In this series on how to perfect digestion, I have shared important lifestyle and herbal tips to get your digestion in tip-top shape. In this article and video, I would like to shed light on the most potent foods I know of that can perfect your digestion.
I will recommend powerful foods for balancing blood sugar, elimination, microbiology, lymph and bile flow, liver function, and pancreatic enzyme and stomach acid production. As we aim to perfect digestion, it is essential to bring balance and coordination to all of the pieces in the digestive puzzle.
According to Ayurveda, stress aggravates vata, can dry out the mucous lining of the intestines, and lead to eliminative issues such as constipation. To avoid this, foods should be unctuous, soothing and lubricating to the intestinal wall. That said, Ayurveda’s #1 recommendation for stress management is meditation, so if you missed the “lifestyle” part of this series, please check it out to learn about my approach to meditation, the Transformational Awareness Technique.
1. Move Your Bile
- CHIA and FLAX SEEDS are loaded with essential fatty acids that lubricate the intestinal wall while nourishing the microbes that support intestinal health and function. They are also high in fiber. High fiber foods create bulk that puts pressure on the intestinal wall, resulting in an urge to move the bowels. High fiber foods also attach to the bile in the intestines and escort it to the toilet while stimulating the request for more bile. Adequate bile flow helps govern the regularity and consistency of the bowels.
- GREEN, LEAFY VEGETABLES are high in fiber and magnesium, which supports healthy muscular contractions, called peristalsis, in the large intestine.
- LEGUMES provide bulk and better bile flow which support healthy elimination.
- PRUNES are also high in fiber and within their skins exists a mild laxative, called dihydrophenylisatin, which can kick-start sluggish bowels by boosting intestinal contractions.
2. Move Your Lymph
The lymphatic system is actually the largest circulatory system in the body, with a high concentration of lymphatic vessels lining the intestines. The villi and lacteals that line the inside of the intestines, and the lymph that surrounds the outside of the intestines, make up 70-80% of the body’s immune system. Primarily, the lymph removes cellular waste while circulating the immune system throughout the body. This happens as a result of muscular contractions, thus making body movement, stretching and exercise the lymphatic system’s best medicine. Staying hydrated is also a nutritional requirement for healthy lymph flow. For optimal hydration, some experts recommend half of our ideal body weight in ounces per day.
- EAT RED: The best foods for the lymphatic system are the foods we generally classify as antioxidants. Classic examples of lymph movers are all foods that would dye your hands red. Berries, cherries, cranberries, pomegranates and beets are all very good lymph movers.
- GREEN, LEAFY VEGETABLES are highly alkaline, which supports lymphatic drainage. In nature, spring and summer harvests are both primarily alkaline and boost lymphatic flow. The winter harvest is primarily acidic, which is nature’s way of rebuilding.
- FENNEL: Eating fennel and drinking tea made from fennel seeds are traditional ways to move the lymph. As a tea, it is effective for gas and bloating, and also supports the function of the intestinal lacteals. The lacteals are small projections, similar to the villi, in the intestines that help absorb nutrients (particularly fats).
3. Feed Your Microbiome
- SEASONAL ORGANIC FOODS: Plants attract certain microbes from the soil and, when we eat those plants, the microbes become a part of our microbiome. Organic produce is a significantly greater source of beneficial microbes for the digestive tract compared to conventional foods. Eating seasonal, organic foods will provide microbes that support bodily functions required for each season. For example, in the winter, foods are denser and require stronger digestion than the leafy greens of spring. Microbes that support stronger digestion naturally propagate in the winter from its seasonal harvest. While research is only beginning to shed light in this area, Ayurveda has understood the value of seasonal eating for thousands of years. Find our Seasonal Grocery Lists here.
- FERMENTED FOODS such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and miso are all great microbial sources. These were traditionally eaten in the winter, as a way to preserve vegetables in the colder months. Fermented foods are made from a process called lacto-acid fermentation, which makes them very acidic and heating for the body. Eating more acidic foods in the winter makes sense, but can be problematic if eaten in excess in the summer. Generally, fermented foods should be taken in small quantities, like condiments.
4. Cleanse Your Liver
- BITTER ROOTS: Traditionally, digging up and eating dandelion root, burdock root, Oregon grape, goldenseal and others was a standard part of the American diet. Today, such liver-cleansing and bile-moving staples are conspicuously lacking in most diets. If it is impossible for you to dig them up or purchase them fresh, get your bitter roots in capsule form and take them in the spring. Always choose an organic, whole herbal root form rather than an herbal extract, as most of the good microbes are killed during the extraction process. Whole herbs are simply dried and ground up, leaving the majority of the good microbes intact.
- My favorite liver-cleansing and bile-stimulating foods are:
5. Boost Your Stomach Acid
Once we have increased the bile and pancreatic enzyme flow, encouraged lymph drainage, possess a healthier microbiome and enjoy better elimination, we can fire up the stomach’s production of hydrochloric acid (HCL). Here are some of my favorite tips:
- Chew fresh, raw ginger root, or drink ginger tea before and during a meal.
- Dress a salad with oil and vinegar. Vinegar is ascetic acid, which boosts HCL. Apple cider vinegar works even better, because it is safe for high acid conditions.
- Drink a large glass of water a half hour before a meal to pre-hydrate the stomach’s natural buffer layer; this incites the stomach to make more HCL.
- Enjoying fermented foods as an appetizer will help kindle the digestive fire.
- Sip hot water with lemon before or during the meal.
- Add a little salt and pepper to a small glass of water and drink before a meal.
- Spice food with fennel, cumin, coriander, ginger, cardamom (LifeSpa’s Gentle Digest).
- Ginger, black pepper and long pepper (LifeSpa’s Warm Digest) is Ayurveda’s premier spice formula to increase HCL production.