How to maintain a healthy digestive system
With research suggesting that our digestive system, otherwise known as the gut, can control our thoughts and emotions, it’s time to put digestion high on the priority list. Using ideas from Ayurveda – a traditional holistic healing system - is a great way to give our digestion a healthy boost, the natural way.
Eating with Ayurveda
Ayurveda offers several different ways to nurture our digestive fire. Importantly, Ayurveda recognises that there is no one size fits all when it comes to how and what we eat.
In Ayurveda, there are three different doshas (or mind-body types)’ vata, pitta and kapha, and all three can dominate at different points in a person's digestive system.
You may be blessed with a strong, balanced digestion, with regular hunger and well-digested food. Or you may experience the following from time to time:
- Irregular digestion: Erratic appetite with bloating and indigestion, common in vata
- Intense digestion: Intense hunger but poor digestion with acidity and strong thirst, common in pitta
- Weak digestion: Low appetite and slow digestion with heaviness after a meal, persistent sweet cravings and need for stimulants, common in kapha
If you don’t know which dosha you are, take our quiz to find out and get personalised advice.
11 ways to help your digestive system, the ayurvedic way
1. Eat your main meal between 12pm and 2pm
This is when the digestive fire is stronger. Come evening, a big meal will not only tax your digestive system but can disrupt your sleep too. If you do eat a big meal in the evening, try not to make it too late and allow at least two hours before going to bed.
2. Eat seasonally
Foods that are grown and consumed during their appropriate seasons are more nutritionally dense. In summer, berries, peppers and melons are packed with health benefits, whereas in winter, potatoes, carrots and apples are in greater abundance. Try eating warm, cooked vegetables in the winter – perhaps in a hearty stew, which is particularly beneficial after an indulgent Christmas period. In summer, opt for raw salads.
3. Listen to your body’s hunger signals
Many of us will find ourselves grazing throughout the day, often out of boredom. Instead, try eating only when you’re genuinely hungry, as this is a sign that your previous meal has been digested. Before reaching for food, judge your hunger level on a scale of one to eight, one being starving to the point of feeling dizzy, and eight being full to bursting. If you’re around a three or a four, then it’s time to eat.
4. Stick to regular eating times
This allows food to digest properly and helps swerve the uncomfortable post-food feeling. What’s more, your body may become accustomed to a meal schedule, and therefore will prepare the body for digestion beforehand. In Ayurveda, breakfast is key to kickstart the digestive system.
5. Don’t skip meals
Skipping meals can cause low blood sugar and an increase in the production of cortisol, our stress hormone, which can leave us feeling stressed and ‘hangry’. It can also cause our metabolism to slow down. In Ayurveda, skipping meals can cause an imbalance in our digestive routine however, if you do find yourself too busy to eat, at the next opportunity opt for something light and easy to digest such as a slice of toast with sliced banana.
6. Go organic (when you can!)
Recent research suggests that organic food is better for the microbiome as it has received less exposure to chemicals such as pesticides, which can disrupt our gut flora. If going organic on all fruit and veg is a little too costly, buy organic versions of The Dirty Dozen; a list of 12 foods which are usually more highly contaminated. These include strawberries, spinach, kale and nectarines.
7. Eat mindfully
Ayurveda advises us to only fill our stomach to half or three quarters full, to allow room for our digestion to work optimally. The key to this is to chew each mouthful slowly so we can really listen to our body. Plus, try to avoid eating when distracted, such as scrolling through your phone or eating at your desk at work.
8. Season your food
Spices such as cumin, fennel, coriander, cardamom and turmeric help to give your digestion a boost. Try sprinkling them in curries and pasta dishes, or for an easy way to incorporate them into your diet, sip on a cup of our Feel New tea.
9. Keep moving
Exercise doesn’t need to be intense – even a brisk after lunch walk can help maintain good digestion. And, if your job is desk-based, aim to get up and move around at least once an hour – even if it’s just to make a cup of tea or chat to a colleague!
10. Avoid digestive burdens
Foods that are excessively cold, damp and heavy, can be difficult to digest as can spicy, oily and fried foods. Freshly prepared food also tends to also be easier on the digestive system than leftovers.
11. Sip on a herbal tea
Instead of a sugary dessert or coffee, try drinking a mint or fennel tea after a meal, to aid digestion. Peppermint has been used for centuries as a natural solution to bloating, stomach gas and flatulence.