Ahara—or food in Ayurveda—is one of the three pillars, which maintain life. How, when and what we eat, is equally important. Ayurveda has basic dietary guidelines regarding choosing the appropriate food, combining foods, cooking methods as well as quality and quantity of food. Understanding these eight basic rules is very important to create an awareness of healthy and mindful eating and maintaining good health. Truly, food is your best medicine!
1. Prakruti—The nature of the food
Each food has a definite, inherent quality. The more we are able to distinguish qualities like hot, cold, oily, sour, astringent or dry, the better we succeed in selecting food which meets our body’s needs.
A person suffering from obesity or diabetes has more water and earth elements. In this case, it is recommended to avoid heavy, oily or gooey foods like dairy products, sugar, or wheat. A person suffering from gastric acid reflux or hot flushes has more fire element and is advised to avoid spicy food like chilies, garlic, pepper and to include more cooling ingredients such as coconut water, cucumber, asparagus, broccoli, mint, coriander, etc.
2. Karana— Processing
Processing of foods leads to changes in the inherent properties. The processing methods can be dilution, application of heat, emulsification, storing, maturing, flavouring or preservation, etc. For example, popcorn is lighter to digest than dried or cooked corn. Butter, when boiled turns into ghee, which has finer qualities than butter itself. Yogurt is heavy to digest but when churned, it turns into buttermilk, which is easier on the digestion.
Combining two or more ingredients may result in new properties. This happens because of the interaction of the chemical constituents. Therefore, it is important to make sure that all ingredients are compatible with each other. Milk and ghee have similar qualities and are great rejuvenators when used together. On the other hand, milk and fish have opposite qualities and should not be eaten together.
Eating the right quantity of food is important for maintaining health. The quantity of food depends on the digestive fire and the nature of food. A balanced diet should include all six tastes, grains, lentils, vegetables, dairy products, etc. Half of the stomach should be filled with solid food, one quarter with liquids, and the last quarter should be left empty for proper digestion.
Desha refers to the place where food is grown, where it is then exported to and utilized. Foods differ in quality due to the difference in soil and climate. Locally grown products originating from the region are best suitable for the person living there. So, for example if you live in northern Europe, avoid eating strawberries or asparagus in the winter.
6. Kala—Time or period
To maintain proper health, the seasonal dietary regimen must be followed. For example, in the rainy, cold season Vata gets aggravated. Hence, Vata-balancing sweet, sour and salty food and drinks should be chosen. In summer, the fire element or Pitta heats up, therefore, sweet, cold, liquid food and drinks are the best solution.
Only after the previous meal has been properly digested, the next one should be consumed. The main meal should be eaten between 10:00-14:00.
7. Upayoga Samstha–Dietetic rules.
Eat food while it is warm, this will naturally increase the digestive fire. Make sure the atmosphere is relaxed, calm and cheerful. Avoid eating when you are nervous, angry, anxious or upset. Eating too slowly or too rapidly, talking while eating, laughing, thinking, playing with electronic devices or watching television is also not advisable. It is better to concentrate on the food only, being conscious that it is going to benefit the body and the mind. Refrain from drinking too much after eating, this will put out your digestive fire! As a rule, one glass is enough during the meal, enjoyed in small sips rather than gulped down. And remember to be grateful for the food!
8. Upabhokta—Be mindful
Consider your own constitution, the capacity of your digestive power, the season, time of the day and whether the previously eaten food has already been digested.
Applying these Ayurvedic rules in your life will make a big difference, contributing to a long and happy life. If it seems like a lot, start first with a few of the rules, and when comfortable, add more. Remember, health is your wealth!
Aparna K. BAMS, MD, PhD
Consultant advisor for development of Oneworld Ayurveda and visiting physician
Aparna is one of the few specialists in the world with a PhD in Ayurveda. Born into an Ayurvedic family which operates a traditional Ayurvedic Panchakarma hospital in Kerala, India, she grew up observing her father, the renowned Dr. Padmanabhan Read more »