You Are What You Digest: Physical Digestion, Episode 1

Transcript for Episode 1

Rumin: Hi, Mamta.

Mamta Landerman: Hi, Rumin.

Rumin: I am so excited about our podcast series: “You Are What You Digest”. As you know, when we started formulating this series, I did a little informal study with some of my friends, asking them how do they define ‘digestion’. The most common response I received, was the four-letter word no one wants to talk about, ‘poop’. This didn’t surprise me too much because digestion is often associated with elimination. However, in Ayurveda, digestion is not only about a successful bowel movement.

Mamta: That’s right. Digestion is actually a profound journey that the human being takes. We’re constantly metabolizing life. And only what we digest becomes a part of our integral structure, not only our body, but also our mind and our emotional structure

Rumin:  exactly, digestion in Ayurveda has a broader definition and over the next three episodes we will be discussing digestion on a  physical, emotional and mental level through the lens of Ayurveda. And today, we will focus on physical digestion.

Mamta: People say, “You are what you eat,” but it is not what you eat. It’s what you can break down, what you can metabolize and absorb to turn into your body to repair it, to rejuvenate it. That is what counts. That is digestion, that is why we say you are what you digest.

Rumin: Because digestion is not only occurring within the GI tract, it’s also occurring within each each cell of the body. Digestion goes deep, deep into all of our tissues.

Mamta: Here’s what happens. Yes, the food goes through your GI tract. It takes about three hours, give or take, depending on the strength of your digestion. That food has to break down. It has to metabolize. It has to be assimilated. It has to be absorbed. New tissues have to be made. That food, when it is absorbed, it goes through your stomach, your small intestine, large intestine and then the nutrients further travel to the liver and then to the heart and are circulated into the deeper tissues of your body.

Those nutrients will travel through your blood, be broken down. Blood will take what it needs to build the blood. Then, it flows on through the vessels and turns into other tissues, like the muscles. Then, it turns into fat. The nutrients are taken to build bone, to build bone marrow, the reproductive tissue. All of this can take up to 35 to 40 days. After these are taken, the energy that is released from this transformation goes to build also, your immune system. This whole process takes quite a while.

Rumin: So , it doesn’t end just with poop!

Mamta: No. It doesn’t. Although, bowel movements are a great symptom of whether the initial digestion is happening or not. It helps to examine your bowel movements everyday so you catch indigestion in the beginning.

Rumin:  It is quite telling, but it is not where the process ends. As you mentioned, every day the body is digesting. and metabolizing, not just within the GI tract but also within the tissue levels. So what we eat today is working itself through the body for over a month, and this is why a consistent quality of our food plays a role in our wellbeing.

Mamta: Yes It’s not just what we eat today, but everyday because is going to take about 30 days to turn into the various tissues of your body. According to Ayurveda, there are seven major tissues in your body. You have to understand that what you ate five days ago is now turning into your blood. What you ate about 11 days ago may be turning into your muscles. Bone nutrients take about 25 to 30 days. When you break a bone, the doctor puts a cast and takes it out in about 30 days because that’s how long it takes for bone to heal or to build.

What is really important is that when we’re eating food, we need to understand it’s not about just quenching your thirst or your hunger at that time. It has to be vital. See, is it organic? Is it natural? There is nothing in this body that is not made up from food that we eat. Everything in this body is made up from things we have gotten from nature.

Organic food, natural food, fresh food is going to have the vitality and the micronutrients that your body needs. Also, how you treat these micronutrients, are you microwaving it? Are you freezing it where the bonds are breaking and destroying the integral structure of the food? Yes. You eat your frozen foods, but then while it fills your tummy and feeds your hunger, it’s not going to generate health in your cells that become an integral part of your tissues. That’s very important to keep in mind.

Rumin: The quality of our food is reflected in the quality of our tissues which is then reflected in us, our hair, our bones, our skin. All of what we eat is going to be a reflection of what we initially digested or what we maybe didn’t digest. The other side of digestion is indigestion.

Mamta: That’s right. What happens is when you eat food and it’s not properly broken down and this, again, could be due to various different reasons – basically when food is not broken down properly or the nutrients in that food that should have been nourishing to your tissues become a toxin, – the body has to attack it.

The other thing that happens is when it goes through the GI tract and gets absorbed to go into the deeper tissues, when it’s not broken down, it gets accumulated on the outside of the cells. Now, it begins a stagnation process. Now, it starts to fester. It can become mucousy. It can become cloggy and slowly flow through the vessels and lodge wherever it has a chance to lodge.

