Ayurvedic Nutrition: Let Your Food Be Your Medicine
It is ironic how something as obvious as nutrition has become overlooked in the modern health care system, and how in the name of convenience our fast paced society has given way to fast foods, microwaves, quick fix medicines, and eating on the run. Fortunately, there is a growing focus in the important role that nutrition plays in maintaining good health. In Ayurveda, India's ancient science of life, health and longevity, food plays a prominent role in promoting health and is therefore considered medicine.
Dating back over five thousand years, Ayurveda is still a highly respected form of health care in India today. According to this holistic system, everyone has a unique constitution or prakruti-an individual combination of physical, mental and emotional characteristics determined by many factors surrounding the time of conception and birth. Disturbance of this balance due to emotional and physical stress, trauma, improper food combination and choices, as well as seasonal and weather changes may lead to imbalance and eventually to disease. If we understand how such factors affect us we can take appropriate actions to minimize their effect and eliminate the causes of imbalance. In this sense, the path toward health is always individual. There is no single approach that is right for everyone, whether it relates to diet, lifestyle, exercise or the use of medicinal herbs.
According to Samkhya, the philosophical foundation of Ayurveda, creation expresses itself through the five elements-ether or space, air, fire, water and earth. These elements manifest in the body as the three governing principles or humors called doshas: vata, pitta and kapha. Everyone has all three of these doshas to varying degrees, although one and sometimes two tend to be predominant and the other(s) secondary. In balance, the doshas promote the normal functions of the body and maintain overall health. Out of balance, they create mental, emotional and physical ailments.
Vata is the subtle energy associated with movement and is made up of the air and ether. By nature it has dry, light, mobile and cold qualities. When aggravated, it can cause flatulence, constipation, tremors, spasms, asthma, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, as well many neurological problems.
Pitta represents the fire and water elements of the body. It has mainly hot sharp and oily qualities. Pitta disorders include hyperacidity, ulcers, skin eruptions, chronic fatigue, Crohn's disease, colitis, gout and numerous inflammatory disorders.
Kapha is made up of earth and water, and is associated with heavy, cold, damp and static qualities. Out of balance, kapha can cause obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, edema, asthma, tumors and a variety of congestive problems.
Aggravation of the doshas can affect the digestion and can create toxins, or ama from poorly digested food. As ama accumulates in the tissues and channels of the body it slowly but surely affects the flow of prana (vital energy), immunity (ojas) and the cellular metabolism (tejas), eventually resulting in disease.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, one of the main keys to maintaining optimal health as well as to support the healing process is to help the body eliminate toxins and to reestablish constitutional balance. To achieve this, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of proper nutrition through proper food choices, food combining and cooking methods, as well as herbal nutrition, all based on the specific needs of the individual and any current imbalance of the doshas.
Ayurvedic nutrition is a vast topic that takes into account the individual constitution, the medicinal value of culinary spices, the theory of shad rasa (or six tastes, which should all be present for a meal to be balanced), and more. As I mentioned before, in Ayurveda food is considered medicine. Likewise, herbs are also used for their nutritional and nourishing qualities, or to counteract any doshic imbalance and toxin formation as a result of poor digestion.
For optimum nutrition, care should be taken to insure that food be organic, fresh and whenever possible locally grown. In Ayurveda food, drinks, and spices are categorized according to their taste (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent), the energetic effect they have on the doshas, as well as their post-digestive effect on the tissues. This is why when choosing foods it is important to understand our original constitution so as to eat foods that have the opposite qualities to those that are already predominant in the constitution. Furthermore, understanding the current state of the doshas is also crucial for making the right food choices.
Vata types tend to more deficient by nature and have light body frames, variable digestion and often have a tendency towards gas and constipation. Therefore, they do best eating warm, nourishing, unctuous and primarily cooked foods, and should avoid dried, cold, frozen and excess intake of raw foods. Also, they should avoid pinto, garbanzo or black beans, which are hard to digest and tend to increase intestinal gas. Vata is balanced by sweet, sour and salty tasting foods.
Pitta types tend to have strong appetites and good digestion, but have a tendency toward hyperacidity and inflammatory disorders. So they should avoid eating greasy, hot spicy, salty and fermented foods, as well as sour and acidic fruits. Pitta is balanced by bitter, sweet and astringent tastes.
