Ayurvedic diet

Ayurveda has a detailed system of creating a balanced diet. It emphasizes on developing an eating sense. Eating sense is nothing but eating as per your constitution, in right measure at right time, the food items that enhance your health and vitality.

Some of the Ayurveda principles that need to be taken into account while planning a balanced diet are –

To eat as per your constitution

 It is important to know your constitution- Vata, Pitta or Kapha, from an early age to maximize health and vigor. Ayurveda prescribes diet as per the unique constitution of a person. The dosha you are born with is your constitution. Some have a predominance of Vata, some Pitta, and some Kapha. Many have a different combination of these three doshas. The basis of all the remedies in Ayurveda is your constitution. If you are a Kapha dominated person and your diet is also rich in heavy and Kapha creating food items, then the chance of vitiation of dosha grows. A Kapha person has a slower metabolic rate so it is important for her to eat light and include items that are Kapha pacifying. For a Vata person, it is important to include warm and lubricating food items. Pitta person, on the other hand, can do best on cooling raw food.

To eat more of Sattvic food items and less of rajasic and tamasic ones

 Ayurveda divides food items into Sattvic, Rajasic, and Tamasic based on their impact on the body. The sattvic diet is conducive for the practice of yoga and development of the mind. It keeps your body and minds agile. Sattvic diet consists of pure foods that are rich in life-force or prana, light in nature, and mildly cooling in energy that does not disturb the mind. A sattvic diet balances all the three doshas. Most of the fruits and vegetables, whole grains, cow’s milk, ghee, coconut oil, sesame oil, olive nuts, and seeds are considered sattvic in nature. Rajasic food includes those food items that are excessively spicy, salty and sour.  Garlic, onion, green chilies, asafoetida, coffee and tea as rajasic and should be used sparingly. These food items are stimulants and adversely affect our central nervous system. Stale, re-cooked, deep-fried and processed food items are tamasic and should be totally avoided.  While rajasic food items cause hyperactivity, restlessness, irritability, and insomnia, tamasic food cause lethargy, apathy, excess sleep and accumulation of phlegm and toxins.

To eat the right combinations of food

 There are certain combinations of food items that do not go well together like milk and fish or eggs with fruits or very hot and very cold foods together. Poor combinations of food can cause indigestion, fermentation, putrefaction, gas formation and even diseases. Following right food-combinations become even more important in the case of people suffering from metabolic diseases such as diabetes. Ayurveda has a detailed system of classification of food based on their Rasa (taste), Virya (heating or cooling effect ) and Vipak (post-digestive effect) and Prabhav (impact on the body). Eating as per dosha pacifying rasa, virya, vipaka, and prabhava would help in bringing in health and well-being.

To eat as per your circadian cycle

Your bodies are regulated by your biological clock that determines your active, eating and sleeping hours. Artificial lighting and all day snacking are stressing your natural rhythm affecting your health. Eating at right time is as important as eating right. Ayurveda prescribes eating window to be between sunrise and sunset with the heaviest meal to be taken in the noon when the digestive fire peaks. The last food should be consumed four hours before sleeping as eating late vitiates Kapha and Vata. Ideally, we should go to bed on an empty stomach. Not only should you eat at the right time, you should eat according to the season. A change of season calls for special care as the immune system is weak during these times. You can completely avoid allergies and seasonal flu by going light on your diet during changing season. It is for this reason that most of the religious fasting happens during the cusp of seasons.

To include all tastes in a balanced diet

Ayurveda also gives emphasis to the rasa or taste of the food. The six tastes that are distinguished in the Ayurvedic diet are sweet, salty, sour, pungent, astringent and bitter. These tastes originate from the five elements and transmit their properties. For a balanced diet, Ayurveda recommends getting all of these flavors with every meal and adjust the amounts of each to your personal constitution. Apart from feeling satisfied this practice also ensures that all major food groups and nutrients are present.  Ayurveda prescribes that not only all six tastes be present in a diet but also the preparation should taste well. Eating unpalatable dishes may put you under stress and hinder your digestion.

To include food items that are alkaline in their final impact on the body

Maintenance of pH balance between 7 and 8 is ideal for your body. An alkaline diet can help neutralize the hydrogen ions that are produced during the process of digestion. The concentration of hydrogen ions (acidosis) causes hardening of arteries, weakening of bones and kidneys. Therefore, make conscious efforts to include predominantly alkaline food items in your diet. Most of the herbs, spices, fresh vegetables and fruits are alkaline in nature. Avocados and coconuts are very alkaline, as are sprouted beans, kale, cucumber, and broccoli. All citrus fruits like oranges are acidic before ingestion but they have an alkaline effect on the body after digestion.

To eat as per the climate and season

To try and eat as much as possible, freshly cooked local food items that are most suited to the climate you are in. Also, take note of the season and time of the day for the consumption of a particular food item for example radish should be preferably consumed during morning and afternoon and not in the evening. Ayurveda also recommends going low on refined carbohydrates and refined sugars. Excess protein intake especially animal proteins are also prohibited as it increases the toxicity of waste products in the body due to their slow transit time. Further, the addition of right kind of spices helps in increasing the digestibility of a food item.

To maximize digestion and assimilation of nutrients

To improve digestive power or Agni, it is recommended to eat smaller meals, sip warm water during meals and to chew your food until its consistency becomes akin to liquid before you swallow to ensure adequate enzyme secretion for digestion. Ideally, the diet should allow for  ⅓ solid, ⅓ liquid, and ⅓ empty space for effective digestion.

Eating with mindfulness

 Finally, it is not only important of what you eat but how you eat. Mindful eating helps your body to assimilate the nutrition better. It also helps you in making right food choices as you are more attuned to your body and the surrounding environment.

Listen to your body

To listen to your body to determine right food for you. The body has an infallible feedback system. It tells you what is sitting well with it and what is not. As long as your diet is balanced and you feel energetic during the day you are on a right track. But if you feel lethargic after eating kindly make note of the food you are having and change your diet.

Ayurvedic diet is all about developing a right eating sense. It is akin to taking a health insurance against seasonal and chronic diseases.  Follow these Ayurvedic principles to lead a more natural, healthier and peaceful life.