I’m going to assume you have your own policy on organic v. non-organic and I’ll leave that to you. If you don’t do anything else organic, dairy and meat are ones to think about due to the antibiotics and hormones given to the animals. There are particular vegetables which are more pesticide heavy than others, so if you wanted to pick and choose it’s worth looking at that.
LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS of fresh vegetables and fruit
Aim for 7-a-day. An easy way to make sure you are getting enough variety is to make sure the contents of your fridge are as colourful as possible, with plenty of greens, oranges, yellows, reds and purple when you can. Or think in terms of flavours. Get plenty of bitter/astringent vegetables (mainly leafy – green) as well as those naturally sweet ones (often root vegetables). The relative amounts of these will vary with the season (more sweeter, more grounding ones in winter, lighter, greener ones in spring) and with your internal balance.
BITTER/ASTRINGENT (lighter, cleansing): spinach, greens, broccoli, kale, cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower, celery, courgette, asparagus, chard, green beans, peas, leeks, seaweed, green peppers, etc.
SWEET (heavier, grounding): pumpkin, squash, carrots, sweet potato, sweet corn, parsnips, beetroot, fennel, red and yellow peppers, etc.
Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices are essential for digestive health. Most of the spices in your kitchen cupboard will benefit digestion; no meal should be without some. My top-tip, make them as easy as possible to find and grab. At the cost of totally embarrassing myself, I’ll give you a peek into my rather over-organised herb drawer.
Digestive, detoxifying, mind clarifying, urinary system clearing.
Superb for poor digestion, allergies, urinary disorders, skin problems.
Astringent, bitter, sweet. Heating (seeds), cooling (leaves). VPK-
*Buy the seeds and grind up a jar’s worth at a time, it’ll be much fresher and more potent than shop-bought powder.
Rejuvenative, mind clarifying, digestive, detoxifying.
Wonderful for increasing resilience to stress, digestive disorders, poor memory and coughs and colds.
Pungent. Heating. VK-P+
This is but one western culinary herb included in the list. There are many others with great health benefits and flavours such as oregano, rosemary and thyme.
Digestive, warming and energising tonic, mind clarifying, mucous clearing.
Fabulous for digestive disorders, sugar cravings, fatigue, poor circulation.
Pungent, sweet, astringent. Heating (mild). VK-P+
RATHER THAN: modern wheat flour. Spelt is much easier to digest than modern wheat. Stocking both wholegrain and white spelt flour means you can use it for everything you would use normal wheat flour for; bread, cakes, sauces etc. You can easily make self-raising flour from spelt flour.
BENEFITS: Carbs have received a lot of bad press but we all need some of the grounding and nourishment from carbohydrates to remain healthy. High in fibre, iron, phosphorus and potassium and many other minerals and vitamins.
BUY FROM: most supermarkets. Dove’s Farm spelt flours are stocked in mainstream supermarkets, although some will only stock the wholegrain flour. Waitrose do their own brand of light spelt flour (which can be used as white).
CAUTION: While being a lot easier to digest than modern wheat, spelt grain is still more difficult to digest than some other grains (such as rice, barley) so don’t have it for every meal. Make sure you include protein and vegetables with your carbohydrates.
RATHER THAN: wheat pasta. Spelt is much easier to digest than modern wheat.
BENEFITS: See spelt flour above.
BUY FROM: Sainsbury’s have their own-brand spelt spaghetti which is the same price as normal wholewheat pasta. Otherwise, there are always plenty of varieties at a health food shop.
CAUTION: see spelt flour.
RATHER THAN: overdosing on wheat (bread, pasta, couscous etc).
BENEFITS: Another nourishing, grounding grain to have in the house with the added benefit of being easy to digest. The most nutritious form of rice is the easy-cook brown rice as it is pre-boiled meaning many nutrients from the husks are absorbed into the rice grain. No need to overdose on brown rice though, white basmati is fine too, especially when your digestion isn’t strong enough for brown rice.
BUY FROM: any supermarket.
CAUTION: make sure you have plenty of protein and vegetables with your rice or grains.
RATHER THAN: sugar-and-salt-laden breakfast cereals, wheat-based breakfasts
BENEFITS: A great source of soluble fibre, known to benefit the heart and cardiovascular system and prevent diabetes. A bowl of porridge in the morning will not only provide you with a warm, nourishing, grounding and long-lasting start to the day, you’ll get vitamins and minerals thrown in too.
BUY FROM: any supermarket.
RATHER THAN: relying too much on animal protein. Mubg beans are significantly less wind producing than other pulses.
