Humans have eaten and created a variety of eatables over the ages. However, indulging in gastronomical delight has never been as troublesome as it has been lately. Also indicated by an increase in the purchase and consumption of over the counter antacids and medications for gas and indigestion.
Our digestion is a very simple process of absorbing nutrition from food, that in turn powers energy and growth in our bodies. The digestive issues have been increasing and reaching closer to an epidemic because we are forgetting the basics of eating food. In this article, we will cover the facts and myths around digestion and what constitute healthy eating habits.
Healthy digestion involves the ability to absorb nutrients from food, and be able to eliminate waste and by products from the body effectively. Good digestion is one of the strong pillars of a healthy body (the other one being good sleep)
Digestion involves readiness of multiple organs in our bodies, orchestrated by release of a variety of hormones. What is the right time to eat food?
“The best time is when we are feeling very hungry”
The worst time to eat food is immediately after you’ve had a meal. Eating again soon after a meal weakens the digestive system (Vitiates the Pitta & Vata Dosha in the body). Eating at regular and consistent times, allows the body to stay in a rhythm and strengthens the digestive system. Rhythm gives our body enough time to digest the food completely and eliminate the waste products effectively.
What is the right quantity of food to be eaten?
“The amount of food, which can be digested as well as metabolised in proper time, without disturbing the equilibrium of the body.”
This quantity will vary for each individual depending on their digestive capacity. While eating heavy items like preparations made of grains, meats, etc. its best to fill the stomach to half or three fourths of its capacity. A good thumb rule is to practice ending a meal, just before your feel satiated.
Each food has a distinct combination of tastes and energies—and a corresponding effect on both the digestive system and on the body as a whole. Homologous food combinations in a meal, aid in better digestion. There are multiple factors that govern this
Digestive Strength needed
- Different food requires different speed to digest; protein and starches need different enzymes and different levels of acidity to be digested, e.g. fruits get digested faster than milk. Hence milkshake disrupts the digestion causing bloating and loss of appetite.
- Various digestive enzymes help different groups of food to digest: e.g amylase enzyme (digests carbohydrates) require pH between 6.7-7.0 while lipase (digests fat) requires pH between 4.0-5.0.
Foods that interact in unfavourable ways when combined together.
- Some foods have opposite properties and their interaction can lead to gastric distress. Example can be drinking milk immediately after having citrus fruits can lead to abdominal pain and vomiting in some individuals.
- Food combinations that have opposite activities on the tissues
The digestive capacity of every individual is different and hence the effects of combining different foods can give varied outcome.
As per Ayurveda, there is a concept of “Virudha Ahara1” (incompatible diet) which is an alarming aspect of today's improper dietary habits. This can lead to several hazardous diseases unknowingly to the patients, inducing deteriorating action on the body tissues, that is, Dhatus. Incorrect food combinations is one of the 18 types of incompatibilities that ayurveda talks about.
What are good food combinations and some myths
According to ayurveda, every food has its own taste (rasa), heating or cooling energy (virya) and a post digestive effect (vipaka). An individual’s agni (digestive fire) determines how well the food is digested. At the same time food combinations also play a major role in the process of digestion. Poor food combinations can lead to indigestion, acidity, gastric issues in some people and if not controlled, accumulates toxins in the body in the long run, and advent of diseases.
Let us take a look at few myths on food combinations.
Fruits should be eaten as dessert after a meal - myth
- Body is able to absorb maximum amount of vitamins and minerals present in fruit when eaten alone than compared with fruits eaten with the meal.
- However most important thing is that you eat your fruits and veggies. No matter how you prepare them and what form you prefer, consuming fruits is more beneficial than not consuming them at all.
Fat less cooking - myth
- While it is possible to cook without the use of visible fat, it is generally not advised.
- Visible fat like cold pressed vegetable oil and ghee are good source of Vitamin E, omega 3-fatty acids.
- Certain vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E and K require the presence of fat to get absorbed in the body2,3. Adding fat to salads and other vegetable preparations help in the release and absorption of these nutrients.
- However prefer healthy fats like whole nuts or a cold pressed oil, instead of refined oils.
It is good to have tea immediately after or with breakfast - myth
- Many people are in the habit of drinking tea with their breakfast which is not a good practice.
- Breakfast cereals are good source of iron and tannins in the tea inhibits the absorption of iron by the body.
- A good practice would be to have tea at least 1-2 hours before or after the meal.
Eating the right combination of food comes with practice. Listen to your body, any improper combinations would lead to discomfort while the right food combinations can lead to raised energy levels, keeping you active throughout the day.