Eating all the healthy, wholesome foods in the world is of little use if your body cannot absorb the nutrients and put them to use building healthy body tissue. According to the ayurvedic “beej-bhoomi” theory of disease, poor digestion is actually the root cause of most disorders. When the food we eat is not digested properly, ama, the by-product of poor digestion and metabolism, builds up in the body, clogging the microchannels of the body. Not only does this further block the efficient flow of nutrients to the different parts of the body, weakening the immune system, but it also hampers the unrestricted flow of wastes out of the body so that a “fertile breeding ground” is created for disease and infection to take hold.
If you have a coated tongue when you wake up in the morning, an unpleasant body odor, bad breath, discomfort in the joints or post-lunch fatigue, you probably have some accumulated ama in your body. Unfortunately, digestion problems are widespread in America. Some digestive disorders, such as acid indigestion, are obvious. Headaches, disorders in bowel movements such as diarrhea or constipation, or a feeling of discomfort in the stomach after a meal are other symptoms that can be tied to poor digestion.
Spices are Powerful Ama-Fighters
Most spices enhance digestion, and that’s one of the reasons spices are revered in ayurvedic cuisine. Not only do they help enhance digestion, but they also help remove accumulated ama, so they are valuable additions to your daily diet. Turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel, mint, asafetida (hing), black pepper, dried powdered ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne are among the ayurvedic spices that enhance digestion and metabolism, cleanse ama from the body and prevent digestive disorders such as gas and bloating. If you are new to ayurvedic cooking, try the Maharishi Ayurveda Churnas (ready-to-use spice mixes) formulated especially to be Vata, Pitta or Kapha balancing.
Spices contain a lipid-soluble portion and a water-soluble portion, so ideally some should be sautéed in ghee or a healthy oil such as olive oil and added to dishes, and some cooked in the liquid portions of dishes such as by being added to soups, stews or sauces during the cooking process. Ghee helps transport the therapeutic value of spices to the different parts of the body, so ayurveda generally recommends including a ghee-spice mixture in at least one meal of the day.
Spices are like herbs: they work gently and gradually, with the benefits adding up over time and no dangerous side effects. Ayurvedic physicians recommend resisting the temptation to take your spices as nutraceuticals, where the so-called “active” ingredient is isolated and put in a pill or a capsule. Take them as nature intended, and you will reap the benefits for years to come.