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:
Heavy foods: wheat, nuts and seeds, oats, salt, brown rice, salt, cucumber, onion, most fruits, beans, beef, fish, lamb, pork, eggs.
Light foods: 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.)