Rachel Spillane is an Ayurvedic Practitioner, Yoga Teacher and Board Member of the Colorado Ayurvedic Medical Association. Her practice, Saraswati Ayurveda, aims to empower women with knowledge, tools and support for their wellness journey. She offers Ayurvedic consultations and wellness coaching (from anywhere in the world), Panchakarma, Yoga and the Heal Your Gut online course.She loves veggie tacos, gardening and spending time in nature with her husband and two dogs.
In Ayurveda, digestion is everything. Long before modern medicine confirmed the importance of gut health, Ayurvedic wisdom told us that disease begins and ends in the gut. Your digestion, or agni, is the key to optimum health. Read on for five tips for a happy, healthy gut.
Think of your digestion as a campfire. You’ll keep the fire burning strong by consuming food and drinks that are room temperature or warmer. Cold foods are harder to digest and can aggravate vata dosha. Cold drinks actually halt the digestive process and de-nature your digestive enzymes. You wouldn’t pour coconut oil down your drain because it clogs when cold. Your digestion is no different!
So what does this mean for your morning smoothie? Try it room temperature. Frozen fruits + veggies + protein is a challenging combination to digest. Improperly combined foods weaken the digestive fire and lead to the accumulation of ama or toxins. Fruit is best enjoyed on it’s own. So keep it simple with fewer, fresh ingredients like blueberries + almond milk. Or try a carrot cake smoothie with carrots + vanilla protein powder and cinnamon.
Timing is everything! Contrary to popular belief, snacking does not promote a strong metabolism but actually weakens the digestive fire. We must allow adequate time for one meal to be fully digested before adding more food to the system. Space meals at least 3-4 hours apart for optimum digestion. Eat fruit 1 hour before or two hours after a meal. Eating too frequently means that nothing is properly digested and this leads to the formation of ama, leading to gas, bloating or burping.
Your digestive fire follows the rhythm of the sun so it is strongest at midday. Plan to eat your largest meal at lunch or brunch to take advantage or strong digestive capacity. Digestion weakens later in the day so enjoy a lighter, earlier dinner such as veggie soup.
How you eat is just as important as what you eat! Eating mindfully and in a relaxed environment promotes proper digestion. When we eat on the go or in a stressed state, our body doesn’t digest the food. So we need to switch out of ‘fight or flight’ and into ‘rest and digest’ mode. Try closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths before your meal. Focus on your food and limit distractions – no scrolling or multi-tasking. Chew your food really well! Fifty percent of digestion occurs in your mouth. Aim for 20-30 bites per mouthful. And most importantly, enjoy your food. Embrace your choices and indulge guilt-free. A meal that is cooked with love and enjoyed in good company will be digested well.
Focus on fresh, seasonal and local produce. Each season, nature provides the medicine that we need. In springtime, bitter and astringent greens are abundant, helping to balance excess kapha dosha. Enjoy dandelion greens and sprouts. Limit heavy, oily and sweet foods. In summer, sweet, juicy fruits help cool off pitta. Food that is frozen, packaged or processed is hard to digest and lacks prana.
Seasonal and local foods are best for your gut microbiome. The microbes in the soil change with each season. These ‘gut bugs’ help your microbiome adjust to the change of season and to digest the foods that we eat. By eating seasonal and local produce, you’ll get the good gut bugs you need. Buy organic, wash gently and keep the peels on for best results.
Add digestive herbs for a boost. No amount of supplements will fix a poor diet but sometimes we need a little extra support. Traditional Ayurvedic herbs like Triphala may gently detoxify the gut and strengthen your agni. Triphala is a blend of three fruits – amlaki, bibhitaki and haritaki; one for each of the three doshas. Taken at bedtime, triphala cleanses and restores a healthy gut environment.
Psyllium husk or sat isabgol is another trusted remedy for gut health. Bad gut bacteria can build up bio-film along the intestinal walls. Psyllium helps to gently scrape away this film and any accumulated toxins; boosting digestion and absorption. It’s high fiber content also helps to stabilize blood sugar, making it an important supplement in maintaining a healthy weight.
Other traditional digestive herbs include turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander and fennel. Added to your cooking or taken as tea, these cleanse away ama, boost digestion and absorption. While all of these remedies are gentle and safe, it’s important to consult a practitioner before taking herbs.
Give any of these five tips a try and you’ll surely experience strong digestion, glowing skin, less stress and more energy!