We Are What We Eat
The belief in Ayurveda is that ‘We are what we eat’. Therefore, from the Ayurvedic point of view, a good diet is of prime importance. It not only helps to maintain the body’s health and vitality, but also has a great effect on the well being of the mind. According to Ayurveda, a truly healthy human being is the one who has a strong body and sound mind.
A well balanced and nutritious diet helps to maintain the balance of the three doshas and promotes good health. Ayurveda classifies various types of food like vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, etc on the basis of their energies and the affect that they have on the body and mind. This can help us in choosing the foods that are good for our individual constitution, while avoiding the ones that are likely to be harmful.
Many times, in todays’ hurried modern lifestyle, irregular eating habits or excessive attachment and consumption of particular foods is common. We often consume more of certain foods which can be harmful for us. Ayurveda suggests what are referred to as ‘Antidotes’ or balancing factors for such excesses. These balancing factors help to control the negative effects of the food we overeat and can aid in the maintainance of balance in our systems.
Even though the detailed therapies and complex drug formulas for treating most diseases are available in Ayurvedic literature, prevention of the disease in the first place is given higher regard than the attempt to cure them after they manifest with all the signs and symptoms. This is because if the fundamental rules of personal and social hygiene are followed religiously, building up immunity against most ailments in order to increase longevity and enhance the quality of life is a task which is achievable, even in today’s modern lifestyle.
The healthy person is defined in the Ayurvedic scriptures as the one who not only possesses the balanced Tridoshas, but one who also exhibits a balance of emotions, intellect and a sense of peace.
Diet is given maximum importance in healthy as well as diseased status. It is said in ancient Indian literature that if proper diet is followed, medicine is not needed, and if proper diet is not observed, medicines are not helpful.
Maintaining health is based on these simple concepts:
1. The nature of food (Prakruti) – Depending on whether the food is easily digestible or not, food can be classified in the categories of heavy and light food items. For e.g., meat is heavy for digestion while rice and vegetables are light. This is the basic quality of any food recipe and should be thought about before consuming.
2. Processing (Karana) – In general, cooked food is more nutritious than uncooked food. However, some foods like fruits and salads are healthier when eaten uncooked. Microwave cooking is not helpful from the Ayurvedic point of view, since it destroys all the important nutrients present in the food. Depending on the method of processing or cooking, i.e., roasting, frying, baking, directly heating on fire, barbeque, mixing, drying, churning, etc., the qualities of the food change. It can become lighter or heavier for digestion.
3. Combination (Samyoga) – Combination of certain food ingredients is beneficial for us. In a similar manner, some combinations can be harmful. Combining sour fruits with milk or curd is, for example, harmful and can cause chronic indigestion. Therefore, it is necessary to use the combinations which blend well.
4. Quantity (Rashi) – The quantity of the individual ingredients as well as the total quantity of food consumed by an individual should be decided according to the qualities of the food as well as the individual’s digestive capacity.
5. Place (Desha) – Ayurveda has classified places into different types such as marshy, dry and normal. The place should be chosen in relation to different climatic conditions. If the surroundings are good, the food is better absorbed and exerts positive effects on the body and mind.
6. Time or period (Kala) – Food should be consumed at proper intervals. Only when previously eaten food is properly digested, should the next meal be eaten. The type of foods eaten, as well as quantities and quality should be altered, depending on certain seasonal changes. The main meal should be eaten between 11 to 2 in the afternoon.
7. Rules for eating (Upayoga Sanstha) –
- • Food should be consumed while hot, as this will naturally increase the secretion of the digestive enzymes.
- • Meals must be eaten in a relaxed, calm and cheerful atmosphere, One should not eat when nervous, angry, anxious or in a disturbed state of mind.
- • Eating too slowly or too rapidly, talking, laughing, thinking or watching television during meals is not advisable.
- • One must concentrate on the food with the thought that this food is going to benefit the body and mind.
- • Smoking, drinking too much water or any other liquid after eating, is not advisable.
- • It is recommended that one take a shower and wear clean clothes, prior to cooking.
- • In the Indian social environment, a guest is treated like a god. The food should be served to guests and the children first.
- • Chanting of mantras and offering prayers to God is always advisable.
8. The Consumer of the food (Upabhokta ) – Every person must observe the above mentioned rules, and eat as per his/ her constitution, the digestive capacity, the season, the time of the day and the digestion status of the last meal consumed.
In Ayurveda, food affects the mind by causing either an increase or decrease in the three modes of nature, i.e., SatvaGuna, or the mode of goodness, RajoGuna, or the mode of passion, and TamoGuna, which is the mode of ignorance. The recipes can be classified as Satvik, Rajasik or Tamasik, depending upon the effects that they exert on the mind.
A very general description follows—
It consists of fresh fruits like pomegranates, apples, bananas, oranges, grapes; grains like basmati rice, wheat in small quantities, and dairy products like milk, yoghurt and ghee (clarified butter). These foods help to keep the body lean and agile and the mind calm and quiet. Fresh buttermilk, fresh green vegetables like spinach, green beans and green peas or split peas are good examples of satvik food. Although a mild sweet taste is considered satvik, a strong sweet taste as in chocolates and heavy sweets increases the tamasik qualities.
Consisting of food recipes of spicy, salty and sour nature. Vegetables like onions, garlic and spicy or sour preparations like ketchup and vinegar have rajasik qualities. Wines, pickles, meat- especially red meat, and stimulating drinks like coffee and tea, and all types of alcoholic drinks are rajasik in nature. These foods aggravate Pitta and Vata and increase restlessness, anger and irritability. Some rajasik-type foods, if vegetarian and taken in moderation by Kapha types can be energizing.
This diet is comprised of stale, over-heated, oily, heavy to digest, canned meat and fish products containing lots of preservatives as well as large quantities of cold pasteurized dairy products like milk and yogurt. These foods increase Kapha and lethargy, ignorance and apathy. Frozen and preserved foods as well as hybrid foods also increase the tamasik quality.
To summarize, we can see that diet plays a vital role in maintaining good health and in the prevention and cure of disease. In Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna has compared Himself with the digestive fire, which assimilates and digests all the four types of food in order to maintain life.
Although diet is an important healing modality in Ayurveda, there are no one-size-fits-all rules. You are unique in your constitutional make-up (prakriti) and your current needs for balance (vikriti); thus, your dietary needs are unique too. You won’t find pre-set body weights by age and gender or calorie counting instructions in ayurvedic dietary theory. What you will find are recommendations to really listen to what your physiology is telling you about what, where, when and how you eat. You’ll find instructions to include the six different tastes–sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent–at every meal, favoring those tastes that are suited to your current needs and incorporating lesser amounts of the rest. Including different tastes at each meal reduces cravings and balances appetite and digestion naturally
Food influences not only physical activities, but also psychological activities. The digestive fire requires food to maintain constant activity. However, improper, excessive, heavy, and cold food can extinguish this fire and produce endotoxic substances called Ama. Therefore, care should be taken before consuming any food item in order to maintain the digestive capacity.
The ayurvedic way of cooking is about bringing together a harmonious collection of fresh wholesome ingredients into a feast for all your senses. In a well-prepared ayurvedic meal, a medley of tastes, textures, colors, aromas and flavors blend together to restore balance to your body, mind, spirit, senses and emotions.