Ayurveda defines body and food relationship as Ahar Sambhavo Deha–means body is derived from the food. The enlightened men always believed you are what you eat. The kind of food one eats; plays a catalyst role in building one’s personality and life. In Marathi, we say Anna he Poorna Brahma–it means food is equal to God. The whole Brahma (universe/Almighty) resides in the food. That’s why we believe in practices like not wasting food and Annadana (offering food to the hungry). The basic knowledge of our Prakriti (constitution) and how food nourishes our body and mind can help us to maintain optimum immunity, strength and stamina throughout life.
Our age-old sciences; Yoga and Ayurveda describe in detail about food, types of food and Prakriti of the person. Modern nutrition science talks about macronutrients and micronutrients. Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein are known as macro nutrients whereas vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients. A person is supposed to eat in a certain quantity and ratio all the macro and micronutrients as per age, gender, level of physical activity and medical conditions. Let’s understand our food through the lens of Yoga and Ayurveda now.
Vata, Pitta & Kapha
According to Ayurveda, the person should take his food and medicines as per his Prakriti. Prakriti is a genetic code of the child which is confirmed at the time of his birth. The child’s parents’ lifestyle reflects in his blueprint. Prakriti constitutes three major components; Vata, Pitta and Kapha. The balance of three doshas in the body is known as Prakriti whereas imbalance in doshas is identified as Vikriti. These three doshas are present in all of us.
Vaidic science doesn’t look at the body only through its physical dimension. The human body actually has five layers; Annamaya kosha (physical body), Pranamaya kosha (energy body), Manomaya kosha (mental body), Vijnanamaya kosha (intellectual body) and Anandamaya kosha (bliss body). The food that nourishes all the layers of being can be the best food a person can have.
The Ayurveda system measures the nutrition value of food on the parameters of Ojas, Tejas, and Prana. Ojas, the essence of Kapha, responsible for maintaining your cellular immune function is a building block material that takes care of unique psychophysiology. Prana is the pure essence of Vata, governs cellular respiration and intelligence. Tejas, the essence of pitta, maintains cellular immunity and protects us from harmful bacteria and viruses.
The fire is the element which was celebrated since the Vedic era. The invention of fire paved the way of evolution for mankind. The fire element plays an important role in overall digestion and metabolism. A low Agni means the metabolic rate of the person is too low. Cold suppresses your immunity and hence Ayurveda recommends cooked warm food and prohibits the intake of frozen and chilled items.Three types which maintain body balance are Jhataragni (digestive fire), Bhutagni and Dhatuvagni (metabolism at cellular level). They work together to maintain the balance in the body as Jhataragni is maintaining metabolism and Bhutagni and Dhatuagni are maintaining the cellular metabolism.
Imbalance in the physiology of Agni is the main cause for the formation of Ama which is the main reason for many diseases. So Agni is important for every function of body. Visham Agni means you may feel intense hunger in the morning and light hunger other time. his is vata dosh. When you feel too hungry most of the meal times then it is tikshna agni and it is associated with pitta dosha. When you don’t feel hungry enough, poor appetite indicated manda agni i.e. kapha dosha
Yogic Diet: Sattvic, Rajasic & Tamasic
According to Yoga philosophy all things in the universe carry gunas (qualities)–Sattva (purity), Rajas (passions, actions and desires) and tamas (ignorance).Our Prakriti (universe) is made of these trigunas. These gunas reflect five basic elements (panchamahabhutas) of the universe—ether (akash), fire (agni), earth (prithvi), water (jal) and air (vayu). The yogic diet is classified according to these three gunas–Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic diet. The yoga system believes that being an inseparable part of the universe, human beings should opt for the diet that establishes the harmony with it.
The Sattvic diet includes fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains, honey and herb teas, and unadulterated dairy products . Sattvic diet is considered as the yogi’s diet. It nourishes body, mind and pure bliss. Rajasic as the name suggests was preferred by the kings and warriors in the olden times. Spicy, hot, bitter, salty and non-veg items fall into Rajasic diet. Tamasic food may create Tamasic energy like lethargy in the body. Though garlic and onion carry exceptional medicinal qualities as per Ayurveda, yogic diet prohibits the intake of them along with caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and stale food.
Organic, Seasonal & Local always rocks!
