National Nutrition Month – Ayurvedic Indian Cuisine Benefits
Ayurveda, the timeless system of holistic medicine, practiced in India since millennia is based on the balance of nature and how it affects humans. Charak Samhita, written in Sanskrit thousands of years ago, is the most authentic & comprehensive text on Ayurveda and along with Sushrut Samhita and Vagbhata forms the three most foundational texts of Ayurvedic health care together known as bruaht trai.
Ayurveda believes that our diet needs to be in accordance with the tridoshas (vata, pitta & kapha) that govern our bodies as well as the changing ritus (seasons) as these two factors play an important role in the digestion and absorption of the food that is eaten. Ayurveda teaches us that we need to be conscious about our dietary choices and need to keep in mind not just the quality of food but also how the food is prepared, mental state of the person preparing the food, the place & the hygiene of the place where it is prepared, the quantity of food eaten, particular time to eat food, how that food will be digested after so that it provides maximum nutrition for optimum health and wellness.
Ayurvedic food & categorization
Anna (food) and Ahara (diet) are Sanskrit terms where anna is the actual food eaten while ahara is a broader term that includes nutrition of the mind, body, soul and sense organs. Ayurveda states that when the food enters the mouth and then passes through the digestive system it sends many signals to the brain about the taste as well as nutritive information. Digestion and metabolism are not just limited to ingestion but are directly affected by how the brain and the entire nervous system perceive the diet information.
Ayurveda distinguishes food depending on their digestion ability
- Laghu or light and easy to digest food – have predominant elements of Vayu (air) & Agni/Tej (fire), stimulate the digestive fire or agni and help smooth digestion. Moong daal, basmati rice, tofu, spices (turmeric, ginger, cumin, black pepper, fennel, coriander), barley, chapati, cooked vegetables with ghee (butter) etc. are some examples of light foods
- Guru or heavy and difficult to digest food – have predominant elements of Prithvi (earth) & Jal (water) elements, weaken the agni and thus can be harmful if eaten in excess quantities. Salty foods, milk & its products, pumpkin, lettuce, oats, beans, nutmeg (jayphal) cheese, eggs, fish, meat etc. are some examples of heavy foods that can have a sedative effect on the system
Ayurveda classifies all foods into twelve categories as per their source
Shuka dhanya (corn), shami dhanya (pulses), shaka varga (vegetables), mamsa varga (meat), phala varga (fruits), harita varga (greens), madya varga (alcohol), jal varga (water), dugdha varga (milk products), ikshu varga (sugarcane & products), kritanna varga (cooked food), and ahara yogi varga (food enhancer).
Ayurveda categorizes food into four categories according to their form
Ashita (eatable), peeta (drinkable), leedha (foods that can be licked), khadita (chewable) are the four categories of food as per their form. They stimulate the digestive fire and improve metabolism.
Ayurveda also labels food as per their effect on the physical and mental wellbeing
- Sattvic food – they are a type of food that calms & purifies the body. Light, healthy food that is neither too spicy, nor too sweet or salty. Non processed, freshly cooked food that energizes the mind & body and is ideally consumed within 2-4 hours of its preparation. Moong daal, legumes, wheat, rice, oats, spinach, apples, bananas, roasted seeds & nuts, fresh buttermilk or curd, Indian spices, honey etc. are some examples of sattvic food.
- Rajasic food – food prepared from animals, it can be extra spicy, salty & sour. Rajasic food stimulates the mind and body into action but also aggravates the vata & pitta doshas. Excess consumption of rajasic food can increase toxins in the blood, cause hyperactivity, anger, sleeplessness etc. Meat, fish, potato, cabbage, alcohol, fried food, aerated drinks, chilies, garlic, vinegar, are some examples of rajasic food.
- Tamasic food – food prepared from animals that is too oily, heavy can dull the senses and causes inertia, laziness, confusion as well as tendencies of aggression & violence. Meat, fish, reheated food, processed food, food with extra starch, hard liquor, extra salty foods like French fries, too cold milk, foods with excess sugar, fats & oil such as pastries, white sugar & white flour are some examples of tamasic foods.
Ayurvedic cuisine & dietary guidelines
- Ayurvedic ahara vidhi or dietary guidelines are based on deep studies and rationale and have a specific purpose and reasoning behind them. Ayurveda believes that how and what we eat makes a significant impact on our overall health – physical & mental – and strongly believes in Paatra Shuddhi (purity of vessel), Paaka Shuddhi (purity in cooking process) and Padartha Shuddhi (purity of the ingredients).
- Ayurvedic cuisine is based primarily on understanding the energies/tridoshas – Vata (ether), Pitta (fire), Kapha (water) – that regulate our body and how to prepare food combinations that balance these life forces.
- Ayurveda believes that the quantity of food that a person eats is directly related to the strength of their digestive fire or agni. A proper diet is one that gets easily digested while maintaining the balance of the tridoshas in the body.
- Ayurveda advocates that the capacity of the stomach can be divided into 3 parts, with one part filled with solid food, second with liquid and the third kept empty for easy movement of the doshas in order to stimulate proper digestion and prevent diseases.
- Ideally heavy foods should be 1/3rd capacity of your stomach (1/2 is still ok but don’t exceed that limit) and another 1/3rd must be light foods. Neither type of foods should be eaten in excess so that the digestive fire remains strong.
- Ayurveda believes that eating all types of foods (sarva graha) has a better impact on the digestion, metabolism and nutrition value than eating only a single type (pari graha). That is one of the reasons that Indian meals generally consist of roti, dal, sabzi, chawal and salads on the plate.
