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Ayurvedic Food/Nutrition Principles

Ayurvedic Medicine is the mother of all natural medicine.  It is over 5000 years old wisdom that is cognized by enlightened beings who understood how human body works and how life works.  Food has been used to heal, to prevent disease and to promote good health and longevity.  There is no system of medicine that I know of that understands that in an all inclusive way.   Ayurveda provides that bigger umbrella of deeper understanding that we can use to assess all different kinds of food, diets and its nutritional and medicinal effects on our physical and our mental/emotional health.  Ayurveda ‘s nutritional health system is highly sophisticated yet it can be made as simple as possible so we can use this ancient science and wisdom in a practical way without having to understand everything.

 

Simplicity is very important in a world that grows noisier every minute.  That indeed is the ultimate sophistication to use a complex system to simplify it enough for practical use.  We can use some basic concepts to understand the bigger picture of food and nutrition and its effect on the body.

 

1.  Energy

Food conveys life energy or prana to the body.  It is not the same as calories.  Calories can give the body “fuel’ to burn, but not the vitality and luster.  When we eat food that has sufficient calories but is devoid of the energy, we might miscalibrate our feedback system.  When energy is lacking in the food, the body can signal to continue eating even when sufficient calories have already been consumed.  Junk food is a perfect example of this concept.  We always want to reach for more.  It isn’t just because it is stimulating our taste buds, but the energy or the prana in the food is missing so we continue to eat.

2.  Quality

Food conveys its qualities to the body.  Light food will lighten the body and heavy food will make the body feel heavy.   That is simple, right!  Salad vs chocolate cake.  Dry food can dry or dehydrate the body, like popcorn that is why you may feel thirsty.  Cold foods can feel cooling to the body, but repeatedly consuming them will cool the digestion.  Spicy food can inflame the body.

3.  Tastes

Different tastes have different digestive and post digestive effects on the body.  A balanced meal includes 6 different tastes.  These tastes are:  sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent and bitter.  Different tastes stimulate the different enzymes to be secreted to digest those tastes.  That allows the digestive system to work in its full capacity and moreover, satisfies the body’s need for all tastes and curve the cravings.  The taste that is over consumed is sweet and under consumed is bitter.  That may be one of the contributing factors for overconsumption of caffeine and alcohol -as they provide the bitter taste.  We can add the bitter greens to get the bitter taste in our meals instead. Different tastes have different effect on the body.  Overconsumption of sweet taste is inflaming.  Bitter taste cools the body.

4. Digestibility

We are what we digest!  One of the pillars of health in Ayurveda is strong digestion and its one of the forte’s of Ayurvedic medicine as it is the seat of health and disease. Ayurvedic medicine has countless ways to power up the digestion, by using herbs, spices, combinations of meals, understanding the timing of the meals, the consciousness of the cook and the quality of the environment where food is being consumed all have an effect on the digestion. Digestion is not just limited to the food we eat, what can we digest the life experiences or do we push them into the subconscious where it effects our habits, health.  Ask yourself how it feels after the consume something, gas, bloating, indigestion,  constipation, sleep, mood etc.  Ayurveda uses spices, herbs as medicine to build strong digestion and to make the food not only aromatic and rich in taste but easy to digest, process and assimilate in the body.

5.  Emotionality

The holistic approach of Ayurveda understands the whole picture.  Every thing affects everything else.  Food effects our emotions, hence the need for sugar when one is feel low and down.  Emotions effect our ability to digest the food and the experiences.  Eating is sacred and a celebration of life.  There is no guilt associated with cooking for oneself and taking the time to eat.  It is a necessarily activity much like sleep.  Food must be enjoyed and it must appeal to all the senses in order for it to convey the maximum health benefits.  If Potato chip or chocolate cake is your thing, have some once in a while and enjoy it without worry or guilt.  The worry factor will turn the food into poison and it is that feeling that compels us to keep eating as we are now trying for that bad feeling to go away but can’t and the cycle turns downward.

You can try this.  Eat spicy food when you are angry and intense, it will make you more angry and intense.  So you want to opt for something little calming, and soothing food.

6.  Consciousness

When there is so much information, we naturally seek for it to be simplified.  So, when we find a food item that is good and agrees with us, consuming it more does not make it better.  Type of food, what tastes to include or exclude, how to eat according to your constitution and imbalance, how to eat according to seasons, all that requires that we become more conscious of the effect of food  on our body, and emotionality and psychology.  Although simplified, the Ayurvedic nutrition is sophisticated and asks that we know when and how to adjust.

 

 

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Taking confusion out of Nutrition

We live in a world of countless choices and an overflow of information and nutrition is no exception.  Between the plethora of diets and a new miracle food of the week, it is no wonder that we are more confused than ever.   While it is wise to eat organic, non-GMO and unprocessed foods, our ability to digest, absorb, assimilate and eliminate the undigested food is far more important and will give us a deeper insight when making food choices. We are what we digest.  The food combinations, timing of meals, our internal experiences and outer environment are some of the factors that affect our digestion.   Weak digestion is one of the reasons that we can eat the purest and healthiest foods, yet create toxins (AMA in Ayurveda) in the body.

We do not need convincing that there is no magic food or magic pill when it comes to our health and vitality.  We are multi-dimensional beings and the purpose of food is not to just fill an empty space, but to nourish us at many levels. We are unique in our constitution, tendencies and imbalances and the one-size fits all approach to food just does not work. Moreover, seasonal changes, physiological changes, illnesses point to the need to look at the whole picture and gain a deeper understanding of how food can be used as preventative medicine and to speed up the healing process in the case of an illness.

The time-tested 5000 years old wisdom of Ayurvedic Medicine takes the guesswork out of what to eat to create optimum health and how to build strong digestion. It offers a simple yet sophisticated and direct prescriptive path that is specific to our unique constitution and imbalance.

The different constitutions are called doshas and are comprised of the five basic elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth.  The three doshas are Vata (ether + air), Pitta (fire + water) and Kapha (water + earth). While Vata is responsible for movement of food in the body, Pitta is responsible for the digestion, absorption and assimilation.  Kapha is responsible for the mucus lining in the stomach. To keep vata in balance, favor foods that are warm, cooked, oily, heavy, and with sweet taste and avoid foods that are raw, cold and bitter.  To balance Pitta, reduce the amount of heavy animal protein, spicy hot foods and include bitter taste.  To balance kapha, favor foods that are pungent, and light.

Here are some additional guidelines that can give us a better understanding when making food choices:

Food conveys life force (prana) to the body.  Life force is not the same as calories. Calories give the body “fuel” to burn, not necessarily give the body vitality and luster.  When we eat food that has sufficient calories but does not supply the energy the body can signal to continue eating when excess calories have already been consumed.  Examples of this would be eating frozen, old and processed foods.

Food conveys its qualities to the body.  Light food lightens the body. Spicy hot foods in excess can inflame the body.  Cold foods cool the digestion and dry food dries the body.

Insatiable cravings are a symptom of imbalances.  Indulging in the cravings without addressing the underlying imbalances will deplete the body.  By incorporating all the six tastes in our meals, we can balance the body and stop the cravings. The six tastes are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent.

This column is meant to be a little preview of the bigger picture that we need to understand in making food choices. When we eat what is specific for our unique body, we can create optimum health. An Ayurvedic consultation will reveal your constitution, imbalances and a nutritional plan that is specific to you. Making small and smart changes is the way to everlasting health.

 

 

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