Good digestion of the foods we consume is imperative to the functioning of all bodily systems and is the basic determining factor that makes optimal nutrition possible. It has often been said "you are what you eat", it would however be more accurate to say, "you are what you digest."
This important biological function is essential for breaking down our foods and drinks into usable nutrients that our body can utilize for energy, growth and cellular repair. Understanding this natural process and learning how to work with it, instead of against it, can be a key component to overall health over the course of a lifetime.
Chronic digestive problems can not only cause malnutrition, hinder the proper activities of the organs and glands, but have also been linked to immune system disorders as well as numerous diseases and health conditions.
Seemingly minor issues like flatulence, bloating, constipation, heartburn or indigestion can all be signs of gastrointestinal imbalance that, if not corrected, can potentially lead to more serious illnesses over time.
Digestion is where is all begins. If we can keep this system running smoothly through good dietary practices,
sattvic food choices as well as periodic cleansing protocols, we can
often prevent many unnecessary related health issues further down
In Ayurvedic terminology, our digestive capacity is referred to as "digestive fire" or "agni", which means 'to ignite.' Agni is one of the most important principles of Ayurveda, often called the "gatekeeper of good health" and in a broad sense refers to our ability to digest all aspects of life, on physical, emotional and spiritual levels.
"Jathara agni" is the central digestive fire that governs digestion of the foods we eat. When jathara agni is strong we are able to eliminate ama (toxins) and assimilate ojas (essential life energy), when it is weak ama can accumulate and cause problems.
In Ayurvedic medicine, there are many ways to strengthen and support one's digestive fire and prevent common symptoms that frequently go unrecognized by many people.
Digestion of the food we eat occurs in the "digestive tract" and begins from the moment we start chewing or masticating our food and ends when unneeded waste material is defecated as feces.
The digestive tract, composed of the gastrointestinal tract or GI tract, is basically a series of organs, primarily the stomach, small intestine and colon connected by a twisting tube that goes from the mouth to the rectum. Other secondary elements of digestion include the tongue, salivary glands, pancreas, liver and gallbladder.
Digestion for humans begins in the mouth and continues throughout the gastrointestinal tract where larger insoluble food particles are transformed into smaller molecules of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals as well as beneficial food-specific phytochemicals, like polyphenols and antioxidants. These smaller substances can then be absorbed into the blood plasma or bloodstream and distributed throughout the body to provide for our nutritional needs.
Gut flora or microbiota in the GI tract, in addition to parts of the nervous and circulatory systems, also assist with digestion. Working together in a combined effort with nerves, hormones, bacteria, blood and the organs of the digestive tract, the complex task of digesting the foods and liquids consumed each and every day is achieved on some level.
To what degree our digestive capacities or digestive fire maintains throughout our lives it primarily up to us; our dietary practices and many other factors.
We believe that it is possible to correct digestive issues with proper diet and cleansing protocols, along with beneficial supplements such as digestive enzymes, probiotics and vitamin/mineral powders, teas or tablets.
In addition, following some basic dietary practices can also help to improve acute or chronic digestive problems.
Because different foods have different transit times, learning the rules of food combining, or what foods digest well with other foods, can be a basic and simple way to ensure the most efficient digestion of foods we eat. This can help to prevent many of the negative side-effects that may occur after meals, such as indigestion and flatulence.
Food Combining Essentials: (Foods that are good combinations)
One of the easiest ways to take in foods when digestive issues are present is to blend them. This requires less energy from the digestive organs as they are essentially predigested. Sometimes consuming foods in this manner for one or two days can help alleviate digestive disturbance and get things back on track.
Raw fruits, vegetables, soaked nuts and seeds have living enzymes that also require less of the body's own digestive enzyme reserves. These blended foods are very hydrating to the gastrointestinal system and contain fiber content, both of which add cleansing elements and encourage bowel movements.
Mindful eating and chewing your food slowing in a relaxed setting might sound crazy, but our emotional state can largely impact food digestion. It is beneficial to not only eat slowly, but appreciate your meals; paying attention to the smell, color and taste sensations.
Thoroughly chewing foods and mixing them with the saliva in the mouth can help you to secrete more enzymes before swallowing. This places less of a burden on the stomach.
In the end, stools should ideally be very smooth without large particles of undigested material, a sign that you may have consumed your lunch or dinner too quickly.
Adding herbs and spices to food is a great way to boost "digestive fire." This is a common practice in Ayurvedic therapies as a way to increase stomach digestion or "jathara agni." This may include using spices like ginger, cayenne, cumin, turmeric or coriander.
In addition, herbs that provide a bitter element can help with the secretion of digestive juices before a meal. "Digestive bitters" typically include herbs like dandelion, gentian or chamomile.
Many of the fermented foods we discuss on this website are high in enzyme content which help in the process of digestion. Raw unpasteurized sauerkraut, cultured vegetables, kimchi or miso can be consumed in small portions with meals. Other enzyme-rich liquids also include rejuvelac and coconut kefir and can be helpful digestive aids when consumed between meals.
When digestive capacities have been chronically compromised, it can be very beneficial to include various supplements that can supply needed enzymes as well as probiotics, vitamin/mineral and cleansing formulas to help restore balance.
Plant-based digestive enzyme supplements can be of particular benefit especially when used as an adjunct to a health promoting diet. In the article review entitled "The Role of Enzyme Supplementation in Digestive Disorders" published in the "Alternative Medicine Review" is states that "Digestive enzyme supplementation can aid in the breakdown of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates and may provide benefit in disorders in which compromised digestion may be involved."
This involves consuming fresh pressed raw chlorophyll-rich low-sugar fruit and vegetable juices exclusively for a short period of time.
Juice fasting can be a great way to give an overburden digestive system a little time off, so the body can catch up on eliminating any accumulation of undigested waste material in the colon and is a great way to cleanse the body of potential toxins.
Triphala, usually taken in tablet form, is a number one Ayurvedic herb for improving digestion and increasing bowel regularity. Other foods high in fiber and structural polysaccharides, like aloe gel and soaked flax or chia seeds, are also soothing to the intestines and encourage healthy bowel movements.