Nine Essentials to Support Digestion
According to Maharishi Ayurveda, the single most important thing you can do for your health every day of the year is to eat wisely. In Maharishi Ayurveda food is considered as powerful or more powerful than medicine. It is an old ayurvedic saying that, without the right foods and good eating habits, medicine is of little use in recouping health. On the other hand, if you eat the right foods for your physiology, and follow a good routine that enhances digestion, your body will not need medicine, for the most part.
Here are nine dietary tips from The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians:
Eat naturally intelligent foods
Close to 75% of the food sold in grocery stores in the United States contains genetically-modified ingredients. The majority are non-organic, containing residues of pesticides and chemicals — chemicals and pesticides linked to numerous diseases. These foods — processed foods, genetically-modified foods, and foods to which additives or artificial preservatives have been added are no longer alive with the intelligence of nature. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, the human physiology is a reflection of the laws of the universe. The more in tune our lifestyle is with the harmony of nature, the healthier we are likely to be. Our body can best process foods that are closest to nature — whole grains, organically-grown vegetables and fruits, and wild-crafted herbs. Help your digestion function optimally by choosing organic foods when possible — your health is worth the added effort and cost.
Shun food fads
The test of time is a valuable measure of food and dietary value. What works for a million other people may still not be right for you. Listen to your own physiology, and include a sensible mix of various types of foods in your diet so that you are getting the nutrition your body needs. The recommended midday Maharishi Ayurvedic meal includes whole grains; lentils; vegetables cooked with spices; and lassi, a drink made by combining fresh yogurt with water, for balanced nourishment. Rotate your menus. Vary cooking methods — sauté, steam, boil, roast, bake — eating should be an adventure, not a chore. Food fads and roller-coaster diets end up doing more harm than good, starving the body of balanced nutrition and nourishment needed to build healthy cells and tissues.
Opt for lots of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain lots of phytonutrients, and a variety of sense-pleasing colors, tastes and textures. Ayurveda recommends eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, not only for their nutritional value, but also because they are fine natural internal cleansers. Modern research concurs that fruits and vegetables are powerful disease-prevention foods. It is now recommended that you eat nine servings of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables a day to prevent cancer and other free-radical-induced diseases. The specific food guidelines for Vata, Pitta and Kapha can help you pick a variety of fruits and vegetables suited to your physiology and the season. Vegetables do not always have to be cooked as separate dishes — add them to grains, stuff them in breads, toss them in stews and soups — there's always room for your favorite veggies in every dish. Start your day with stewed apples or pears. Eat a handful of berries for your mid-afternoon snack. Mango or Peach Chutneys can brighten up any meal.
There is a world of aromatic, medicinal spices to choose from. Spices not only add flavor and aroma; they also bring specific therapeutic values to your meal. There are over a thousand research studies that have been done on turmeric alone. Spices help boost natural immunity, and most of them strengthen digestion. Stronger digestion means your body is better able to absorb and assimilate the tremendous spectrum of nutrients from the foods you eat. If you are new to the world of spices and aren't quite sure what to choose, try one of the ready-to-use Churnas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) from Maharishi Ayurveda, or browse the special editions of our Total Health newsletters for spice mixtures and spice/herb waters for different health goals.
Give your digestive system a break
According to Maharishi Ayurveda, the build-up of ama — which is digestive toxins — is the root beginning of most disorders. That's why the texts of ayurveda recommend gentle internal cleansing at every change of seasons for optimal health. Detoxing is particularly recommended in the early spring, because that is the time nature starts the annual cycle of regeneration as well. During internal cleansing, eat light yet nourishing foods such as mung bean soup or a watery soup called kitcheree, and drink lots of warm water through the day. Sip detoxifying tea or ama pachana water. To make this ama-reducing drink, bring two quarts of water to a boil. Put it in a thermos flask and add a few pieces of fresh ginger, ¼ tsp. cumin, ¼ tsp. fennel, 2 black peppercorns, and 2 leaves of mint and then steep it. Drink this water throughout the day for a very purifying effect that also supports digestion. Fresh, sweet juicy fruits are excellent cleansers. Take Elim-Tox or Elim-Tox-O from Maharishi Ayurveda for gentle full-body cleansing and Herbal Cleanse or Organic Digest Tone to aid elimination. Periodic internal cleansing gets rid of accumulated junk from inside the body and revs up the digestion for another season.
Drink to your health
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and carbonated soft drinks. Switch to pure water. Drinking lots of water through the day helps to rehydrate your system and flush toxins out of the body. Water that has been boiled and cooled has the added healing element of fire in it. Don't drink water ice-cold — if you have a lot of Pitta to balance, drink it cool; otherwise, room-temperature or warm water is best. Infusing your drinking water with herbs and spices suited to your physiology, or a mix of herbs and whole spices designed to correct a specific imbalance, can enhance the healing quality of the water you drink. Raja's Cup from Maharishi Ayurveda comes with antioxidant power as well as rich coffee flavor, and a wide range of therapeutic Herbal Teas offers comfort any time of day or night. At bedtime, drink a cup of warm milk, boiled and cooled for added digestibility, blended with a spoonful of Organic Rose Petal Spread or with a pinch of cardamom or nutmeg to aid sleep.
Cultivate good eating habits
A fast-paced lifestyle is not very supportive of good digestion. Eating on the go, eating while working, skipping meals and eating "junk" foods are common habits — that weaken digestion. A good eating routine can add vitality and longevity, according to the ancient texts of ayurveda. The recommendation is eat three regular meals at about the same times each day. Make lunch your main meal and large meal of the day, and eat light at night. Eating a heavy meal at night taxes digestion and disrupts sleep. Favor fresh foods — leftovers are considered "dead" foods from the perspective of Maharishi Ayurveda. Breathe deeply for a couple of minutes before you start a meal. Give thanks, in whatever way is comfortable, for the food you eat. Sit quietly for a few minutes after a meal. These may seem like small things, but they are emphasized in the ancient ayurvedic texts as important ways to fine-tune digestion, and contribute to good health and longevity.
Eat for your soul
Total health is more than physical wellness. It includes a state of well being in mind, spirit, emotions and senses. According to ayurveda, the food you eat can nourish or vitiate all of these aspects of health, not just your physical health. Cooking or eating when you are angry or stressed can turn the food into a kind of poison. Cooking and eating in a pure, harmonious atmosphere turns the food into nectar, say the texts of ayurveda. Pleasant aromatherapy; soothing or uplifting music playing softly in the background; a tidy, cheerful dining table; and the nurturing company of friends or family can make mealtimes nourishing for your mind, emotions, senses and spirit. The texts also recommend eating in silence. This creates a total focus on the foods being ingested and can turn the meal into a feast, no matter how simple the fare. It's said to enhance the experience of the colors, textures, aromas and flavors in an eating experience — which is considered supportive of a more complete kind of digestion.
Variety in food choices provides a diverse broadband stream of nutrition. Break away from food ruts — experiment with new foods and new flavors. Try a new recipe a week. Involve your spouse, children or partner in meal planning and meal-preparing. It can make cooking and eating more fun. Try preparing old foods in new ways, differently each time; combine them with other grains, vegetables or herbs for variety. Once or twice a week, create a healthy dish from another part of the world — the cookbook Heaven's Banquet contains over 700 recipes from all over the world.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.