Eating is inarguably the most primary instinct of all living beings. Yet, in the hurry-and-worry of our busy life, we tend to forget some of the basic factors needed to make eating a healthy phenomenon. The internet (and probably your personal library) is flooded with tonnes of advice on what to and what not to eat; so I won’t be delving into it today. What I will present here is a short, abstract, one-size-fits-all piece of advice on HOW to eat food to get its optimum benefit.
So, off we go, checking the list one by one –
1. Eat it Warm.
Anyone who has taken a course in Chemistry knows that temperature is the commonest catalyst in all chemical reactions. The digestive reactions in your tummy are no exception to it. Also, warm food suits better to the core temperature of your internal organs, which is 37.5 degrees Celsius, and thus helps maintain a good blood circulation in the stomach walls. Cold food, on the other hand, takes the body’s resources to warm it up to the core temperature before being digested. It also causes the blood vessels in the stomach to contract, (the same phenomenon that works in putting ice pack on a burn) leading to less blood flow, and in turn, laggy digestion in the stomach. Warming can also entail pre-heating, which is the best way to avoid Staphylococcal food poisoning and many food/water borne pathogens like E.Coli (bacillary dysentery) and S.Typhi (Typhoid fever) amongst others.
2. Keep it fatty enough.
Yes! You read that right. As a fact, fats ARE an essential part of the daily food that can’t be decreased below a certain level, leave apart eliminating it. In fact, eating fats to provide 20% of your calorie intake actually helps leave proteins to do what they are supposed to do, repair and build the body. Additionally, fats in the food give you natural protection against gastric irritants that cause acid peptic disease and esophageal reflux. They also create physical barrier to any harmful heavy metal traces that may have crept into your food, from getting absorbed into your blood. As for fats being bad for cardiac patients and obese people, just follow the usual instructions from your physician (avoid PUFAs, eat more Omega-3s etc.). As I said earlier, the internet is flooded with that info. Go Google it out or mail me. I am writing only what isn’t told out there. So, the bottom line, you need not love the fat, but don’t hate it too.
3. Mind the quantity.
To put it very simply, your stomach is a biological mill that mixes the eaten food with digestive juices, churns it and takes out the created ‘smoothie’ through the pores in its walls. So obviously, this mill too has its limits of how much maximum and minimum inputs it can process at a time. So what’s the optimum quantity? Various dieticians offer various advice, but as a rule of thumb, a healthy person should fill one third of their stomach’s fill with solid food, one third with liquids/semi-solids, and leave the remaining empty for the gases that accumulate as digestive byproducts. For the nerds, the capacity of an adult stomach is about 2.5 to 3 litres. So its contents at any one time should not measure more than about 1.5 to 2 litres, at the most, including the water you drink; though no one needs to be so obsessed to measure it so tightly.
4. Time it properly. (a.k.a. Binge-eaters’ Alert!)
We have long been told by our grannies to keep a gap of atleast three hours between meals. Why? The reason is simple and scientific. The stomach needs three full hours to churn one complete meal into the ‘smoothie’ that it creates and passes down to the gut. Also, the rate of secretion of digestive juices demands that the body be given that much time to rest and return to work between two digestive cycles. So the rule of thumb is, never eat again upto 3 hours after eating once. Still better is to eat only when you feel your tummy light and hungry again.
5. Know the right and wrong combinations.
This one can become a whole article in itself when elaborated (Oh yes! Will write on it someday! Keep reading.). Both modern medicine and Ayurveda describe hundreds of food stuffs which produce good/bad effects on health when consumed in combination or with/without proper processing. It is always good to know the common ones atleast. For example, yoghurt is best eaten when mixed with a pinchful of salt. The salt helps emulsifying the fats for easier digestion, and reduces the tangy flavour by reacting with the acids in yoghurt.
Again, I won’t list any more examples right here. Go comb out the internet for now, or wait for my dedicated article. A good place to start is the websites of US-FDA and FSSAI. Homesteading blogs are also loaded with such info. If you can’t tell 10 useful/harmful combinations at least, this homework is for you.
6. Eat in tune with the terrain and season.
Nature has a wonderful way of balancing out its equilibrium by itself. Fascinatingly, the seasonal foods that grow in a particular region in particular season always contain the specific nutrients that you need for that particular terrain and weather; and this is true for all parts of the world round the year! So all you need to do is to go with the flow! Vegan or not, just include lots of local seasonal fruits and veggies in your diet. This also applies inversely and comparatively – avoid eating what doesn’t grow well in the terrain and weather you currently live in. So, eating Idli-Sambhar in Shanghai can be great, but cheese burger in Mumbai isn’t a cool choice for your health. Similarly, mangoes in monsoon and apples in summer are not very great to eat. Pros can go a step further by studying the ‘Hritucharya‘ (seasonwise lifestyle optimization) principles in Ayurveda (a detailed article on this sometime later!).
7. Focus on the mood
Ever noticed how a mouth-watering food-pic on Instagram makes you feel hungry instantly? Yes, the psychological connection of digestion is a scientifically proven reality. Even the rate of saliva secretion depends on your mood and motivation. A bad mood and emotion increases adrenaline in the body, that slows down digestion among many other processes. In order to keep your psych healthy, a clean, calm and positive atmosphere at the dining place is a big plus that anybody can afford. Also, multiple surveys suggest that the commonest spoilers of focus are loud talk and laughing while eating. That doesn’t mean that you need to go dead silent while eating; just ensure that nothing of it distracts your focus from the optimum chewing process, and more importantly, your mind-body sync.
8. Pay heed to your body’s intuition
You may be in India for a holiday, and a chilly winter evening may demand a hot and spicy egg curry, but if you are a young busy person in a hurried fast-lane life with a tendency for hyperacidity, its still a no-no for you. In fact, if you’ve ever been in such a situation, you find that you automatically feel like not eating such a food as a natural instinct. This is your brain’s self regulating response to the imbalanced state of metabolic equilibrium inside. All you have to do is to identify and go by the inner intuition. So, to conclude it, your current state of health comes first and foremost before other factors in deciding what to eat. Always keep that in mind.
Now if you are marvelling at this pinpoint piece of advice, don’t credit me for it. This is not my original work at all, but actually just a contemporary illustration of a wonderful verse (Ch.St.Vm.1:24) from Charak Samhita, a 3500 years old treatise on Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of health sciences. Would have loved to give the original verse here, but (1) I am not that good at the Devanagari keyboard and (2) not many of you read Sanskrit as well. So, for the more curious, I can only tell that there’s a free non-pirated Hindi translation of Charak Samhita available at archive.org, if you would like to dive deeper into it. Absorb and radiate the light of ancient wisdom everywhere!
… And that’s all for today, folks!
Stay healthy, stay happy!!!
About the Author – Dr. Harshad Rajandekar is a medical practitioner running a consulting practice in Ayurveda and Integrative medicine at Nasik, India.