In Ayurveda, agni (fire) is viewed as the source of life.
It’s literally the gatekeeper of good health and a metaphor for all metabolic functions in the body. Everything you eat is looked upon as an offering to agni — and what’s a more potent, direct offering than food?
What you eat can nourish and strengthen this fire, boosting your digestive system — or it can smother it, leading to an impaired, weakened, or imbalanced agni.
According to Ayurveda, harmful foods, such as fried foods, processed meats, and very cold foods, can create undigested residue that forms toxins, or in Ayurvedic terms “ama.” Ama is described as the root cause of disease.
So, the health goal is to balance this metabolic fire. When it comes to good eating habits, here’s the best advice most Ayurvedic practitioners give:
- Eat only when hungry.
- Keep gaps of at least three hours between meals, so the previous meal is digested.
- Avoid smothering agni with cold, wet, spicy, oily, and fried food.
“A diet of light simple foods is the best. Alkalis help regulate this gastric fire. Ghee stimulates agni and improves digestion. Proper chewing is essential to good digestion, too,” says Dr. K.C. Lineesha of Greens Ayurveda in Kerala, India.
5 Ayurvedic solutions for common stomach problems
1. Constipation? Drink ghee, salt, and hot water
“Consume a drink made with ghee, salt, and hot water. Ghee helps lubricate the inside of the intestines and salt removes bacteria,” says Ayurveda and naturotherapy practitioner, Meeinal Deshpande. Ghee contains butyrate acid, a fatty acid with anti-inflammatory effects that may help with digestion.
Deshpande also suggests eating a ripe banana two hours after dinner, followed by a glass of hot milk or hot water.
A tablespoon of castor oil — a known stimulant laxative — taken at bedtime may also provide relief.
However, those who are pregnant should avoid castor oil. Consult a healthcare provider if you’re considering castor oil for a child under 12 or taking for prolonged use if you’re over 60.
Home recipe for constipation
- Mix 1 tsp fresh ghee and 1/2 tsp salt into 1 1/4 cup hot water.
- Stir well.
- Sit and sip this drink slowly. Should be consumed an hour after dinner.
2. Bloated? Try warm water and fennel seeds or ginger
Basically anything taken with warm water can help bloating, according to Dr. Lineesha.
She especially recommends fennel seeds with a glass of warm water. But you could also consider ginger with a drop of honey.
If you don’t want to prepare a hot drink, chewing on fennel seed after eating can aid the digestion process and reduce gas and bloating.
If you’re a tea drinker, reach for mint tea for fennel tea to help with bloat.
Home recipe for bloating
- Toast 1 tsp fennel seeds and mix in 1 cup of boiled water.
- Add a few pieces of fresh ginger, a pinch of hing (asafetida), and dash of rock salt to the boiled water.
- Sip this slowly after your meal.
3. Acid reflux? Fennel seeds, holy basil, and other spices may do the trick
“Anything that increases saliva in the mouth can help balance the stomach’s acidity,” says Rana.
She recommends freshly made drinks like coconut water with bits of tender coconut or buttermilk (takra) that’s been homemade by churning water and plain yogurt together.
According to Ayurveda, buttermilk soothes the stomach, aids digestion, and reduces irritation in the stomach lining that causes acid reflux.
Home recipe for acid reflux
- Combine 1/4 cup plain yogurt with 3/4 cup water (or double this, keeping same ratio).
- Mix well.
- Add 1 tsp rock salt, pinch of roasted jeera (cumin) powder, a bit of grated ginger, and fresh coriander leaves.
4. Diarrhea? Eat gourds and keep hydrating
“Bottle gourd (cabalash) is excellent for diarrhea. You can turn it into a soup, a curry made with tomatoes, or a stew, and eat it with rice,” says dietitian Sheela Tanna, who prescribes Ayurvedic remedies for her patients.
“[This specialty produce] has a lot of fiber and water content, and is easy to digest, low in calories, and light on the stomach,” Tanna notes.
It’s important to avoid dehydration when you have diarrhea, so drink a lot of fluids, more than you normally would.
Plain water is best, but you can also try buttermilk or fruit juice — especially apple and pomegranate — or ginger tea. Ginger stimulates digestion and is full of antioxidants that rehydrate the body and replenish lost nutrients.
Ginger is a great remedy for healing diarrhea.
“According to Ayurveda, if someone has diarrhea it’s not good to stop it immediately by giving medicines,” says Dr. Lineesha. Instead, she recommends taking ginger to ensure the toxins, and the diarrhea, leave the body naturally.
Home recipe for diarrhea
- Grate 1 inch of ginger and add to 1 1/4 cup water.
- Boil with a little aniseed. After it’s boiled, add a pinch of turmeric powder.
- Strain and drink.
5. Indigestion? Cooked veggies and soupy dishes may help
If your stomach is upset, check to see what you’ve eaten over the last 24 to 48 hours and “find a counterbalance,” suggests Rana.
If afflicted with indigestion, she suggests avoiding dairy or big grains (rice), raw vegetables, and anything that makes the stomach work hard to digest it.
“Have cooked vegetables that are steamed or stir fried, and only add spices that aid in digestion like ginger, cinnamon, black pepper. For meals, soupy and liquid-like dishes help,” Rana says.
Juices are useful too, says Dr. Lineesha. Take equal quantities of onion juice and honey or a glass of buttermilk mixed with a 1/4 teaspoon of garlic paste for relief.
If you have acid reflux, heartburn, or inflammation in the digestive tract, garlic and onion may aggravate it further. Be mindful of what foods work best with your specific body and needs.
Home recipe for indigestion
- Blend 3-4 garlic cloves, 10-12 basil leaves, and 1/4 cup wheatgrass juice.
- Drink once a day.
The foundation of good eating habits
Here are a few suggestions to follow, according to Ayurveda:
- Incorporate spices like turmeric, cumin, fennel seeds, coriander, and hing (asafetida) in your diet.
- Drink ginger or cumin tea once a day.
- Avoid ice-cold drinks or food.
- Don’t drink ice water as it slows agni and digestion.
- Don’t snack, if not hungry.
- Take small sips of warm water during a meal to aid digestion and absorption of food.
- Avoid contradicting food combinations, such as very hot and cold food or raw and cooked food together.
By following these guidelines, you’re maximizing the moments to keep your gut good, grateful, and happy.
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Joanna Lobo is an independent journalist in India who writes about things that make her life worthwhile — wholesome food, travel, her heritage, and strong, independent women. Find her work here.