I recently spent four week at the Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, in Coimbatore, South India learning about Ayurvedic medicine. It is one of the oldest medicine systems in the world, dating back some 3,000 or 4,000 years. The importance of food and nutrition in prevention of disease has always been recognised in Ayurveda. The concept of ‘agni’ or digestive fire describes the body’s ability to digest the food consumed. If agni is strong then food is properly digested, but if the agni is weak, then food will be improperly digested creating a situation where disease can start to develop. Good eating habits can help to keep agni strong so here are some Ayurvedic inspired suggestions on the art of eating:
- Eat when you are hungry. Real hunger (rather than just habit) is a sign of healthy digestion (agni). If there isn’t hunger, then digestion of food will be inefficient. If that means missing the occasional meal then fine, but if hunger is always low then if can be stimulated for example a glass of warm water and fresh ginger may help.
- Have positive feelings toward the food you are about to eat. Digestion starts with the smell and anticipation of food, which stimulates saliva that starts to breakdown the food before it reaches the stomach. If you are relaxed and positive about the food you are about to eat it will help digestion.
- Avoid talking or other distractions while eating. TV dinners for example are a distraction from digestion; the emotions elicited from the TV or a conversation might disturb the positive and relaxed feelings towards food & eating.
- Rituals before eating can help; the Indian ritual of washing hands and face before eating for example is to promote relaxed emotions prior to meals (as well as for hygiene reasons)
- Chew each mouthful thoroughly, Ayurveda recommends 32 times per mouthful. Think about it this way, your digestive tract has no teeth!
- Eat enough to fill the stomach ¾ full in other words, stop eating just before you feel full. Everyone’s body is different, the Ayurvedic guideline is generally two handfuls of food, but learn to listen to your own body.
- Eat at regular times during the day. Ideally lunchtime should be the main meal, as this is the time of day when agni is strongest.
- Sip warm water while eating, avoid cold water before a meal as this will suppress agni