It was once said to me by a long time herbalist and the co-founder of Herb Pharm, Ed Smith, that food is the most important medicine. Beyond teas, tonics, elixirs, and all of the supplements you could ingest, food is what is on your plate three meals a day for the rest of your life.
That’s 1,095 meals in a year.
In 80 years, that’s 87,600 meals.
Can you see the implications on your overall health and wellbeing if you do not take the time to nourish yourself by eating in a proper manner, with food that is suitable to your innate constitution? Paying attention to the grub you put into your body is a critical part of showing up as your best self so you can make the difference you in the world that you intend to.
Food can either be medicine or poison, depending on the type of food you eat, the "dose", when and how it is ingested, the method of preparation, and so on. To support you in ensuring that your food is your medicine, I've put together a few Ayurvedic tips for maintaining a healthy digestive fire.
Just remember that the body is the biggest source of knowledge, so invite you take the following information with a grain of salt, and trust your own innate wisdom.
Eat the appropriate amount
Overeating, emotional eating, and snacking are the three biggest enemies to healthy digestion. I encourage you to learn the signals of your body for when it is hungry, and when it is full, and to respect these as the “guide posts” for the appropriate intake of food.
It is suggested in Ayurveda that an individual takes the two hands and cups them together as a measurement for food, water, and air at each meal. One should consume one “hand cupful” of food, one of water, and one of air (the air means to leave space for digestion to occur, since fire needs air to breathe).
Eat at the right times
In order for the body to give the signal that it is truly hungry, there needs to be space in between meal times for digestion to occur, the meal to be processed, and the body to then be ready to receive more nourishment. In addition, it is best to eat your biggest meal between the times of 10 am and 2 pm, and your lightest meal in the evening before dark.
Eat to nourish, not to soothe
Eating is one of the first learned activities that soothed us in troubled times, and therefore can have a great deal of momentum in this regard. It is often that we turn towards food when we are bored, sad, lonely, or even happy. Be gentle on yourself and pay attention when and why you eat, if only to gather information.
Before you take a bit, take a moment to check in, see if you are actually hungry, come back to your physical body, and breathe. If you aren’t hungry, don’t eat. If you are, do. Either way, no need to judge even if you do find you are emotionally eating; it takes time to break habits.
Eat with all of your senses – even your sense of gratitude!
Healthy digestion begins before the actual act of eating occurs. It starts with engaging your senses, starting with the eyes, the first glance at the food you are about to ingest. As such, presentation is key! It is no big thing to cut up the cilantro in a way that adorns your bowl of soup, so why not do it?
The next step is smelling your food. Take a few moments, breathe deep, and take the aromas in deep.
Finally, give gratitude for the land, the farmers, and the hard working hands who brought it to you. Finally, enjoy your meal!
Eat with these additional tips from Ayurveda in mind:
- Take small sips of warm water during a meal is supportive to keeping the fire alive that is necessary to burn the fuel (food) you put on the flames. Too much or too little water before or after a meal, especially cold water, disrupts the digestive system.
- Consume an even balance of heavy and light foods, but limit eating cooked food and raw food together at the same time.
- Only eat fruit by itself – never with other foods, especially food that is cooked.
- Chew your food well. Your stomach doesn’t have teeth!
- Eat some ginger to stimulate your digestive fire before a meal, or, take some digestive bitters. Any bitter herb will do, even if it is just gnawing on a dandelion leaf!
- Consume plenty of herbs that increase Agni (digestive fire). These herbs include clove, fennel, star anise, all spice, coriander, cumin, black pepper. All of these herbs, mostly heating in nature will enhance the digestive fire, however have a net effect of reducing inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
- To rectify imbalanced digestion, make yourself an infusion of mint, chamomile, linden, fennel, calendula, marshmallow, and licorice. You can use dried or fresh herbs, blend them to taste and make a tea. Boil the marshmallow and licorice root, then add the aerial parts of plant and allow the tea to simmer. I would suggest more mint, chamomile and linden than the others. Rule of thumb: if it smells good, it will be good (straight across the board). A pinch of honey and lemon never hurts!
Finally, check out these excellent books to further your education on the topic of food as medicine!
- Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon
- Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-healing, Usha and Vasant Lad
- The Revolution will not be Microwaved, Sandor Ellix Katz
- Wild Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz
Remember, digestion is the main pillar of your health and wellness. Take care that you eat real food; connect with your local farmers; seek resources of good cookbooks and nourish yourself.
Take it one meal at a time.
Our food is our medicine.
By Julie MacAdam, creative artist, yoga teacher, body worker, and lover of the earth.