BENEFITS: Mung beans are the king of pulses, an easily digested form of protein. If you only have one type of pulse in your cupboard, make it this one. They are ideal as a dal and in curries and soups.
BUY FROM: green mung beans are more readily available than the split yellow ones. Green mung beans are sold in a lot of supermarkets. Split yellow ones can be purchased in an South Asian grocery store or supermarket with a large South Asian section.
CAUTION: all pulses are best cooked with oil and spices to aid digestion and reduce wind.
RATHER THAN: bad oils. Cook with coconut oil, ghee or virgin olive oil (olive oil only if not heating too high or for too long). Add other virgin oils to your food after cooking (but never cook with them). See article explaining the myths of oils and fats here.
BENEFITS: We need oils to lubricate and protect our bodies. Good ones will do that, and look after blood vessel walls, help brain function and much more. Bad ones will do the opposite. Oils such as sesame and coconut can also be used to nourish the skin when used externally.
BUY FROM: supermarkets for coconut oil and virgin olive oils, ghee can be made at home from organic butter, and other virgin oils generally from health food shops only.
CAUTION: Be very careful in your choice of oils to buy and of these, which to cook with. Check here. Always store virgin oils away from heat and light.
RATHER THAN: regular soy sauce. The ‘original soy sauce’, Tamari is produced without wheat, is gluten-free and is brewed more slowly than run-of-the-mill soy sauce resulting in a gentler fermentation process and hence it is better for digestion.
BENEFITS: A must-have flavour for quick healthy stir fries and all East Asian food (most of which is very compatible with Ayurvedic dietary principles). It aids digestion and is rich in vitamin b3 (niacin), manganese and many essential amino acids.
BUY FROM: better supermarkets and all health food shops.
CAUTION: while being lower in salt than a lot of soy sauces, don’t use excessively as high salt intake is not good for circulatory health.
RATHER THAN: other forms of salt. It contains other minerals and is the least heating salt.
BENEFITS: Adds flavour.
BUY FROM: most supermarkets sell regular rock salt. The best type of rock salt – Himalayan pink salt – is much harder to get hold of; you’ll find it in niche shops.
CAUTION: it is still salt, only use it sparingly.
RATHER THAN: other vinegars. The unique, slow production process produces a vinegar that is slow and naturally fermented (see here why this is a good thing) and results in a sweet and sour liquid rather than intensely sour (which is overly heating on the body).
BENEFITS: The sour taste stimulates the appetite and gets the mouth watering. Used in moderation, this can help digestion. It also contains antioxidants which are helpful in preventing aging and preventing cancer.
BUY FROM: most supermarkets.
CAUTION: as with anything sour, if overused, it can go from stimulating digestion to disturbing it.
RATHER THAN: other sweeteners or normal honey (which will have been heated).
BENEFITS: Raw (not cooked) honey has added benefits which other sweeteners don’t have. It has a scraping action which can help with weight-loss and mucous reduction.
BUY FROM: some better supermarkets (e.g. Littleover Apiary honey at Sainsbury’s and Waitrose) and all health food shops.
CAUTION: Make sure it is cold-extracted and not-heated. Do not cook with honey.
Nuts and seeds
RATHER THAN: sugary snacks or puddings
BENEFITS: Providing protein and essential oils along with many minerals, these are packed with nutrition. Combine with some dates or other dried fruit after a meal if you are craving sweetness. Nuts and seeds are most easily digested if soaked or ground.
BUY FROM: all supermarkets
CAUTION: Peanuts slow the digestion and are over-heating so try to minimise them. Eat all other nuts and seeds in moderation. If your digestion isn’t strong, don’t overdo nuts.
Herbal tea bags
RATHER THAN: caffeinated tea and coffee
BENEFITS: Not only does drinking herbal teas reduce your caffeine intake (see here for why you’d want to do that), but the herbs in them deliver additional health benefits as well. Ginger will boost your digestion, mint will soothe sensitive stomachs, chamomile will calm, fennel will cleanse, liquorice will soothe and give you that kick of sweetness you may crave.
BUY FROM: all supermarkets.
CAUTION: Green tea contains caffeine. If you suffer from high blood pressure, don’t overdo the liquorice teas.
Enjoy your pantry.
Until next time, take care of yourselves.
Author: Kate Siraj, Ayurvedic Practitioner, BSc Ayurveda, MChem (Oxon), MAPA.
© The Ayurveda Practice
Photos thanks to freedigitalphotos.net