Thursday, December 23, 2010

You Are What You Digest I

Healthy digestion is super important. Without it, you can’t have good health. Even worse for parents is that kids with poor digestion aren’t nearly as pleasant to be around. Some (like mine!) sleep terribly when they get irregular poop. We will go into some kid specific digestion and sleep later, but first let’s discuss what keeps our digestive system working.

I know that many western medical doctors say that it is okay for young kids to not poop every day. I have even heard some say that it is fine for adults to not go daily! I have no doubt that it’s common, but it is a sign of inefficient digestion often caused by an imbalance of the doshas, primarily vata and kapha. Some examples of causes are quality of milk (both cow and human), too much food/drink, improper food combinations, poorly cooked food, poorly chewed food, eating while standing up, eating at wrong place or time such as in front of the TV or late at night. Sometimes the cure for mild digestive problems is just sitting quiet with your food and only your food.

As I’m still nursing my toddler, I take extra care of what I eat. If you are breastfeeding a baby or even a toddler then you should also be mindful of what you eat in order to prevent colic and constipation in your child. Not all milk is created equal. It is important to get that vata dosha under control. Too much vata dosha and you will see signs of dryness, constipation and gas. There are many things that can help with this. One easy way is to include a wide array of spices in your diet such as cumin, coriander, fennel, ajwain, fenugreek, etc. You can even make a tea out of these. I typically cook one or two of those spices in ghee and then add vegetables or dal. Speaking of ghee [clarified butter - recipe below] eat lots of that! For nursing mothers, somewhere between a teaspoon and a tablespoon in each meal should do a good job of nourishing the body. Also, don’t snack on chips or eat ice cream as those aggravate the vata and kapha doshas respectively. In general, you should try not to snack but I know how hard it is to stick with only 3 meals a day when you are eating for two. If you are craving a salty snack, fry up some pumpkin seeds in ghee with a few of those spices and you will have a more enjoyable snack than anything you could get in a vacuum-sealed bag. And if you are craving a sweet snack, I suggest cutting medjool dates in half and stuffing with ghee and a spoon of crunchy almond butter.

There is an easy way to test if your milk is of good quality: take a drop into a cup of water. If it disappears than it is of good quality. If it sinks or floats then you may need to adjust a few things in your diet.

I am prone to having too much vata in me, which has shown itself through the milk floating in the water. It might have even sunk at times in the beginning of the year when I had developed a kapha imbalance. Even though I was eating healthy, my whole system was slowed down from overeating the wrong foods when I was pregnant. Even eating a diet of mostly kitchadi for 2 months couldn’t fix my agni [digestive fire] woes. Luckily, I had access to the Vedika Jyoti Clinic and got a prescription for herbs to take which really helped. Now that I am back to having a strong agni, I stick with a few key things in my diet to keep my system running well, and the better my system runs the higher the quality of my milk. At night, I either have warm spiced milk w/ ghee or I take a teaspoon of triphala before bed. Both of these things are extremely good for keeping things moving. Triphala, meaning three fruits, contains amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki. They are extremely useful in cleansing the gastrointestinal tract. If I’m feeling like my agni needs a little boost before a meal, I fire it up with a few thin slices of fresh ginger sprinkled with Himalayan rock salt and a dash of lemon juice. By taking the ginger 30 minutes before the meal I ensure that I can break down my meal properly. On Thanksgiving, I offered it to my guests before the meal and trikatu (see previous blog) after the meal to save people from feeling like they were going to keel over from eating too much heavy food. For those rare occasions where there is too much gas and undigested food after eating, I may throw back a teaspoon of an herbal formula called hingwasthak. When drank with warm water, it provides instant relief. Same goes with making what I call, Colic Tea (recipe below). This one is particularly useful to make and put in a medicine dropper to gently cure colic in babies.

