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Nourish your Digestive Fire

There's a certain something that I believe is really important when it comes to food, especially as the weather keeps getting cooler, and that something is your 'digestive fire'. You see, digestive fire is a concept that spans across many traditional cultures and medicine systems like Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and Traditional Western Herbal Medicine. Think of your digestive system as a cooking pot - it uses things like hot stomach acid, enzymes and muscles to heat, churn, and break down your food into nutrients. These nutrients can then be absorbed and sent to cells all throughout your body to provide nourishment and energy. If your digestion is weak, however, this digestive fire won't be as strong so you won't be able to extract nutrients from food as efficiently. Just as your digestive system sits centrally in your body, it's also central to your health. Good strong digestion is integral to all aspects of health, not just physically but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually. In Iridology too, we see the gut represented in the centre of the iris, just around the pupil, with the rest of the body represented in the areas that radiate out from it. If the gut isn't strong, its function is impaired and this impairs the functioning of the rest of the body. In Ayurveda, it's believed that your digestive fire, called 'agni', is central to assimilating emotions and experiences as well as food. If your agni is weak, you won't be able to fully 'digest' life's experiences and emotions. Just as an undigested meal leaves discomfort, so too can an undigested experience or emotion. This belief also carries through to the style of naturopathic herbal medicine I've trained in and practise.

How do cooked foods nourish your digestive fire? Essentially, part of the work is already done so that the cooking pot in your body doesn't have to work as hard. You see, the food is already heated, many of the starches/proteins/other molecules have already begun to be broken down, the food is softer, and if you're having something like soup then much of it is also partly 'chewed' or mushed! What exactly do I mean when I say 'cooked food'? I'm not suggesting we all go out and buy hot chips and sausage rolls because they're 'cooked', rather than a salad or a piece of fruit. That'd just be silly! What I am referring to are gentle, nourishing and warming ways of cooking. For example, cooking methods that are 'low and slow' (low temperatures and slow cooking times) - soups, stews, steaming, roasting etc - as opposed to 'high and quick' methods like deep frying. You might also enjoy cooking with ingredients that are thought of as warming, like pepper, ginger and cayenne. As I always say, eat food as close to its natural form as possible - fill your meals with vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc.

As always, listen to your body and see what works for you. We're all different, that's what makes life so marvellous, and that means we'll all respond differently to different ways of eating. Cooked, gentle, nourishing foods, especially during the cooler months, are what I personally find to be most beneficial. Life is also all about balance, so I'm not suggesting we all eat cooked food all the time. But I do love how gentle it is on the digestive system, how it helps ground you if feeling a little overwhelmed or on edge, and how it warms you from the inside out.

If you're looking for some warm meal inspiration, try this golden chicken vegetable soup or this super hot chocolate by Nina Kingsford-Smith at healthy happenings.

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