Ayurveda & Food Combining: Guidelines for Optimal Digestion
According to Ayurveda, food is the main pillar contributing to longevity, happiness, strength, intellect & overall health. It's said that without proper diet, herbal supplements, exercise & lifestyle modifications, will not be enough to sustain health.
When looking at food, it’s not only important what, when, how and how much we eat, but also how we choose to combine the foods we eat.
Because each food is said to have its own taste (rasa), heating or cooling energy (virya) and post-digestive effect (vipaka), when 2 or more foods having different taste, energy and post-digestive effect are combined, our digestive fire (agni) can become overloaded, inhibiting the enzyme system, resulting in the production of toxins (ama).
This toxic accumulation from poor digestion of food, waste materials & repressed emotions, called ama in Ayurveda, is described to be the root cause of most physical & mental disease we see in the world today.
Not only can poor food combinations result in indigestion, fermentation, gas formation & the build up of ama which impairs of ability to digest (agni), but if ongoing, it can lead to toxemia & disease, as the undigested matter migrates into our bloodstream, circulating throughout the body & settling into our “weak” spots (khavaigunyas), eventually manifesting into more serious conditions.
And as we’ve been hearing more & more about in the modern day health world, the health of our gut impacts our whole body & overall health (immune system, brain, heart, mood, sleep, etc.), a concept supported by the Ayurvedic thought that healthy digestion (strong agni) is the most important factor contributing to our gut health, metabolism & overall wellness.
Want to start incorporating proper food combining into your life, but don’t know where to start? The following chart, extracted from "Ayurdevic Cooking for Self-Healing" by Usha Lad & Dr. Vasant Lad is a great resource.
While the chart may be overwhelming at first, it’s suggested to start small, when incorporating dietary changes, as once our system is accustomed to disharmony, there may be side effects in reestablishing harmony.
It’s also important to note that when it comes to dietary therapy in Ayurveda, results take time, so don’t expect immediate miracles. It may take a month to a few to notice substantial results, so anytime you incorporate any change into your diet or lifestyle, remember to be patient. (ahh yes, yet another life-long practice)
A great suggested way to start following the food combining rules is to simply start by eating fruit by itself, waiting at least one hour before or after fruit is consumed to enjoy any other food. I know, this alone is a tough one (RIP super smoothies and so many other delicous desserts), but a great practice of discipline indeed.
Another general way to start is to avoid eating raw & cooked foods together or fresh foods with leftovers.
While some are blessed with stronger digestive fires (agni) than others (Pitta) & are likely able to handle most food combining fools, many others (Vata who tolerates the least food combos & Kaphas known for slower digestive power) may benefit greatly from considering these guidelines.
And for the good news, when you do choose to rebel against the rules (as I love to sometimes do with loving awareness), there are a few possible ways to help lessen the effects of bad food combinations:
If foods with aggravating qualities are cooked together in the same pot, the foods are said to be easier to digest.
The addition of spices / herbs (fresh ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cumin, black pepper) are also said to help strengthen agni & ease a powerful effects of foods (example: adding cooling cilantro to a spicy heating dish).
Other suggestions for boosting digestion (agni) include:
Eat ½ tsp fresh grated ginger with a pinch of salt before each meal to stimulate agni
Take small sips of warm water during a meal to aid digestion & absorption of food.
Avoid drinking ice water as it slows agni & digestion. Also shocking to the system.
Chew your food thoroughly, as this is where digestion starts.
Enjoy a cup of lassi at the end of your meal (1/4 cup organic full fat yogurt with 2 pinches ginger & cumin powder in 1 cup water)
Take the Ayurvedic supplement – Triphala, known for promoting digestive health
Eat food in a relaxed, calm frame of mind, not when nervous, anxious, or impatient. Eating should not be rushed.
Allow digestive fire to fully process one meal before eating again, leaving at least 3 (ideally 4-6) hours between meals.
Avoid sex before of after meals, as it is said to derange digestion.
Avoid smoking as it disperses and dulls the digestive fire
Enjoy desserts before meals or by themselves (did I just hear pie for dinner) as their heavy & sweet nature, tend to suppress digestive fire & cause fermentation, especially when eaten cold.
Take a short walk before or after eating
And like everything else, don’t forget, moderation is key. These food combining guidelines are simply guidelines, so most of all, remember to enjoy your food without stress, because I'm pretty sure Ayurveda says eating your food in a relaxed, loving state helps with digestion. 😉