Kapha types are large framed with a tendency toward weight gain, obesity, sluggish digestion, lethargy and congestive disorders. They do best on a light, reducing diet low in carbohydrates and avoiding dairy, cold food and drinks, poor quality oils and sweet treats. Kapha is decreased with pungent, bitter and astringent tastes.
Before talking about the use of spices in Ayurvedic cooking I should point out that although Ayurvedic food is traditionally Indian cuisine, it is not by any means limited to it. Also, by the same token, not all Indian food is Ayurvedic. In fact, Indian restaurant food is often overly spicy and drenched in poor quality cooking oils. What makes food truly Ayurvedic is the fact that it is selected and cooked according to the specific needs of the individual, or that it is balanced for all doshas.
Many of the spices used in Ayurvedic cooking such as turmeric, ginger, cumin, fenugreek, coriander and cardamom, amongst others, are also medicinal herbs used in Ayurvedic herbology. Cooking daily with those spices can greatly enhance digestion, absorption and assimilation of food, improve one's appetite and elimination, nourish the internal organs and prevent doshic imbalance. Spices also provide a harmonious blend of the six tastes. Taste is medicinal and is the first form of nourishment. A meal containing a balanced blend of the six tastes, aside from being more appealing to the tongue, is also more digestible at a deep cellular level.
Modern research is now validating the benefits of many of the herbs and spices used in Ayurvedic cooking. Turmeric for instance, is highly effective in the treatment of type two diabetes, skin diseases, infections and hepatic and inflammatory disorders. Cumin, coriander, fennel, nutmeg and cardamom are extremely helpful in the treatment of a wide variety of digestive complaints, as is ginger for the treatment of respiratory congestion, fevers and colds. There are literally thousands of medicinal uses to such spices. Even today in much of rural India the wisest doctors are often the mothers and grandmothers who know the uses of their "kitchen pharmacies."
Another vital aspect of Ayurvedic nutrition is proper food combining. In Ayurveda not all foods are compatible. Certain foods when eaten of cooked together can disturb the normal function of the digestive fire and promote the accumulation of ama (toxins) in the body. Various factors, such as the tastes, qualities, and energies of certain foods, as well as how long they take to digest, affect how well certain foods will combine. Heavy foods such whole grains, dairy, meats and starches don't combine well with light foods such as fruit, which digest quicker. Another example, when sour and acidic fruits are combined with milk, which is sweet and cooling, this causes the milk to curdle and become heavy in the intestines. Ayurveda places great emphasis on the art of food combining.
Ayurveda encourages us to take responsibility for our health as much as possible by making appropriate changes in diet and lifestyle. What we eat and how we live on a daily basis can be our strongest allies in restoring and maintaining health. All other therapeutic measures will be strongly supported by this daily effort.
Along with a balanced diet, incorporating other healthy habits into a daily routine can prevent imbalance at its very root. A lifestyle that integrates regular eating and sleeping habits will bring discipline and help maintain the harmony of the doshas, thus promoting overall good health. An Ayurvedic clinician can provide dietary and lifestyle guidelines, as well as herbal nutrition, more specific to the individual constitution, doshic imbalance and situation of each person.
Vishnu Dass, NTS, LMT, CAyu, is an Ayurvedic practitioner and educator and the Director of the Blue Lotus Ayurveda Center - Ayurvedic Clinic and School, in Asheville, NC, where he offers health consultations, panchakarma, rejuvenating therapies, diet and lifestyle counseling, educational programs and workshops, and more. For more information, visit: http://www.bluelotusayurveda.com
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Dave Ellis Leads Husker Nutrition Program WOWT
Dave Ellis is a familiar face around the Husker training table. Ellis is the Director of Performance Nutrition at the University of Nebraska. Ellis makes sure the ...
Protein, Carbs and Fat: Learn How to Diet with Macronutrients
Weight loss plans are almost always trying to get you to get rid of some food that you love. However, the three macronutrients (Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat) as well as the unofficial fourth, water, are all necessary for good health.
7 Things To Your Health
Health is the thing. And no matter how many ways you can measure and quantify symptoms and disease, the only way to be healthy is to add to your health.
A Home Water Filter - Do We Need To Filter Our Drinking Water?
Do we really need a home water filter? Can't we just assume the water that flows from our kitchen and bathroom tap is sufficiently treated for contaminants by our municipal water facility? In order to answer these questions, we need to obtain a little more background information.Next to air, water is the most important element for our survival.
