Ten Health Tips For The Holidays

Ten Health Tips For The Holidays

Ama, the toxic waste-product of inefficient digestion, can accumulate at any time of the year. During the holidays, we’re particularly susceptible to it. The bounty of festive meals and lots of sweets tempts us to overeat and eat at irregular times, and these are all triggers for the build-up of ama. If left unchecked, our body can become clogged and our immune system weakened by the accumulation of ama. Do you experience lack of appetite, stiffness in the joints, occasional constipation, respiratory issues, allergen reactions, or weight gain? Ama is the most likely culprit. So, what is the ayurvedic tool for conquering ama? Agni — our digestive fire! If we keep our agni strong, our bodies will be able to digest the food we eat without creating toxic by-products, and we can “avert the danger yet to come.” What a relief!

How do we keep agni balanced and avert ama build-up? These simple tips are a great place to start:

  1. Eat Our Main Meal Midday

    Instead of a big late-afternoon meal or a heavy dinner, we should try to have our main meal between 12:00 and 2:00 p.m., when our digestive fire is the strongest — when the sun is highest in the sky. Eating a big dinner will not only tax the digestive system, but can disrupt sleep. To avoid the discomfort of feeling too full and not being able to sleep well, eat a light easy-to-digest dinner at least three hours before bedtime.

  2. Keep Regular Mealtimes

    Miss a meal? Skipping meals disrupts and weakens agni. However, eating three times a day around the same time of the day keeps digestion balanced. Eating a meal before the previous meal is completely digested also disrupts agni. Our bodies need at least three hours to finish digesting a meal before eating the next one. An afternoon snack is fine as long as it is small and light: a piece of fresh fruit, dried fruits or soaked nuts are great options for in-between meals! How do we know when our body is done digesting the previous meal? We experience hunger — listen to your body!

  3. Avoid Overeating

    This advice might be the hardest to follow, especially during those big holiday meals, but it is very important. Always eat according to hunger level. Our body knows how much food it can digest; we just have to listen. Take smaller portions, eat slowly and don't go for seconds if you are not hungry. When you eat slowly, your body will naturally tell you when you are full. Eat to only ¾ of your capacity. Even good food in excessive quantities can create ama.

  4. Find Herbal Aid

    If we happen to occasionally break one of the above rules, no worries! The holidays are a time to enjoy. We can use nature’s intelligence, ayurvedic herbs, to support agni. We can increase our appetite and gastric juices by occasionally drinking warm water, ginger water or cumin tea, or by eating a thin slice of fresh ginger with a pinch of salt before meals. Or for the sake of convenience, balance and promote digestion with one or two Herbal Di-Gest tablets before a meal.

  5. Avoid Agni-Destroying Foods

    Some people say certain foods taste better the next day, but ayurveda does not recommend eating leftovers — not even holiday ones. Eating freshly-prepared foods is preferred, because freshly-prepared food is easier to digest and contains more prana, or life energy! In addition to leftovers, avoid heavy, deep-fried foods and cold foods and drinks that diminish agni and contribute to the accumulation of ama. Think of throwing cold water on a fire. That is what we do when we have cold drinks just before, during, or after meals.

  6. Watch the Sweets

    This is another area where moderation can save us from dampened digestion and weight gain. If we have a sweet tooth, eating homemade pies and cookies instead of "junk" sweets is favorable. The latter usually contain preservatives, artificial flavors and colors which are toxic for the body and will turn into ama. They also lack nutrients and prana, and are heavy to digest. Commercial pastries and cakes also tend to contain more sugar and fat than our body needs.

  7. Take in All Six Tastes

    Sweet might be the taste of choice — but we know we can’t eat just sweets! Ayurveda identifies six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. For each of our meals we can strive to include all six of these tastes. This will tend to make us feel more satisfied and ultimately have fewer cravings. The vpk® by Maharishi Ayurveda Churnas are excellent spice mixes that include all the six tastes, and as an added bonus they also improve digestion.

  8. Balance Meals

    In addition to all the tastes, meals ideally include a balanced combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat. If we eat only carbohydrates, our blood sugar will rise quickly, but leave us feeling fatigued or lethargic later. Not all fats are bad. Why? Because healthy fats such as olive oil and ghee are essential for carrying the nutrients to our cells. Ayurvedically, varied foods and menus supply all the nutrients necessary for complete nourishment. According to ayurveda, when we eat properly we don’t need to supplement our diet with concentrates or extracts.

  9. Daily Exercise

    Regular exercise, at least half an hour a day, will not only help keep the extra pounds off, but will improve agni and reduce ama. A short walk after a meal, for example, is a great way to help digestion. Yoga asanas are the ideal way to balance mind and body and help digestion along the way. Read more about winter (Vata season) balancing asanas, here.

  10. Regular Routine

    Being regular is important not only for mealtimes, but for our daily routine as well. Our elimination, bedtime and working habits should all be ayurvedically appropriate in order to keep our immune system strong and our body ama-free. Enjoy holiday festivities, but try to maintain normalcy in daily habits as well!

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By vpk® by Maharishi Ayurveda Staff Writers

The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.