Now, it will start to derail your whole system. You can have a healthy river-flowing, or you can have a stagnant part of the river. There, you’re going to find flies. You’re going to find sludge the same way you’re going to find bacteria that are not friendly to the human body that are going to fester because of this undigested food. In time, that can create problems.

Rumin: Just like digestion, indigestion is not just occurring within the GI tract, it can occur within each cell of our body.  And it too is a continuous process.  The food that we initially took in, the nutrients that we think we are consuming, if we are not able to digest it, that same food then becomes toxic.

Mamta: That’s right. If that toxic food gets absorbed Ayurveda has a word for it. It’s called “ama.” When this ama gets absorbed into your main blood stream, if it’s lodged in the blood, you can end up with headaches, migraines, etcetera. If it lodges in the muscles, you might feel achiness. You might feel sluggish or it could result in fibromyalgia.

If this ama gets lodged in the knees, in the joints, the bones, you might develop arthritis. It starts with that first stage of indigestion! Watch for it! It is really the canary in the coal mine because it’s warning you that something is amiss. You better take care. The system is getting derailed.

Rumin: This is why it’s so important to eat a nutritious as we can, eat food that’s digestible so that we can metabolize it into healthy tissues. It really begins with food, especially when we’re thinking about preventative health. How do we prevent ama from forming?

Mamta: That brings us to a very important concept in Ayurveda. I do want to say at this point that a lot of the principles of Ayurveda are time-tested. It’s a 5,000 year-old medical science from India. All of its principles, because they talk about universal principles, are pertinent today as well. Ayurveda talks about a concept called digestive fire.

What is the digestive fire? We have heat in our body. When that heat goes down in intensity, it doesn’t transform things. It doesn’t metabolize things. The strongest fire is in our stomach which in today’s science, we call the hydrochloric acid. What this does is this breaks down the food. The PH needs to be just right. When it goes into the small intestine, it turns alkaline. The food keeps breaking down with various layers of enzymes. Collectively, Ayurveda calls them our “Digestive Fire”. These enzymes are there, by the way, in every tissue.

According to Ayurveda, there are actually 13 different types of fires related to digestion that keep breaking down what we’ve taken and assimilating them to build different tissues. To understand this digestive fire, let’s use an analogy of a campfire or a stove that we might have. When you’re building a campfire, what do you need? You take a little bit of paper. You take some little kindling, little twigs. Then, you put little heavier pieces of wood, like fir .  Then, you  strike a match. When the fire is warmed up, you might use oak. Now good burning fire.

By the end of the next morning, everything is burned down. You have nice, clean, white ash. Now if you don’t put the proper kindling, you’re going to get half-burned wood, maybe a lot of smoke and a lot of smog. This is what happens when we take food into our body.  If we don’t have the proper enzymes and the proper fire and a proper kindling to light that fire in our body, then the food is going to be half-broken down. It’s going to give us that smog, bad air, bad gas, flatulence, body odor, a thick coating on the tongue. The body might start smelling. These are all signs of ama, of improper digestion. We want to be aware that with proper spices, kindling, we ignite our digestive fire so it can  break up the sludge.  We want to have clean combustion with a strong fire so we have good use of the nutrients, so we can build a healthy body.

Rumin: What I appreciate about Ayurveda, is that when we look at the body, we look at the body very individually. Your digestive fire and my digestive fire might have a different strength.

Mamta: That’s right.

Rumin: There’s no one digestive fire. There’s no one person has the best digestive fire. It’s what you have that counts

Mamta: It’s different intensities in different people  So you have to eat accordingly.

Rumin: Yes, different intensities. It’s different for everybody. Another aspect I appreciate about Ayurveda, is that I now have a broader definition of health and healthy. I’m not just looking at food from a vitamin perspective, from a healthy fat perspective, from a minerals perspective or calorie based diet.  I’m also asking is this food digestible? Can I digest what I am about to eat? Do I have the digestive fire that’s going to help metabolize this food into all of my tissues, nourish my tissues and then rejuvenate my tissues.

Mamta: That’s why kindling is so important. This kindling in our everyday life, in our food, we call ‘digestives’. When you make a dish, you don’t just make your pasta. You want to make sure that you accompany it with digestives that will break that food down, so you can absorb it and make use of it. If you don’t, as we said earlier, it will become a toxin. You will experience indigestion, bloating, gas, a coated tongue or flatulence.

