For the last 6 weeks we’ve been traveling through India & Nepal, partly with a private tour guest. One of the things you might notice at mealtimes in these countries is the preponderance of warm liquids served with meals, be it tea, coffee, or just plain hot water. No frigid water, iced tea, soda with ice* clinking around; instead, you’ll see ginger & lemon herbal tea, small glasses of chai, or tall refreshing glasses of—yup—freshly boiled water. (*Ice and iced drinks are often available, but not common among local people; also, remember that most times, the ice is made from non-purified water, so beware!)
In Asian forms of healthcare like Chinese medicine & Indian Ayurvedic medicine, there is a belief that the digestive system operates best when warm—think of it truly as a “digestive fire.” All of the food you just thoroughly chewed and swallowed (you did thoroughly chew it, right?) now has to be processed further before it can be assimilated. Consider your stomach as a secondary stove of sorts, cooking down and breaking apart your food even further. By chugging that icy cold beverage with your meal, you are essentially dousing that digestive fire, hampering the speed and efficiency of digestion. This can lead to discomfort, gas, bloating, acid reflux, and even complications with your bowel movements. In these traditional medicines, cold temperatures are thought to slow biological processes down; we know this to be true, as everything slows down in the cold, from the speed of molecules vibrating to hibernating bears. I know I’m slower to roll out of bed when it’s cold! Likewise, cold slows our digestion.
Having loads of cold drinks at mealtimes might be a hard habit to break, but give it a shot for a week and see if it makes a difference. The few times I’ve indulged in a huge bottle of cold mineral water with a meal during our travels, I have certainly felt the consequences—painfully full, bloated, and just plain icky. Today, try a small cup of your favorite herbal tea with your meals, or even as something as simple as a few slices of ginger in hot water. As a bonus, the inherent warm nature of the ginger boosts digestion even more. Cheers!
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