The act of eating is life-giving. The process of eating, according to ayurveda, is something pious and important for the development of consciousness as well as our physical health. Healthy mind resides in a healthy body. And therefore Vedas say that “We shall regard our body as the temple of our soul and maintain its sanctity and health by observing self-restraint and punctuality in our routine”. The purpose of food is to sustain healthy and harmonious functioning of the body system, the physical medium of our life, to enable us to perform our duties towards God and His creation. Food is not meant to satiate the greed of our tongue or stomach.
One of the most important concepts of Ayurveda is that of the Agni, or digestive fire, in the body. It is believed that in order to achieve optimal health, one must have a healthy, powerful Agni (digestive fire)When our digestive ability, or agni, is strong, we create healthy tissues, eliminate waste products efficiently, and produce a subtle essence called ojas. Ojas, which is a Sanskrit word that means strength, can be envisioned as the innermost vital essence.According to Ayurveda, ojas is the basis for clarity of perception, physical strength, and immunity. On the other hand, if our agni is weakened through improper eating, lack of activity, negative emotional energy or unhealthy daily routine, our digestion will be hampered and we produce toxins that get stored in the body. According to Ayurveda, this toxic residue, known as ama, is the root cause of disease.
An appropriate diet can not only enhance wellness but can also be used to neutralize toxins in the body. According to the science of Ayurveda, the root cause of any disease or malfunction is the accumulation of toxic substances(Ama, i.e. the improperly digested food particles) in the body.The toxic accumulation depletes the cells of its oxygen and energy and promotes ill health.Ayurveda lays down extensive guidelines for a healthy lifestyle.According to ayurveda ahara(food) is nothing but which maintains the equilibrium of body, promotes health, preventing body from diseases.
Ayurveda gives immense importance to diet, it believes that health of a person depends on healthy digestine system and healthy digestive system depends on healthy eating habits. Ayurveda considers 8 factors(Ashta aahar vidhi vishesh ayatana) to be taken into consideration before consuming food.These Ashta aahar vidhi vishesh aytana are mentioned in Charak samhita.
1.Prakriti (Basic character of food)
- Each and every food (Ahara) has its individual natural characteristics. Characters like lightness, heaviness, moisture, dryness are the factors which make changes in the food properties.
- Before consuming any food item we should take into account basic character of the food item as it defines how the food will be digested and assimilated in our body.
- For example: Nature of bengal gram(chana dal) is heaviness due its nature during digestion process it will take more time, but green gram(moong dal) is light in nature so it will be digested little quickly, so when a person’s digestive power is poor if he takes black gram it will cause problem in the digestive system, hence while consuming food we should see the nature of the food.
- Karan is the process to modify the natural properties of substances. This process is done in various ways like heating, churning, boiling, frying, roasting etc. due to this process nature of the food can be changed like the food which is light in nature can become heavier.
- For e.g. we cannot consume rice as it is because of its heavy nature but once it’s cooked with water it becomes light and easy to digest.
- Basically combinations can be compatible and incompatible
- Every food has three characteristics, ie, its taste (rasa),Potency (virya) and its post-digestive effect (vipaka).Virudha ahara is the combination of food that has different taste, energy and post digestive effect that confuses the system and either overloads or diminishes the agni such that the digestion is affected. Whereas Combination of foods will help to enhance qualities of food, when two foods combined together can produce some special effects.
- Each type of food group has its own specific enzymes needed to break down that particular food, as well as a specific time frame that will be needed to complete its digestion. When you begin the mixing of food that possess different time and enzyme needs, confusion manifests leading to undigested food, toxic build-up and fermentation in the gut.
- Some foods take a lot longer to digest than others.If you eat slow-to-digest and fast-to-digest foods together,the faster-digesting food will have to sit and wait for the slower one fermenting and petrifying.