Whats Missing Could Be Making You Sick
Here's something you probably don't know. The fruit and vegetables you eat today are not as nutritious as the food from fifty years ago.
How Can I Uncover Hidden Sugar And Prevent Carb Creep?
Many low carb dieters fall victim to "carb creep," which is triggered carb binges, caused by creeping intakes of carbs. This is particularly a problem after finishing the stricter early phases of their plans.
Your Target of Health is Easy
Many of us, probably even you, want this thing called health, yet have no idea what it would look like if we had it. We are going after this elusive thing, but we really have never stopped to think about what it was.
Things You Should Know about Vitamin K's Unique Power
How well do you know about vitamin K? This vitamin is probably not as popular as other vitamins. But still you need this vitamin for your health.
Unhealthy Foods: Five Sneaky Foods Revealed
With the array of different diets and diet foods available to help with weight loss and health, it's sometimes hard to figure out what's healthy and what's not. Of course, part of the problem is that people have different health needs: for example, while fruit juice is often a good source of vitamins and other nutrients, some people with diabetes may find that some fruit juices have more sugar than they can tolerate.
Take Back Your Life 7
In parts 1-6 of this series of articles titled "Take Back Your Life", we discussed what could be considered the four wheels of the human wellness vehicle. We discussed the importance of proper cell function, the necessity of having and maintaining a balanced endocrine system, and the role of vitamins and minerals, including certain trace minerals as they relate to wellness, the value of antioxidants, the necessity of consuming plenty of enhanced water and what roles lactoferrin (Lf) and proline-rich peptide (PRP), which act to regulate and balance the immune system, play in helping to maintain a healthy body.
Blueberries and Their Role in Cholesterol Control
Our bodies need cholesterol. We use cholesterol to produce vitamin D, hormones, and certain acids that help us digest fat.
Sugar Consumption Itself Has Become a Disease
Looking into statistics, we can see the average American consumes an astounding 2-3 pounds of sugar each week. This might surprise you if not considering that highly refined sugars in the forms of sucrose (table sugar), dextrose (corn sugar), and high-fructose corn syrup are being processed into so many foods such as bread, breakfast cereal, mayonnaise, peanut butter, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, and a plethora of microwave meals.
7 Tips on Using Food Diet Remedies for Your Common Health Ailments
Making simple changes to your food diet can help remedy some of the common health problems. Increasingly, more health experts are acknowledging that natural food is a good alternative medicine against many diseases.
Antioxidants - Your Best Defense Against Disease and Aging
Studies support the benefits of eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. This is due to their high antioxidant value.
MonaVie Acai Berry Juice - The Tree of Life from Amazonian Rainforest...
What ancient tribes and people of the Amazon have known for centuries, the world is just discovering. That an ancient berry, called the Acai Berry, may cause a sexual sensation.
Curbing Your Carbohydrate Addiction
Some experts consider carbohydrate craving and addiction as something more of the body than of the mind, meaning biological factors are generally considered to be the main trigger for carb cravings. These cravings are described as a compelling craving, or desire for carbohydrate-rich foods; an escalating, recurring need or drive for starches, snack foods, junk food, or sweets.
Food Selection for Gastric Bypass Patients
Dieters who dejectedly complain they are figuratively "stuck" with their excess fat may be surprised to learn there is a scientifically-accurate truth to their statement. Fat cells -- which are created when the body is unable to convert excess calories to energy -- are permanent.
How My Health Was Restored Through Glyconutrition
My name is Mildred Shears. I'm retired and I live in the Minnesota Northwoods with my husband, George, our German Shorthair, Bodhi, and our senior citizen cat, Cinnamon.
The Power of Capsulized Foods
For most people, the concept of capsulized food? usually conjures up images of space travelers ingesting meals condensed into a compact pill. However, in modern-day reality, things are quite different.
Aggressive Behaviour Seems To Be Triggered By Early Age Diet
The fact that diet directly affects behaviour is no news, on the contrary, this reality has been perceived a very long time ago, as the old saying "a man is what he eats" proves. Studies have been performed to ascertain the degree in which this happens.
5 Tips for Dining Out and Eating Healthily
Here's food for thought! Did you know the average restaurant meal has over 1,000 calories? That's enough to blow any healthy eating plan. Fortunately, by following a few simple guidelines, you can dine out without having to sacrifice good taste and nutrition.
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