Throughout time, humans have practiced various forms of fasting as a means to better health. In India, a “kitchari cleanse” is a temporary fast, commonly undertaken to reset the digestive system. It involves eating only kitchari prepared with ghee, spices and vegetables tailored to one’s specific dosha as explained by Ayurveda. A kitchari fast for a specified time (perhaps 2-5 days) can reset the digestive system, restore balance to the doshas, uplift the mood and clear the head, fostering a general sense of peace and well-being. Kitchari is also recommended for the sick and convalescent since it’s deeply nourishing and easy to prepare and digest.
Kitchari is beautiful food! It nourishes the body with everything it needs without demanding great amounts of energy for complicated digestion. This is incredibly important when fasting, convalescing and healing. Traditionally, kitchari is made with white (instead of brown) basmati rice and skinless, split yellow moong daal (instead of whole green moong daal/green gram). This makes it easier to comfortably digest, creating less of the gas, belching, bloating and heartburn that is often problematic when eating fibrous whole grains and legumes.
But what happens when kitchari is made with green moong daal as it often is? Well … of course, it’s absolutely delicious! But is it still easy to digest? For many people, yes, but for a large swath of the population who are, to one degree or another, intolerant to certain types of fermentable carbohydrates in the form of sugars and fibers known as FODMAPS (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols), it can lead to a pretty uncomfortable belly.
To be clear, fiber is a critical part of our diet! Eating a variety of fibrous plant foods helps to create a diverse inner “eco-system” that’s associated with strong immunity, reduced inflammation and lowered risk for disease, but how these plants affect our digestion can vary greatly from person to person. This is because fibers are indigestible. Many are “prebiotic” – they travel to the large intestine where they become food for the countless bacteria living there. As these bacteria break down the fibers, they produce gasses that can build up in the intestines causing bloating, gas, and in some people, constipation and/or diarrhea.
Eating kitchari prepared with high-FODMAP whole grains such as cooked whole wheat, rye or barley and/or legumes like green moong daal, black beans and many other varieties can create a lot of gas in the system. According to Ayurveda, excess gas is a VATA dosha imbalance. VATA, which governs movement, air and space can affect the digestive system causing gas, bloating and constipation. In susceptible people, this can lead to heartburn due to the buildup of gas pressure in the intestines which can push the stomach acid and contents back into the esophagus. Since stomach acid is naturally “hot” and burning, it’s governed by the PITTA dosha. When this happens, that burning acid pain we feel from heartburn is essentially VATA pushing PITTA up! And that’s acid reflux, or GERD!
If you are easily affected by gas and bloating, heartburn and indigestion, it’s a good idea to stick to white basmati rice, split yellow moong daal and easy-to-digest vegetables. Soaking kitchari for a few hours to overnight before cooking can also help. Be sure to drain well and add fresh water for cooking. The addition of ghee and spices that support good digestion is essential! Chew slowly and thoroughly, and savor your delicious kitchari.
Strong and balanced agni can depend on several factors. For individual recommendations, a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner can be of tremendous value.