Tapping its feet to the happy tune, our body likes to “Whistle while you work, do do do do do do do!”
And why wouldn’t it? Music makes everything more enjoyable.
ESPECIALLY when there is so much to do! Pumping fresh breath into the blood, sending secret telegrams through nerve impulses, swinging the moods to and fro, patrolling for foreign invaders, thinking of the happiest things, fighting or flighting…and of course, digesting.
While poking my nose into many bustling Indian kitchens, I have encountered some extraordinary behaviors. I’ve been given advice I found silly. I’ve been chided for reasons I didn’t quite understand. I’ve been quite surprised.
So I’ve taken these experiences, paired them up with some research, and let me tell you, I am amazed at my discoveries. The body is incredulous and mothers are gosh darn smart! Note: Not all of this information I present is exclusive to India, but I found some discoveries too interesting to leave out of this post.
Excited? Good! Me too. Before we begin, I just wanted to welcome you to my #foodisbeautiful series! You can warm up to the show with my first introductory post here. If you also check out my post on Yoga Food, then you are more than ready-to-roll! Stay tuned for the others, coming up soon.
The Heaty and Cooly factor.
There have been numerous occasions when people have actually stopped me from eating perfectly healthy things. What a shock! It goes something like this…
NO YOGURT?! WHAT’S ALL THIS ABOUT? I had to find out.
According to Eastern tradition…
Foods that activate our metabolism, using energy to break down food particles, are called heaty foods – they warm up the system. Other foods that we consume produce less energy and actually slow down out metabolism – these are called cooling foods because they “cool” our organs. Get it?
The idea here is to eat these heaty/cooly foods to achieve a balance of hot and cold in our bodies. Here’s what I mean:
- In winter, heaty foods give us energy, while cooly foods aggravate a cold.
- In summer, cooly foods will soothe our system and heaty foods can make us nauseated or overly sweaty. Yuck.
- Cooly foods can bring down a fever.
- Heaty foods can bring life back to a weak person.
- Indians often eat cooly yogurt alongside their spicy heaty meal.
You can explore this list and try it out for yourself. I’ve been having fun with this.
Indians are famous for their late-night dinners, typically sitting down to eat after 9pm. At weddings and parties, the food isn’t served until atleast 10’oclock at night!
For a few months, I also fell into the rhythm of eating my dinner around 8:30 or 9pm. However, after moving in with Sonali & co., I have been reformed. They like to eat early!
Let me explain why it helps.
The factory of our digestive system is super-charged and ready to roll between the hours of 1-3pm. It can handle the big meals with no problem. Later on in the day, the factory starts to slow down, preparing to go to sleep and recover for tomorrows extravaganza. It can handle light work from light meals.
IF we eat heavy meals close to sleeping, the digestive system, already worn out from the days work, must wearily wake up and work twice as hard. The system moves slower and keeps disturbing your sleep in the middle of the night, making you feel thirsty, filling up the bladder, and giving some bad dreams. (Has this ever happened to you? It has to me.)
Moral of the story: Eat your big meals early in the day, for breakfast or lunch. Make dinner lighter and give it some space before you sleep. This will get you in your body’s bio-rhythmic groove.
Fruit before sunset.
These are my Granny’s words. But…isn’t fruit healthy all the time?
Yes, however, fresh fruit digests super fast in our system, usually in less than an hour. If we eat these foods first, our empty-ish stomach can quickly process them and grab a hold of all the delicious benefits.
IF we eat fruit later in the day or after a meal, it just sits on top of the pile of slowly digestible food, fermenting and creating acidic explosions, until finally it get its turn to be absorbed. The fruit loses some of its nutrients while waiting, and can cause us tummy trouble.
So Granny is right. Guzzle your fresh oranges, apples, papayas in the AM!
All the shops close between 1-4pm in India. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do. People settle down for a snooze, siesta, or as my Granny says, “forty-winks.”
Laziness? No, more like intelligence. Although difficult to perceive, digesting food is a strenuous activity, requiring lots of energy! That is why sometimes after eating lunch, during the hours of when the digestive system is working away (1-3pm), we feel chilly, sleepy, and excessively thirsty – all our energy and oxygen is going in digestion.
So afternoon naps are actually two thumbs up, even if it’s just twenty minutes. Help a system out!
Chew. Steam. Soften.
Did you know that just by chewing more, we can reduce the work of our stomach?
Raw foods (sushi), legumes (think beans), and high fiber veggies in the cruciferous family such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, while WONDERFUL for the health, require lots of energy to break down into liquid form. They are pretty hard on the tummy.
While raw foods are optimal because retain the most nutrients, lightly steaming or cooking your food to soften it (and also chewing really well!) gives the stomach much less work to do. This means less discomfort, and you still get a good amount of nutrients in this way.
Over-cooking, re-heating, or using stale ingredients are where you lose most of the nutrients. So no microwave frenzies!
The almond bath.
Every morning my Granny hands us each seven peeled almonds that she has soaked over-night. It’s as if she is handing us Jack and the Beanstalks’ magic beans.
I’ve always found this both strange and special, enjoying the naked almonds softly cracking in the mouth after having their midnight bath.
WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW is that soaking the nuts actually enhances their nutritional profile. The brown skin, while highly important in protecting the tree nut from sunlight and water, is made of tannin acid, a nutrient inhibitor.
Soaking these nuts (actually seeds) overnight loosens away the brown skin, unleashing the nutrients and enzymes stored in the cream-colored center.Also, as discussed above, soaking the almonds makes them easy on the jaws and easy on the digestive system. If these reasons still don’t convince you, then try it simply because it makes them taste so darn special. Like Jack’s magic beans.
Garam pani pi! Drink warm water!
My grandpa drinks it first thing the morning and after every meal. Avneesh, Sonali’s son, has been on a garam pani kick! Actually most people in India are obsessed with the benefits of warm water. How come?
The warm water provides a cleansing flush to the digestive system, washing down any grease or leftover food that hasn’t made it into the stomach yet. It accelerates the whole digestive process.
Curds for dessert.
Why? Live yogurt contains the healthy bacteria, lacto bacilli, that helps to break down carbohydrates and proteins faster.
And that’s a wrap! If you are interested in more tidbits on alternative nutrition, get in touch and I can direct you to a few good books :). Hope you got something out of this post, either by learning something new or reading something you already knew and then laughing because I am just discovering it now. I would LOVE your feedback. Be sure to check out the rest of my #foodisbeautiful series!
- #foodisbeautiful: yoga food
- Indian Dairy Dictionary