The modern approach to eating is quite simple – eat a balanced, healthy diet which includes every food group. However, if you are interested in Ayurveda, you may have to alter your eating habits substantially. There is no one-diet-fits-all concept in Ayurveda. Instead, the focus is more on a customized diet for each individual. In Kerala, where Ayurveda has coloured every facet of life since time immemorial, practitioners underline the fact that good digestion is necessary for good health. Therefore, each individual should eat what suits his/her digestion and metabolism. This in turn depends on whether you are a Vatta, Pitta or Kapha personality.
Finding the right foods and the right food combinations that suit your digestive fire or agni is not an easy task. However, our Acharya is here to give you tips and clear any doubts or misconceptions regarding the right way to eat as defined by Ayurveda.
Q: What is the Ayurveda eating etiquette?
Acharya: Be relaxed, calm and focused on your food while eating. With smaller families and hectic lives, most people eat dinner with the TV blaring in the background. Breakfast is gulped down before rushing off for work and lunch is a hurriedly packed affair. While some of this is unavoidable given the pace of modern life, it is important to give space and time for the eating ritual. An important lesson Ayurveda teaches us is to eat only when you are hungry and to stop eating when you are satisfied. After a meal, 1/3rd of your stomach should be filled with food, 1/3rd with liquid and 1/3rd should be empty. Lunch should be the main meal, and it’s better not to eat after sunset. This may not be practical in today’s world, but do try to bring some discipline to your eating habits. Ensure that you eat warm food. This helps the digestive process. Also, Ayurveda recommends that you start your meal with a sweet and end it with something bitter/astringent. Drink water before your mail or take sips throughout the meal. But drinking water after a meal is frowned upon.
Q: I have heard that Ayurveda recommends bland, non-spicy foods. Is this true?
Acharya: Ayurveda categorically states that your diet should include all the six flavours that titillate your taste buds. This includes sweet, salty, pungent, astringent, bitter and sour. Spices are, therefore, a part of the diet. However, the predominant flavour will depend on your dosha. For example, if your Pitta is in imbalance, you may have to cut down on spicy foods. This is because your digestive system, with its aggravated agni, will not be able to take overtly strong spice flavours.
Q: Do I have to become vegetarian?
Acharya: Contrary to popular belief, Ayurveda does not propagate a vegetarian diet. In fact, the Charaka Samhita, the ancient treatise that details the Ayurveda system, states that meat soup or ‘mamsarasa’ has several benefits. Meat soup is often prescribed for patients suffering from weakness and emaciation. But meat is difficult to digest and therefore its use is restricted. Most Ayurveda practitioners do prefer recommending a vegetarian diet.
Q: Are processed foods banned?
Acharya: Processed, canned and stored foods are definitely out. Instead, cook fresh for each meal. Ideally, food should be prepared less than three hours before it is to be eaten. Refrigerated, microwaved or frozen foods make digestion extremely difficult. Always eat seasonal fruits and vegetables. The reason is simple. Nature ensures that plants growing during a certain season are imbibed with qualities that help correct any imbalance that the season may cause in our body. For example, summer vegetables help cool down our body heat aggravated by the blazing sun.
Q: How is detoxification of the body done in Ayurveda? How often should we do it?
Acharya: Detoxification is a vital part of Ayurveda’s dietary regime. It is normally recommended with the change of seasons. Detox is important as over time, toxins known as ama build up in the body. This can cause diseases. Light, freshly cooked foods are recommended. Ayurveda does not recommend eating raw salads as these are difficult for your body to digest. Soups and kichdis are ideal detox foods. The detox regimen includes drinking hot water, getting plenty of sleep and exercise. It is important to realise that detox does not mean skipping meals. Rather, eat meals at the same time every day. Detox leaves you feeling energetic. There may even be some weight loss, though that is not the objective of the detoxification programme.
Q: Is it necessary to follow food combinations?
Acharya: Food combinations are very important if you are following an Ayurvedic diet. All foods have their own taste, energy and impact. Eating foods that have contrary impacts on the digestive system can lead to build up of toxins in the body. One of the classic examples of forbidden food combinations in Ayurveda is banana and milk. Both are nutritious, healthy foods that can help digestion when taken separately. But when taken together, they create havoc with our digestion. This is because bananas heat up the digestive system, while milk cools it down. This creates some digestive confusion! In addition, when bananas break down as part of the digestive process, they turn sour. This has an impact on milk, creating a block in our digestive process. Other forbidden combinations include beans, eggs or grains with fruit, honey with ghee, yoghurt with fish or meat. The food combinations do make the Ayurveda diet a bit complicated. But it is easier to adapt to the system, if you take one step at a time. For example, make it a habit to not eat mix fruits with any other food group. Fruits should be eaten alone. You can then move on to other habits like never mixing raw food with cooked food. Slowly, following the prescribed food combinations will become a part of your life.