This past week as I was discussing some dietary recommendations with a patient it triggered in her a memory of how appalled her Brazilian mother was that as Americans we drink orange juice along with milk for breakfast. People in other cultures know not to mix acidic food with milk because of its curdling effect on the milk. It is rare to find an American who knows proper dietary habit because we just were not taught as children how to eat.
What, when and how much we eat plays a big part in determining our health. In studying different systems of medicine I have found the Ayurvedic approach to diet very comprehensive. Ayurveda is an ancient medical system that has been practiced for generations in India as well as other countries. Their dietary guidelines are often very specific depending on the constitution of the individual. However, since that is a topic beyond the scope of this article I would like to instead present some of their general dietary guidelines – or what your parents never told you about eating.
1. Ideally, lunch should be the main meal of the day and supper lighter. (Your digestive power is stronger at lunchtime)
2. Food should be fresh and warm. Leftovers, packaged foods, processed foods, and fast foods should be avoided. Do not microwave your food.
3. If taken, meat, poultry or fish should preferably be eaten at the lunch meal.
4. Contrary foods should be avoided. Examples are:
a. milk together with sour foods (e.g. citrus fruit or nightshades such as tomatoes, potatoes, or eggplant), salty foods, spicy foods, or bitter foods (most vegetables
b. hot and cold foods together at the same time
5. Flat breads (e.g., tortillas, pita bread) are preferred to leavened/yeast breads. If yeast bread is taken, it should be toasted.
6. Yogurt and cheese should be avoided at night.
7. Drink most of your fluids at least 1 hour before meals and 2 hours after meals. Too much water with meals dilutes your digestive enzymes. If you drink with your meal have small quantities either room temperature or warm. Cold liquids (especially in large quantities) at meal time dramatically reduce your digestive enzyme’s ability to function and can lead to bloating, gas, and diarrhea
8. Meals should always be taken in a settled, calm atmosphere. Reading or watching television should be avoided during meals. Enough time should be allowed for meals so as to avoid feeling rushed. A few minutes of relaxation should be taken at the end of each meal.
9. Eat only until you are about 2/3 full. Think of the digestion process as a fire. A fire reduced to embers will go out if you add a large amount of fuel. But a few, light kindling sticks will ignite increasing the fire and allowing further fuel to be burned. Likewise a fire that receives too little fuel will go out.
The more you can follow these dietary guidelines the better you will feel physically.
Terry Pfau D.O., H.M.D.