- Foods may be incompatible because they create a negative reaction in the body, generate additional water in the body(called kleda).If your digestion is strong, you feel healthy,and full of energy, it means your body has the resources to deal with slightly more difficult food combos then having incompatible foods rarely won’t lead to much problem.Long term use of incompatible food leads to skin disorders,Gastro intestinal Disorders, anemia, leucoderma hyperacidity impotence etc. hence should be avoided.
- Benefits of combining compatible food are improved energy levels, Better skin, Better absorption of nutrients, Reduction of bloating and gas and more regular elimination
Incompatible food combinations such as
- Taking milk, fish, and honey together.
- Taking honey, ghee in equal quantity.
- Milk and Curd, these things or any food items made of these two should not be eaten together.
- Similar to milk and curd, milk and jaggery also does not go together.
- Onion and milk is another item which is dangerous if taken together. Many problems of skin happen because of this combo.
- Except amla (Indian gooseberry) no sour fruit should be taken with milk. Even mangoes with milk should be taken only of the mangoes are completely ripe and sweet.
- Milk followed by fruits and vice versa.
- Sour substance along with milk.
- Milk with salt
- Wheat preparations in gingelly oil (Tila taila)
- Hot drinks after alcohol, curd or honey.
- Cold and hot substances together
- Banana with curd and butter milk
- Chicken with curd
- Ghee kept in bronze vessel
- Radish with jaggery
- Fish with jaggery or sugar
- Milk with meat
- Cheese and fruit
- Consumption of stale/leftover food should be minimized for good health. It should never be mixed with fresh food as refrigerated food loses its vitality and becomes heavy and difficult to digest.
- Milk with sugar
- Milk with turmeric
- Ginger with lemon
- Caffeine, stresses the adrenal glands. An Ayurvedic anti-dote is to add a pinch of cardamom or cinnamon to your coffee to minimize the impact on the adrenals.
- Honey, equal quantities by weight of ghee and honey are bad combinations, but mixing in a ratio of 2:1 (two parts ghee to 1 part honey) is fine.
Food for all
Certain food articles in Ayurveda are beneficial for all types of prakritis.
- Red shali rice (rice with red colored bran) among grains
- Green gram or moong dal among pulses
- Directly collected rain water among waters
- Cow milk among milks
- Ghee from cow milk among ghee
- Sesame oil among oils
- Grapes among fruits
- Rock salt among salts
- Ginger among bulbs
- Barley, wheat, honey, amla, pomegranate, amaranth, and snake gourd among other food
- It includes the region where that particular dietary ingredient is grown as well as the region to which person consuming that dietary ingredient belong. It is of extreme importance as locally produced foods are easily assimilated in the body.
- The concept of local food which is now very popular in western countries was known and practiced since thousands of years in ayurveda. The place where food is grown can also make changes in the qualities of food. Factors like soil, climate, and water are plays role in changing properties of food.
- A local farmers market is best as they have local produce which is in season and your body is acclimated to that type of food. Eating foods that are brought in from all over the world creates many issues such as allergies, digestive problems, skin toxicity and constipation. Eat local fresh foods and avoid problems.
- Example: A substance which grown in desert will be dry in nature whereas a substance which grown in marshy or watery region will be cold (sheeta), moist (snigdha).
- There are two types of quantity:
- Sarvagraha (Total quantity of food consumed)
- Parigraha (Quantity of each particular food item)
- Ayurveda agrees that you should fill 1/3 of the belly with food, 1/3 with liquid and leave the remaining 1/3 available to allow movement in the digestive process. This in turn will keep your digestive fire strong and robust and leave you feeling energized after meals. Howsoever nourishing or healthy the food may be; it would cause harm if eaten in excess. So, be cautious about the quantity of your diet. If food is taken proper way & in a right quantity, individual will feel lighter & satisfied, Will be able to breath, talk, walk easily; Indriyas (senses) will become sharp.
