How To Eat For Better Digestion, According to Ayurveda
Fill your basket with fresh mint. Fill your basket with fresh cilantro, cucumbers, sprouts, watermelons, berries, and cherries! The summer harvest is abundant and readily available.
Eating what's in season is not only more affordable and delicious (have you bit into a juicy, sweet plum yet?) but supports healthy digestion, which directly bolsters positive outlook, better sleep, mental clarity, and robust immune function. By simply favoring certain foods and reducing others, you'll radically improve your health and wellness this summer!
Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old holistic system of healing from India that provides wholesome diet and lifestyle tips to maintain health and prevent disease.
Ayurveda touts seasonal eating for healthy digestion by acknowledging that nature's harvest provides an antidote to the dominant qualities of each season.
To determine the healthiness of each bodily system, Ayurveda looks to three organizing energies: the doshas. Each dosha is composed of two elements (earth, water, fire, air, or space) and through this unique makeup, performs specific bodily functions.
Vata dosha, made of air and space, governs all bodily movements (respiration, circulation, muscular action, chewing, blinking, etc.).
Pitta dosha, made of fire and water, manages digestion (transforming food into bodily tissues).
Kapha dosha, made of water and earth, oversees lubrication, structure, and stability (synovial fluid, cerebral spinal fluid, saliva, mental endurance, memory, etc.).
When the doshas perform their duties well, then we see strong overall health. But when any one of them becomes disturbed, then the systems it directs display signs and symptoms of discomfort and disease.
Ayurveda teaches us that the hot, humid days of summer are governed by pitta dosha, which is the energy consisting mainly of fire and water elements.
The chief qualities of pitta are hot, oily, liquid, light, and sharp. Internally, these qualities manifest as digestive acids and enzymes secreted by the stomach and small intestine to support pitta's main function — digestion.
Not only does pitta transform nourishing food into healthy bodily tissues (we are, indeed, what we eat), but with its sharp fire, pitta also governs proper mental and emotional digestion. Pitta allows us to digest information and process life experiences, thereby providing mental clarity, discernment, and wit.
Because the mind and body are directly affected by what's going on with nature, such as the increase in heat and humidity outside, we tend to feel more hot and irritated within.
Unfortunately, if pitta accumulates too much (due to overexposure to the summer weather or pitta-provoking food choices), it's common to experience more fiery sensations and fierce emotions — like acid reflux, loose stools, skin rashes, acne, burning eyes, frustration, anger, or impatience.
Thankfully, instinct naturally kicks in during the pitta season of summer and encourages us to cool down — we wear lighter, breezier clothing, open the windows, turn on the fans, take vacations, go swimming, and spend more time relaxing in the shade. These simple lifestyle adjustments actually have a big impact on how cool and calm we remain.
But the intuitive desire to avoid overheating during summer is more than just common sense; Ayurvedically speaking, it demonstrates skillfully favoring activities possessing pitta's opposite qualities in order to maintain comfort throughout the hot, humid season — choosing more cooling, calming, refreshing activities.
Thankfully, for overall health and well-being, we can do this simple balancing act via diet, too.
Foods to Reduce in the Summer
Although fried shrimp in garlic sauce, marinated olives, and martinis may be tempting on a summer night out with friends, too much spicy food and alcohol is sure to increase pitta and create digestive discomfort.
Remember, pitta's qualities are hot, oily, sharp, and light, so eating foods with similar qualities will increase the intensity of those same qualities in the body-mind, potentially leaving behind acid indigestion and mental agitation.
The broad approach to healthy summer food choices is to reduce fried, greasy, oily, and heavily sautéed foods. More specifically, try reducing pungent, hot, or spicy foods (like garlic, ginger, jalapeño, chili, and cayenne), sour foods (fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, kimchee; citrus; and sour fruits), and salty dishes and snacks (flavored chips, canned veggies, and hard cheeses).
Also avoid overindulging in acidic foods like red meat and nightshades (eggplant, peppers, potato, tomato).
Luckily, though, fresh tomatoes are much better for pitta than stewed, fried, or cooked tomatoes (which are both acidic and oily — and often overly salty, too — a triple threat for pitta!), so continue savoring scrumptious heirloom and cherry tomatoes — just enjoy them raw.
Finally, both alcohol and coffee are very pungent, sharp, strong substances that tend to increase pitta rapidly, so these two items should be approached with great caution throughout the summer.
But the good news is that beer is much less aggravating for pitta than hard alcohol or wine, so pack some organic microbrews for your next picnic!
Foods to Favor in the Summer
The hot, sticky days of summer call for watermelon slices, cucumber salads, and coconut water. It's time to snack on a succulent nectarine or a bowl of sweet cherries! The summer harvest is overflowing with sweet, juicy, refreshing fruits and veggies — foods possessing qualities opposite to pitta's.
Filling up on what's in season is the best way to stay cool and maintain healthy digestion.
Favor foods with sweet (sweet fruits and berries, most grains, organic milk, soft cheese, egg whites, white meat), bitter (leafy greens, sprouts, asparagus, fennel, celery, most veggies, aloe), and astringent (pomegranate, cranberries, black tea, the rinds of veggies — very nourishing!) tastes to make up the majority of each meal to ensure that pitta remains balanced.
Swap out lemon for lime — a citrus much more palatable for pitta during summer; toss it in your morning cup of water or squeeze some on a savory dish for a little zing.
Switch from hot coffee to black or herbal tea — chamomile, rose, jasmine, mint, and hibiscus teas are especially cooling during pitta season. After a sweaty workout, try hydrating with coconut water, or dress up a glass of water with some cucumber slices and sprigs of fresh mint!
Thankfully, fruits and veggies are well-ripened by the summer sun, making them easy to digest and perfect to enjoy as is. Don't stress over complicated recipes; step back from the stove and simply whip up veggie salads, fruit salads, and herbal teas.
Cook simple, sweet grains (like basmati rice and quinoa) in a rice cooker — voilà! Craving something hot? Try a big bowl of veggie broth with steamed seasonal veggies and rice or grilled veggies with lime, your favorite white meat, and quinoa on the side.
Spend less time cooking and more time preparing so everything's easy to devour.
Plan ahead: Expect to spend about 30 minutes washing and chopping produce as soon as you get home from the natural food store or farmers market. Then, kick up your feet and enjoy some cool hibiscus tea!
Finally, enjoy your meals in cool locations (both literally and figuratively) — picnic in the shade of a weeping willow in the park or eat under the stars by candlelight.
Explore spots in your neighborhood with outside seating like rooftop bistros, patios, and cafés on the water, or organize a casual pitta-balancing potluck.
Summer gatherings with loved ones are the perfect pitta remedy — laughing, smiling, and sharing in the sweetness of summer!