An Ayurvedic approach to digestion centres around the concept of the digestive fire, known as ‘agni’. Agni refers to the digestive system’s ability to digest food – the equivalent of digestive enzymes. Those with a strong agni usually have larger appetites and don’t have difficulty digesting food, however those with a weaker agni may find themselves having to consume small amounts to avoid feeling bloated. These tips should aid in balancing agni and promote optimal digestion.
Tongue scrape: digestion starts with ingestion, so make sure you’re not ingesting bacteria – whilst we sleep the body expels bacteria which accumulates on the tongue, so it’s important to remove this immediately upon rising so that it does not reenter the body. Furthermore, tongue scraping activates saliva production which promotes agni. A stainless steel tongue scraper (don’t buy the branded plastic ones sold by toothbrush brands!) is one of the best investments you’ll make for your health, and should be available for a couple of dollars at discount stores or online.
Eat according to the season: although looking at instagram foodies achieving ‘health’ can seem like constantly having to pile in raw salads, green juices and ‘nana icecream’ regardless of the weather, this isn’t optimal for digestion in autumn and winter. Raw foods do have their place, cooked foods are often easier to digest – cooking is a primary step in the digestion process, and does some of the work the digestive fire would otherwise have to do. The heat aids in breaking down complex fat, protein and carbohydrate structures which when eating food raw our body would have to do itself. You don’t have to cut out raw foods completely (I’m a big believer in the power of raw foods, and am a raw desserts fiend!), however during the cooler months, your body will naturally crave and enjoy cooked foods and find them easier to digest – just make sure not to overcook meals, vegetables should still retain their colour!
Don’t drink cold water! (or other drinks): cold drinks are popular with many as they can feel refreshing, however they negatively impact digestion. Cold beverages douse the digestive fire and reduce agni from a healthy flame to a lull. Favour room temperature, warm or hot beverages which will work with the digestive system rather than against it, such as warm water, herbal teas, and lemon and ginger water.
Eat mindfully: these days we eat on the run, in front of the TV, walking around the kitchen etc. whilst eating on the go is sometimes unavoidable, when possible sit down in a peaceful place to eat (either alone or with friends/family), chew your food, and be aware of what you’re eating. Avoid emotional eating, or eating when angry or upset – negative emotions directly affect our biochemistry and in turn our quality of digestion.
When to eat: agni is associated with the sun, and just like the sun the digestive fire is strongest from 12-2pm; so it’s best to eat the largest meal (lunch) at this time. Breakfast should be a little smaller than lunch, with dinner being the lightest meal of the day as agni is weaker in the evening.
Eat when hungry: the main sign that the previous meal has been digested is the feeling of hunger. Pay attention to your hunger cues to determine whether it’s really hunger or just boredom or emotional eating. Don’t eat before your previous meal has been digested as it strains the digestive system (usually takes around 2.5hours to fully digest a meal).
Lemon and ginger tea: lemon and ginger are amazing for increasing agni, so sip it as a tea during the day or chew some fresh lemon and ginger before meals.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV): ACV aids in increasing the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which promotes proper digestion of food and assimilation of nutrients. Take 3-4tbsp of ACV in the morning before breakfast (can dilute it with water if the taste is too strong).