- When you overeat you are greatly over-taxing the digestive tract by forcing too much food at once, causing clogged channels, indigestion and toxic build up. Due to the lack of enzymes available and excessive acids being released, overeating can lead to gas formation, bloating, acid reflux, lethargy, heaviness and general colic and discomfort. When done on a consistent basis, the stomach lining will begin to stretch out leading to the need of more food each meal to feel that feeling of satisfaction. This in turn continues the overeating cycle causing weight gain and a slow, sluggish digestive fire. Eating in excess of the required amount produces ama and leads to disorders like obesity, hypertension, diabetes, joint disorders and heart diseases.
- Light foods such as green gram dal, dalia, khichdi, plain curds, rice all stimulate the digestive fire (agni). They are harmless foods and can be consumed in quantities till it satisfies one’s appetite. On the other hand, heavy foods such as sesame, nuts, flour preparations, black gram, meats, fish and eggs are heavy to digest
7.Upayoga sanstha (Rules for eating)
8.Upayokta (User/person eating food)
- Time is with respect to disease state, season and food timings.
- Time also denotes diseased state of person, when person is suffering from any ailment his digestive power tends to diminish for e.g. Milk is avoided in acute conditions of fever.
- One should consider season also while having food, because if the food which is hot in potency consumed in summer season (grishma ruthu) and food which is cold in nature, having it in winter season (hemant ruthu) will cause various health issues.
- Agni, the digestive fire, is the strongest at noon; hence the biggest meal of the day should be eaten at lunchtime. Meat, dairy and other heavy foods should be taken at this time only, as the dinner should contain much lighter foods and smaller portions. As the sun goes down, so does our Agni. Our organs get tired after a day’s work and hence dinner should be simple as the night fades. A late dinner can interfere with the sleep as the body is working on burning off toxins and continues digestion.
- There should be a gap of three hours between two meals as it affects digestion. At the same time, food should be consumed within six hours of earlier food intake. Therefore ideal time to have food after 3 hours of previous meal and before the completion of 6 hours. Eating at an improper time or before the lightness of the body felt will lead to large number of disease.
- This means that you should eat 3 meals a day, at regular times, consistently each day. This way the food is easily digested and keeps the body strong and energetic. In any case, be regular in the timings of taking your meals; avoid eating late in the night. One of the major causes of metabolic disorders and varieties of diseases caused thereby is that people keep watching TV and eat very late in the night. Remember that it takes about 8 to 11 hours for proper natural digestion of food.
- When we eat slowly, by properly chewing, we eat the right quantity of food. Eating slowly gives enough time for our body to signal the right quantity of food. It also helps us feel satisfied rather than just feeling full. It’s advised that you take a 20-30 minutes break for your meals, relax and enjoy the food you have.
7.Upayoga sanstha (Rules for eating)
- In Ayurveda, emphasis is laid on the fact that food should only be consumed once the food taken earlier is digested. This is experienced by A pure feeling not acid or pungent taste, Feeling of enthusiasm, Proper passage of urine, flatus and feces, Feeling of lightness in the body, Feeling of hunger and thirst.
- Wash the face hands and feet before meal. Dine in an isolated neat and clean place in pleasant environment with the affectionate persons in sitting position.
- Take your food gracefully in a calm state of mind, paying full attention to eating; every morsel should be chewed properly. Food should be revered like the prasada (offerings made to the Deity).
- Drink sufficient water while eating, this helps digestion process! Every person needs a different quantity of water intake based on his constitution, work nature and climatic conditions. Drinking too much and too less of water is harmful. Enough water should be taken before and after the meals. Water is like nectar for our vital functions. Drink at least a glass full of water before taking food. Don’t drink more than half a bowl of water while eating. Drink sufficient water after about an hour of taking the meals. This helps in proper digestion.
- Food which has undergone proper and favorable processing (proper action cooking and spicing to make it digestible), endowed with beneficial and favorite taste, delicious, clean, warm, and fresh is wholesome.
- Ayurveda says that eating while sitting on the floor with crossed legs helps in better for digestion of the food.
- It is very much recommended in Ayurveda that you take a rest for about 20 to 30 minutes after your morning/noon meals. It is also okay to take a nap if you are feeling sleepy then lie down on your left side in bed. However, you should not rest for at least 2 hours after dinner. This is because the sun has gone down and so the digestive fire is dormant at night.
