Healthy Digestion Promotes Powerful Immunity

It is still the start of a New Year. If we follow the rhythm of the seasons, in the winter it is our turn to rest, to nourish ourselves, to go inward, and to be as slow as possible. Like bears, we need hibernation. Unfortunately, this need is not often valued in a culture of productivity, where we are encouraged to do more and to be more constant. With the extra force of COVID demanding us to slow down, perhaps this new year it is time for deeper quiet and inner reflection around what really matters in our lives. 

Many of us use the New Year to reset healthy habits we hope to practice daily to ensure optimum health. The habit that is most often overlooked in promoting healthy immunity is the power of our digestion. In many traditional systems of medicine, our digestion is considered the ruler of our health. If we think about it, most of our essential nutrients – including the most famous immune boosters like vitamin C – come from our food. It is not what you eat but what you metabolize that is most important, as many wise teachers across healing traditions have taught me. This extends even beyond the physical to include the metabolizing of our thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams. How can we slow down enough to do that?

Most of us rightfully long for healthy digestion and regular elimination. Yet many of us struggle with this most fundamental pillar of wellbeing. Here are some tips to get your digestion working for you to absorb your nutrients and in turn not only feel more well but also keep your immune system thriving in these trying times:

  • Notice how you feel after meals to track which foods & beverages give you energy and which food choices leave you feeling heavy, tired, bloated or gassy. 
  • Avoid overly cold or iced beverages and food. Overly cold foods and beverages weaken and cool our digestive fire (a concept embraced in Ayurveda and in Traditional Chinese Medicine). 
  • Eat only when you are hungry and avoid late night meals/snacks, especially after 9:00 PM
  • Try to eat in a calm and nourishing environment – and without screens if possible!
  • Consider giving thanks for your food and for those who grew it or made it for you
  • When possible avoid “fake food” in the form of overly processed foods and sugar-rich beverages
  • At each meal, consider only eating a portion that would fit into your two hands cupped together
  • Consider using digestion-promoting herbal and dietary tools such as digestive bitters (recipe) and/or bitter tastes such as chocolate, dandelion greens, bitter greens/salads, or fire cider (recipe) to promote proper digestive secretions that prepare the body to optimally absorb your food
  • Let your meal time be as sacred as you are willing to make it.

“Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.”

– Hippocrates