With today’s science acknowledging the gut as the second brain, our ability to breakdown food, absorb their nutrients and assimilate them on a cellular level is now considered an essential part of our holistic wellbeing. Digestive health is taking center stage, and our dietary choices are playing an active role in this conversation. According to Ayurvedic Medicine, rather than only focusing on what to eat, prioritizing what we can metabolize is integral in supporting the gut.
A 5,000-year-old holistic healthcare system from India, Ayurveda says all dis-ease begins in the gut. The key to vibrant health is proper digestion. In today’s time, our understanding of digestion tends to have a singular approach. The priority is mainly placed on what we eat. Whereas in Ayurveda, the approach is more pluralistic. While what we put on our plates is important to good gut health, there is also a focus when we eat, how we prepare and eat our meals, the quality of ingredients, and most importantly how well we can metabolize.
If you are experiencing chronic indigestion, gas, bloating, constipation, acid reflux, your ability to metabolize has weakened. These symptoms are your gut calling for support and requesting an examination of your dietary habits. While supplementary aids can temporarily curtail these symptoms, making subtle shifts to your daily food choices, along with what, when, and how you eat can have a positive, long-term and lasting effect that can help strengthen your digestive health and support the metabolization process.
Here are 8 dietary habits through the lens of Ayurveda that play a key role in supporting the digestive process to function more efficiently, and can help you to better digest, absorb and assimilate your food’s nutrients.
8 Dietary Habits To Support Your Gut
PAY ATTENTION TO QUANTITY
Our stomachs have the incredible ability to expand, but eating until you are about to burst is not helpful to the digestive process. Similar to how a campfire needs the element of air to keep the fire burning, our agni, or digestive fire needs space for air to circulate and keep our digestive, metabolic fire kindling. The lack of space for air and fire, not only hinders metabolization, too much food can put out the fire completely. Leading to undigested food festering and causing ama or toxic build-up in the gut, which over time leads to dis-ease.
While portion control is essential in supporting digestion, as is diversifying our diet. An overly acidic diet consumed primarily of meat, tomatoes, alcohol, vinegar-rich foods promotes acid reflux, indigestion, and constipation. Adding more fiber with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can balance acid levels and show quick results in supporting the digestive process from breakdown to elimination. Remember, too much of anything, acidic or alkaline can create imbalance. Balance is key.
FOOD QUALITY MATTERS
For the body to absorb and assimilate nutrients its needs to receive food rich in nutrients. Foods that are close as possible to their natural state, rich in life force and have nature’s intelligence. When our diets primarily consist of processed, GMO, pre-packaged or frozen food, energetically it is like we are feeding ourselves stale food. These foods do not help the microbiome or our tissues flourish. They are considered tamasic foods or food that foster inertia and dullness in the body and mind.
Our bodies and mind are a reflection of our food’s quality. Directly impacting our immune system and the quality of our dhatus, i.e our plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow and reproductive system. To foster good gut health and tissues, aim for a diet that is made up of at least 80% fresh ingredients. Ingredients that are not genetically modified, overly processed, pre-packaged, frozen, canned or foods leftover for more than 2 days.
ENGAGE THE SENSES & RELEASE YOUR DIGESTIVE ENZYMES
Our emotional and mental state matter when we eat. If we eat under stress, fear, anxiety or mindlessly, our gut goes into a reactive, rather than a responsive state. A disconnect between the mind and gut can lead to over or under eating and hinders the digestive process. In engaging our senses by taking a moment to look and smell our food before the first bite, we bring ourselves into the present moment. The conscious activation of the senses connects our gut with our mind. There is a shift in physiological state and our digestive enzymes begin to flow. This is when the digestive process begins. The gut is now prepared to receive the first bite, process, and absorb food.
Before your next first bite, take a look at your food, the texture, let your tongue begin to salivate, take in the aroma to release the digestive enzymes. When you savor the first bite, you can help set the tone for bites that follow.
REGULARITY, EAT AT THE SAME TIME
Establishing repetition and routine is fundamental for gut health because it creates a container of safety and dependability. Like babies who need structure and trust, so does our digestive system. We are rhythmic beings and we thrive with routine. While our busy lives can impact our day to day activity, if we can maintain a regular eating time, seven days of the week, we can have a positive effect on our gut. When our brain and gut know what to expect and at what time, we can prevent the mind-body from going into deprivation mode. The added stress can lead to fluctuating blood sugar, blood pressure, hangry, hormonal disruption and weight gain. Eating at the same time each day also ensures there is enough time for digestion between meals and helps trigger your hunger clock with consistency. In-turn, helping to retain consistent energy levels, while also preventing eating on top of the food that is still digesting or yet to be digested.
SPICE IT UP WITH DIGESTIVE AIDS
The mind-body needs protein, carbs, healthy fats, and it needs herbs and spices. These pungent seeds and leaves not only bring flavor, but they also serve as digestive aids. Primarily made up of the fire and air element, they activate the digestive metabolic fire or agni, supporting metabolism, and the absorption and assimilation of nutrients.
In your next stir-fry, sautee, simmer or bake sprinkle in pepper, cumin, basil, rosemary or top it off with some cilantro or mint. The aroma also entices your digestive enzymes to flow, helps bring you into the present moment to receive food. Happy eating, happy digesting.
EMBRACE WARM MEALS AND DRINKS
If your diet is primarily made up of cold foods like salads, sandwiches, sushi, and cold noodles that are complimented with iced drinks, switching to eating warm meals and room temperature water, will give you quick, digestive supporting results. Cold constricts, and warmth opens. When we are constricted, its harder to receive, thus it is harder for the body to digest, absorb and assimilate food’s nutrients. This alone could be accounting for chronic indigestion symptoms including constipation. When undigested food lingers, ama or toxins build-up in the gut, this is the root cause to all dis-ease of the mind and body, according to Ayurveda. Try slowly reducing cold foods and drinks from your diet for about a month, and see if you feel a difference. And if you can’t stay away from cold sandwiches and salads, compliment it by sipping on warm herbal tea.
ADD A LITTLE TANG TO BOOST DIGESTIVE ENZYMES
Having a diet rich in all six tastes, sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent, and bitter is key to the digestive process. Each taste plays a role in supporting physical digestion and our emotional health. Of these naturally sour foods like lemon, limes, tamarind, apple cider vinegar or fermented food contribute to the digestive process by adding the element of fire to our meals. The acidity of these foods supports the digestive, metabolic fire or agni, giving it a little boost to breakdown our meals.
When eating sour foods, ensure they are accents to the meal, and are incorporated into the meal, rather than eaten on their own. Balance is key.
CHOOSE MEALS THAT SUPPORT YOUR METABOLISM
Many foods are considered healthy, but they may not be healthy for you! Choose foods that support what your digestive system can handle. If you tend to run cold or are always bloated, a kale salad or a fruit smoothie may not be the healthiest of choice for you. Both are cold foods and promote cold within the body. While they are nutrient rich, if your digestive process cannot metabolize, absorb or assimilate them, they will be undigested and cause imbalances rather than be of benefit.
A helpful way to understand if a meal aligns with your digestive system is to see how you feel an hour or so after the meal. If you feel sluggish, the meal could have been too heavy. If you feel bloated, the meal could have been to airy, cold or not spiced up enough. Unsure what foods best suit you? Seek the support of an Ayurveda Professional, check out our guides to find one near you.