Ideal Digestion for All Bodies
While Ayurveda treats the INDIVIDUAL, the ideal food plan for all bodies is a single, simple plan:
- Consume local seasonal vegetables as your main food
- Reduce hard to digest foods like red meat
- Reduce processed foods – especially refined sugars, processed meals, white carbohydrate bases like pasta and bread, alcohol and caffeine
- Eat most of your food in the beginning of the day to allow for time to get to the small intestine at the optimal digestion time of day 10-2
- Have only liquids or a very light meal for the final meal of the day
- Finish eating for the day before the sun goes down
- Support digestion with spices suitable to your constitution
I’ll expand a little more on all these points below:
#1 Look Local for Seasonal and Healthful Eating
Local is best for nutrition, environment and local economy. Additionally, food grown in your local climate is best suited to help you live in that climate. As it grows, food is in contact with the local microbiome leading to the creation of pre-biotics ready to help your gut thrive in your local environment. Seasonally, food changes. Here in Western Australia, for instance, through spring we have lots of leafy greens, perfect for rejuvenating the liver and body after the heavy winter diet of root vegetables, hearty casseroles and preserves. In summer, there are prolific greens, cooling cucumber, coriander and mint, while in autumn there are loads of citrus and pomegranates to build immune resilience along with nuts and seeds to bulk up for the lean hibernating season.
#2 Reduce Meat and Other Hard to Digest Foods
Reduced meat consumption is best for the environment and better digestion. Meat is particularly difficult to digest. Too much can lead to toxic waste build-up in the body, gas, gout and constipation. A large steak is like a huge log being thrown onto our small flame of digestion. It is capable of completely dousing that fire. We must take our meat with digestive spices and reduce the amount eaten. It should also be taken in small pieces and chewed very well. Undigested meat becomes like roadkill in the gut – rotting and fermenting. Meat also takes a huge amount of resources to produce. Ayurveda says we should practice good karma, and this means not killing other sentient beings for food, and only recommends bone broths and meat broths in emaciation and debilitation.
#3 Make Health in Your Kitchen
Commercial food production has developed to be quick, nutrition-less and tasteless. Processed foods have developed much faster than we have evolved, so we are not yet ‘evolved’ to get nutrition out of these ‘foods’. Further, they are usually made from long-life or long stored options which may be oxidised and rancid before even being put into the package. Additives to your processed foods range from so called harmless fillers like wheat to carcinogenic modified soy protein to mood- and mind-altering monosodium glutamate, to hormone disrupting Bis-phenyl A, to plasticisers and carcinogens. Homemade is filled with intention, love and nutrition, less fat and sugar to cover the lack of taste, plus it’s cheaper!
#4 Eat Earlier and Utilise the Energy of the Sun for Digestion
Traditional Ayurvedic texts say we should eat with the patterns of the sun – largest meal at lunchtime, second largest meal is BREAKS the fast. Yes, we are meant to fast for a time, every day. This has been known for 5000 years and is reported in all religious texts but as with all translations, something was lost.
If we stick to the chemicals and science, digestion relates to digestion of starches in the mouth and stomach, cleaving of proteins in the stomach and separation of fatty acids in the duodenum when hit by bile acids.
The majority of our digestion happens thanks to healthy flora on the micro-villi in the small intestine. THUS, we should eat to get our food to our small intestine at the optimal time – this is about 3 hours after eating – so breakfast at 7-8am and lunch at 11-12 would have most of our food into the small intestine by 3pm, allowing time to empty and settle the gut by night. When we eat this way, we are not hungry in the evening and cravings diminish.
#5 Clear the Gut for Better Sleep
Digestion has slowed by mid-afternoon and heaping large amounts of food on a diminishing fire will only snuff it out. When the digestive fire (agni) is snuffed, food sits like a rock in the belly, leading to gas and discomfort. Undigested food in the GI tract sits at 37oC for long periods of time – think roadkill in summer….think rotting, gas, pain, bloating, toxins in the body.
People who eat lighter, earlier meals for dinner naturally lose excess weight because the body can clear toxins through its naturally healing cleansing processes at night.
#6 Night Time is for Rest, Recharge and Recovery
If your gut is full, it must keep working through the night to try to clear all the food. Digestion drags a whopping 60% of our energy when we are at optimal timing and diet. Keep dragging energy through the night and you are going to wake up tired. Further, while the body is digesting, it is not healing nor clearing waste from the tissues so you can never reach a deep restorative sleep. Never cleaning up soon leads to a big mess, wouldn’t you agree?
There are certain processes which happen in the brain, to clear metabolic debri, that happen only in the deepest sleep. You do not reach this deep sleep level if you are busy digesting your food. This ancient knowledge is now being backed by scientific connections between insomnia and brain diseases (1,2).
A cleared gut allows the body to heal through the night and gather waste products for elimination. Correct elimination is essential for healing all the body, but especially so for issues of the lower abdomen including menstrual issues, lower back pain, constipation, hernia, UTIs, hip issues, disc injury and more.
If you stop eating in time to let your gut clear before you go to bed, you are going to sleep better, think better and look younger.
#7 Digestive Spices
Spices are in everyone’s cupboards because they are ancient, tested, loved and trusted medicinal foods.
Vata digestion – tends to be delicate and easily disturbed or overwhelmed, eats smaller meals, sometimes not hungry, can forget lunch. Treat the digestion delicately and support rather than force digestion. Use: cumin, turmeric, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, a little black pepper, salt, ghee, cardamom, cinnamon.
Pitta digestion – gut burns or aches with hunger, person can get Hangry headaches. Avoid chilli, nightshades, alcohol, caffeine as these are all heat increasing. Use bitter and cooling digestive spices like paprika (not chilli), ginger, cardamom, coriander, lime juice, coconut oil, turmeric.
Kapha digestion – looks at food and puts on weight, always hungry or eats without hunger, food provides emotional crux. Use hot and uplifting spices: ginger, garlic, chillies, black pepper, hing, more chillies, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, clove.
- Byrne, E.M. (2019). The relationship between insomnia and complex diseases—insights from genetic data. Genome Medicine, 11(1).
- Shokri-Kojori, E., Wang, G.-J., Wiers, C.E., Demiral, S.B., Guo, M., Kim, S.W., Lindgren, E., Ramirez, V., Zehra, A., Freeman, C., Miller, G., Manza, P., Srivastava, T., De Santi, S., Tomasi, D., Benveniste, H. and Volkow, N.D. (2018). β-Amyloid accumulation in the human brain after one night of sleep deprivation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, [online] 115(17), pp.4483–4488. Available at: https://www.pnas.org/content/115/17/4483.