One of the most important concepts of Ayurveda is that of the Agni, or digestive fire, in the body. It is believed that in order to achieve optimal health, one must have a healthy, robust Agni (digestive fire). In contrast, a low digestive fire is thought to be the root cause of toxic build-up and disease.
Beginning to establish some of these guidelines listed below is a great first step in increasing the digestive force and burning toxins from the system. Each week or two, take 2-3 of these “Ayurvedic food rules” and welcome them into your daily routine. Once these are established, try to incorporate a few more until they all become a regular part of your mealtime rituals.
“You are only as old as your Agni” Dr. Vasant Lad
Top 10 Ayurvedic Food Rules to Boost Digestion
1. Eat your biggest meal midday.
Although this seems backward to us in America, it actually makes perfect sense. The digestive fire, like the sun, is at its strongest point this time of day and will be better fit to digest a large meal. Meat, dairy, heavy grains, and other heavy foods should be taken at this time only, as the dinner should contain much lighter foods and smaller portions.
2. Create a consistent routine for your eating schedule.
This means that you should eat three meals a day, at regular times, consistently each day.
A typical schedule may look like this:
- 7-9 am: Breakfast
- 12-1 pm: Lunch (remember this should be the largest meal of the day)
- 5-6 pm Dinner
Regulating your meals each day not only brings some consistency to your daily routine but also will get the digestive juices flowing strong, as they will be preparing for the meal before the food even comes. This practice will help regulate your digestion, balance your emotions and keep you energized throughout the day!
3. Just say NO to iced beverages!
In Ayurveda, the intake of iced beverages is considered to be detrimental to digestion. The thought behind this is that you are literally putting out the digestive fire with these cold liquids while shocking the system. Also, the cold quality is quite constricting and will inhibit the flow of essential digestive enzymes and food, creating blockages and stagnation in the GI tract.
In contrast, sipping warm water throughout the day not only increases digestion but also helps to flush out unwanted toxins throughout the body. If this sounds boring to you, add a little fresh lemon juice and honey and enhance the digestive fire even greater while creating a tasty treat!
4. Make meals your meditation.
Did you know it is not only what you eat that is important, but HOW you eat it? Eating should be made a sacred time of the day when you get to sit down, relax and bring awareness to yourself and your food. If possible try to find a quiet place and avoid excessive conversation, television, computers, loud music, and even reading at this time. This should be made a time to observe, savor and appreciate each bite of food as you eat.
By doing this practice, you allow yourself to not only relax a little during your busy day, but you also allow digestion to be at its best. The digestive enzymes will be able to flow freely and you will create the time and space to realize when fullness comes.
So the next time you find yourself eating in the car, at work, or on the phone, remember this message and bring some meditation to your meals!!!
5. Spice up your life.
Ayurveda offers a wide variety of options when it comes to digestion-promoting spices. These culinary spices are a great way to add some variety to your meals while also possessing many hidden healing properties.
Warming spices such as cumin, turmeric, ginger, fennel, fenugreek, coriander, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and black pepper are great for sparking the digestive fire (Agni), burning toxins, and warding off signs of indigestion, such as gas and bloating. They can be added to any meal such as soups, stews, smoothies, rice dishes, quinoa dishes, meat dishes, stir-fries, veggie sautés, kitchari, dal, porridge, and oatmeal.
6. Hooray for Yoga!
With innumerable health benefits such as increasing circulation, massaging vital organs, detoxifying the body, and detoxifying the mind, you can see why the practice of Yoga will also increase your digestive force. And don’t worry, you do not need to be able to touch your toes or do a perfect backbend to reap the benefits of this science. There are countless modifications for each posture to make them appropriate for each body type and level of experience.
Twisting postures and forward folds are best done prior to food intake to ignite the Agni (digestive fire) and get the digestive juices flowing. On the other hand, reclined postures will be more appropriate after food intake, as they allow space for all the vital organs to work freely and reduce any tension or constriction that may be causing obstruction in the GI tract.
