1. Hot Wake-up Call
Before you do anything in the morning, boil your kettle and fill half a mug with boiling water, then the other half with room temperature filtered water. Drink as it is, or with a squeeze of lime if you’re feeling bloated or constipated, or with grated ginger if you’re feeling very lethargic. The feeling of warm water hitting the stomach first thing in the morning is quite incredible because it’s pouring down a pipe that’s not been used in hours. Try and leave at least 20 minutes before breakfast. It’s the quickest and easiest perk- and pick- me-up there is.
A traditional Ayurvedic remedy for gentle gut cleansing, Triphala is made from three traditional Indian fruits (haritaki, amla and bibhtaki) and also contains psyllium, liquorice, fennel and linseed – gold- standard gut-clearers!
3. Get Spice Savvy
My Turkish Cypriot background may not be Ayurvedic, but we do know a thing or two about herbs and spices, and whenever I had an upset tummy as a child, my mother would boil up a generous pinch of fennel seeds in water (the water should boil up and turn a pretty yellow-green colour) and get me to drink it. Within minutes my stomach used to start to feel better. Fennel is a truly great gut-calmer, as is ginger, which can be added to all foods or boiled up in hot drinks. Other spices that are great to add to your diet when you’re feeling off-colour are ginger, ground coriander, turmeric, cumin and black pepper – all of which are Ayurveda’s secret weapons for stoking and restoring digestive fire.
4. It’s Fruit O’Clock
Ayurveda is very specific about fruit and suggests it is always best eaten on an empty stomach. So after your glass of warm water in the morning, enjoy ripe fruit at room temperature. This is how we were meant to eat it – sun-warmed, first thing, fresh from the tree. When fruit is refrigerator-cold it shocks the stomach, which hinders optimal digestion. Almost all fruits taste better and sweeter at room temperature – particularly berries, peaches, apricots and melon. Get into the habit of taking fruit out of the refrigerator the night before and eating it about 40 minutes before breakfast. Another good time to enjoy fruit is mid-morning, as a snack before lunch, as you want to try to leave a couple of hours on either side – so breakfast before 9am, fruit between 10 and 11am and lunch around 1pm won’t tax those digestive juices.
5. Take Your Time
Some doshas really do need to take more time than others over their meals: Kapha with their sluggish digestion benefit from spending a longer time chewing; Pitta, with their tendency for internal fire, do well to eat quietly in a peaceful spot; and Vata types, who often suffer digestive upset and loose bowels, need to slow down the eating process completely, savour each mouthful, and never eat on the go (which is a common tendency with airy, and busy, Vata types).
6. Be a Probiotic Pro
Achieving optimal gut health (and digestive fire) is at the heart of Ayurveda. One of the simplest ways to aid digestive fire is to boost your stomach’s healthy bacteria with a proven probiotic blend, particularly after a course of antibiotics or during illness. I am calling on modern wisdom here. Obviously ancient Ayurveda doesn’t have a stance on probiotics – but I’ve found, from trial and error, that my digestive fire is always strongest when I support it with probiotics and enzymes. We often hear that our immune system is situated in our gut: what this means is that 70 per cent of the antibacterial and antiviral cells within our body are situated in the walls of the stomach and intestines. Our stomach also produces acid, which kills off most pathogens, and our small intestine produces mucus, which blocks further potential pathogens from entering our bloodstreams. So, when your gut lining is weakened, your immunity will also be compromised. I really cannot overstate the importance of a healthy stomach in the pursuit of good overall health! For this reason I recommend taking a proven daily probiotic.
7. Eat Your Enzymes
Some doshas struggle with protein or carbohydrate digestion more than others, but all can benefit from a good comprehensive digestive enzyme. If we ate only natural nutrient-rich food, our digestive enzymes would do a fine job of extracting the nutrients we needed from them, thereby sufficiently fuelling our bodies. And if we were to eat solely raw fruit and raw vegetables (I wouldn’t recommend it – see below), the enzymes we need to digest them are already contained in these foods, but these enzymes can be depleted if the soil the food is grown in is low in nutrients (and this is increasingly the case for environmental, climatic and economic reasons). For these reasons I feel it’s best to err on the safe side (and digestive enzymes are deemed universally safe) and invest in a good digestive enzyme, which can be a real boon to all.
8. Guard Against Gas
Once you’re eating better, following some of the guidelines above, and benefiting from digestive enzyme and probiotic support, you should start to feel a lot better. But should a rogue meal hit your stomach hard, and leave you with windy-pops (my daughter’s words) I’ve found three things that help nicely:
a the fennel tea I described earlier, sipped slowly after the meal;
b a fresh mint tea; or
c a chew on the simple and effective Conscious Food D’Mix, which is packed full of seeds and leaves that, when chewed for upward of a minute, then swallowed, do a great job at shifting that gas.
9. To Snack, or Not to Snack?
First things first: you need to get better acquainted with your body. A lot of people leap toward the vending machine at the first sign of hunger, but it could simply be thirst, boredom or habit. Get used to the light feeling in your body when you’ve fully digested your previous meal, and your thoughts turn once more to what you might eat. If you’re eating properly you shouldn’t need to snack very often. If you start to feel hungry sooner than expected, drink a cup of herbal tea or warm water first. Sometimes it’s thirst you’re feeling. A good complex breakfast will satisfy for four hours, taking you from 8am to noon, lunchtime. But if you’re eating breakfast earlier and having lunch later, a snack may be necessary – do not let yourself get over-hungry or light-headed. Swot up on Ayurvedic snacks and light bites in our EAT section.
10. Eat with a Calm Mind
I’ve talked about how vital it is to eat slowly and mindfully rather than as a means of filling up, as quickly as possible – then going about your day again. Eating keeps us alive, so we owe the process a bit of time, and respect. And in Ayurveda – the mindset we adopt when we sit down to eat, is as important as the meal we are sitting down to. Eating in a calm state is one of the easiest ways to aid your digestion (and one of the reasons why a lot of people say their tummy troubles are better on holiday – when we often have time to eat in a relaxed and leisurely manner).