Rumin: Yeah. Spice it up!

Mamta: Yes. You spice it up not spice like cayenne, although you could use that too, but you’re using different herbs that fall in the digestive category.

Rumin: What are some herbs you recommend or some digestives that you recommend?

Mamta: There are several category of herbs in our kitchen. Some help break down food, others help absorb, some herbs help burn up the toxins. If we were to think of herbs that would help burn up this ama, the sludge that you might have and clear your channels, then there are herbs like cumin. Cumin is like your Liquid Plumber or Drano. It really breaks up the undigested mucousy ama so it can flow out and be expelled from the body. Another herb that’s very good is turmeric. Turmeric is a wonder herb. These days, they’re discovering how good it is.

Rumin: Anti-everything.

Mamta: Yes, It’s an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-parasitic. It is antipyretic. When you have fevers, they use it to heal wounds. They’ll put it on your skin on an open wound or even with ulcers. Sometimes, it’s had with milk for that purpose. It’s a must in your cuisine. It really helps to break up that ama. It also has the capacity to go through the cell wall to the nucleus of the cell. With its antioxidant properties, it’s very rejuvenate.

Another herb is ginger. Ginger is another wonder herb because it not only breaks up ama, but it also ignites your digestive fire and it helps to absorb food. Ginger can be had in different ways. Sometimes, it is a powder. Sometimes, it is fresh. Fresh is more warming. If you tend to perspire a lot or are very hot, use the powder.

Rumin: I think you bring up a good point, ginger has different  properties.  Sometimes we think fresh is better than powder and that is not always the case as you mentioned, but Ginger is one of my favorites. What I love to do with ginger is just put a few slices in my thermos, pour in some hot water in the morning and then replenish with more hot water throughout the day, especially in the winter. I find that for me it works really well. It’s quick, easy and not strong, but strong enough.

Mamta: That’s wonderful because ginger has so many different ways that it is used. Like you said, you can make a tea out of it. You can use ginger powder and mix it with honey into a little paste and suck on it every about 40 minutes, a little about a 1/8th of a teaspoon. It’s great to loosen the congestion in the lungs or if you have a mucousy cough. There’s just many different ways you can use ginger, but don’t overdo it on ginger.

Use can also use ginger and black pepper to ignite the digestive fire. Other herbs are oregano, marjoram, basil, parsley, cinnamon, cardamom. These are great digestive aides. Rosemary, it’s great for brain fog. When you have bad digestion, you also have brain fog! Its also good for memory. Tulsi/Holy basil is also mind clearing and diaphoretic, makes you sweat. Mint is another one, it’s an adaptogen, it makes the bio-availability of nutrients possible and diaphoretic, which makes you sweat out the toxins.

Cilantro/ coriander leaves – digestive, heavy metal detoxification, breaks down lipids and triglycerides. Fresh cilantro juice with a little fresh ginger and ½ a lemon squeezed into a little juice: 1- 2oz. A day.

Rumin: That sounds like refreshing elixir

Mamta: Now be careful, some people find they get diarrhea with cilantro, in that case, don’t overdo it on that. Here is another great recipe to break down ama and build your fire.

If you take equal quantities of cumin, coriander and fennel seeds, grind them in a coffee grinder and store in a jar. Take one tablespoon of it, mix it with six cups of water, boil it, – always with the lid open and simmer it till it boils down to three cups, strain it, have one cup three times a day or sip it all through the day. Do it for about three days. This is a great way to start that fire and to burn the ama. And you can do this one to two times a month.

Rumin: I love this tea. I have seen a difference with this tea just in my monthly cycles. My PMS symptoms have gone down significantly just by drinking this tea about a week or two before I know I’m going to start my cycle. And my friends have noticed the same thing.

Mamta: Yes, you will be amazed at some of the results. But What we need to understand is: herbs are not foods. Herbs are extremely potent. You need very little. A good way to know the potency of an herb is it should have a strong aroma.

Rumin: It’s important to remember everything in balance.

Mamta: Yeah. These are some of the herbs that you can use both that clear the ama, and you feel better and ignite your digestive fire, and you will digest better.

