Ayurvedic Advice

Lifestyle: How to maximize digestion for optimal health

By Reenita Malhotra Hora

Originally published in Skin Deep, February/March 2005.

Digestive disorders plague an estimated 100 million Americans and can lead to compromised health throughout the body, often manifesting in skin issues. In her new book, Inner Beauty (Chronicle Books, 2005), Reenita Malhotra Hora explores the ancient medical system of Ayurveda and its applications for achieving balance inside and out. Following is an excerpt.

Our constitution, or dosha, is affected by not just our food intake, but also by how we eat — how we feel when we eat and how long we take to have a meal, even when we snack. Follow the simple principles below to ensure optimal digestion.

1. Maintain a state of calm while eating. Eating under stressful circumstances turns your body into a pressure cooker, causing fermentation of the food in your digestive tract. This causes toxins to be absorbed into the bloodstream and even creates gas.

2. Condition yourself to drinking water that is slightly warm or at room temperature, rather than ice cold, as this dampens the “digestive fire.” Avoid any water right before your meal; it is better to have water between meals. If possible, have two warm glasses of water upon rising and a glass of warm water or herbal tea following meals.

3. Chew your foods completely, without rushing. Foods that are not completely chewed and broken down in the mouth make for harder work for the stomach.

4. Make lunch the largest meal of the day. Digestive power is strongest when the sun shines directly overhead, so lunch should be your main meal, as foods have the best chance of being most efficiently digested.

5. Eat nutritious or whole foods. Canned or overprocessed foods that have lost their color and flavor will have also lost their nutritional value. Also be careful how much you cook your fresh foods, especially vegetables. Select foods that are whole and organic.

6. Adjust food quantities according to your dosha. Vata types [small-boned types with dry, thin, translucent skin and cold extremities] have a smaller food intake capacity but a more rapid metabolism. They often need four to five smaller meals in a day. Pitta types [those with oily, patchy skin, thinner hair, and prone to feeling hot and irritable] have a strong metabolism and do well with three regular meals in a day. Kapha types [heavier and stable types with cool, moist, spongy skin and thick hair] have a slow metabolism and should eat two to three meals in a day and avoid snacking.

7. Do not eat until after you have digested your previous meal. Eating too soon causes bloating, acidity, and gas.

8. Eat sensible portions. At each meal, the volume of our food should equal about two handfuls.

9. Follow your meal with digestives (an Indian tradition). Make your own from equal parts of sesame seeds, whole cumin seeds, and fennel seeds, and keep the mix in a jar in a cool, dry place.