Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of good digestion for health and maintains that how and when you eat is as important as what you eat.
- Eat freshly prepared food whenever possible. Avoid leftovers, pre-cooked (processed) and fast (junk) food.
- Food is more easily digested if warm and cooked.
- Food should look good, be naturally colourful and taste delicious.
- Food prepared by a happy, settled cook in a pleasant environment will have the greatest nutritional value and be deeply nourishing.
- Eat in a settled environment when you are calm and relaxed. Savour your food: always sit down to eat, and avoid TV, radio and reading. Let your attention be on the food. Eating with children is good parenting, but not always good for digestion!
- Be silent while chewing. Like mom always said: "don't talk with your mouth full!"
- Try to keep regular meal times.
- Enjoy a light nourishing breakfast if you're hungry and eat your main meal in the middle of the day when the digestive fire is at its strongest. Eat lightly in the evening at least 2 hours before bedtime (ideally four hours before).
- Minimize or avoid ice-cold food and drink.
- It is best to consume fruit (or fruit juice) separately from other foods.
- Eat moderately: avoid overeating - especially Kapha types! - and try not to skip meals - especially Vata and Pitta types! Eat only when you're hungry and leave about 25% of your stomach empty, as this will improve digestion.
- Wait about 4 hours between meals to allow enough time to digest. This might be less between small meals and more between big meals. Don't eat until the previous meal has been digested.
- Avoid sour foods (yoghurt, soft and hard cheese, buttermilk) in the evening.
- Walk or sit in vajrasana (kneeling) for 10-15 minutes after meals.
- Exercise without strain daily. Leave 30 minutes after exercise before eating (drinking water or herbal tea is good though!) and don't exercise energetically for 1-2 hours after a main meal.
General dietary advice according to ancient ayurvedic wisdom
In ayurveda there are six tastes or rasas - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. Taste is an important guide to achieving balance, and it gives us clues as to the pharmacology (healing properties) of food.
Generally, all meals should include at least a small amount of each taste, which is why cooking with spices is recommended. Click here for an easy, nourishing and dosha balancing meal, called kitchari, and to see more information about Churna, or digestive spice mixtures.
Examples of foods of the six tastes:
Sweet: Sugar, honey, milk, bread, rice, wheat, pasta
Sour: Yoghurt, cheese, sour fruits, tomato
Salty: Sea and rock salt, sea vegetables
Pungent: Spicy foods, cumin, ginger, various peppers.
Bitter: Green leafy vegetables, coffee
Astringent: Beans, lentils, pomegranate, some apples, tea.
Avoid taking milk with a meal made up of mixed tastes - especially salty and sour foods. It can be taken with sweet foods including grains. Milk is easier to digest after being boiled with spices such as ginger, black pepper, turmeric, and saffron.
Do not heat honey above body temperature (40C). Doing so decreases the benefits of honey and causes it to have a negative impact on health, as it becomes a refined (fast) sugar in the bloodstream. Add honey to hot drinks after they have cooled somewhat.
Food best avoided
Minimize heavy foods (e.g. meats, especially red meat, fish, eggs, aged cheeses), refrigerated and ice-cold foods and drinks (they depress digestion), raw vegetables (easier to digest when cooked) and alcohol.
Tea and coffee
Minimize tea and coffee consumption. The negative effects of both can be very much reduced by adding a little cardamom (pods or powder).
It is strongly recommended that you avoid food that has been produced using genetically modified ingredients. Genetic modification of food disrupts the intelligence of the food and is very likely to produce subtle negative effects in the long-term.
Organic food is strongly recommended. It is more sattvic (health and peace-inducing) and contributes to the good health of our environment.