According to Ayurveda, there is no disease without Ama.
Ama is the sanskrit term for leftover, undigested, or undigestable material that accumulates in the body when food is not fully metabolised.
It is of course normal that a certain amount of Ama is produced each time we eat a meal, but in a healthy body, this kind of Ama is eliminated daily through urine, feces and sweat.
Sometimes however the body is not able to eliminate it fully.
The reason for this can be that we eat too much food, or too often, without giving our digestive system enough time to complete a cycle of digestion.
Or we may eat too much food that is not compatible with our constitution. For example a person who is high in Pitta (for more information on Ayurveda principles see click here), with a lot of stomach acid and possibly inflammation in the body, who eats a lot of acidic foods (like tomatoes, citrus fruit, pickles, etc), will only increase the inflammation.
Or a person high in Vata, who may have a tendency toward constipation, dry skin and cold hands and feet, or maybe suffering from arthritis, who eats too much cold, raw food, will only increase the symptoms.
According to Ayurveda, our digestion can also be weakened by eating too many different types of foods together, like fresh fruit with dairy products, both of which need very different kinds of enzymes for digestion.
Ama is also formed when we eat while our body is not ready to digest food. Often we eat at a certain time out of habit but we don‘t really feel hungry. Without hunger, the body will not be ready to digest food properly.
And while it is important that the food we eat is whole and nutritious, it is just as important that we enjoy the taste of the food. As soon as the first taste hits our tongue, our digestive system receives important information about the food it is about to digest. If we eat food we dislike, even if it is regarded as healthy, our body will not be willing to fully digest it. We need the sensation of being satisfied in order to get the most out of our food. In Ayurveda, this concept is called Preenana.
It reminds us of the importance of enjoying our food and appreciating it‘s taste.
In Sanskrit, the word for Taste (Rasa) is the same word as for Chyle (the nutrient juice our food is turned into after it‘s first part of digestion is complete), Plasma (the first of our bodily tissue that is nourished by our foods) and Satisfaction. Without satisfaction, the chain of digestive processes cannot happen smoothly.
So for healthy digestion we need both – to be hungry, and to eat food that we enjoy.
No amount of „superfoods“ can give us the desired health, if we don‘t enjoy it‘s taste.
The best advice Ayurveda can give us when it comes to healthy eating is
- Eat when you are hungry. Don‘t eat when you don‘t feel hungry. Skipping meals every now and then is ok. Not everyone is a 3 meal a day type of person. We can do well with less or more meals, depending on our constitution. If you feel that lack of appetite – or too much appetite – is a problem, there are many ways Ayurveda employs herbal medicine and spices to increase or regulate appetite.
- Enjoy what you eat. Sometimes just eating the foods you know from childhood, the meals your mother cooked for you when you were younger, are more nourishing and healing than any expensive „superfoods“.
- Eat what you like, as long as you cook it yourself from fresh ingredients (or, if you are lucky, have it cooked for you by a loved one). Try to avoid processed foods, ready made meals, frozen/canned foods or foods that have been prepared in a factory type setting rather than in a home kitchen. Use unprocessed sweeteners (like raw cane sugar, coconut sugar, jaggery, honey.. ) instead of white, processed sugar. And if you think you don‘t have time to cook – make time. Cooking food can be a better and more important spiritual practice than any seated meditation or Yoga practice done in isolation to the rest of your life..
- Leave enough time in between meals to digest, don‘t „graze“ or snack too much (unless you have a health condition that requires you too).
- Rediscover the value of satisfying, comforting, cooked food. Warm, moist, simple meals (like mashed potatoes, mushy peas, dhal, basmati rice, cooked vegetables, soups, stews, etc) are better for your digestion than cold, raw salads that are hard to digest, particularly if you live in a cold, wet country like Ireland or have a weak digestive fire.
- Eat with awareness. If you are sharing meals, enjoy the company. Be aware of the taste of the food. Try not to eat while you are distracted by phones, gadgets, movies, etc, as this will influence your feeling of satisfaction (your plate will be finished before you know it and you’ll want more because you hardly noticed the taste…. ) and your digestion will be better for it.
- Use spices wisely, not only to enhance the flavour of foods, but also to stimulate your digestive fire (Agni) and make foods more compatible with your metabolism. Use spices like cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, Ajwan/Celery seeds, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, rock salt, etc, to your taste
- Drink water slowly and at room temperature or warmed, not cold from the fridge.
- Think of your digestive fire as a literal fire. You don‘t want to extinguish it by adding too much cold, wet food or drinks and you don‘t want it to get out of control by adding too much spicy, fried, oily foods. Try to keep it at a good level by adding the right kind of fuel.
Stick to these rules for some time and you can literally see your Ama disappearing and your system clearing out. Some symptoms of disorders may even disappear fully just by improving your digestion. Try it out for yourself.
Check your tongue in the mirror. Do you see a thick, white coating? This is a sign of Ama.
Do you feel bloated or heavy after a meal? Do you burp a lot or get acid reflux? Any form of indigestion is a form of Ama.
And according to Ayurveda the development of disorders like arthritis, skin disorders, cancer, autoimmune diseases and many more, begin with indigestion, bloating and the formation of Ama in the body. Therefore, by keeping our digestion in check, we can prevent many more serious illnesses by cutting them at their root.
Try to follow the Ayurvedic way of eating for a few weeks and see how you feel different.
Enjoy your meals today!