- Food eaten in the proper quantities provides strength, maintains the balance of digestive fire and tridoshas, and gives health and longevity. Excess food consumption can lead to a disturbed metabolism and can cause obesity, heart troubles, hypertension, diabetes and other serious health problems.
- Ayurveda dietary guidelines prescribe a particular order to eating food as well as state that all six tastes or shad rasas are important for best nutrition. Start with sweet/ Madhura and then move on to salty/ Lavana and sour/amla taste. Pungent/Katu, bitter/Tikta and astringent/kashaya foods should be consumed last. During a meal, consume fruits (amla or Indian gooseberry is the prominent choice) first followed by liquids/peya, then solid foods or bhojya and bhakshya. This order is based on the digestive factors, sweet foods are heavy to digest and need to be eaten early for better digestion. Of course, this order is for people with normal digestion capacities. People who suffer from ailments or poor digestion can consult their Ayurvedic Vaidya for a customized diet plan.
- Eat food with a relaxed and happy state of mind, as irritation/anger/stress affect the digestion process and cause accumulation of ama/toxins. For getting the best nutrition out of food ingested, avoid TV, mobiles, excess talking or laughing during meals, instead concentrate on eating and chewing the food.
Ayurvedic benefits of dosha pacifying nutrition
Ayurvedic food wisdom is based on eating foods that pacify & balance the tridoshas (vata, pitta & kapha) in the body. While all doshas are present in an individual, every person has a predominant dosha type and food choices should help balance that particular dosha.
- Vata pacifying diet
- Pitta pacifying diet
- Kapha pacifying diet
Vata dosha consists of Vayu (air) + Akash (ether/space) elements and is the most important of all tridoshas that controls all the movement across our nervous system, blood circulation, respiration etc. Imbalance in vata dosha also impacts pitta and kapha dosha. Vata is cold, light, dry, rough, fluid, changing and quick.
Ideal diet to pacify the Vata dosha consists of foods that are sweet, sour, salty and oily. Vata type people should avoid bitter, astringent, spicy flavors and cold foods as they aggravate the vata dosha.
Include ghee, nuts, avocado, coconut, olives, buttermilk, cheese, eggs, whole milk, wheat, melons, berries, zucchini, squash, sweet potatoes, asparagus, beans, yogurt, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, flaxseeds, cucumber, almonds, honey etc.
Avoid lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, raw onions, coriander seed, fenugreek, barley, corn, millet, raw/uncooked foods, cold & frozen drinks and foods etc.
Pitta dosha consists of agni (fire) and jal (water) elements and regulates the digestive fire or agni, metabolism, body temperature, vision, color & complexion of our skin, sensory perception, emotions and intellect. Pitta is liquid, oily, hot, light, smelly and acidic in nature. Pitta dosha imbalance leads to digestive/stomach ailments.
The ideal diet to pacify pitta dosha consists of carbohydrates and cooling foods that are bitter, astringent, sweet in taste to counter the fire of pitta.
Consume fresh fruits (especially astringent tasting) & vegetables such as apples, apricots, berries, grapes, orange, coconut, dates, plums, pomegranate, mango etc. as well as leafy green vegetables, cauliflower, pumpkin, radish, sweet potato, cucumbers etc.
Barley, wheat, rice, oats, legumes such as rajma, soya beans, tofu, black beans, moong dal etc also help calm pitta dosha.
Unsalted butter, paneer, homemade ghee, cow’s milk etc., and pitta friendly nuts such as flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, walnuts are also beneficial for reducing pitta.
People who are pitta types need to avoid spicy/hot, sour, pungent, deep fried and salty foods. Avoid tea, coffee, alcohol and smoking.
Kapha dosha consists of Jal (water) and Prithvi (earth) elements and is mainly dominant in the chest area and is responsible for tissue development in the body. Kapha dosha is slow, cool, heavy, smooth, delicate, thick, stable, gross. Kapha dosha types have slow digestive fire and should include foods that are pungent, bitter and astringent in taste. Avoid sour, sweet and salty foods. Eat at regular timings and in moderation.
Dairy products aggravate Kapha dosha but low-calorie fat milk, homemade ghee can be consumed in moderate quantities. Light fruits such as watermelon, pomegranates, apricots, apples etc. are good for Kapha dosha type.
Eat honey but avoid other sweet products. Herbal teas (ginger, mint, cinnamon spices included), soups, lighter oils such as sunflower & olive oil, white chicken, eggs etc., as well as grains such as barley, corn, millet etc. are beneficial in pacifying Kapha dosha.
Poshan Maah & National Nutrition month
Ayurvedic food knowledge is vast and has been prevalent since thousands of years. Recognizing the importance of inculcating ayurvedic nutrition in society, the government has launched National Nutrition Mission or the Poshan Abhiyaan in 2018 with the aim of increasing awareness about holistic nutrition to make India malnutrition free. March is marked as national nutrition month to encourage people to switch to eating a wholesome, nutritious diet that is based on the ayurvedic health care principles.
We celebrate the national nutrition month to promote awareness of making the right dietary choices and adopt good eating habits combined with a healthy & regular exercise schedule.
Adopting dietary & lifestyle changes based on ayurvedic principles can provide multiple benefits to mind, body and soul and help you lead healthy, fulfilling, happy and long lives.
Disclaimer: Any dietary changes in your routine should be incorporated only after thorough consultation with your Ayurvedic Vaidya or medical doctor.