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6 Food Choice Tips for Better Digestion That You Need to Know

Many want to know which foods to eat for better digestion and health.

According to Ayurveda, what we eat, how we eat, and when we eat all influence digestion.

You can eat the perfect organic meal cooked specifically to meet your constitutional needs, but if you are eating on the run or eating late at night you may still have problems digesting the food.

This blog post will cover 6 food choice tips for better digestion.

Watch for upcoming posts about how and when to eat according to Ayurveda.

better digestion: sliced tart with garnish and spicy jam

You can find food lists detailing specific foods that should be favored or avoided according to your constitution.

Before making yourself crazy with an Ayurvedic food list, implement these food choice tips for better digestion.

6 Food Choice Tips for Better Digestion

Going through a food list can be tedious and foster militant views around food.

Sometimes I offer food lists to clients, but these food choice tips are often even more important than the specific foods consumed.

1. Eat whole foods and avoid processed foods for better digestion

better digestion: bowl of quinoa and veggies

Newly harvested whole foods cooked fresh offer an abundance of life-force energy and enhanced taste.

Busy lives make it challenging to eat fresh, whole foods.

The Ayurvedic view is that processed foods have lost their life force energy (prana) and contain preservatives and additives that the body often cannot digest.

Excessive salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats are often added to processed foods to make them appealing and tasty, but less beneficial for overall health.

In addition, processed foods often do not digest properly because the body does not always recognize how to digest the chemical additives used to preserve and enhance the flavor.

When food does not digest properly, ama is created.

Ama is undigested food particles that putrefy in the gut, this subpar nutrition then passes out into the tissues, lodging in weak spots and creating blockages and disease.

You can read What is Ama in Ayurveda? to learn more about ama and why it's important to avoid creating ama in your body.

2. Eat fresh foods and avoid leftover foods for better digestion

better digestion: cooked veggies on a plate

This is also a difficult directive today.

Luckily, Ayurveda is the middle path, so we don't need to be militant about these rules but rather use them as a guideline for health.

I have been taught the 80/20 rule which has helped me to soften my desire to adhere to the rules 100% of the time.

This rule encourages following Ayurvedic best practices 80% of the time, and then letting go of the need for strictly following these practices 20% of the time.

Ayurvedic practices should not cause stress, or the purpose will be defeated.

How do I deal with avoiding leftovers?

I am single and have learned to cook small portions ideal for one meal.

Cooking for two involves doubling these portions.

Learning how to cook the right portion has taken some time.

Before being introduced to Ayurveda, I used to cook a big meal and have leftovers for days.

In the beginning, avoiding leftovers was a bit stressful, but eventually, it made sense.

I started by noticing how the food tasted and, perhaps more importantly, how I felt when I ate food that was 5 or 6 days old.

The food had lost its flavor and more often than not, I had gas and bloating after eating stale food.

Gradually, I began eating fresher food and noticed how much better I felt.

It didn't happen overnight.

It was a process of experimenting with recipe quantities and figuring out how much food I needed for each meal.

Now, there may be times when eating fresh food is impossible.

Maybe you don't have enough time in the mornings to cook your lunch before you rush off to work.

You may decide that eating leftover food from the night before, the food you prepared with love, is the best you can do.

That is okay and much better than constantly eating restaurant food or processed food.

Many Ayurvedic doctors may disagree with me and say that food should never sit overnight.

A lovely Ayurvedic doctor from India living in the US who is one of my teachers helped me see that these principles need to be adapted to fit modern life.

Remember that Ayurveda comes to us from India.

A country with a very different background from the US or European countries.

Food was made fresh daily either by a hired cook or someone in the family who was the designated cook.

Any leftovers from the day were either given to people in need or animals which prevented the food from being wasted.

Even today, most middle-class families in India have a cook who comes in to prepare the food for the family so that the family can go about their responsibilities.

Most people in the US do not have the luxury of a dedicated cook, so we need to figure out best practices that work.

Use the 80/20 rule to eat fresh food as often as possible and not stress when you can't eat perfectly fresh food all of the time.

3. Eat well-cooked food and avoid over- or under-cooked food for better digestion

better digestion: pesto bow tie pasta and veggies

Yes, I know Aldente vegetables and pasta are all the rage, but Ayurveda suggests we eat well-cooked foods that are not over- or under-cooked.

Ayurveda uses the five elements to explain everything about the body.

The elements describe how the body systems work, the organs, the nutrients contained in food, and even the doshas.

The five elements are:

  • ether (space)

  • air

  • fire

  • water

  • earth

The fire element digests food.

When we eat a meal the enzymes released possess the fire element.

Those enzymes transform the food into the essential nutrition that passes into the tissues to nourish the cells.

If your enzymes are not performing at their peak capability, then ama can form (remember we discussed ama above) leading to blockages and disease.

