Ayurveda, India’s 5,000-year-old system of natural medicine, has followers around the world, including in Hollywood. American pop star Katy Perry uses a gut-cleansing treatment rooted in Ayurveda, for instance, and Colombia-born US TV star Sofia Vergara takes capsules of Indian gooseberry – amla – to boost immunity. Scientists estimate that over 30 trillion tiny organisms, collectively known as the microbiome , occupy the human gut. The gut, of course, is responsible for vital processes in the body, like digestion and metabolism, the synthesis of vitamins and nutrients, and maintaining energy balance. A 2012 study published under the US National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project revealed that a balanced and diverse microbiome is critical for maintaining health and immunological balance. One of the primary rules of Ayurveda is that eating food that is right for your gut is the key to overall health and immunity. Two Ayurvedic experts weigh in on this, and offer important guidelines for maintaining optimal gut health. 1. Honour your hunger Varalakshmi Yanamandra is an Ayurvedic practitioner and managing director of Ayur Wellness and Pain Centre in Birmingham, in the UK. An expert in gut health disorders and chronic pain, she says the most important factor when it comes to gut health is to honour your hunger. “According to Ayurveda, appetite is a key sign of healthy digestion. Eat when you feel hungry and eat at similar times. This not only helps with boosting your digestive fire but also aids in good gut function.” 2. Consume raw honey Ananta Ripa Ajmera is founder and CEO of The Ancient Way, a New York-based organisation offering wellness retreats and Ayurvedic programmes. She has studied Ayurveda and yoga for nine years, and is also the author of The Ayurveda Way . “Ayurveda envisions the body as possessing channels or pipe-like pathways called srota , which are responsible for transporting and circulating nutrients, and for elimination. All of these bodily channels need to stay open and unclogged for optimal health,” Ajmera says. Her top pick for good gut health is raw honey, which according to Ayurveda has unique immunity-boosting and toxin-removing qualities. It’s great for combating colds and coughs, itchy skin, and the flu. However, Ajmera warns that heating honey or mixing it with hot water changes its character and so it should be taken on its own, without warming it. “You can take up to four teaspoons a day in winter and spring and up to one teaspoon a day during summer and fall,” she adds. 3. Move every day Yanamandra says exercise is the most underrated practice when it comes to our digestion. Daily exercise can improve your digestion and metabolism, Ayurveda suggests. 4. Eat fibre-rich foods Fibre is good for overall health, but it’s important to use the right kind of fibre foods to stimulate the gut, Yanamandra says. Oats, nuts, apples and black beans have water-soluble fibres, which are helpful in balancing cholesterol and blood sugar levels. On the other hand, foods with insoluble fibre such as asparagus, blackberries, chickpeas, and quinoa help with constipation, and can significantly improve your gut health. Try mindful eating – and enjoy a better relationship with food 5. How you eat matters In Ayurveda, it is said that ahara , or food, should be treated with utmost respect as it is the source of nourishment for the body, Yanamandra says. Eat with awareness , keeping your entire focus on the food you’re eating, and avoid distractions. 6. Add turmeric This bright orange spice is a friend that can help you boost your gut health and immunity, Ajmera says. When used regularly in cooking, turmeric supports the digestive system by making your food more appetising. Its cleansing effect helps rid the body of toxins and purifies the blood, while fighting excess fat and ulcers. Small, regular doses of turmeric, of about ¼ teaspoon, mixed into smoothies or soups or sprinkled on food, will help maintain overall health. 7. Add cumin This spice can be used in any number of savoury dishes, from soup to fried rice, pastas and pizzas, Ajmera says. It aids digestion and helps boost appetite, too. Roasting cumin seeds in a dry skillet until they turn slightly darker is the best way to use them whole. They can be ground into a coarse powder. 8. Avoid cold salads This may come as a surprise, given how much salads are touted as the classic healthy-food choice. But cold, raw, uncooked foods are viewed as a challenge for the digestive system, Ajmera says. Ayurveda compares our digestive capacity to a physical fire, which you extinguish whenever you consume excess cold foods. What is the immune system and how do you optimise it? We ask the experts It is best to eat warm, cooked foods, as they help to kindle the digestive system and travel smoothly through the digestive channels of the body. Cooking food “predigests” it, so the digestive system doesn’t need to work as hard. Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .