Ayurveda is quickly gaining popularity as a natural healing modality and a new approach to nutrition. Ayurvedic guidelines are pretty straightforward, but implementing them in real life can get pretty confusing at times.
I came across an interesting online course on Ayurveda called 'Colon Karma Cure' by Dr. Helen Thomas. Dr. Thomas is an enthusiastic chiropractic doctor who loves sharing her passion for Ayurvedic medicine. Dr. Helen studied Ayurveda with Dr. Deepak Chopra and many other well-respected Ayurveda practitioners. Helen teaches people to recognize individual body types and provides them the opportunity to learn how to balance themselves through awareness and simple lifestyle changes. She is the author of multiple books and articles on the subjects of health, beauty and wellness. Colon Karma Cure is her recent creation. Helen kindly agreed to do an interview and share her thoughts on everything Ayurveda. We discuss lots of sensitive topics from gluten and dairy intolerances, to eating on-the-go and snacking, from caffeine and insomnia to healing indigestion.
Nadya: Dairy and gluten intolerance is a controversial topic that is becoming very popular. What does Ayurveda say about food intolerance and allergies?
Dr Helen Thomas: It is a difficult subject. A lot of people equate gluten to grains and it is not the case. Usually, people are allergic to refined forms of gluten that are added to highly processed baked items, sauces, and cereals. It comes in unnatural form and our body can’t recognize and digest it properly. That allergic reaction to highly processed forms of gluten does not mean that all grains are bad. Many grains are super healthy and can be a great source of healthy carbs and proteins, especially for vegetarians. Millet, amaranth, teff, couscous, quinoa, are high in digestible protein while at the same time gluten-free.
Traditionally, dairy is an important part of an Ayurvedic diet. Unfortunately, dairy intolerance became very wide-spread in the last 20 years. In my experience, however, milk digestability is a matter of its preparation. In the US most people are used to drinking milk cold while in Ayurveda cold milk is considered poisonous. On the other hand, warm freshly boiled spiced milk can be a medicine and a highly nourishing food for nerve cells. There is a big misunderstanding around milk intolerance due to its preparation and the kind of milk that is being sold at the supermarkets. Only about 5% of the people who come to me complaining of dairy intolerance have a true allergy to milk.
Most of the dairy milk at the store is homogenized, pasteurized, and full of chemicals. Is it okay to drink it or is it better to use a milk alternative like almond, soy or oat?
According to Ayurveda, fresh cow's milk or buffalo milk is preferred. However, in India, the motherland of Ayurveda, you can still easily get raw fresh milk brought daily to your door. In the United States where raw milk farms are being hunted down, people are forced to look for the least pasteurized unhomogenized milk, at best. In either case, milk has to be boiled, never taken cold. To improve digestive processes, milk should be spiced with dosha specific spices. If you decide to stay away from dairy then almond milk is a great alternative for Vatas, oat milk is good for Pittas, and hemp is light enough for Kaphas. Kaphas should always add warming spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, or black pepper to their milk.
What do you think about proper food combinations? How strict does one need to be?
The answer is: it depends. It goes back to the body type and the state of digestion. If you’re a Vata type and have a tendency to have indigestion symptoms such as gas, bloating, or constipation, food combinations will make a big difference, especially in highly stressful situations. If you body is on a borderline of getting sick or being exhausted, proper food combinations is an easy way to strengthen immune system, while insulting your digestion with poor food combinations will make you sick. You have to judge when and how strict to be with food combinations.
It is important to understand what happens when you eat incompatible food combinations. Let’s look at the most famous: fruit and yogurt. When you put fruit which is a sugar and acid in yogurt, acid curdles the milk in your stomach and starts the fermentation process. Also dairy takes a lot longer to digest while fruit sugars are digested very quickly. However, since they are eaten together, fruit has to stay in the stomach a lot longer and will start to putrefy. Something that putrefies and ferments in the stomach is not going to give you good quality nutrition. It’s going to turn into toxins that go out into the blood stream.