- On a positive note, one of the most helpful ways to increase your digestive force is to take a short walk after each meal. This practice will help get the food moving along while increasing your metabolic rate and strengthening your digestive fire. This is also extremely helpful in regulating your blood sugar levels and controlling blood sugar spikes.
- Food should be Unctuous in nature; unctuous food will help to pacifying vata dosha and increase Digestive Power. On other hand Dry or Extreme Unctuousness should not to be consumed; this type of food inhibits the process of digestion. Dry food aggravates vata dosha and which cause hampering of the digestive power. And Extreme Unctuousness food is heavy to digest which will take more time and energy. So sometimes after taking heavy meal or extreme unctuous food we feel lazy or feeling drowsy.
- Consume at least 2 teaspoons cow ghee everyday Ghee, also known as clarified butter, is highly revered and has been used medicinally in Ayurveda for thousands of years. It stimulates the Agni (digestive fire) and increases both the absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Ghee contains anti-aging properties and is used as a rejuvenate in Ayurveda, working to deeply nourish the body on a cellular level. It enhances energy, immunity, memory and intellect. Ghee is even used to aid in cleanses, as it works to lubricate the tissues and pull out deep-rooted toxins in the body.
- Eat only food prepared by loving hands, in a loving way. The energy of the cook is always in the food. Avoid eating food prepared with resentment. We take in not only the food, but also the emotions of the chef.
- To have fast at least once in a week with foods lighter to digest.
- Food habits & Eating schedules should be regular! As far as possible eat the same time every day. The stomach likes to be on schedule.
- Eating should be slow, peaceful & with complete concentration on your food only. Did you know that digestion takes up to 60% of our daily metabolism? Most of the energy and fluids used for digestion are supplied through the blood. Thus, digestion is only as strong as the blood and circulation to digestive organs. Work, emotion, stress and even conversation pull blood from digestion. That's why we should relax when we eat.
- Do not eat while being distracted by television, excessive conversation or reading. Keep the mind present and pay full attention. Did you know it is not only what you eat that is important, but HOW you eat it? Eating should be made a sacred time of the day when you get to sit down, relax and bring awareness to yourself and your food. If possible try to find a quiet place and avoid excessive conversation, television, computers, loud music, and even reading at this time. This should be made a time to observe, savor and appreciate each bite of food as you eat.By doing this practice, you allow yourself to not only relax a little during your busy day, but you also allow the digestion to be at its best. The digestive enzymes will be able to flow freely and you will create the time and space to realize when fullness comes.
- The first fifteen minutes after eating are crucial. A massive increase of blood flow to the digestive tract brings fluid to acid-producing glands lining the stomach. The corresponding lack of blood in the mind makes us feel sleepy. It's important to relax during this time of sleepiness, even to the point of reclining on the left side. Humans should yield to digestion, giving the body the time, space and blood it needs to properly digest food. After the stomach fills with fluids, blood will be released for other activities. Energy and alertness will return to the mind. Then alas, the afternoon siesta ends and we are ready to reclaim the day.
- Each meal should include the six tastes: bitter, pungent, astringent, salty, sweet and sour. The Ayurvedic Diet emphasizes on the importance of including the six tastes at every meal (bitter, pungent, astringent, salty, sweet and sour). Each taste has a balancing ability. In many western countries we add too little of the bitter, pungent and astringent taste and add too much of the salty, sweet and sour into our food, and as a result we become imbalanced. We need to have a balanced mix of all the six tastes.
- Sequence of consuming food :Madhur (sweet) rasa food like fruits are advisable to take in the beginning of meal, food with Amla and Lavana (sour and salty) rasa in the middle and Katu,Tikta,Kashay (bitter, astringent and pungent) foods should be taken at the end of meal.
