You are what you digest

  • Author: Healthkarma

We are fascinated with disease, and how to get rid of it. Instead, how about if we are fascinated with perfect health and we start to mirror it?

When we are truly present to the food we eat, when we give full attention to the act of being nourished, the food that we eat is digested well and that leads us to perfect health….

However, in our journey to a great digestion, what we eat together in a meal plays a very important role. Combining foods with radically different energy (virya), tastes (rasa) and post-digestive effect (vipaka) can overwhelm the digestive fire (agni). It will inhibit the enzyme production, which can cause indigestion, fermentation, gas, bloating, and creation of toxins (ama) in the body. If prolonged, can lead to toxemia and disease.

Since every ingredient demands separate enzymes and attention from the gut, simpler food combinations can let body focus on each ingredient without too much multi-tasking. Careful food combining can dramatically improve the quality of digestion, support the body in receiving a deeper level of nourishment, and positively impact our overall health.

Developing an awareness of improper food combinations that you eat and noticing which of these may be difficult to digest together will help you be aware of how your body functions and what it likes. Observe, if it affects your energy level, your digestion, your elimination, or is there acidity / bloating afterwards…

Learn the art of Food-Combining the Ayurveda Way and keep these broad tips in mind for optimum absorption of nutrients in food that we eat:

  • Do not have cold water with/without meals. 70% of our body is made of warm water. It has to warm up the cold water you drink every time to an acceptable temperature before it can take it up for digestion, nutrient and blood circulation. It causes distress to tissues and blood vessels, makes warm blood, thick, sticky, cool and can start to clot. And when body cannot circulate its blood, it is unable to flow properly to the extremities of the body, hands and feet can feel numb and tired, heart is pressured to pump blood throughout the body & lungs fight to keep up.
  • Eat only up to three main ingredients in a meal.
  • Eat foods that are easy to digest first, hard to digest last. For example, eat rice before lentils, steamed veggies before nuts. The gut holds onto foods until all the nutrition has been extracted. Every organism loves foods that are easy to digest including the bacteria in our gut. When stuck behind a traffic jam, food that is easy to digest ferments.
  • Fatty foods and acidic foods reduce gastric acid secretions, specifically inhibiting protein digestion. For this reason, avoid mixing lemons with meats or oranges and nuts. Since meat is often fatty, it should be eaten with bitter or to counteract the digestion lulling properties of fats.
  • Try to keep a broad balance of doshas while preparing food

o   Pitta is increased by foods which are spicy, sour and pungent.

o   Kapha is aggravated by sweets & milk products.

o   Vata is over-stimulated by beans, dry fruits, astringent and bitter substances.

Foods that should be consumed alone

  • Milk is a laxative and should be best enjoyed alone… Exceptions: rice pudding, oatmeal, dates, almonds. Avoid eating dairy, including cheese, within two hours of a meal. Milk curdles in the stomach if mixed with other foods.
  • Fruits- Avoid eating fruits within two hours of a meal. They form a sour wine in the stomach. Other fruits with similar qualities can be had together….Exceptions: dates with milk, some cooked combinations
  • Melons- are diuretic. They should be only be had with other melons.
  • Raw foods – should be consumed with raw foods only
  • Bananas – are heating while milk is cooling, which together, is not good for gut. Further, bananas become sour as they break down and milk has a sweet vipak. It can affect intestinal flora, create toxins and may cause sinus congestion, cold cough and allergies.  .
  • Hot Drinks – Should not be combined with mangoes, cheese, yogurt, meat, fish, starches
  • Leftovers – should not be had with fresh food.
  • Lemons – Can be used as a garnish or flavouring in small quantities only. They should not be combined with Cucumbers, tomatoes, milk, yogurt. Lime can be substituted for use with cucumbers and tomatoes.

Foods that can be combined with others

  • Grains & Vegetables- can be eaten with Beans, vegetables, other grains, eggs, meat, fish, nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt.
  • Protein – Meats- Avoid mixing animal with vegetable proteins such as beans. Eat proteins with leafy greens or rice only. Fatty foods and acidic foods reduce gastric acid secretions, specifically inhibiting protein digestion. For this reason, avoid mixing lemons with meats or oranges and nuts. Since meat is often fatty, it should be eaten with bitters to counteract the digestion lulling properties of fats.
  • Fish can be eaten with most foods. It should be avoided with milk, yogurt, eggs and beans.
  • Fats and fatty proteins should be combined with greens and non-starchy vegetables.
  • Starch and starchy proteins combine best with greens, non-starchy vegetables.

Special Category of food combinations to be careful about

  • Cheese/Yogurt – should not be consumed with fruit, beans, eggs, milk, yogurt, hot drinks, meats (yogurt only). Grains and vegetables are fine.
  • Eggs cannot be eaten with MILK, cheese, yogurt, fruit (especially melons), beans, kitchari, potatoes, meat, fish. Grains and non-starchy vegetables are fine.
  • Honey – boiled or cooked can be poisonous. Hence should be eaten raw.
  • Nightshades contain a complex array of compounds that, once ingested, lead to a potentially dramatic cascade of chemical reactions in the body. Ayurvedically speaking, all nightshades are believed to be somewhat difficult to digest and to have the capacity to disturb the doshas. When we mix these inherently challenging nightshades with cheese – which is heavy, oily, and also difficult to digest –we can quickly overtax the digestive fire. Further they must not be consumed with fruit especially melons, cucumber, milk, yogurt.

Improving overall digestion (agni) & handling a bad food combination

  • Do mindful eating – when we are truly present to the food we eat, when we give full attention to the act of being nourished, the food that we eat is digested well
  • Regular dietary cleansing detoxes, repairs and rejuvenates the tissues and agni in the body.
  • To reduce effects of bad food combination, cook foods together like a soup because they learn to “get along” and their qualities blend together.
  • Conscious and proper chewing mixes food with saliva and may help in situations where bad food combining is inevitable such as as restaurants.
  • Avoid combining raw foods with cooked foods and fresh food with leftovers.
  • Small sips of warm water, ginger/fennel tea with meal will improve digestion and absorption.
  • Avoid cold water as it slows agni.
  • Alkaline foods calms the agni
  • Ghee stimulates agni
  • Ginger with rock salt, taken before meal can help in digestion.
  • Add spices like black pepper, coriander, cilantro, cumin, ginger, cardamom and fennel to the cooking process to aid enzyme production.
  • Avoid alcohol / caffeine while eating big meals.
  • Stretch (abdominal), walk or get warm to counteract muscle contraction and reduce bloating.