The majority of Americans suffer from occasional digestion problems: gas, bloating, stomach discomfort, constipation, heartburn, and fatigue after eating.
When we sit down to eat and our stomach is in a relaxed posture and our awareness is on the taste, texture, and smell of the food, it will greatly improve the digestion.
For optimal digestion our bodies need a suitable environment for digestion to start: an uplifting and settled environment allows the body to process and absorb the nutrients from our meals. If that isn’t available, Ayurvedic experts advise at least be sitting down to eat. Standing, walking, driving and other similar activities can inhibit digestion.
Another way to improve the digestion is to stimulate the agni, or digestive fire, before we begin eating. Weak digestive agni may result in fatigue after eating. To handle this, eating a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger with a few drops of lemon juice and a few pinches of salt on it before a full meal. This blend of spices activates the salivary glands, producing the necessary enzymes to help digest the nutrients in the food and help support absorption by the body.
Balancing your digestive fire — agni — is a key principle. That’s why ayurveda recommends a number of general practices for better digestion. Digestive agni can be compared to a burning fire. If the flame is very low, it will take a long time to cook the food. In the same way, if the fire is too big it can burn the food. If we put a huge log on a low fire it will extinguish it. The goal is to balance our digestive fires so we digest our meals efficiently and smoothly.
The ginger-and-lemon-juice recommendation helps to increase the digestive power. If, however, you suffer from an overactive agni, because of which there is too much internal heat and acid, then Pomegranate Chutney may be more suitable for you.
It is recommends avoiding cold drinks at meals, and ice-cold foods in general. This is because it weakens agni — it’s like putting cold water on the burning logs. Iced water, normally served at restaurants, extinguishes the digestive fire. Even juice or milk right out of the refrigerator is too cold for the digestion. Juice should be taken at room temperature and water without ice.
Once you get into this habit of drinking beverages at room temperature, you will notice a dramatic improvement in your digestion and the way your body feels while eating and after the meal. Cold drinks and foods mixed with warm cooked foods can cause stomach cramps, bloating and general discomfort in the stomach area.
If you have a Pitta imbalance, you can take cool drinks in between meals. Cold or frozen foods are not recommended for Pitta either because, even though they may temporarily cool down the heat, the agni is still being overstimulated and the imbalance will continue. Try slightly cool drinks made with Organic Rose Water, or milk blended with dates or fresh mangoes.
The next recommendation has to do with the time of the day that you eat your meals. Have you ever gone out for a late dinner and found that it was a strain to wake up the next morning, or that it was difficult to be efficient during the following day?
These are often the side effects of improperly-digested food. The best way to avoid these problems is to follow nature’s prescription of suitable times to eat. Digestive strength is closely tied to the solar cycle. When the sun is strongest between 12 and 2 p.m. is when the digestive fire is also strongest. Agni is associated with the sun.
Dinner should be lighter than lunch and should ideally be eaten before 8:00 p.m. Late-night meals interfere with sleep, and after 10:00 p.m. the body is working to burn off toxins and continues to digest food from the day.
If you eat after 10:00 p.m., the food may cause toxins to accumulate in the system, and as a result the next day you wake up tired. If you are not able to wake up fresh and clear, then it’s important to analyze the quantity of food and the time of night you are eating dinner.
Another ayurvedic tip for digestion is to drink a fresh yogurt drink called lassi at lunch time. Sweet lassi consists of ¼ cup fresh homemade yogurt, 1 cup room-temperature water and sugar to taste. Blend it for one minute in the blender.
Lassi is light and contains lactobacilli, necessary bacteria that lubricate the intestines to help digestion go smoothly. Lassi drinks help to reduce gas and bloating. They also taste delicious and can make a meal more satisfying and nutritious.
Good nutrition goes beyond eating foods that are fresh and wholesome. If the process of digestion is sluggish, your body creates sticky food residue called ama that can clog the channels in the body and hinder the process of assimilation. Proper digestion and metabolism, on the other hand, results in the conversion of the foods you eat into healthy body tissues.
Quick Tips for Good Digestion from Ayurveda Physicians:
Eat sitting down, in a settled environment, without the TV on.
Eat a fresh piece of ginger and lemon before a full meal (or Pomegranate Chutney to balance Pitta).
Drink lassi at lunchtime.
Avoid ice-cold drinks and food.
Lunch should be the biggest meal of the day. Dinner should be lighter and eaten before 8:00 p.m.