Top Ten Ayurvedic Dietary Principles
Ayurveda is clear on this: all good health starts with digestion; with the proper metabolism of food. Accordingly, one of the most important things we can do for our health every day of the year is to eat wisely.
Food is considered just as powerful as medicine. In fact, there is a sloka (writings of the ancient texts of ayurveda) that says “food is medicine when consumed properly.” If we eat foods uniquely suited to our physiology, and follow a sattvic (life supporting) routine that enhances digestion, our bodies will reap the benefits and we will find that our days will be happier, healthier and filled with real vitality — at any age.
Here is a list of the top ten ayurvedic dietary must-dos:
1. Eat naturally intelligent foods
Did you know that close to three-quarters of the products sold by grocery stores in the United States contain genetically-modified ingredients, or synthetic (non-food) ingredients? Many of the chemicals and pesticides used in GMO foods have been linked to numerous health issues.
Processed foods, genetically-modified foods, and foods to which artificial preservatives or other synthetic chemicals have been added are no longer alive with the intelligence of nature. According to ayurveda, our human physiology is a reflection of the laws of the universe, and the more in tune our lives are with nature, the healthier we are likely to be! Our bodies possess the natural intelligence to process the foods that are closest to nature, such as fresh whole grains and organically-grown fruits and vegetables. This makes sense when we consider that we have evolved as a species over millions of years eating whole, natural foods. It is just in the last few hundred years that artificial ingredients and toxic pesticides have been introduced into the food chain. It is no wonder that the incidence of cancer has exploded in the last few centuries. Whenever possible, choose organic, unprocessed foods.
“Cancer is caused by a toxic environment, including our food supply; cancer is a symptom of a toxic environment. It is the body’s response to toxicity… According to ayurveda, cancer is one of the most extreme expressions of imbalance in the body. The social and long-term cure for cancer is cleaning up our environment and food chain. How we sow, so shall we reap. When we toxify our mother earth, the result is that our bodies become toxic.
“Let’s pursue what is in our control. Living a balanced lifestyle, getting adequate rest, staying hydrated so our bodies can rid themselves of impurities, getting some form of reasonable exercise and eating pure foods are all in our control and are something we can do to help stay healthy.” ~Alan Marks
2. Shun food fads
Each year there are fad diets that come with media hype of new research on certain foods, drinks, or a new diet that is “guaranteed” to work. Keeping up with the latest on what to eat, how, or when, can be a challenge. After all, what works for a million other people may still not be right for us, as each of us is a unique being. This is the beauty of ayurveda — it recognizes our uniqueness and gives us a knowledge and perspective that is empowering; that allows us to manage our own health in a very personalized manner. Ayurveda is the ancient science of whole living, not a fad. It has been around for over 3,000 years, is time tested and individualized in its approach.
A dosha quiz is available here to understand your unique makeup, and then tailor your food and lifestyle accordingly.
3. Opt for lots of fruits and vegetables
Eat loads of fruits and vegetables, not only for their nutritional value, but also because they are good natural internal cleansers. The specific food guidelines for Vata, Pitta and Kapha can help us pick a variety of fruits and vegetables suited to our physiology and the season. Vegetables do not necessarily have to be just separate dishes. Add them to grains, stuff them in breads, toss them in stews and soups — there’s always room for your favorite veggies in every dish. Start your day with stewed apples or pears. Eat a handful of berries for your mid-afternoon snack. For a variety of ayurvedic recipes, visit our recipes page!
Ayurveda prefers bioavailable foods. What do we mean by bioavailable? Cook your veggies rather than eating them raw. Although raw veggies “may” contain more vitamins and nutrients, they can be harder for our bodies to metabolize. Think of a piece of broccoli. If it is raw, how long does it take for our digestive enzymes (digestive fire) to penetrate completely to its core and break it down? Now imagine a cooked piece of broccoli. Whether steamed or sautéed, in either case, room has been created in its cellular structure for our enzymes to penetrate and much more quickly digest it. With the exception of predominantly Kapha types (see our dosha types page), most individuals will not respond well to eating primarily uncooked veggies. If you are a salad eater, try eating your raw veggies at lunch, giving your body plenty of time to digest your food. During the early afternoon hours when the sun is highest in the sky, our digestive agni is working at its maximum potency. And as the sun goes down, so does our agni. So to burn our largest meal of the day, we eat it at lunch — we add it to our strong digestive fire at noon.
