For a long time, I considered myself one of those “sensitive stomach” types with a long list of foods that I couldn’t eat. Beans, milk, kale, broccoli, popcorn, and many other foods were off limits because I would feel bloated or constipated after eating them.
It felt like a part time job just navigating which foods I could or couldn’t eat.
One of the pivotal turning points for my digestion and my sanity was learning about Ayurveda. I learned that many of the foods I struggled with were increasing my already high Vata dosha. The increased vata is why these foods would cause gas and bloating. It’s also why I never felt satisfied or truly full after I ate. Understanding my body and these foods better allowed me to make sense of my digestive issues – it no longer felt random.
But the goal of Ayurveda isn’t to have a list of foods you should never eat. Instead, the goal is to understand yourself and the qualities of specific foods, so that you can intentionally choose foods that support balance (or *know* when the food you’re eating doesn’t support that balance!). With this knowledge, you don’t have to blacklist a specific food forever. Instead, you can learn how to eat that food in a way that doesn’t cause excessive symptoms or issues.
Here are three lessons from Ayurveda to improve your digestive power:
It matters how (and if) you cook your food
I’m often asked what I think about eating raw foods. While there are some food enzymes and vitamins that can get depleted by cooking, cooking can increase the availability of other nutrients! Think about biting into a raw piece of broccoli – it’s incredibly crunchy and fibrous. All those fibers lock up nutrients like folate and iron, making them less available for your body. Your body has to work extra hard to digest the food, and partially digested food can make its way into your intestines, causing bloating, gas, and an inflammatory response. When you cook food and soften up those fibers, you make it possible for your body to better digest and assimilate the nutrients of the food.
How you cook it also makes a difference. Using oil or fats on your veggies (and beans!) helps to lubricate the digestive system as you digest and absorb those fibrous foods. You can also use specific herbs and spices to improve the digestibility of your food. These spices tend to either stimulate the digestive system or help balance the qualities of the food you’re eating to help your body stay in balance. Some of my favorite digestion-promoting spices are cumin, fresh ginger, and clove.
How you eat makes a difference
It’s not just what you eat – how you eat it that matters too. There are a lot of common eating habits that hurt our digestive power.
You’ve heard me talk about this before, but I’ll say it again – you need to chew your food in order to properly digest it! Our stomach acid is strong, but it’s not meant to turn solids into liquids. Chew your food until it’s a liquid in order to ensure that you can fully digest the food you’re eating.
Eating when you’re stressed out, doing emails, or otherwise working is another thing that will hurt the digestive system. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which creates a chemical cascade that impairs digestion. Your heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up, and energy is diverted away from the digestive system and towards the muscles in your extremities.
Eating when standing up or eating while watching TV or surfing the internet can also impair digestion, particularly because we tend to eat quickly, not chew, and not notice when we’re full.
Check the amount of food you’re consuming
It’s very likely that some foods are fine for you in moderation, but are difficult to digest in excess. A lot of us overeat leafy greens and beans because they’re supposed to be so healthy for us. But the cleansing nature of these foods are also what can make them promote gas in the body.
Another good example of this is milk and dairy. Milk contains a special sugar called lactose. Many folks are lactose intolerant, meaning they don’t make enough lactase enzyme to digest the lactose found in milk. But the operating word here is “enough”. Until a certain point, you can digest that lactose just fine! It’s when we overdo the amount of milk or ice cream or cheese or yogurt that we have a problem.
Instead of having to cut out milk or beans or these foods 100%, investigate if there’s an amount that is well tolerated by the body. You might find that many of these foods don’t have to be off limits if you’re mindful of the amount you consume.
Consider some of the foods you struggle to digest. Is there a chance that they’re overconsumed, improperly cooked, or that they’re being eaten in poor conditions? Choose one strategy listed above and experiment with it. Notice if your body is better at digesting foods when you implement that strategy. And if you want to dive in and learn more about how Ayurveda can support your digestive system (and your whole life), consider an Ayurvedic consultation with me. We’ll get to the bottom of your food issues, so you can have better digestion, balanced energy, and more joy.