Ayurveda maintains that cooking food adds the fire element to the food making it pre-digested, and therefore, easier for the body to digest.

The enzymes have an easier time digesting cooked food.

If food is only partially cooked, especially grains, legumes, and vegetables, the enzymes may not be strong enough for proper digestion.

This again leads to the formation of ama.

Some people who get gassy after eating fruit find that cooking the fruit makes it much more digestible for their sensitive digestion.

The same can be said for overcooked food.

Burnt food or food cooked for so long that it loses its flavor will also not digest well.

Taste is a key factor in having better digestion.

If the tongue does not taste the food due to overcooking, it cannot send the proper signals to release the enzymes at the right times.

You can read The 6 Tastes of Ayurveda: A Key to Finding Balance to learn more about how the taste of food affects digestion.

4. Eat warm food, avoiding cold foods for better digestion

better digestion: bowl of noodle soup with peas and spinach

Nothing slows digestion faster than cold foods like ice cream, iced drinks, and foods straight from the refrigerator.

Cold foods may be appropriate for some people with strong digestion during lunchtime in the summer occasionally, but overconsumption of cold foods will slow digestion.

Ayurveda recommends eating warm foods to support digestion, especially from fall through spring.

Cold food in the fall through spring slows digestion, chills the body, and increases either vata or kapha doshas.

It's also important to remember the 80/20 rule that I mentioned earlier.

Occasionally having ice cream as part of the 20% of the 80/20 rule will not kill your digestion, but having it regularly may.

Rather than eating cold foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer when you are hot, try eating foods that will bring coolness without disturbing digestion.

Some examples include

  • coconut water

  • pomegranate

  • sweet apples

  • sweet pears

  • cooling herbal teas such as rose, lavender, marshmallow root, hibiscus

  • melons

Ayurveda recommends avoiding having ice in drinks because this also slows digestion.

5. Eat foods with enough oil for better digestion

better digestion: bowl of stew with tofu cubes

The low-fat, no-fat diets of the late 20th century were not good for digestion, the body, or the brain.

Finally, research shows the body needs fat, and the brain needs fat, especially as we age (Harvard Health Publishing).

Fat is necessary because it:

  • protects organs

  • provides energy

  • helps control cholesterol and blood pressure

  • aids in the absorption of essential nutrients

  • supports cell growth (Harvard Health Publishing)

Ayurveda even tells us that fat helps to improve digestion (Kripalu, 7.38).

Fat helps lubricate the digestive tract and every cell in the body.

Dry food without oil can become thick and sticky in the gut making it difficult to digest.

To be clear, healthy fats should be consumed instead of unhealthy fats.

Dr Vasant Lad recommends the following oils by dosha, listed in order of suitability:

  • Vata dosha

    • sesame

    • ghee

    • olive

    • most other vegetable and nut oils

  • Pitta dosha

    • sunflower

    • ghee

    • olive

    • flax seed

    • walnut

  • Kapha dosha

    • corn

    • sesame

    • sunflower

    • ghee

    • almond

I tend to stick to ghee, olive oil (which I know is controversial in some circles), and sometimes butter.

Sesame and mustard are excellent cooking oils but are heating for my constitution.

6. Eat less heavy foods and more light foods for better digestion

better digestion: soup of green veggies

Everything consumed must be digested or it will turn to ama (mentioned above).

If a meal is too heavy, it will bog down digestion.

To avoid disturbing digestion, combine heavier foods with lighter foods.

There are exceptions to this rule.

Those with a vata dosha constitution or imbalance may want to eat less light foods and more heavy foods to help them stay grounded, as long as the digestion can handle the heavy food.

People with a pitta dosha constitution or imbalance often have a sharp digestion that burns through food quickly creating excess hunger between meals.

These individuals may need more heavy food to give the digestion something to process with those excess digestive enzymes.

At the end of each meal, you should feel satisfied and be able to walk, talk, and breathe without difficulty.

If you have difficulty walking, talking, or breathing after a meal, you may have had food that was too heavy or eaten excess food.

6 Food Choice Tips for Better Digestion

better digestions: rice pilaf with cooked veggies

Try these 6 food choice tips for better digestion and see if there is a shift in your digestion.

  1. Eat whole foods and avoid processed foods for better digestion

  2. Eat fresh foods and avoid leftover foods for better digestion

  3. Eat well-cooked foods and avoid over- or under-cooked foods for better digestion

  4. Eat warm foods and avoid cold foods for better digestion

  5. Eat foods with enough oil for better digestion

  6. Eat less heavy foods and more light foods for better digestion

If you would like to learn more about food choices for better digestion, you can book an online appointment.


Kripalu Center. "Foundations of Āyurveda." 2019. PDF.

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