Creating Health Bite by Bite: The Wonders of Diet and Digestion

The process of eating and digesting is a wondrous thing. It is magic. It is alchemy. Ayurveda acknowledges this. In our Western culture the process of eating has become mindless or, at best, a form of entertainment. Too often as we eat we watch TV, have meetings or socialize or, worse, we eat standing or on the run. The consequences of this disconnection to the process of eating and digestion are seen in the growing prevalence of problems such as malabsorption, irritable bowel, food sensitivities, bloating, gastritis, indigestion/heartburn, and excess gas. It also leads to lowered immunity. Before opting for a flu shot this winter, think about fine-tuning your eating habits.

There is an ancient Ayurvedic proverb: “Without proper diet, medicine is of no use. With proper diet, medicine is of no need.” When we think of proper diet we need to think not just of what we eat but also how we eat and how we support our ability to digest and assimilate what we have eaten.

Let’s think about what happens when we eat. We take in vegetables, grains, and animal products and we transmute those materials into their fundamental components in a form that our cells can assimilate. From that we create tissues, organs, bones, and fluids. We eat a tomato and turn it into a heart. We are recreating ourselves everyday through a process to which we give little to no thought or attention.

According to Ayurveda, food is a tiny package of intelligence. The reason we eat is to extract and assimilate that intelligence. If digestion is incomplete or if we eat food that is essentially devoid of intelligence, we are deprive ourselves of the basic building blocks needed to create healthy balanced physiologies. What is the secret of good health? Choosing the right diet and maintaining a strong digestion. Everything else is icing on the cake. If you are looking to avoid colds and flues during the winter, if you are trying to avoid binge eating, if you are looking for more energy and focus, the answer may simply be to elevate eating to a position of proper respect and priority.

Let’s look at these two aspects of creating health.

Digestion

Ayurveda focuses on enhancing digestion so that we are able to get the most from the food we eat. Below are some general guidelines. However, if your digestion is compromised, you may benefit from an Ayurveda consultation in which individualized recommendations can be given to address your specific doshic imbalance and state of balance.

Eat only when hungry—when your digestive fire is strong. If you do not feel hungry, try eating a small slice of ginger with salt as you first sit down. This stimulates the digestive process.

Avoid cold foods and cold drinks while eating or immediately after meals. These will “douse the fire of digestion”.

Eat in a settled and quiet atmosphere. Avoid the telephone, television, reading material, and over-stimulating conversation during meals.

Avoid eating when upset.

Avoid eating when standing (or walking).

Savor each mouthful and chew your food well. When you chew your food, your body releases digestive enzymes in the stomach that help to break down the food. Saliva also contains digestive enzymes, so the longer you chew, the more time these enzymes have to start breaking down food, making digestion easier. When large particles of improperly chewed food enter your stomach, they may remain undigested when they enter your intestines. This may lead to gas, bloating, constipation, cramping and other digestive problems.

Eat until you are satisfied—but not full. Avoid overeating.  Leave room in your stomach for the digestive process to take place.

Sip small amounts room temperature or hot water during your meal.

After you are finished, sit quietly for at least 5 minutes. Don’t immediately jump up from the table.

Healthy Foods

The food you eat should contain lively intelligence. Processed food, canned and packaged foods are essentially “dead”. Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fresh dairy products can provide the intelligence your body needs to build healthy tissues every day.

Choose organic foods, when possible, so that you are not introducing harmful chemicals into your body. In addition, studies have shown that organic foods contain between 20 to 40% more antioxidant activity than conventional foodstuffs. These antioxidant compounds, which go by names like carotenoids and flavonoids, protect cells from the effects of aging and from the sort of damage that can lead to cancer.

Food without intelligence or heavy foods such as meat and fried foods tax the body’s digestion capabilities and end up creating ama in the body. Ama blocks the body’s channels of communication and delivery. Thus as well as not supplying your body with needed intelligence, these foods end up blocking other sources of intelligence from reaching your cells.

