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Did you know that 74% of Americans are experiencing some form of digestive distress? With optimal digestion being the driver of a healthy immune system, balanced moods, steady energy, stable blood sugar, and strong vitality, this is a very disturbing statistic! (1)
Tip #1: Eat Three (Not Six) Meals A Day!
Eating six meals a day never gives the body a reason to burn its fat reserves. If you eat six meals a day, the body becomes dependent on eating every 2-3 hours, which overworks the digestive system, which is also the detoxification system, and further de-conditions the body’s need to burn fat. Think about it! Why should the body burn stored fat when it is fed every 2-3 hours? The fact is, it won’t, and over time, the body will continue to burn the readily available food from meals and leave the fat as a stored fuel. This kind of fat burning is not about weight loss. Fat is an important source of fuel for the body, and many have lost the ability to digest and utilize it. When fat is burned, it is a stable, long-lasting, calming, non-emergency fuel. As a culture without the ability or reason to become good fat burners, the result is a population who craves sugar, carbs and stimulants!
Tip #2: Relax And Take Time To Eat Your Food
The digestive system is turned on by the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system engages in times of rest and relaxation – when the body is stress-free. Eating on the run or while stressed, activates the “fight or flight” nervous system, which literally turns off the ability to digest properly. (2) “Fight or flight” is a “run for your life” message, which is antithetical to a “sit down and dine” message! (2) Perhaps the most important digestive tip I can offer from Ayurveda is to sit down, relax, and put your awareness (and appreciation) on your food and the dining experience.
Tip #3: Eat In Season
In a recent blog, I reported on a story from the book, The Forest Unseen, in which the author describes the impact of a deer eating out of season. No kidding, the result of which could be a lethal case of indigestion. The microbiome is designed to make dramatic changes from one season to the next. This can only happen if we were to eat the foods harvested in each season. Seasonal foods carry specific seasonal microbes that amp up immunity, increase or decrease digestive strength, and create the perfect seasonal microbiome to thrive in each season. (3) See more on seasonal eating according to your body type in Tip #10.
Tip #4: Turn On Your Digestive Fire Before You Eat
Did you know that the digestion is triggered by the first thought, sight or scent of a meal? The digestive fire (hydrochloric acid or HCl) is required to be extremely strong in order to break down a plethora of hard-to-digest nutrients, proteins and toxins. In order for the stomach’s HCl production to be sufficient, it requires a variety of buffers. Feedback loops tell the stomach how safe it is to produce HCl and how strong to make it. The first buffer is a bicarbonate layer of cells that surrounds the stomach. These buffering cells are 80% water. If you drink a large glass of water 15-30 minutes before your meal, the water will pre-hydrate the buffer layer, sending a message to the stomach that it is OK to make some hydrochloric acid. Studies show that this alone supports healthy weight loss! (4)
FYI: Drinking that much water right before or during the meal can actually dilute the stomach acid, and therefore isn’t recommended.
Tip #5: Fiber Rules
Hunter-gatherers ate about 100 grams of fiber each day. (5) The average American gets about 20 grams per day. Fiber is the indigestible portion of a vegetable, so why do we need so much? First of all, the fiber escorts bile, which is loaded with toxins such as heavy metals, environmental pollutants, pesticides, and preservatives into the toilet – hooray! If there is insufficient fiber in the diet, up to 94% of the toxic bile could be reabsorbed back into the liver and blood. (1) Boooo! Secondly, fiber feeds a healthy microbiome, and research suggests that a gut with numerous diverse strains of beneficial microbes is ideal. Microbial diversity supports healthy immunity, stable moods, energy and blood sugar, strong bone density, increased vitality, and just about everything else! Your good microbes eat fiber, so try to get at least 50 grams a day.
Tip #6: Don’t Junk Up The Works!