There are some food combinations that will cause problems eventually no matter what body type you are. There are twelve different food combinations rules that Colon Karma Cure program teaches and that everyone should know. People with frequent indigestion would benefit the most from following those rules.
What happens if you slip up and make poor food choices? How can we quickly recover?
One of the most powerful detoxifyers is cheap and widely available - it is water. An Ayurvedic way to prepare water is to boil a quart of water for 10 mins. It invokes all elements in water: ether, air, fire, water (steam), and earth. This process creates a balanced water. You can put it in a thermos and sip it all day long for a mild purification. It will help to keep your digestive system moving.
In Colon Karma Cure, you encourage people not to eat standing up, walking or driving. Instead you advise to eat in a settled environment. What do you think about the to-go drink that everyone carries on the street while rushing to work?
Drug companies are selling digestive aids faster than they can make them. That should be an alarm that we as a society are doing something wrong. The way we eat and relate to food leads to digestive disorders. When you sit down and let your nervous system rest while you eat, when you honor your digestive process and fuel your body with highly nutritious well-cooked food then you will be able to enjoy good energy for the rest of the day. You will be more creative, you will be able to serve people better, and you will be a pleasure to be around. It’s a different life, it’s a different quality experience. If you’re on the run all the time, nervous and agitated, you have too many things on your mind at once, and you’re eating in quick bites while rushing around, you can’t nourish your body. It is true both for solid meals and for drinks.
What does Ayurveda think about caffeine?
The answer to this question, as with most other foods, depends on a specific body type. Vata body types are light and quick by their nature so they really don’t need that additional stimulation. Caffeine can create an overly hyped up state for Vatas and put their nervous system into a fight or flight state. If done continuously over a long period of time, it will lead to exhaustion.
Pitta types have a very strong digestion but are prone to acidity. In Ayurveda, we say that Pitta types can “eat nails” and never experience digestive issues. However, caffeine is one of the few things that can harm Pittas as it may create a highly acidic environment in their bodies.
Kapha types tend to have a slow digestive fire and for them caffeine can actually be good in moderate quantities. It helps to get them going and stimulates their sluggish nature.
So coffee is not bad or good. There is not an answer that fits all, it always depends on who you are and how your body works.
One of the reasons that people want so many stimulants is because most people can't get a normal sleep during the nighttime. What are some foods that will help you sleep better; that will eliminate insomnia?
Insomnia from an Ayurvedic point of view means that the nervous system is too exhausted to sleep. Someone who suffers from insomnia has to nourish the nervous system with foods that promote rejuvenation and rest. Most insomnia sufferers have elevated Vata. Vata pacifying diet should include easy-to-digest grains, warm spiced milk, and sweet fruits such as figs and dates.
Maintaining a regular daily routine is also critical for alleviating insomnia, it helps to calm down the nervous system. It is best to go to bed before 10PM. It doesn't matter if you fall asleep or not but it is important to lay down and reinstate the routine. You can listen to relaxing music but try to keep the lights off and focus on the breath. A foot massage with warm oil can also be very helpful before going to bed.
Many nutritionists advise to eat first thing in the morning as soon as you wake up to start up the metabolism. What does Ayurveda say in terms of when you should start eating and whether you should be eating when you're not hungry?
Ayurveda says you have to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, each specific to your body type (author note: Dr Vasant Lad disagrees and mentioned that eating twice a day and having just warm water for breakfast is also appropriate. He prefers having only 2 meals himself.). Kapha types may be satisfied with a piece of fruit while Vata and Pitts types should have something more substantial. Warm cooked grains and stewed fruits work great. Cream of wheat, millet, or quinoa cooked with spices and milk is a wonderful breakfast.
Is there anything that you want to add or want our readers to know?
My program, The Colon Karma Cure, can be a fun and useful program to almost anyone. Whether you have a digestive disorder or not, understanding the principle of Ayurveda can help to increase energy levels and improve health. The goal of Colon Karma Cure is to remind people how to take care of their body and how to nourish and strengthen it.
For more on Dr. Helen's indigestion secrets, check out more of my interview here.