3 Ayurvedic Eating Strategies To Support Gut Health & Improve Mood
We tend to think external circumstances dictate our mood. But in reality, our internal harmony determines how we perceive, interpret, and respond to our external environment.
Even psychological experiments that follow people after extreme events, such as winning the lottery or losing the ability to walk1, show that our external experiences don't actually change the degree to which we feel happy or unhappy.
Surprised? Well, the great news is that we have a lot more control over our internal world than our external one. There are many factors that can adjust to change how we feel inside, such as our movement, sleep, and the focus of this article: food.
The Ayurvedic perspective on food and mental health.
In Ayurveda, the mind and the gut are inseparable. According to the ancient medical system, the foods you eat and the strength of your digestion determine the quality of your thoughts and mind. There's even a proverb in Ayurveda: "As you eat, so shall you think."
Today, medical research is confirming this ancient proverb by showing the link between the gut microbiome and mood2. The microorganisms in our gut directly impact mood by influencing our neurotransmitters3.
Although modern medicine is just beginning to grasp this relationship between the gut and mind, Ayurveda has been teaching that the gut and brain are one functional unit for thousands of years. In Ayurveda, the fastest way to shift your mood is by changing your diet, improving your gut health, and shifting your microbiome.
But how? Switching to an Ayurvedic-style diet doesn't have to happen all at once. I have been refining my Ayurvedic diet for more than two decades and I continue to make modifications to it. Why? Because my hormones have changed, I need more support for my joints and skin than I did 20 years ago, and I want to make sure that I have a strong and clear mind 20 years from now.
I know my future is determined by what's at the end of my fork today—and Ayurveda helps me take a proactive and individualized approach to shaping it.
Mood-boosting Ayurvedic food rules for every dosha.
There are three basic principles of the Ayurvedic diet that I recommend for every Ayurvedic mind-body type, or dosha. This means that no matter your physical build or mental tendencies, you can use these recommendations to improve your gut health and mood. Remember, you don't have to do everything at once. Start with one step, and when you feel ready, go to the next one:
Eat prana-rich foods.
Prana means "life force." You can look at this as the underlying energy that keeps us healthy and vibrant. Certain foods are higher in prana than others, including fresh, whole foods and whole foods that come from the earth but may still be sold in a bag, such as grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and lentils. Foods that have been grown without harmful pesticides and using biodynamic agriculture techniques also tend to be higher in prana. Specific foods such as honey and ghee are a source of concentrated prana too. But in my opinion, the highest prana-rich foods are the ones you lovingly grow yourself.
In Ayurveda, food begins to denature within hours of being cooked, so leftovers only have a small fraction, if any, of the original prana in the food. For this reason, I recommend eating leftovers quickly (ideally within the same day) to boost prana.
Make lunch the largest meal of the day.
Your digestive power is referred to as agni in Ayurveda. Agni translates into "fire," and our digestive fire is intimately connected to the sun, which is the source of fire for our entire planet through the heat and light it provides.
By this logic, we should consume our largest meal of the day when the sun is strongest, at midday. When the sun is weakest in the evening, we should consume the least amount of food, and it should be light and easy to digest. Even if you can't do this every day, by following this recommendation most days of the week, you'll notice a significant increase in your energy and mental clarity.
Eat until you're 80% full.
It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for your brain to actually realize that you are full, which is why you should stop eating once you notice that you are about 80% full. This not only regulates your overall caloric intake each day; it also improves your digestion.
Your stomach is a sack, and it needs some space to mechanically churn the digestive contents and break down your food. If you are eating until you are completely full, when your stomach is essentially at max physical capacity, there is no room to churn food to break it down.
If you're struggling with mood, look at the way you're approaching your food before thinking that your brain is hardwired for stress and anxiety. Our brain is amazingly flexible, and it responds to our daily habits. In addition to practicing a daily meditation routine and getting regular exercise, try these Ayurvedic food strategies to support stronger digestion and a happier mood.
Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary, MD, is a neurologist, neuroscientist and an internationally recognized expert in the ancient practice of Ayurvedic medicine. She earned her medical degree at Loma Linda University School of Medicine; completed her internship at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and neurology residency at University of California San Diego (UCSD).
Chaudhary is the author of “The Prime” (Penguin Random House, 2016) and “Sound Medicine” (Harper Collins, 2020); is a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine and is a highly sought-after speaker, researcher and adviser for Healthy Directions. She is the former director of Wellspring Health in Scripps Memorial Hospital, where she successfully combined conventional treatments with Ayurvedic practices of detoxification, diet, and lifestyle management to help patients effectively manage chronic neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and migraine headaches.
Her program was so successful that it is now used for a wide range of health concerns, including weight issues and chronic disease. Through her integrative approach, Chaudhary teaches her patients about the connection between mind, body and spirit, which impacts every aspect of health both physically and mentally. Learn more at www.DrKChaudhary.com.