7. Add a little ghee to each meal.
Ghee, also known as clarified butter, is highly revered and has been used medicinally in Ayurveda for thousands of years. It stimulates the Agni (digestive fire) and increases both the absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Ghee contains anti-aging properties and is used as a rejuvenative in Ayurveda, working to deeply nourish the body on a cellular level. It enhances energy, immunity, memory, and intellect. Ghee is even used to aid in cleanses, as it works to lubricate the tissues and pull out deep-rooted toxins in the body.
If you would like to add ghee to your diet, it’s quite simple. It is recommended to consume about a teaspoon per meal (avoid more than 3 teaspoons daily) and can be a replacement for butter or oil in any recipe. Proceed with caution however, if you have high Kapha, are overweight, or are experiencing high cholesterol, then ghee should be avoided until balance has been established long-term.
8. Take a short walk after each meal.
Did you know that one of the worst habits to practice is to lie down after a meal? This greatly impedes digestion by squishing the GI tract and creating a sluggish descent for the ingested food. This in turn causes indigestion, leading to low metabolism and toxic build-up.
On a positive note, one of the most helpful ways to increase your digestive force is to take a short walk after each meal. This practice will help get the food moving along while increasing your metabolic rate and strengthening your digestive fire. This is also extremely helpful in regulating your blood sugar levels and controlling blood sugar spikes.
Taking 2-3 short walks each day will indeed help the physical body remain healthy, but you will also notice an increase in your mental health. Exercise, including walking, helps to release mood-enhancing hormones and boost confidence levels. So increase your digestion, metabolism, and mental happiness with this simple daily practice!
9. Avoid overeating!
This may seem obvious, but even the obvious things need reminding at times.
When you overeat you are greatly over-taxing the digestive tract by forcing too much food at once, causing clogged channels, indigestion, and toxic buildup. Due to the lack of enzymes available and excessive acids being released, overeating can lead to gas, bloating, acid reflux, and general colic and discomfort. When done on a consistent basis, the stomach lining will begin to stretch out leading to the need for more food to feel that feeling of satisfaction. This in turn continues the overeating cycle, causing weight gain and a slow, sluggish digestive fire (Agni).
When eating, make sure to leave at least 1/3 of your stomach empty to allow movement for the digestive process. This in turn will keep your digestive fire strong and robust and leave you feeling energized, rather than sleepy, after meals.
10. Avoid improper food combinations.
One of the greatest contributors to poor digestion, accumulated toxins, and numerous diseases is the consistent habit of improper food combinations. Each type of food group has its own specific enzymes needed to break down that particular food, as well as a specific time frame that will be needed to complete its digestion. When you begin the mixing of food that possesses different time and enzyme needs, confusion arises leading to undigested food, gas, bloating, fermentation, sluggish metabolism, and toxicity.
And for those that want a little extra credit. . .
11. Take a digestive “appetizer” before meals.
One of the most effective ways to ignite your digestive fire and boost metabolism is to take a digestive aid directly before eating. This may include a potent digestive tea such as my Healthy Digestion Tea, Detox Tea, or CCF Tea (get my recipe here); or it may involve taking an herbal formula (churna) such as Trikatu Churna. There are also many digestive tinctures and syrups available that lend a hand. In fact, when time is short or supplies limited, you can simply slice a fresh piece of ginger and chew it down for an instant (and powerful) Agni (digestive fire) awakening!
Whatever you choose, make sure it is something that you can take easefully whether on the go, at work, or at home. You may choose to carry your Digestive Tonic Tincture or Agni Elixir when at work or on the go, and have a digestive tea at home when time permits. You can mix and match, but no matter your preference, if you are experiencing ongoing digestive distress, I recommend taking a digestive aid about 15 to 30 minutes before each meal—consistently.
According to Ayurveda, a weak or imbalanced digestive fire (Agni) is one of the main root causes of all diseases. If you are experiencing symptoms of digestive imbalance of any kind (e.g. gas, bloating, leaky gut, GI inflammation, hyperacidity, constipation, loose stools, etc), it is essential for your overall health to strengthen your Agni in order to achieve optimal clarity, energy, and vitality. With these “simple” diet, lifestyle, and herbal remedies, you can begin to establish digestive health one step at a time!