The Six Tastes Of Food - An Ayurvedic Perspective + 5 Quick Tips For Digestion

The Six Tastes Of Food
Have you ever wondered why when we are sick we often lose our sense of taste and even have a diminished appetite? The science of Ayurveda explains an interesting relationship between taste, appetite, and the power of digestion. Often we simply connect tastes and flavor with enjoyment value rather than connecting tastes with its corresponding therapeutic value. Ayurveda has a simple yet elegant explanation for all of this and even provides a correlation which considers the natural order of these six tastes and the corresponding stages of digestion, as we shall discuss below.

The Six Tastes:
Although food should most certainly should be flavorful and delightful - we should also consider the therapeutic effects which food has upon both the body and mind. The six tastes that we will consider are the following:

1. sweet
2. sour
3. salty
4. pungent
5. bitter
6. astringent

1. SWEET TASTE - First Things First!
The first taste that should be consumed in a meal is the sweet taste such as rice, wheat, maize, etc.  Ayurveda explains that sweet tastes helps to nourish the mucosal lining of the stomach as well as helps stimulate the gastric juices and digestive enzymes required for digesting the meal. In ancient days, providing something sweet first was a way of helping to promote the digestive strength in a more smooth and gentle fashion rather than shocking the system with other harsh flavors. Sweet considerations may include almonds, dates and raisins.

[[ Ancient Wisdom Regarding Astringent Taste ]]
“The sweet taste promotes the growth of all bodily tissues and Ojas [vital essence]. Aiding in longevity, it is soothing to the five sense organs and the mind, and gives strength and good complexion.”
- Charak Samhita

2. SOUR TASTE - The Second Taste
The next flavor which should be introduced into the meal is the sour taste with items such as pickles. The sour taste is thought to help further stimulate digestive juices [i.e. hydrochloric acid] from the lesser curvature of the stomach. From an energetic perspective we can think of sour as being heating and this “fire” element is what breaks up [i.e. digest] food with its hot and sharp qualities.

[[ Ancient Wisdom Regarding Astringent Taste ]]
“Sour taste improves the taste of food, enkindles the digestive fire, adds bulk to the body, invigorates, awakens the mind, gives firmness to the senses, increases strength, dispels intestinal gas and flatus, gives contentment to the heart, promotes salivation, aids swallowing, moistening and digestion of food. It is light, hot and wet.”
- Charak Samhita

3. SALTY TASTE - The Third Taste
The third taste which should introduced into the meal is the salty taste. From an energetic perspective, salty taste is made up predominately of fire and water elements which helps to secrete bile acids in order to further digest both protein and fat.

[[ Ancient Wisdom Regarding Salty Taste ]]
“Salty taste promotes digestion, is moistening, enkindles digestive fire; it is cutting, biting, sharp, fluid. Salty taste promotes salivation, liquifies mucus, cleanses the vessels, softens all the organs of the body, gives taste to food. It is heavy, oily and hot.”

4. PUNGENT TASTE - The Fourth Taste
The fourth taste which should be incorporated into the meal is the pungent taste. Pungent taste is thought to stimulate normal peristaltic movement within the gastrointestinal tract which is required to properly churn the ingested meal.

[[ Ancient Wisdom Regarding Pungent Taste ]]
“The pungent taste is cleansing to the mouth, enkindles the digestive fire, purifies food, promotes nasal secretions, causes tears and gives clarity to the senses. It helps to manage conditions of obesity, abdominal swelling and excessive liquid in the body.”
- Charak Samhita

5. BITTER TASTE - The Fifth Taste
The next taste to consider is bitter taste such as bitter green vegetables. Bitter taste is thought to stimulate the release of specialized enzymes within the jejunum and ileum in order to further digest food within the lower gut.

[[ Ancient Wisdom Regarding Bitter Taste ]]
“Bitter taste, though it does not taste good in itself, restores the sense of taste. It is detoxifying, antibacterial, germicidal, and kills worms. Bitter taste creates tightness of the skin and muscles. It kindles the digestive fire, promotes digestion of toxins and helps scrape away fat. It is dry, cold and light.”
- Charak Samhita

6. ASTRINGENT TASTE - The Sixth Taste
Finally, the meal should end with the astringent taste. This is the reason why most indian meals end with a cup of lassi. Lassi is freshly prepared butter milk or yogurt and is often mixed with water and a pinch of roasted cumin powder.

[[ Ancient Wisdom Regarding Astringent Taste ]]
“Astringent taste is drying, firming, contracting. Astringent taste promotes absorption of bodily fluids; it is dry, cooling and light.”
- Charak Samhita

Although we have discussed the relationship of tastes to the power of digestion - we will conclude with a few tips to help aid digestion.

1. Before each meal, consider eating 1/2 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger root with a pinch of rock salt and a squeeze of lime juice. This will help to stimulate the digestive fire [“agni”] which will then help increase the secretion of digestive juices.

2. Consider adding small amounts of ghee [clarified butter] to the meal which will increase the digestive fire [“agni”] and help improve digestion.

3. Having a small quantity of pickle with a meal, such as lime or mango pickle will also help to improve digestion.

4. After having completed the meal, consider chewing a teaspoon of roasted fennel seeds, mixed with roasted dhanyaka daal as this will help with digestion.

5.  As mentioned above, consider having a cup of lassi at the end of the meal as the astringent flavor will help complete the digestive process. You can make lassi by blending about 1/4 cup of fresh yogurt [yogurt not cold; rather room temperature] into a cup of water and then adding two pinches of ginger and cumin powder.