By Vishakha Moghe
We are in a modern era. Modern technology, modern farming techniques, modern lifestyle, modern everything! How could the food aspect remain untouched then? Human beings are constantly evolving and this evolution has led to an alteration in the food-eating habits. Evolution of human beings also means evolution of everything that revolves around us. The nature of soil, the quality of the produce that grows in there and the characteristic of the end product that is served on our platters is a topic of concern for every food expert who has a traditional and holistic approach.
Fad weight loss schemes, modern eating tips and those 31-day diet plans are based on the erroneous notion that eating an abundance of a specific type of foods can lead to better health. On the contrary, the age-old Science of Ayurveda has quoted about a 5000 years ago that it is only a wholesome diet plan that includes the widest possible range of foods that can lay a strong foundation for a healthy body. The very important aspect that needs to be taken care of before choosing to eat a particular type of food in abundance is the Prakruti (body constitution) of the person consuming it. Every subject is unique; the food habits should thus vary from person-to-person according to the Prakruti.
Ayurveda defines wholesome food as the kind of food that balances the seven dhatus (tissues) and the three doshas (humors). The one that causes disarray in any of these is considered unwholesome. This is a very simplistic approach. During ancient times, the different categories of food including their origin were based on the occupation of the people consuming it. Vedic culture was predominately vegetarian in higher levels of society; nevertheless the ruling and warrior classes would generally eat meat. However, Ayurveda also understood the great nutritive value of animals and animal products. Normally, they used milk, butter, and ghee as the main source of animal proteins, but when the situation demanded, they prescribed animal products to quickly build back the strength of a person. The larger focus should be on eating the food that the body really needs, not on eating what merely satisfies the taste buds.
Food rasas(tastes) are classified into six categories by Ayurveda namely, Madhura(Sweet), Amla(Sour), Lavana(Salty), Katu(Pungent), Tikta(Bitter), Kashaya(Astringent). It isn’t just one of the meals that should consist of all the six tastes; every meal that we consume should have a blend of food items that possess the above tastes. Each taste has an intimate relationship with the doshas and the body constitution. Sweet or madhura taste is a builder of tissues that are formed from Prithvi(Earth) and Jala(Water). Hence, sweet substances strengthen Kapha. An overload of sweets, on the other hand, can create a Kapha imbalance, which needs to be corrected with pungent, bitter and astringent tastes and warming foods. Salty, Sour and Pungent tastes in the right quantity strengthen Pitta thus boosting its functions of carrying out the metabolic processes. An excess of these tastes, however, aggravates Pitta and needs balancing out with sweet, cooling foods. Pungent, bitter and astringent tastes in excess increase Vata and other functions related to movement, penetration and cleansing of channels. If you need to pacify Vata, therefore, you need to focus on the sweet, sour and salty tastes and eat more warm foods.
The other important aspects to be kept in mind before you chalk out your diet plan are:
1) Effects of combining 2 different food items ex. Milk and Fruits; Hot and Cold Foods; Curds and Raw foods like Cucumber, Tomato are unhealthy combinations.
2) The places and climatic conditions for consuming a particular type of food.
3) The effects of consuming a particular food in a particular season.
4)Use of artificial flavors, preservatives, chemicals and colors.
Good nutrition according to Caraka Samhita (treatise on Ayurveda) is eating the right kind of food, with the right beverage, at the right time of the day, with the right company, in the right frame of mind and at the right place. The sages during ancient times also inferred that people who eat less quantities of food or the quantity of food that is enough to create energy and nourish all the bodily tissues and organs, lived longer than their counterparts. The method to determine whether you are eating the right quantity is to eat until your first burp; that’s your body’s signal to stop. If you keep eating past this point on a regular basis, you’re reducing your life span by over-burdening your system. The stomach also requires space to perform its functions by mixing the food with digestive secretions. The golden rule is to stop at the first sign of a burp and avoid the heaviness in the body that might follow later.
We’ve also lost track of a lot of important facts that need to be reminded to us time and again. Animal foods undoubtedly contain high quantities of proteins and minerals, but are we sure if we really need the protein? Thanks to the sedentary lifestyle devoid of physical activity and hard work, where is the need of “a lot of protein” arising from?
Traditional and local foods have long lost their importance too. The traditional food habits have been established over a period of long research and experience by our ancestors and the genetic makeup of our body has been altered by the region wise climatic changes and eating habits. So there are fair chances of a person in the Northern part of a country falling ill quite often, if he consistently follows a diet pattern other than the one followed in his region. Locally grown foods are higher in “Prana” (vital energy present in foods) because they don’t have to be shipped or stored for longer periods and can be bought-tree ripened. It’s also important to chop vegetables and cook them fresh at every meal. Buying pre-chopped vegetables means that you have already lost some prana.
Avoid eating processed, canned, frozen, bottled and fermented food. This kind of food is considered to be “dead” according to the traditional medicine. To add further, it has been heavily treated with chemicals and preservatives and is too old to be healthy.
Raw foods are heavier to assimilate; Agni Sanskar (cooking/roasting/frying) renders food easy to digest and process. Our kitchen also consists of a variety of spices that again differ region-wise. We must make use of all these traditional spices while cooking our meals as this makes the foods more palatable, digestible and also creates energy.
Vegetarians can get their daily protein requirement from fresh cow/buffalo milk, tofu, paneer, lassi (yoghurt drink) and nuts like dates, almonds, walnuts and cashews provided they are soaked first or cooked with grains to make them more digestible. Vegetarian food is healthier and easier to digest as compared to animal-based foods and hence it is considered superior in many ways. But for non-vegetarians, if they follow all the dietary rules while feasting upon a non-vegetarian meal, they too can lead a healthy life!
Apart from all the dietary rules, it’s essential to be in a healthy atmosphere amidst favorable company while eating your food. The frame of mind that one is in, overpowers all the other factors that have been mentioned above. Restaurant food comes from unknown sources, we are rarely aware of how the food was cooked, who cooked the food and in what frame of mind the whole process occurred. It goes without saying that eating restaurant food frequently does more harm than we can imagine! Also, eat food in a settled atmosphere, avoid using the phone while munching on the food, avoid watching the TV or listening to music as you eat your meal. All these activities lead to sluggish digestion in turn leading to the production of an undigested food product (Ama), which is nothing less than a toxin and damages your body in the long run. Leave your responsibilities at the door — and instead revel in the beautiful colors, tastes, smells and textures of the food. All of this amounts to respecting your food and your digestion, and will help create the kind of light, clear, vital feeling that good food is meant to do.
Ayurvedafinder says, “Eat Wise; Eat Wholesome: Embrace Health”!
About the author
Vishakha is an Ayurveda practitioner, Yoga counselor and a passionate traveler. She lays emphasis on living a healthy life by nourishing the body and mind with wholesome and natural food, meditation and yogic techniques. An Indian at heart, she aims at propagating the goodness of the Indian culture across the seven seas and stimulating thoughts by creating a hunger for knowledge.