and become part of the debate.
*This article is not meant to diagnose or treat any disease. Please visit a naturopathic doctor or ayurvedic specialist for a complete assessment and treatment plan.