Ayurveda – Top Tips for Meal Times

Summary:  Simple Ayurvedic tips for mealtimes that promote excellent digestion and therefore contribute significantly to our overall health and wellbeing.

In Ayurveda, proper digestion is regarded as being of paramount importance. In fact, Ayurveda acknowledges that the disease process often starts with the toxic by-products of poor digestion. So, anything that helps maintain a healthy ‘digestive fire’ (Agni) promotes health; anything which ‘puts out’ or disturbs the fire does not.

Ayurveda says that our natural ability to digest food depends to a large extent on our body type. For example, ‘pure’ Vata types have irregular hunger and digestion; ‘pure’ Pitta types have very strong digestion (they can also experience intense hunger and thirst): ‘pure’ Kapha types have a slow digestion and rarely exhibit strong hunger. However, whatever our body type Ayurveda gives sound advice on how we can improve our digestion.

Ayurveda gives us simple tips for mealtimes – if we follow them we can help maintain a healthy digestion and so avoid the root cause of many diseases.

Before Our Meal

      •  It’s good to eat meals at the same time every day. This means the natural rhythms of the body synchronise with our mealtimes so we start to feel hungry prior to a meal and our body gets ready to digest it.
      •  We should eat our biggest meal around midday, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. At this time our internal ‘digestive fire’ is greatest and so digestion is strong. You may have read ‘eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.’ Ayurveda says this is rubbish. So our biggest meal should be around midday – although this may not be easy to achieve in many modern work environments.
      •  Our evening meal is best consumed a few hours before bedtime – say, around 7pm at the latest. This leaves sufficient time to digest the food before going to sleep. Partially digested food, according Ayurveda, creates toxins. The build-up of toxins is responsible for long term health problems.
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      •  We should always eat sitting down in a comfortable and settled atmosphere. We should not eat when we are walking around or driving (rationale: walking while eating disturbs the Vata dosha).
      •  Ayurveda advises against snacking or grazing between meals. The addition of more food an hour or so after a main meal starts up the whole digestive process again. We should only eat when we have a reasonable hunger or appetite and give the system a complete rest between meals. Typically this would be from 2 to 4 hours after a light meal and from 4 to 6 hours after a heavy one.
      •  Most Ayurvedic experts say it is better to avoid drinking anything for half an hour before and for half an hour after a meal (rationale: the drink dilutes the digestive juices).
      • We can increase our digestive fire and appetite by consuming a small slice of fresh ginger (ideally with a sprinkling of salt on top) about 10 to 15 minutes before we eat.

During Our meal

      •  We should have our full attention on what we are eating, not on the TV programme, not on the computer screen and not on our phone (rationale: if distracted, our senses are unable to fully enjoy the food – so we may over-eat, eat too quickly, eat without chewing properly and  maybe eat without fully appreciating the  food).
      •  It is good to eat with family, or friends, or people we like. It is better to avoid arguments during mealtimes as unsettled emotions do not promote good digestion.
      • Some experts  say we should avoid all drinks with a meal, while others suggest it is acceptable to drink small sips of warm water with a meal (emphasis on ‘small’).
      •  Ayurveda also says:  never have ice cold drinks with a meal (rationale: the cold puts out the digestive fire). Never have carbonated drinks with a meal (rationale: the bubbles create ‘wind’ which disturbs the Vata dosha). So, combining both of the above points means never, ever, have ice-cold carbonated drinks with a meal!

After Our Meal

      •  After eating we should sit for a few minutes, and then have a short walk (e.g. 5 to 10 minutes) to help digestion – even if this means walking around the office, or up and down stairs at home a few times.
      •  We can also maintain our digestive fire and help it to burn toxins in the body by drinking small amounts of warm water throughout the day (except near mealtimes). However, pure Pitta types might want to follow this advice with caution, particularly in very hot weather. It is usually best not to drink anything that is cold (it decreases the internal digestive fire – Agni.)

General Advice for Meals

      • Well-cooked, plant based food is usually easier to digest than meat. White meat is also easier to digest than red meat. If you need to eat red meat consider adding cayenne or chilli peppers to help with the digestion. Raw vegetables are very difficult to digest and disturb the vata (wind) element!
      •  Ayurveda favours the consumption of freshly prepared, well-cooked food. It does not rate frozen food, tinned food, pre-packaged or microwavable meals, or any form of highly processed food. Ayurveda is not saying we should never eat these, but we should just be aware they do not contain as much ‘life force’ as freshly prepared meals.
      •  It is beneficial to incorporate all of the ‘six tastes’ classified by Ayurveda into our meals – if not present in every meal, then at least we should be exposed to all the six tastes in the meals taken in a single day. This often helps prevent overeating which can arise as our body tries to satisfy its needs for these tastes (if they are not present, we unconsciously eat more just trying to find them).
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      •  If we are going to drink milk, then either drink it on its own and not with a meal, or drink it only with other foods Ayurveda classifies as ‘sweet’. Heating milk makes it more digestible.