Ayurvedic Perspective of Healthy Eating
Ayurveda recognises that poor digestion is the main factor behind poor health. A healthy digestion is like a steady, strong fire that transforms the food we eat into easily-absorbed nutrients and easily-eliminated waste. The word for digestive fire is agni.
When we eat incorrect foods, too much or too little food, or the wrong combinations of foods, we diminish our agni. Poor digestive fire leads to poor digestion. Undigested food creates toxins (ama), which then travel through the bodily channels, and create disease and illness.
Each person requires a different type of diet depending on their body type. For example, a person with a strong vata constitution or suffering vata imbalances may counteract the effects of dryness in the body by focussing on moist foods. A person who is dominant in kapha however, may counteract the heaviness of kapha with light, drier and easy-to-digest foods. Optimal diet and digestion are also influenced by harmonising with the time of day and the season.
Different foods have different effects on our body. For example, foods can be heavy, light, heating, cooling, hot, or cold. For example, if you have excess pitta (fire), you need to eat cooling foods. But if you have excess kapha (cool, moist) you will need to choose warming foods.
Ayurvedic dietary guidelines
Eat as fresh as possible. Try to cook just as much as you need for the day, or at the most, for the next day. Old food has very little or no life force (prana).
Avoid canned, preserved, frozen, or microwaved foods wherever possible. Always eat the freshest food that is available to you.
Be mindful of how your body feels and the strength of your appetite. Eat enough light foods to only just satisfy your appetite. Do not overeat.
If you are eating heavy foods, eat enough to satisfy only half your appetite. Heavy foods are difficult to digest. If you are ill, only eat light foods. Some examples of heavy and light foods include:
wheat, nuts and seeds, oats, salt, brown rice, salt, cucumber, onion, most fruits, beans, beef, fish, lamb, pork, eggs.
buckwheat, corn, rye, lettuce, potato, tomato, apple, lentils, chicken, rabbit, cow’s milk.
Food combinations to avoid
Poor food combinations can reduce digestive fire and create toxins immediately. Pay attention to how you combine foods.
- Do not mix milk and fruit or yoghurt and milk.
- Avoid having milk when eating radishes, cherries, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, melons, fish, meat, eggs, citrus fruits and bread.
- Do not mix any type of melon with other foods.
- Avoid eating fresh fruit with meals (cooked fruits can be eaten with cooked meals)
- Avoid eating milk products with animal protein, for example milk and eggs, meat and cheese, fish and cream
- Avoid eating heavy and light foods in the same meal, for example cheese and crackers.
Qualities (gunas) of food
Ayurveda recognises that foods and substances have different effects on the body and mind.
Satva foods promote clarity, harmony and balance in our body and mind.
(For example, all spices, freshly cooked foods, fruits and vegetables, nuts, dried fruits and seeds, honey and jaggery, herbal teas, salads and fresh fruit juices.)
Rajas foods increase energy and promote action, attachment, and gratification of the senses.
(For example: onion, garlic, salty food, ready-to-eat canned food, paneer, ice-cream, yeast, sour cream, basmati rice, pickles, vinegar, sugar.)
Tamas foods promote dullness, inertia, heaviness and ignorance.
(For example: microwave foods, tea, coffee, alcohol, drugs, beef, chicken, fish, pork, eggs, mushrooms, fried foods and frozen foods.)
Ayurvedic Daily Routines
The aim of Ayurveda is to live in harmony with our surrounding environment, and where possible, adopt the rhythms of nature. Daily routines support us to do that.
Ayurveda divides the day into six parts that correspond to the characteristics of the relevant dosha:
Sunrise until 10am: kapha time
10am – 2pm: pitta time
2pm until sunset: vata time
Sunset – 10pm: kapha time
10pm – 2am: pitta time
2am – sunrise: vata time
Sleeping and waking up
The best time to go to sleep is during the kapha time in the evening. Kapha has the quality of heaviness and so it will be easiest to fall asleep before 10pm. If we delay going to bed until after 10pm, we move into pitta time when stimulation wakes us up.
The best time to wake up is just before sunrise while still in the vata time. It is a time of lightness, and therefore easier to wake with energy. It is also the best time for meditation. If you wake up during the kapha time of the morning, you may feel a heaviness that carries on throughout the day.
After waking up
A short walk outside first thing in the morning while appreciating nature is wonderful for our physical and mental state. Taking a walk on the grass in bare feet allows the morning dew to soak into the soles of our feet and lower our body’s pH level.
It is best to empty your bladder and colon first thing in the morning. If this is left until later in the day, or if elimination is not possible every day, toxins that should be eliminated will be re-absorbed back into your system. If elimination is not possible, see your ayurvedic vaidya for some natural remedies.
During the night, toxins build up in our mouth. They must be eliminated in the morning to prevent them from re-entering your system. Soon after waking, brush and floss your teeth and scrape your tongue with a tongue scraper – don’t scrape your tongue with your toothbrush as this may injure your tongue. Oil pulling or gargling with warmed sesame oil is also very effective for removing toxins.
Dryness of the skin and tissues is one of the main reasons for premature ageing. Our skin is our largest sense organ and is exposed to all the elements, so it makes sense to protect it. Daily massage with warm sesame oil is wonderful nourishment for our skin and nervous system. Do this each morning or as often as you can, at least once per week, and leave the oil on for 20-30 minutes before having a warm shower.
Exercise is essential for general good health and gives us energy throughout the day. You should choose an exercise regime that is compatible with your body type. To be effective, not all exercise must be vigorous. Yoga or tai-chi and similar gentle exercise can be enormously beneficial.
Meditation calms our mind and increases our ability to cope with the daily events that can cause stress to our body and mind. Even a short meditation (ten minutes) every morning and evening can significantly improve your focus and energy during the day, and the quality of our sleep at night.
You should always try and have something for breakfast. Our bodies need the nutrients to start our day and kick-start all the functions that supply our energy. Even if you do not feel hungry, you can have something small and light, followed by a more substantial snack later in the morning. Some good breakfast options include porridge or fresh vegetable juices. Avoid fruit smoothies that combine milk and fruit as they are incompatible!
Lunch time is during the pitta time of day. When the sun’s fire is strongest, our digestive fire is strongest. Lunch should be the main meal of the day containing (preferable plant-based) protein, grain (such as rice or quinoa) and vegetables. In summer, it is also the time of day when your body will be best able to digest raw foods like lettuce and sprouts. A short walk (5-10 minutes) after lunch will help the digestive process.
The best time to have dinner is between 6-7pm, around the time of sunset. Eat a light meal in the evening as your digestion has weakened over the afternoon. Try to leave a gap of at least 2 hours between eating dinner and going to bed so digestion is complete before you sleep.
Going to bed
The evening is a time to relax and spend time with your family and friends, winding down after the day. It is an important time to calm your nervous system before you go to bed. Meditation, listening to music, making light conversation, or taking an evening stroll are excellent ways to relax and unwind. Avoid using electronic devices, working, playing or socialising on the computer, or watching TV as these activities stimulate the nervous system and make sleep more difficult.