Some other things that I do to ensure that my family doesn’t get stuck with any stomach trouble includes avoiding leftovers, salads, raw foods, dry foods and only drinking warm water. It is especially important to avoid those things in the postpartum period and as much as you can while nursing a child. It sometimes takes a while for your system to get back to where it was before you were pregnant and any parent knows how sensitive kids bellies can be. Simply put, eat foods that are light and nourishing. For me, cutting out raw foods was the most noticeable difference of them all. There was a two month period (when I didn’t know any better) that I was eating at CafĂ© Gratitude, a raw food restaurant in the bay area, a lot. During that time, I was increasingly anxious and all of the aches and pains from pregnancy in my knees and feet got exponentially worse. This is because vata dosha governs this area of the body and I was just overdosing on vata. My body was having major trouble digesting the food and I had no clue. It was weeks before I noticed the pain and increased anxiety both of which are signs of vata imbalance in the body. Luckily for my feet, I soon found ghee, the true love of my life. Now that I treat by body well with warm and nourishing foods, I have no aches and plenty of high quality milk for my little sweetheart.

Recipes of the day:

Colic Tea:

Ingredients -

  • 1 part cumin
  • 1 part coriander
  • 1 part fennel

  1. Mix the three ingredients together
  2. Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of this mixture to hot water
  3. Let it steep for 15-20 minutes
  4. Strain
  5. Either drink or put in medicine dropper

Ingredients -

  • Organic, unsalted butter

  1. Warm the pan on the stove and add the butter to it
  2. Bring to a boil on high heat and then on medium-low
  3. Dont remove all the foam that is formed initially
  4. Wait some time until that foam sinks to the bottom and then skim the semi-solids from the top
  5. When the ghee turns slightly golden , it's done, turn off the stove
  6. Let ghee cool
  7. Carefully pour through fine sieve into a bowl or a jar
  8. Ghee is best stored at room temperature and it improves with age

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Curing Colds In The Kitchen

December 9, 2010
It is December and the weather has become colder and in some places more wet. Since this is typically the time of year where we are all more susceptible to colds, I thought I’d make my inaugural post about the different ways my family and I prevent and cure colds. Ever since I’ve been studying Ayurveda at Vedika Gurukula, we haven’t had anything more than a runny nose for a day or two in this house. Sometimes, I feel like an Ayurveda magician! Life is easier when you have a few tricks up your sleeve and I’m here to share what I’ve learned with you. These tips that I offer are very easy to handle for both you and your kids. When I break out the spoon with honey and spices, my one year old daughter goes “mmmmmmm!” before she even eats it.
Colds are a very common problem that we all have experienced: runny nose, sneezing, dryness. If not cared for, they can lead to worse infections in the body. For this reason, it is extremely important to learn how to eliminate the excess kapha [watery secretions in the body] and rebuild our system to health.
One of the causes of cold-like symptoms is weak digestion. This is something worth paying close attention to. 
Other causes to the common cold are exposure to cold or extremely wet conditions. This occurs because even though we think we are our own self-contained organism, we are not separate from our outside environment. Akasha (Ether), Prithvi (Earth), Aap (Water), Tejas (Fire) and Vayu (Wind) compose the Universe, including the human body. Hence, if it’s wet and cold outside, you may experience this in your own body.
When our creator, that one great intelligence, sometimes called God, sometimes Nature and sometimes referred to as 'IT" was (and is) creating the universe - the same building blocks were used. Hence, what connects each one of us is that we all are composed of the same essence (energy) and is that we are all essentially the same. Whatever difference that we perceive is not a qualitative one, merely quantitative. When we sit in front of the Grand Canyon or any other large splendour of nature we observe it's natural offering of space and stillness - and before long we embody the same stillness and space. When we sit by a lake or river we notice sentiments and hidden emotions arising in our hearts and a busy noisy city street aggravates anxious thought and sensations in spite of us.” – Shunya Pratichi Mathur For more information read about “Dance of the Doshas”
These Ayurvedic remedies involve using honey, warming herbs and spices to help you break down and force out mucus while re-kindling your digestive fire. While the idea of a snotty nose might not appeal to you, chances are that if you can transition from being ‘stuffed up’ to ‘blowing it all out,’ then you are well on your way to recovery.
There are many remedies out there that work and I encourage you to explore all the knowledge and information that is available. My intention with this post is to be a good resource for those unfamiliar with the healing powers that many common things in your kitchen hold. Start by really paying attention to how you/your kids feel afterwards. One suggestion is to keep a journal.
It is important to remember to not overdo any of these remedies. Since, many of them increase heat in the body, too much could create a whole new set of health problems.
Lets start with some basic things to avoid when preventing or curing a cold:
* Avoid cold foods and drinks.
* Avoid yeast, salt, cheese, yogurt, chocolate, and refined sugars and flours. All of these increase mucus.
* Avoid overeating, especially at night.
* Do not eat when you are not hungry.
* Avoid sweet and juicy fruits including oranges, bananas, pineapples, figs, avocados, tomatoes, coconut and melons
* Do not eat between meals.