4. Be spice-wise
Spices not only add flavor and aroma; they also bring therapeutic value to any meal. Spices help boost natural immunity, and most of them can rev up our digestion so our bodies are able to absorb and assimilate the nutrients from the foods we eat!
According to ayurveda, each meal should contain all six flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent. The dominance of the flavors will be based on our predominant dosha makeup. For example, a Vata-predominant person will favor heavier meals with sour and salty tastes. A Kapha-predominant person may favor more pungent meals, and a Pitta-predominant person more sweet flavors. Remember, having all six tastes in our meals means that the spice is present, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we may overtly taste each flavor.
5. Cleanse from the inside out
The build-up of ama — digestive toxins resulting from improper digestion — in the physiology is, according to ayurveda, the root cause of most disorders. Improper digestion can be the result of a few habits:
- Eating late in the evening when the body is ready for rest and not prepared for the heavy work of digestion. Eat a lighter, well-cooked meal at least three hours before bed, and try to be in bed around 10:00 p.m. or before.
- Eating raw veggies or heavy meats that are harder to digest.
- Having weak digestion, due to an imbalance, or due to stress in our lives.
- Poor hydration. When the body is not hydrated, it cannot remove impurities from the lymph system properly.
- Blood production and flow may be negatively affected, possibly inhibiting our body’s ability to carry and maintain oxygen and nutrients.
- Completing a cleanse during every change of seasons, to detox and rid the body of ama, is recommended for optimal health. Detoxing is particularly recommended in the early spring, because that is the time nature starts the annual cycle of regeneration as well. During cleansing, we can eat light, yet nourishing foods such as mung bean soup or kichari, and drink lots of warm water through the day. Sip detox tea or ama pachana water. Fresh, sweet juicy fruits are excellent cleansers.
6. Drink to your health!
When possible avoid caffeine, alcohol and carbonated soft drinks, and switch to life-giving, vitality-boosting beverages. Start with water, that most basic yet most overlooked drink — drinking lots of warm water through the day helps to rehydrate our system and flush toxins out of the body. Avoid drinking ice-cold water, especially before, during and after meals. If you have a lot of Pitta to balance, drink it cool; otherwise, room-temperature or warm water is best. When we drink ice-cold water, it slows blood flow in the region of the stomach and slows the action of digestive enzymes. Blood flow and digestive enzymes are directly responsible for strong digestion, and anything we can do to support blood flow and enzyme action will help our digestion — “help, don’t hinder.”
7. Cultivate good eating habits
Our busy lifestyles can lead us to eat on the go, eat while working, skip meals or eat “junk” foods. However, ayurveda holds the belief that we can add life to our years and years to our lives by following a good eating routine. This healthy ayurvedic routine includes: eating three regular meals at about the same time each day; making lunch the main meal of the day (heavy dinners can tax digestion and disrupt sleep); and cooking and eating fresh food. Leftovers are considered less sattvic than fresh foods, and when convenient to do so are best avoided.
Additionally, giving gratitude, according to our tradition, for the food we eat, and sitting quietly during and for a few minutes after the meal, are recommended.
8. Eat for your soul
Balanced health goes beyond physical wellness to well-being in mind, spirit, emotions and senses as well. The food we eat can nourish our mind, body and emotions, not just our body.
Cooking and eating in a harmonious atmosphere turns food into nectar. A pleasant, tidy, cheerful environment and the nurturing company of friends or family will actually make mealtimes more nourishing.
9. Experiment with what you eat!
Eating the same dishes several times a week? Does your grocery list have the same items on it each time? Break out of that rut and experiment with new foods and flavors! Resolve to try at least one new recipe a week. Eating with friends can be a great way to break out of our routine.
If you have a favorite vegetable or grain you like to eat often, try preparing it differently (sauté, steam, boil, roast, or bake), or combine it with other grains, vegetables or herbs for variety.
Once or twice a week, consider trying a healthy dish from another part of the world. Eating should be an adventure, not a chore!
10. And finally…….
Remember, the world is our table: Did you know that, according to ayurveda, we metabolize with all five senses? We don’t metabolize just our food….everything we hear, touch, see, taste and smell becomes part of us, so choose wisely and live a healthier life.
Source: VPK by Maharishi Ayurveda