For more information on gastritis, constipation and other digestive disorders or to schedule a consultation, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa website:

www.theraj.com

Foods for Life

Along with increasing hours of sunlight and rising temperatures, spring brings an abundance of colors and options in the produce aisles. This is the area of the grocery store where indulgence is encouraged! A 2014 study found that eating seven or more servings of fruit and vegetables can extend life expectancy “a staggering 42%”. And, not surprisingly, the report found that fresh vegetables extend life more effectively than canned. The paper, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, concluded that the more fruits and vegetables we eat, the less likely we are to die at any age.

spring-veggies

This brings us to the on-going question of raw vs. cooked vegetables. Ayurveda’s main text, the Charak Samhita, recommends primarily cooked foods because cooking increases the element of agni that is essential for the assimilation of nutrients and their transformation into the bodily tissues. The higher proportion of nutrients available in raw food is useless if the food can’t be digested, absorbed and assimilated. In order to choose the best option for your physiology, it is helpful to understand your state of doshic balance and imbalance, the strength of your digestion, and to take into account seasonal influences.

In general, those of with Pitta, or Pitta/Kapha body types who do not have a significant Vata imbalance can handle raw foods in their diet, especially in the late spring and summer seasons. This is because the element of “fire” or “agni” is very lively in their constitutions and they benefit from a cooling diet.

The overly cold, dry, light qualities of raw foods, however, may create problems for anyone with a severe Vata imbalance. They may find an increase in symptoms of abdominal gas, bloating, constipation, worry and anxiety, and dryness. Those wishing to balance or counter Vata imbalances do better with a diet that is warm, moist and easily digestible.

Those with Kapha imbalances may find that the cold nature of raw foods leads to allergies, sinus problems or asthma.

One solution for those who prefer raw foods but lack a strong Pitta component is to enjoy raw juices. Juicing or blending with “super blenders” that basically pulverize foods allows you to break down the cellulose the surrounds the outer layer of fruit and vegetable molecules, thus allowing you to derive optimum nutritional benefits.

If you are adding raw foods to your diet, here are some tips that can help you to maintain a healthy digestive fire:

Sip small quantities of warm water with your meals

Never include ice-cold foods or drinks with your meal. Allow refrigerated foods to come to room temperature before eating.

Try eating a slice of ginger, topped with a pinch of salt and lemon juice, about 15 minutes before your meal. This will increase the element of fire or agni and will help improve digestion and the assimilation of nutrients

Add a bit of fresh lemon or lime juice to whatever you are eating

Adding organic olive oil to salads will help counter the drying property of raw foods

Next week we’ll look at which vegetables offer more nutritional value when they have been cooked and which offer more nutritional value when eaten raw.

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Ayurveda for Effective Weight Loss

There are many factors involved in becoming overweight and in deciding what is the most effective means of reversing that condition.

Your Appropriate Weight

Ayurveda recognizes that there are different healthy weights and builds for different people. By genetic nature, some people will have heavier builds than others. Heavy-built individuals are still healthy at weights that might be considered unhealthy for individuals with a genetically lighter constitution.

During an Ayurvedic consultation one of the first steps is to use the technique of pulse assessment to determine a person’s “body type”. This understanding of body type is important as too often the ideal body size image portrayed by the media and advertising is not natural or even healthy for a particular individual.

Root Imbalances at the Basis of Overweight Conditions

There can be many factors creating the overweight condition, and it is important to determine which ones are predominant in each individual. For example, people often assume that weight gain is created by an imbalance in Kapha. In fact, many times the underlying imbalance is that of either Vata or Pitta. It is important to identify these underlying factors in order to begin a successful program to create balance.

regime-pour-maigrir

Proper Diet

Dietary knowledge is a foundation of the Ayurveda approach. Knowing your body type and level of balance and imbalance helps provide an understanding of which foods to favor and avoid. In general, “avoid” foods are foods that are hard to digest, clogging to the physiology and heavy in nature. As a general rule, those looking to lose weight should favor foods that are easy to digest, help cleanse the physiology, strengthen digestion and balance metabolism.

Creating Strong Digestion

Our ability to digest food is as important as what we eat. Incompletely digested foods create toxins and impurities that are eventually absorbed, travel throughout the physiology, and localize in the tissues, disrupting their function. This process is at the basis of a wide variety of complications in the overweight condition.

Preventing Toxic Build-Up

It is one thing for extra tissue and structure to accomulate in the body. When the accumulation includes damaging toxins, the serious effects of being overweight begin. According to Ayurveda, almost every major disease condition, from arthritis to allergies to cardiovascular disease, is caused by the buildup of toxins in the tissues and by blockages in circulation.

This is why an Ayurvedic weight loss program will include purification treatments as well as dietary and herbal recommendations and life-style changes.

Panchakarma Detoxification and Rejuvenation Therapy

The most powerful treatments for removing toxins and opening the channels of circulation are the traditional detoxification treatments of Ayurveda, Panchakarma. The daily combination of Ayurveda massage, heat and internal cleansing therapies provide a deeply powerful cleansing for the entire body.

