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.