Diet and Lifestyle in Ayurveda
By Vishnu Dass, LMT, NTS, CAyu
According to Ayurveda, there is no separation between body, mind, and consciousness. Therefore, the concept of health must address all of these aspects. The best preventive medicine and support of the natural healing process is a diet and lifestyle specific to your constitutional needs and in line with the seasons and cycles of nature.
Ayurveda sees food and spices as medicinal substances. Food should be as fresh and organic as possible and, if available, locally grown. Preparation of food with love and gratitude will pervade it with a healing energy. The concept of shad rasa (six tastes) is a central point in Ayurvedic cuisine. These six tastes —sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent— should be present in balanced proportions. Through the use of culinary medicinal spices, food is made more digestible and easier to assimilate. The most common spices used in Ayurvedic cuisine are cumin, coriander (cilantro), ginger, garam masala, hing (asafoetida), ajwan, turmeric, and fenugreek.
All of these aromatic, stimulating and carminative spices are also used in traditional herbal medicine. Ingesting small quantities of them on a daily basis helps maintain the health of the digestive fire (agni) and the entire GI tract. Toxins that accumulate from improperly digested food can be greatly reduced by slowly introducing these spices into the diet.
Ayurveda offers some basic dietary guidelines that can benefit everyone’s health. For instance, it is important to eat at the appropriate times of the day and in accordance with the body’s natural rhythm. The most substantial meal is best eaten between 10 a.m. and noon. Since this is often difficult, one should at least try to eat bigger meals in the daytime and smaller meals at night, preferably prior to 7 p.m., so that the food can be digested before going to sleep. Ayurveda discourages eating on the go and at odd hours of the day. The following guideline should be matched as best as possible:
Breakfast: before 8 am / Lunch: 10 am – 1 pm / Dinner: 5 – 7 pm
It is important to allow 5-6 hours between meals for complete digestion. People with a strong digestion and raging appetite can have a light snack, such as fruit, juice or nuts, between meals to maintain energy.
To assure that we get the most from the food we ingest it is important not to overeat. It takes our brain about 15 to 20 minutes to acknowledge that the stomach is full. So, self-control is the key here. We must discipline ourselves to stop eating before feeling sated. A stomach gorged with food weakens the entire digestive process and causes indigestion and accumulation of ama (toxins) in the GI tract.
Because foods have different qualities and require different digestive energies, food combining is of the utmost importance in Ayurveda. For instance, fruits digest quicker than grains, so eating the two together confuses the digestive process and creates fermentation and ama. When a food that digests easily and quickly (such as fruit) is made to stick around in the stomach while other, heavier foods (such as grains and carbohydrates) finish their “cooking” process, a mixed message that disrupts the agni (digestive fire) is sent to the internal organs. Foods that have a predominantly sour quality, or fermented foods such as yogurt, should not be eaten with sweet foods such as milk or fruit. The sour quality can cause the milk to separate and ferment in the stomach leading to toxic buildup in the GI tract and the deeper tissues over time.
Drinking too much water while eating can wash away digestive enzymes and weaken the digestive fire (agni). However, sipping on a half cup of water at room temperature while eating benefits the break down of food and aids the digestive process.
Incompatible Food Combining According to Ayurveda*
|Beans||Cheese, eggs, fruit, fish, meat, milk, or yogurt|
|Milk||Fish, bananas, meat, melons, yogurt, kitchari, sour fruits, yeasted bread, or cherries|
|Melons||Anything, especially dairy products, grains, eggs, starches, or fried foods|
|Starches||Dairy, eggs, bananas, dates, persimmons, or most fruits|
|Honey||When it’s been cooked or boiled, or when mixed with an equal amount of ghee (by weight)|
|Radishes||Milk, bananas, or raisins|
|Potatoes,TomatoesEggplant||Milk, yogurt, melons, or cucumber|
|Yogurt||Milk, sour fruits, or melons|
|Hot drinks||Meat, fish, cheese, mangoes, or starches|
|Eggs||Milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, fish, melons, fish, fruit, beans, or kitchari|
|Fruit||Any other food (except some cooked combinations)|
|Corn||Bananas, raisins, or dates|
|Citrus fruit||Milk, yogurt or any other dairy products|
* These guidelines are not exhaustive. We can recommend an individualized diet based on your constitution, age, your individual health conditions, and according to the season.
Eating Habits to Avoid According to Ayurveda:
- Emotional eating
- Eating food you cannot digest
- Eating soon after a meal
- Eating when constipated
- Eating at the wrong time of day
- Eating incompatible food combinations
- Eating when not hungry
- Drinking cold or chilled water, especially during a meal
- Too much water or no water at all during a meal
- Drinking fruit juice or eating fruit with your meal
- Snacking between meals
- Eating too much heavy food or too little light food
Along with a balanced diet, incorporating other healthy habits into a daily routine can prevent disease at its very root. Ayurveda refers to daily healthy routine as Dinacharya, which is the art of living in awareness with every activity of the day. In this context a seemingly mundane act can become a mindful meditation. A lifestyle which incorporates regular eating and sleeping habits, as well as this daily routine, will bring discipline and help maintain the harmony of the doshas, thus promoting overall good health.