Rumin: I can talk about these herbs and their benefits forever And the same goes for food. Food is very important because it nourishes us. And another important and integral part of having a healthy digestion is not just what we eat but how we eat. In Ayurveda, that’s talked about significantly, the timing, how much we eat, the temperature of our food. These are all important factors.

Mamta: Yeah. Ayurveda says more important than what you eat is how you eat. For example, I know they recommend you eat food that is cooked because it’s easier to digest but also eat food that is warm. Let’s say on a hot day you come home from outdoors and you quickly have a glass of cold milk or a cold glass of water which is iced, what’s going to happen with cold? Cold constricts. It’s going to restrict your digestive juices from flowing out.

Now, you’re going to sit and eat a meal and there are no digestive juices released to break that food down. That’s going to create not nutrition in your body, not nourishment in your body. It’s going to create ama. The other thing is when you’re eating food, be mindful and chew it until it’s an even consistency which means if you’re eating a pear, you’re going to chew it a little bit. If you’re eating a raw almond, you’re going to need to chew it more so that it is an even consistency. Because it has to be absorbed.

People don’t realize how much of your food is broken down and digested in the mouth. It’s really important to pay attention to that. Of course, accompany food with the proper digestives, you should eat until you’re 75 percent full. Why? Just like the fire in your fireplace, if you fill it with heavy logs, it’s not going to have enough air for proper combustion and breakdown. Your fire’s not going to ignite. Similarly when you’re eating your food, eat until you feel maybe I could eat three or four morsels more. Then, you’ve left enough space for the juices to mix and for proper combustion and metabolism to happen of what you’ve taken.

Lastly, what I want to say is, we’re a rhythmic being. You need to eat in some rhythmic fashion. If you ate breakfast every day for a month at 8:00 AM and you did not eat it on the 31st day,  you’re going to feel hungry at 8am. That’s because your system is primed into a certain rhythm.

When you keep breaking that rhythm, it confuses the system and you’re going to suffer from indigestion.

Also when you sit down to eat, keep in mind what frame of mind you’re in. If you’re angry, if you’re agitated, if you’re irate, if you’re worried, if you’re watching TV, if you’re watching that chase or the zombie film, what that’s going to do is it’s going to get you into a stress mode. It’s going to get you hyped, alert and in crisis management. You’re going to be running too much adrenaline which tells the rest of the system to shut down and shut off because there’s an emergency.

Whereas if you sit down calmly and you go, “Okay. Everything else has to wait. I’m going to sit down and eat,” you may say a prayer or grace or take some deep breaths and just be appreciative. Then, start to eat with the aroma stimulating your senses. Now, your brain is going to be relaxed and hormones are going to release the right juices, the neuropeptides. You are now going to be on track with good digestion to build good tissue in your body.

Rumin: It’s so wonderful. When you sit down and you eat to take a moment to engage the senses. Appreciating the aroma, or the beautiful colors,  the textures and how it’s displayed on that plate, just those little things can center and bring you into the present. I think that’s one of the many things, Ayurveda has brought back to my attention, to take a moment and appreciate the food which nourishes me.  This food is making me who I am today. It builds me. It rejuvenates me. Often times, what builds us is yet so low on our list of priorities.

Mamta: That’s right.

Rumin: Food is not always a priority. We don’t always have time. We don’t make it a priority. Ayurveda, has deepened my relationship with food as well as my understanding of digestion and how both impact my overall health.

Mamta: There’s a word in Ayurveda called ‘ahara’. They loosely use it with food because it is an ahara. Ahara means nourishment. The human being takes nourishment in many different ways. You can take it not just through your mouth. You can take it through all of your senses. Through images, you feel nourished when you’re watching a beautiful sunset.

You feel harmonized. That is nourishment. Ayurveda talks about nourishment on a soul level, on a mental level, on an emotional level as well as on the physical level. This is how we want to understand that digestion is, like we said in the beginning, a very deep journey that the human being takes on many different levels.

Rumin: You are what you digest.

Mamta: Correct.

Rumin: Today we talked about physical digestion through the lens of Ayurveda, a time-tested, holistic science. We cannot leave out what you just mentioned the mind, our emotions from this conversation as Ayurveda is a holistic science and digestion is a very important part of it.  Let’s continue this topic on our next episode of You Are What You Digest. We’ll talk about emotional digestion.

Mamta: Good. I look forward to it.

Rumin: Me too.

Mamta: Thanks, Rumin.

Rumin: Thank you.