Tips for prevention:
* Follow the diet appropriate for your constitution and current condition
* Eat seasonally
* Takra - buttermilk (recipe below).
-It enhances agni [digestive fire] & like a nectar in cold season, BUT avoid when already have excess mucus and when it’s cloudy out. Do not drink after sunset.
- This is my daughter’s favorite! I believe it was her 4th word after "mama", "dada" and "more". I give it to her after or in place of meals. Even my dogs love it!
* Chyvanprash - The main ingredient amalaki is the richest natural source of vitamin C

* Neti pot – keep nasal passages healthy
* Use turmeric in cooking
First sign of mucus/cold:
* Trikatu w/ honey or trikatu w/ warm water - up to 3 times a day
-Trikatu is made up of Pippali (long pepper), Shunti (dry ginger) and Maricha (black pepper). It is available in powder & capsule form
* Cold Calm homeopathic medicine by Boiron (also available in pellets for kids!)
* Eat light foods (no dairy, wheat, sugar and fried foods)
* Don’t sleep in daytime even if tired
* Cinnamon w/ honey or cinnamon tea
* Turmeric w/ honey
* Licorice w/ honey – twice a day
* Ginger juice w/ honey
A quick note on honey –
It should always be raw and unheated. Heated honey creates toxicity in the body.
Honey also enhances the medicinal qualities of what it’s combined with and helps them to reach the deeper tissues.
Food :
Kitchadi (recipe below)
Mung Dal
Homemade chicken stock w/ turmeric ( for young kids, cook white basmati rice in the stock)
Eating only these foods or foods that are similar is most important for when feeling the onset of a cold or the cold is already full blown. You do not want to clog up your system anymore than it already is. These foods will help while most others will only hinder the progress you are trying to make.
Steam for congestion:
Boil eucalyptus oil/leaves and inhale steam
Boil dry ginger and inhale steam
Recipes of the day:
Ingredients -
  • 1 part - room temperature whole milk yogurt
  • 4 parts - water that is previously boiled but brought back to room temperature
1 part yogurt : 4 parts water
  1. hand whisk/churn yogurt with a molinillo (or use immersion blender)
  2. add water to yogurt
  3. churn until frothy
You can add digestive herbs such as fresh ginger/salt, cumin, curry leaves, trikatu.
Ingredient -
  • ½ cup white basmati rice
  • 1 cup mung dal (soak in water for a couple of hours)
  • 2 cups of vegetables – beans, greens, squash, carrot, etc
  • 1 pinch of hing (asaofetida)
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 1-2 TBS of ghee
  • Himalayan rock salt (to taste)
  1. Heat ghee in pot
  2. Add hing
  3. Add cumin seed
  4. Add turmeric
  5. Swirl and add all of the ingredients
  6. Mix well
  7. Add 2 more cups of water
  8. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes on low-medium heat
  9. Add more ghee on top if desired and garnish with cilantro

There is a plethora of knowledge out there. These are just a start for some easy things to keep on hand. You don’t need to do all of these things. Give one or two a try and listen to your body. Then, share your comments below.