THE BEST FOOD COMBINATIONS FOR YOUR DIGESTION
I previously shared which foods shouldn’t be eaten together if you can help it, and here’s a list of tummy-happy food combos embraced by Ayurvedic cooking. Eat these foods together to strengthen your Agni and feel ready to overcome any hurdles ahead.
1. Beans and lentils
Beans and legumes are a great source of protein — especially for vegans and vegetarians — as well as being affordable. Cooking them right is the key (FYI lentils are much easier to cook and digest than beans so I stick to them mostly!). To enjoy lentils at their best, soak them first (see the article for exceptions), cook them until completely tender (no al dente please!) and combine them with grains, vegetables, other beans, nuts or seeds, and plenty of digestive spices. Why not make up a bowl of warming kitchari, with mung dal, white basmati rice and tonnes of veg?
Ghee is the perfect fat to cook almost anything in — grains, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, eggs and cooked fruit benefit from this heat-stable clarified butter the most. Read more about the wonders of this Ayurvedic golden fat here.
3. Cheese or yoghurt
Cheese and yoghurt are the most digestible when freshly made and eaten alone or with grains and vegetables — check out recipes on how to make them from scratch in East by West (ricotta and paneer page 255, yoghurt page 259). One of my most-loved dishes is the courgette zac ‘n’ cheese (page 139 in East by West) — give it a go and let me know what you think!
As a general rule, milk is best enjoyed alone or combined with spices like in my Golden Milk, simmered to make it more digestible and served warm. There are a few exceptions, though, and milk is totally fine to make porridge and rice puddings, or combined with dates or almonds. The quality of the milk you kick off with is important: real milk is whole and unhomogenised. So opt for whole milk and if you need something lighter, cook with plenty of water rather than choosing skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, and go for organic where possible. Unhomogenised and raw are harder to come by, but make sure whichever milk you can find that you prep it well to get the best from it. Cold milk, except in certain circumstances, is not recommended in Ayurveda since it has heavy and cooling qualities and can be overly mucus-forming.
Egg yolks can aggravate Pitta and Kapha, so should be eaten sparingly depending on your Dosha makeup, but eggs can definitely have their place in an Ayurvedic diet. They go especially well with grains and non-starchy veg — I like my soft boiled eggs with cumin courgette and broccoli dippers (East by West page 56)!
Fruits go best with other fruits that have similar properties — citrus with citrus, apple with pear, etc. And if you need to dress tomatoes or cucumber, use lime rather than lemon, as the former is gentler on the gut. If you want to combine fruit with other foods then cook and spice them up! Try my chestnut crêpes, banana bread, spiced apples, banana cookie dough bites or orange cake. Endless possibilities!
Here are a few of the issues which can cause problems with grains:
Gluten: many grains contain gluten, some more than others, and this in itself can cause digestive issues.
Whole grains, with their rough husks, can be difficult to digest, especially if not chewed properly.
Overly refined or processed grains like many shop-bought grain products, from white flour to food stuffs like white buns, breads and cakes, are digested too quickly and can therefore cause blood sugar spikes.
Grains, just like the seeds of other plants, e.g. beans and lentils, contain a small amounts of toxins and poisons such as phytates and lectins, so preparation is key to reducing these or making them easier for our body to deal with them.
If you make sure that whole grains/groats are soaked first, rinsed and cooked thoroughly (to make them easier to digest) and stick to basmati white rice as your rice of choice as it has a lower GI than other white rice and is a very important ingredient in Ayurveda, then grains can be the staff of life and are easily digestible alongside many foods. You can cook your grains with beans and lentils, vegetables, other grains, eggs, meat, fish, nuts, seeds, milk and cheese, and enjoy easier digestion! You can also combine with well cooked and spiced fruits such as stewed apples to top a porridge or bananas as in banana bread.
Similarly, most veg can be added to your favourite dishes without causing you any post-meal discomfort. Have your greens (and reds, yellows, oranges and purples!) with grains, beans, other vegetables, meat, fish, nuts, seeds or eggs. Veg is also fine with cheese or yoghurt, except nightshades (bell pepper, aubergine, potato, tomato).
If you’re an avid Ayurveda fan, you know that leftovers are typically frowned upon. But if you really need to eat leftovers, have them with other leftovers from the same meal, preferably no more than 24 hours after said meal. Sauté them thoroughly with ghee, ginger and black pepper to offset some of the Tamasic qualities of your food.
10. Raw foods
Raw foods are quite difficult to digest and best enjoyed in warmer weather, around lunchtime. When you do reach for some crunchy freshness, make sure to only eat it with other raw foods, and in small quantities, and check in with your digestion first. Feeling hungry and strong on this occasion? Great, chew well, warm the food in your mouth as you savour and enjoy, being sure to check in the next time you reach for raw in case you’re not feeling as great.
Of course there are many factors that influence what individuals find easy to digest or not. If you and your ancestral line have traditionally been eating certain foods or food combinations then you might be fine with them. More than anything, Ayurveda understands that it’s all about your Agni — if your digestive fire is lively and balanced it will do its best with whatever you throw at it, but too many unhelpful foods and unhelpful food combinations can eventually lead to an imbalance. It can all quickly amount to a-chicken-and-the-egg situation. Read more about Agni and how to identify which of the 4 Agnis best describes your current state at any time, and see my list of tips on how to keep it lively, in East by West.