There’s a saying that you can pour the purest golden nectar into a chalice, but if the cup is dirty on the inside, then the quality of the nectar is irrelevant.
When it comes to food and your body, the same is true. You can eat the freshest, high-quality whole foods but if your digestive system is not in good shape, then your ability to process and assimilate the nutrients from your food is severely compromised. This is a key reason why Ayurveda and most other healing systems place such a strong focus on creating and maintaining a healthy gut.
This week, as many people focus on making changes to what they are eating, I am offering a five-part series on simple ways to boost your digestive capacity so that you can more optimally process the healthy foods you are consuming.
Part 3: Stop Eating Bland Food
In a pinch, roasting or sautéing your food in some olive oil with a little salt in pepper can make for a quick and easy meal, but over time you’re missing out on many opportunities to build your digestive fire (see part 1 for more on this concept).
Spices – particularly those that are slightly warming/heating – are a key ingredient to Ayurvedic cooking. When we spice our food, we are adding bits of kindling to our digestive fire, increasing its potency. And, as an added bonus, our food tastes more delicious! When we include varied tastes in our meals, the brain is stimulated and sends signals to the gut to prepare for the digestive work ahead. The more flavorful our food is, the stronger these signals are.
If you feel unsure of how to combine spices as you cook, consider using pre-mixed blends (like garam masala, curry powders and pastes, etc.) as you become more skilled in making up your own combinations. One of my favorite spice blends is the Moroccan staple ras-el-hanout, which pairs well with just about anything.
If you are hesitant to spice your food while cooking it, or are cooking for children or others who may be spice-averse, consider adding spice as a garnish to your food. In Ayurveda, medicinal spice blends called churnas are used to aid digestion and to help treat other conditions as well. Here is a recipe for an easy digestive churna, which can be made using all ground spices, no grinding needed:
Mix together the following in a small bowl, then keep in a clean, sealed jar:
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground fennel
½ t. ground cumin
½ t. turmeric powder
Add a pinch or two of churna to anything and everything – even things like salads, eggs, etc.
Lastly, if you don’t have spices with your food, you can always have them immediately following. Spices teas with cinnamon, clove, ginger and other warming ingredients are good post-meal beverages to keep on hand.
Alternatively, popping some spices directly into your mouth is a great option too! Have you ever noticed that Indian restaurants often have a small bowl of fennel seeds (sometimes candy-coated) available as you exit? This practice stems from Ayurveda. You can keep fennel seeds on hand and chew a few after eating for a digestive boost (added benefit: it freshens your breath too!) Feel free to mix the seed with a small amount of honey if the taste of the fennel alone is overpowering for you.