- These six tastes are listed in the order they are digested in your body. Sweet gets digested first, that's why it's not a good idea to have a dessert at the end of the meal, which is typical in our culture, but rather at the beginning. Salad, on the other hand, is perfect at the end of the meal. Ayurveda Diet has a very holistic-medicine-point of view on diet.Cravings are often caused by not having all of the six tastes in your daily diet. Many people often omit the bitter and astringent tastes .When you have something bitter or astringent at the end of a meal, it actually reduces your desire for sweets.
- Chew your food until it is an even consistency before swallowing. The number of chews before swallowing will vary according to the food, but a convenient rule of thumb is that about 30 chews prior to swallowing is normally optimal. This means that you should take at least 45 minutes to eat a two-course main meal. Among the benefits of proper chewing are: breaking up the food sufficiently to allow quicker and more complete penetration of enzymes and digestive acids; chewing slower allows for more signaling to the brain so that satiation occurs earlier, making you eat less; and longer chewing sets up the correct sequence of events for proper mechanical and chemical (enzymatic) digestion to occur.Digestion progresses from the mouth through to the stomach and intestines, where digestive acids and enzymes are sequentially released from different glands and organs.
- After a meal one should attend to favorite sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and touches. By doing this the meal is positioned well. Despicable sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and touches as well as dirty food or excessive laughter may produce vomiting.
- Wholesome food will lose its wholesomeness in the digestive tract if it’s eaten with a negative state of mind. If you’re upset, angry or crying, postpone eating until you feel better. According to ayurveda food not only nourishes the body also nourishes the mind.
- Avoid eating stale food. Fresh food is full of prana (life force) and nutrients. These start to diminish soon after it’s cooked. By the time it’s a leftover, the properties have changed and it’s heavy for the body to digest.Cooking every single meal may not be realistic but at least try to avoid food that’s been cooked more than 24 hours before.
- Did you know that one of the worst habits to practice is to lie down after a meal? This greatly impedes digestion by squishing the GI tract and creating a sluggish descent for the ingested food. This in turn causes indigestion, leading to a low metabolism and toxic build-up.
- Do not drink cold drinks just prior to or while eating, also don't drink large quantities of liquid during meals. This weakens digestion.
- Snacking between meals
- Don't eat fruits immediately - Immediately eating fruits after meals will cause stomach to be bloated with air. Therefore take fruit one to two hours after meal or one hour before meal.
- No travelling, exercise or sexual intercourse within one hour after meal.
- Avoid meals after exertion
- Avoid meals when you are having no appetite.
- Avoid meals when thirsty and water while hungry.
- Don't suppress the appetite as it leads to body pain, anorexia, lassitude, vertigo and general debility.
- Don't suppress the thirst as it leads to general debility, giddiness and heart diseases.
- One should not indulge in sleep or sitting after a meal. Nor should one take liquids, expose oneself to the sun or fire nor should one swim, travel or ride.
- Eat neither too fast nor too slow. Don’t rush and don’t linger.
8.Upayokta (User/person eating food)
- Upayokta is the person who consumes the food .It’s perhaps the most important factor since salutary or unpleasant effects of diet depend on the individual ingesting it.
- 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.
- Cooking today is mostly aimed to make the food more delicious; different experiments are tried out by the catering experts in this regard and new ‘dishes’ and new recipes are derived. Deep fried food, varieties of spices and arbitrary combination of foods of non-compatible natural qualities are harmful to our health according to Ayurveda. But we don’t think of it as long as the food is palatable. The use of pre-cooked food-ingredients and the so-called “fast foods” should be avoided, as it has very adverse effects on our body-system. Apart from lacking in nourishing value this type of ‘modern’ food is very likely to impair the normal functioning of our digestive system and cause harmful mutations due to the chemicals in the preservatives, the artificial flavors and the chemically processed cooking involved in its preparation.
- 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.
- There are many different habit changes you can incorporate into your lifestyle which will benefit your health and well being. A healthy mind comes from putting healthy compatible foods into the system so a person can function at a high level of awareness. As there are many better habits that can be applied to our modern day lifestyles, there are also a few fundamental practices that we need to keep so our system functions on the same level as nature. 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.