Do you ever experience gas and bloating or heaviness after eating? You try to eat healthy but end up with a swollen tummy, what gives? In Ayurveda, we know that you are what you digest. How we eat is just as important as what we eat. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of how we time our meals and combine our food.
If you’d rather feel light and energetic after eating, then Ayurveda offers wisdom about when and how to eat.
Caring for Your Agni
We can start by taking care of our agni or digestive fire:
- Space meals 3-4 hours apart to allow for digestion to complete before adding new food to the system.
- Eat your largest meal at lunchtime when digestion is strongest and have an earlier, lighter dinner.
- Consume food at room temperature or warmer and avoid cold beverages with your meal.
- Keep meals simple and stick with freshly prepared, whole foods for optimum digestion.
Practicing Food Combining
Certain combinations of food will promote optimum digestion and nutrient absorption, while other combinations of food are indigestible, leading to gas and bloating, and ultimately becoming toxins in the system.
To practice Ayurveda food combining, it’s important to think of food in four main categories: fruit, non-starchy vegetables, starches and protein. Each type of foods requires a different digestive environment in the gut.
Fruit breaks down quickly and should be consumed alone on an empty stomach. When we combine fruits with other foods, the fructose is not burned as energy but stored as fat. Try to eat fruit on its own, either 1 hour before other foods or 2 hours after a meal.
Note: Melons cannot be mixed with any other fruit or food. Bananas are best alone and become toxic when mixed with milk or yogurt. Keep acid fruits together and sweet with sweet. Low sugar fruits like berries are easiest to combine and can be added to yogurt. Apples, pears or raisins can be cooked with oats.
For non-starchy vegetables, think leafy greens, asparagus and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or brussel sprouts. These vegetables combine well with starches, other vegetables and proteins.
The foods in the starches category include grains, such as rice, wheat, and quinoa, and starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots. These foods mix well with non-starchy vegetables or other starches, but not protein. Starches require an alkaline environment and proteins require an acidic one. The enzymes required for each will neutralize or cancel each other out, leading to poor digestion.
Protein foods include dairy, meat, eggs and tofu. Avoid mixing proteins with other proteins and starches. Instead, choose green non-starchy veggies.
Proper food combining should be practiced when possible but the occasional poorly combined meal shouldn’t cause too many problems. After eating, notice your digestion – any gas, bloating, acidity or coating on the tongue will indicate a challenging combination. Drinking CCF (cumin, coriander & fennel) tea will help. And remember that it’s always better to eat with a relaxed attitude than to stress about getting it perfect.
Ayurvedic Practitioner, Yoga Teacher