Forget all what you have learnt so far in modern nutrition! Forget those calories, those carbs, proteins and fats! I would like to reiterate what Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician said long time ago, “Let food be thy medicine”. Go back to your roots and fall back on those Ayurveda principles for creating a healthy and well-balanced dietary regimen for yourself!
In this article, let’s explore the 10 main principles of Ayurvedic Dietetics and how you can use your food as medicine that could prevent you from falling sick in the very first place!
1. Eat according to your Prakruti (your unique mind body constitution)
As per Ayurveda each person has a unique mind-body constitution, known as Prakruti. If you eat according to what your body needs at that particular moment, you will be in sync with your true nature and the mother nature & you will automatically keep yourself in balance. For e.g. If you are feeling cold, your hands and feet are cold, you won’t go for a smoothie. Instead you will want to go for a warm bowl of soup or a warm cup of spiced ginger tea! Isn’t it? This is how harmony can be restored with in the body. In general, the following Ayurvedic principles can be applied while selecting and preparing foods for the three doshas:
Vata dosha is made up of the air and space elements. Therefore, it is by nature cool, dry, light, and rough. Eating foods that counteract those characteristics creates balance. Persons with excess Vata energy will restore balance through foods that are warm and hydrating (such as soups and stews) with healthy fats (like olive oil, ghee), and grounding. i.e. foods that are heavy, dense and healthy at the same time. And most of these are comfort foods like a warm bowl of oatmeal or a thick creamy butternut squash soup.
Pitta dosha is made up of the fire and water elements. Therefore, it has hot, oily, light, and sharp qualities. Therefore, eating foods that are cool such cucumber, cilantro, watermelon etc. astringent such as beans, legumes, pomegranate will help keep Pitta under check and prevent it from getting too hot.
Kapha dosha is made up of earth and water elements. Therefore it has heavy, cool, oily, and smooth qualities. Eating foods that are light, warm, dry like beans and popcorn and rough such as green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage will help keep kapha in balance.
2. Include All Six Tastes at Every Meal
Ayurveda recognizes six tastes, each of which communicates a unique combination of energy at the physiological level. In general, the six tastes inform the body with the following information:
- Sweet: Grounding, strengthening, nourishing
- Sour: Cleansing, purifying
- Salty: Balancing, regulating
- Bitter: Detoxifying, mineralizing
- Astringent: Anti-inflammatory, cooling
- Pungent: Warming, stimulating
Try to include a small amount of each taste into every meal. It may be only a pinch of salt, a squeeze of lemon, or a slice of pepper but as long as the taste is present, the energetic puzzle will be complete. This will also prevent cravings!
3. Eat at the same time each day- have a proper routine!
Routine is everything in Ayurveda! For this reason, it’s helpful to “train” your “Agni” to receive three solid meals per day, rather than snacking throughout the day which can overburden the digestive system. This will allow the 3 solid meals to be properly digested and assimilated. This also helps maintain your digestive fire. Fasting on the other hand and/or skipping meals too often can also throw your digestive fire out of balance.
4. Keep the Quantity in check -How much to eat?
Now this depends on your Prakruti as well as the type of physical activity you will be doing for that day. Although when you were young, your mother must have told you to always finish the food on your plate. Her intensions were that food should never be wasted. Also most of us as moms want our kids to grow fast! But unknowingly in an effort to finish the food in your plate you were ignoring your body’s signals of being satiated! This also led to overeating at every meal and also your stomach getting stretched beyond normal capacity.
Ayurvedic wisdom advises you to eat until you feel comfortably full, and no more. And how would you know that you have eaten just the right amount? When you start to burp, that first burp during your meal is an indication that its time to stop! Try to avoid eating to the point of discomfort and lethargy!
Aside from the obvious consequence of weight gain, overeating leads to undigested food being turned into toxins, which increase free radical production in the body, which in turn speed up the aging process. By setting down the fork when you are satisfied, but not stuffed, you avoid overeating and the body receives the nourishment that it needs without the added burden of digesting.
On the other hand, eating less than your body’s needs would also leave you feeling hungry and dissatisfied leading to cravings for snacking in between meals.
5. Keep the Quality in check- Consume Whole, Fresh, local, seasonal Foods and Avoid Processed Foods, Leftovers, and Raw/Cold Foods.
The processing of food is usually done to increase the shelf life of that food. In the process, the food loses its prana (life force). Therefore, eating foods that are as fresh as possible will increase prana more readily than eating the same foods further from their harvest time. It is best to shop local at farmer’s markets where you will find fresh foods with high life force. These are also the foods that are in season and therefore cheaper as well. Nature knows what’s best for us and for keeping the doshas balanced. So, whatever is in season is what is best for us for that particular time of the year.
Raw foods, while technically whole foods, are harder to digest than cooked foods. For this reason, Ayurveda generally favours well-cooked, lightly spiced veggies over raw salads.
6. Worship your “Agni” – digestive fire.
The inner fire, known as agni, is the digestive power of the physical and energetic body. Ideally functioning, it is hot and able to digest food, thoughts, emotions, and experiences.
Do not take Ice Cold water and Beverages with meals. This dampens the agni’s intensity. Vata and Kapha doshas, in particular, should lean toward warm foods and herbal teas throughout the day. In this way, the digestive power will remain strong.
Use spices appropriate for your prakruti! Spices not only add flavour and aroma, they also bring therapeutic value to any meal. Spices help boost natural immunity, and most of them can keep your “Agni” strong so your body is able to absorb and assimilate the nutrients from the foods you eat!
7. Stay Well Hydrated
Although I just mentioned – do not drink cold water with meals. An Ayurvedic diet would be incomplete without a mention of liquids! It’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking pure water (either room-temperature, or warm water for cleansing). At lunch, you can also drink lassi, a probiotic Ayurvedic beverage made from yogurt, water, and spices. And don’t forget the balancing power of Ayurvedic herbal teas taken in between meals!
8. Practice mindful eating-Eliminate Distractions While Eating
These days it has become a norm to sit in front of the TV or browsing through Facebook, Instagram posts or checking emails while eating! As per Ayurveda, mealtime is an opportunity to connect with the inherent energy and information of the food you consume. It is important to enjoy the colors, flavors and the aroma of that meal. Be in a stress-free environment while eating. No arguments around the dinner table please! It affects your digestive ability. Also be grateful and bring awareness to the mother nature, that has provided us with food to survive on this planet!
9. Eat Your Largest Meal of the Day at Lunchtime
Agni (your digestive fire) is the strongest when the sun is highest. By consuming the largest meal of the day at noon, the body is able to use its powerful inner fire to breakdown and assimilate nutrients with less energetic output than at other times of the day. The noon meal is the best time of the day to integrate heavier or difficult-to-digest foods.
10. Stop Eating Three Hours Before Bedtime
During sleep, the body repairs, heals, and restores while the mind digests thoughts, emotions, and experiences from the day. If the body’s energy is diverted into physical digestion, the physical healing and mental digestive processes are halted. For this reason, Ayurveda medicine recommends that the last meal of the day be relatively light and completed three hours before bed to avoid this imbalance.
Each of these ancient Ayurvedic rules will help you remain healthy not only by virtue of the quality and quantity of food you are eating but why, when, where, with whom and how you eat it.
To learn more on Ayurvedic cooking, check out our in-person cooking classes.
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It is my humble wish to make Basics of Ayurveda and holistic nutrition available to each one of us in an easy to understand format. ‘coz if all of us are healthy at the deepest level of the soul, only then this planet will be a happier place to live!
M.Sc., R.H.N., Certified Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant
The content provided in my blogs are for knowledge sharing purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.