Stress Management

Many individuals experience that improper eating habits and craings are worsened by heightened stress, anxiety and mental fatigue. It is common to find that accumulated stress and mental imbalance drive the eating behavior at the basis of overweight conditions.

Learning the Transcendental Mediation technique provides a simple and effective tool to remove the mental and stress components of the overweight condition

Proper Lifestyle and Daily Routine

One of the most important factors for balancing digestion and keeping our natural cleansing processes strong is to have a lifestyle that does not disturb natural bodily rhythms. When we eat, sleep and exercise in constantly fluctuation patterns, the body loses its natural balancing cycles and can not digest, cleanse or heal itself as effectively. Therefore, regularity in our daily routine can be extremely important in maintaining a healthy, balance physiology.

For more information on consultation, panchakarma treatments or The Raj Weight Loss Program, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Center:

www.theraj.com

Ayurvedic Summer Recipes

One of the delights of summer is the joyful abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables tumbling off the grocery shelves. According to Ayurveda, sweet fruits and bitter greens help pacify Pitta dosha.  According to the scientific community (and our own common sense) they also protect us from falling ill. A recent international research study conducted by the University of Adelaide found that people who consumed a diet high in fruit, vegetables and certain grains had a lower risk of developing not just one but multiple chronic conditions including anemia, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, arthritis, hepatitis, coronary heart disease, asthma, stroke, fracture and cancer. The study found that people who eat a higher amount of fruit are less likely to develop any chronic disease, while a high intake of vegetables helps prevent people with one chronic disease from developing a second.

So pile your plate high with these health-creating foods! Here are a few fun summer recipes to try out:

Asparagus and /or carrots with lemon-herb sauce

Steam your chosen amounts of asparagus and/or carrots to the point where they are asparagus-and-carrots“fork-friendly”. This means a bit more than al dente but not soft or mushy. Then pour the following lemon-herb sauce over the vegetables.

Lemon-Herb Sauce

Juice one lemon. Add a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of honey (use only unheated honey). Mix together in a blender with a few leaves of fresh basil and mint. Puree until smooth.

Cucumber Raita

This side dish goes well with dal, rice, curries and other Indian dishes.

Combine in a mixing bowl:

1 cup fresh yogurt

1/4 cup cucumber (peel and dice finely_

1 tablespoon ginger root, peeled and grated

1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro (the leaves of the coriander plant)

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

salt to taste

Cooling Mint Tea

mata-peprna-pouziti1 cup fresh peppermint leaves

1 quart boiling water

1 quart room temperature water

2 teaspoons sweetener

Pour the quart of boiling water over the mint leaves. Cover and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain the tea into a pitcher or glass jar. Add cool water sweeteners. If you are adding honey, make sure the water has cooled down first. This is a great drink for aiding digestion. Drink at room temperature for maximum assimilation. Remember that iced and chilled drinks dampen our digestive fires, making it difficult to properly digest our food.

Dandelion Salad

If your lawn is full of dandelions, stop complaining and start picking. Dandelions are one of the most nutrient-dense plants you can eat. Their leaves, when young and tender, have a slightly bitter taste like arugula. The older the pant, the more bitter the greens. Before you start picking, be sure that the yard in which the dandelions are growing has not been treated with chemicals.

1 cup dandelion greens, washed and dried

8 large leaves of butter lettuce, washed and dried

1/2 cup feta cheese or goat cheese, chopped or crumbled.

Dressing

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/8 cup olive oil

sweetener to taste (just a bit is needed)

1 tomato chopped

fresh basil

fresh ground black pepper to taste

Boiling the dandelion greens is better for older, larger leaves as it removes their bitterness. Some even recommend boiling the older greens twice: once for 2 minutes, drain and boil again for 2 minutes.

For information on consultations with Ayurveda experts or to take a dosha quiz and discover your individual mind/body type, visit The Raj, Ayurveda Health Spa:

www.theraj.com

( Picture of the asparagus and carrots. Source: Google Advance Image Search.
Creative Commons. The image is used under the terms of Googles Creative Commons rules:http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en. This photograph and credit do not constitute an endorsement of this blog or products mentioned.)

 

( Picture of the mint tea. Source: Google Advance Image Search.
Creative Commons. The image is used under the terms of Googles Creative Commons rules:http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en. This photograph and credit do not constitute an endorsement of this blog or products mentioned.)