Gut health isn’t as complicated as it sounds. But a vast majority of people all over the world are plagued with stomach problems brought about by irritable or sluggish digestion, despite eating all the right stuff and exercising too. Why does this happen and what consequences can it bring about?
A Sluggish Gut
Thing is, even if you eat the best of diets, it can fail you if your body cannot digest and absorb the nutrients from your food. Along with this, if your body cannot eliminate toxins and waste, your health will suffer.
- The first symptom of poor digestion is an irritable tummy. All stomach issues related to poor digestion (aka cramps, pain, bloating, constipation, or frequent loose stools) mean your gut health is poor.
- Poor digestion means the cells of your body will not receive the fuel and nutrients they need to perform their basic functions and regenerate or repair. This happens because your digestive system is not able to absorb all the nutrients it should from food.
- If there are too many toxins in your body, your body will generate and store more fat to lock these toxins away or go into an all-out inflammatory mode. Since a poor gut cannot throw out waste and toxins properly, this snowballs into a bigger issue.
- Ultimately, this will all lead to fatigue, chronic digestive issues, autoimmune diseases, lowered immunity, slower metabolism, and weight gain.
Now, why does the gut become sluggish? Frankly, what you eat is only half of the story. According to Ayurveda, how you eat is the other half, meaning the more mindful you are of eating, the better your gut health will be. The whole approach to food needs to change for food to nourish you, rather than simply sustain you. Like Hippocrates said to let food be your medicine, it is the way you eat food that is key to a better, healthier, and happier gut.
1. Start Your Day With A Cleanse
There is a reason why going to the toilet is termed morning ablutions. If you clean your system out in the morning, you are effectively ridding it of toxins. Think of it as a bath, from the inside out. Digestion is effective as long as you manage to throw the waste out. The earlier you do this in the day, according to Ayurveda, the more efficient digestion you will have for the rest of the day. The normal toilet, according to Ayurveda, is the kind that happens at least once a day, preferably in the first hour of awakening.
2. The Importance Of Oral Hygiene
Ayurveda says digestion begins in the mouth—and it is 100% correct because it is in the mouth that food gets chewed into smaller particles. Saliva also contains many enzymes which begin to breakdown food particles into more basic nutrients. This is the reason why bread tastes sweet when chewed: the carbohydrates get broken down into sugar. So oral hygiene goes a long way in improving gut health. Brushing your teeth in the morning, along with cleansing your tongue and rinsing with warm water is ideal. If you have the time and the desire, oil pulling is also a great way to pacify vata, stoke agni, and be in better digestive health.
3. Hydrate Early
Drinking lemon and honey water in the morning (or just plain warm water) will hydrate you from the inside out. It will not only refresh you but also clear the digestive tract, refresh parched tissues, and improve gut health. It’s best to drink 1-2 glasses of warm water and wait for 10-20 minutes before you go for breakfast and that morning cuppa.
4. Eat Only When Hungry
Just because it is lunchtime or dinnertime doesn’t mean you should eat if your body is telling you it isn’t hungry. If your gut is telling you not to eat that pizza or indulge in a heavy meal, don’t. Grab fruit instead, or a bowl of steaming hot soup. When your stomach has digested everything in it, only then will it send you the signal to eat. And only then are its digestive enzymes strong enough to break down that food and give you good gut health. So if your body is asking you to skip a meal, skip it. Ayurveda prizes fasting as it gives the body a break, so if you are not feeling hungry enough, go on a detox day when all you eat are fruits and soups.
5. Be More Mindful While Eating
Very often we end up overeating because we are not paying attention to the flavors bursting on our tongue. Most of us eat while working or browsing through smartphones or watching the telly. So we eat too much, or all the wrong things. Try paying attention to the color, flavor, and texture of the food, and eat slower than you normally would. Chewing thoroughly also makes sure that the belly doesn’t have to work too hard in digesting the food the mouth should have done in the first place. After you have finished, give it another 10 minutes before you dive back to work. Take a stroll, sit in vajra-asana, or just breathe and do nothing to let the digestive fire work its magic.
6. Eat Your Largest Meal When The Sun Is At Peak
Ayurveda believes that your inner digestive fire, agni, is at its highest when the sun is at its highest. So eating your heaviest meal at midday is one way you get the best possible nutrition from your meal (as the Europeans do). There’s no need to skip dinner, but eating before the sun goes down is another Ayurvedic guideline—and remember to dine really light for dinner. Agni is at its lowest while you sleep so having a heavy dinner is making your digestion work overtime, and it will fare poorly for that.
7. Eat Freshly Cooked Food
For Ayurveda, leftovers are a no-go. Food should be prepared fresh, in accordance with the herbs and spices of the season, and should be consumed within an hour of being made—else it loses its prana (life force) and is more detrimental than nutritious for health. While this may not hold completely true in the age of refrigerators, there is a certain flavor about freshly cooked and served food. So try and eat fresh whenever you can, even if it cannot be always. And make only as much is needed so that there are no leftovers to be tackled later.
8. Stick To Seasonal & Local Ingredients
If you can grow your own stuff organically, Ayurveda approves. If not, source your produce from organic sources and farmer’s markets where you know it has been grown safely and in accordance with the season. Eating fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices that are the season’s specialties will go a long way in improving that gut health. Everything else isn’t as nutritious, and will not nourish your body as food should.
9. Sip Warm Water Throughout The Day
Honestly, I’m such a big fan of ice water all through the hot summer months that I find this point to be a challenge. But Ayurveda’s premise is simple—you need to drink the water that is closest to your body’s core temperature to keep the agni well and truly stoked. Cold water, especially during meals, is akin to dousing that fire and making digestion a far more taxing process for your body than it actually is. Sipping warm water through the day, flavored with herbs or spices like aniseed, basil, lemon, ginger, or mint is a good thing. Even if you need your daily fix of ice or cold water, don’t make it around meal times. And if you cannot stomach warm water, have room temperature water from the tap instead.
10. Restrict Your Taste Cravings
If we were to give into every taste craving we had, we’d be ballooning balls, not people. The tongue is a weak little temptress and wants what it wants. Ayurveda says food has to nourish your body, soul, and mind. If you are craving a mud pie, see if a little piece of bitter chocolate can work instead. And if you have to have that pizza loaded with cheese, try making a tomato and parmesan cheese sandwich instead. Never make a decision about food while you are hungry—go food shopping and place your food orders while your mind is ruling your body, not your tongue and stomach.
Remember to take baby steps. These 10 steps are not something you can embrace overnight and start from the next day on. Incorporate them in your daily lifestyle one by one, and remember to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. Also, remember that probiotics in the summer go a long way in keeping agni stoked but controlled as well. So eat well and stay well to have a happy summer.