Perhaps the most damaging ingredient that is found in just about everything is cooked, polyunsaturated fats. Basically, these are the vegetable oils found in just about every packaged food. Even most organic chips, crackers, energy bars, breads, and condiments are all loaded with these oils. Even if they are expeller-pressed, once they are cooked, they go rancid and become indigestible. Eating these oils (and all of us have been for the past 30-40 years) is like never cleaning the grease off of your stove-top – disgusting, right? The body doesn’t know what to do with it, so it ends up storing it in fats cells, congesting the gallbladder, the liver and/or the bile ducts.
Tip #7: Eat More Good Fat
Fats have been given a life sentence without a fair trial. Today, we know that the science linking cholesterol to heart disease was flawed. (6, 7) We were told for 60 years that saturated, or animal fats were evil, and to eat only unsaturated fats, which we now know are directly linked to heart disease – oops! Now, before you jump in and start pigging out on good fats such as butter, coconut oil and fatty meats, you must do the following three things. If not, you could overwhelm your liver and gallbladder, as they’ve no doubt become congested with years of eating bad fats.
- Avoid sugars to reduce the damaging effects of glycation.
- Exercise! Increase circulation.
- Remove bad fats from your diet, such as any refined, processed or cooked vegetable oils.
Tip #8: Avoid Sugars
There are two major sources of fuel for the body: fats and sugars. While we are genetically adapted to digest fats well, we have fallen prey to the allure of the sweet taste. Having been told that fats are bad for the past 60 years has only compounded and hastened our reliance on sugar as a primary fuel. Because of our insatiable desire for the sweet taste, farmers have been hybridizing fruits, grains and starches to be sweeter for centuries. (5) We have since seen that, when fats are replaced with sugars for energy, cravings, mood and energy swings, gas, bloating, and a host of other digestive issues become the norm.
Bottom line: avoid foods with added sugars or sweeteners.
Tip #9: Balance Your Meals
Much ado has been made over the glycemic index of foods lately, and for good reason! Organic, whole wheat bread has a high glycemic index in the 70 range, while white, refined table sugar has a glycemic index of 59! Yes, most bread contains grains that have been hybridized to surge sugar into the blood faster than the white powder itself! That said, if you eat a food with a high glycemic index, along with a food with a low glycemic index, it could offset the harm of the high glycemic index food to a certain extent. The overall glycemic index of a meal is called the glycemic load. This is how rice and beans, or eating starchy root vegetables along with some leafy greens and a protein source has fed humans successfully for a millennium.
Bottom line: balance your meals. Make an attempt to eat 1/2 of the plate as veggies, especially greens, 1/4 a healthy starch, and 1/4 a healthy protein. Add olive oil to foods as desired, and cook freely with butter, ghee, or coconut oil.
Tip #10: Eat For Your Body Type
The primary rule in Ayurveda regarding what to eat is to eat seasonal foods the best you can. Then, with an understanding of your body type, make some body type-specific dietary adjustments. If you do not know your Ayurvedic body type, please take our free interactive Body Type Questionnaire.
The three basic body types are vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth-water). The qualities of vata predominate in the winter, such as cold, dry, windy, brittle and rough. The qualities of pitta predominate in the summer, such as hot and dry, and the qualities of kapha predominate in the spring, such as wet, heavy and damp. Nature responds to these seasonal influences by providing foods for harvest that balance the extreme of each season. Warm, heavy, higher protein and fat foods are harvested in the winter to insulate against the coldness and dryness of winter. In the spring, leafy greens and bitter roots are harvested to help dry out spring’s congestive dampness, and the accumulated heaviness of winter foods. To offset the heat of summer, nature harvests cooling fruits and veggies.
The key to adjusting foods to the body type is not to let the qualities of vata, pitta or kapha over-accumulate; this is done by emphasizing the diet in the season of your body type. Vata types should emphasize winter foods in the winter, pitta types should emphasize summer foods in the summer, and kapha types should emphasize spring foods in the spring. For example, vata types have to be extra careful to eat more vata-balancing foods from LifeSpa’s Winter Grocery List in the winter. Pitta types need to eat more pitta-reducing foods found on our Summer Grocery List, and kapha types should emphasize kapha-reducing foods from our Spring Grocery List. Seasonal Grocery Lists can be printed for free here.