Ayurveda and yoga recommends organic fruits and vegetables over chemically grown. The locally grown vegetables, fruits and grains are the best for that particular climate. So it is best to follow the local diet. For example, what locals eat in mountains is best when you are roaming through high ranges. When you are taking sun bath at the beach, mountain diet won’t remain gut friendly. Nowadays, all vegetables are available throughout the year, specifically in big cities and hence the concept of seasonal doesn’t hold substance. But being vigilant and aware about seasonal crops would help you to choose best for that season. Green leafy vegetables are considered the best but they may not be the right choice during monsoon.
The summer diet should be loaded with lots of fresh juices, salads and fruits. Avoid fried and very spicy food during hot days. The summer is the season of more migraines, acidity and sun strokes. Hence, adequate hydration is the key. The intake of water rich vegetables like cucumber, radish can be beneficial. Also fruits like watermelon, mangoes, lemon sarabat, and coconut water can prevent dehydration and sunstroke.
Monsoon is the season of wild vegetables. Do try to have locally available wild vegetables. Avoid regular vegetables and go for more grains and sprouts. The intake of herbal teas, ginger tea, cardamom tea, and lemon grass tea is highly recommended during rain as this is kapha specifying season. We are more prone to cold and cough. Also the milk powered with turmeric and honey is very helpful.
Winter is the season of foodies. We feel more hungry and our metabolism is high too. The moderate intake of fried foods is advisable during cold season or at cooler places. The body needs more snigdhata during these days. Hence, eating butter or lassi along with ghee is advisable. However, moderation is the key. This is vata -specifying season, hence people experience the pain in joints, body and also suffer from constipation and gases. Abhangyam, with sesame oil considered, is an ideal snigdhata source. One should avoid frozen and chilled food items during this season.
Guidelines for Ayurveda based diet
- Ayurveda advises to follow your biological clock, not the wrist watch. Please eat when you are hungry and drink when you feel thirsty. Maintain the daily routine in such a way that you feel hungry naturally at the same time each day. If you fail to eat when you are hungry, the digestive juices are secreted but since no food is given; it would result in acidity. Eating food on time is one of the keys to good health. The untimely food intake may create excess gases and acidity in the body. Avoid eating too late in the night.
- The quantity should be adequate, not less or more than your stomach’s capacity. Eating too much can land you in overweight or obesity order. Eventually you will suffer from lifestyle disorders like High BP and diabetes. When you are badly hungry but you eat very less, then it is not going to help you anyway. Those who are on weight loss program may eat too less to have a bigger calories gap. But it doesn’t work like that. You should eat in an adequate amount so that your metabolism rate goes up. A person should consume one third capacity of jathara (stomach) and leave space for air and water so that it aids with the proper digestion.
- The pleasant and peaceful surroundings at the time of meals would help the body to absorb more nutrition than eating in a stressful one.
- One should avoid eating when under the spell of intensive emotions like anger. It is always better to welcome food to your body with a pleasant feeling. If that is not possible, just try to be emotionally neutral at meal time.
- If possible, always prepare a fresh meal. Frozen, prepared in advanced, packaged and left-over foods should be avoided. The intake of freshly cooked food is ama free. Ama is the substance that works as the base for many diseases. The ground level research has reported the presence of pesticide residue in some bottled waters, vegetables, soft drinks and GM foods.
- Mindful Eating: The yogic diet encourages mindful eating, Avoid eating while talking on phone, browsing through net or watching TV. It is always best to give 100% attention to food at the meal time.
- The use of spices such as cumin seeds, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and turmeric powder are integral parts of Ayurvedic cooking.
- The combination of food you choose is very important. For example eating fruits and grains together is not a good idea. Most fruits take less time to digest than grains. So if you eat grain first and then fruits; your fruits would make no use.
- A tsp of Desi cow ghee (clarified butter)recommended for everyone on a daily basis. Indian cow milk is cholesterol free. It doesn’t mean one should cook everything in ghee.
- Avoid tobacco, caffeine, soft drinks, artificial sweeteners , added colors and packaged food items whenever possible.
- The yogis recommend a fast once a week. The consumption of fruits and juices is allowed as it works as a detox for the body. It is advised to close the fast with wholesome khichadi which is easy to digest.
A recommended channel to understand Ayurveda much better: https://www.youtube.com/c/Ayur