How to Have Food According to Ayurveda
What is Food?
Ayurveda considers food as one of the pillars of health. It is also the 'Great Cure' as per the sage Kasyapa. What we eat and how we eat actually defines our body and mind.
Good food provides us with the energy needed for our day-to -day activities and also sustains the life processes.The energy from the food we eat, whether plant or animal origin can be traced back to the ultimate energy of the sun.
In fact, there were ancient sages who knew how to imbibe energy directly from the sun and use it for their sustenance. However, for ordinary people, solid food is inevitable as it provides the building blocks for the body and the chemical components derived from it essentially keeps the metabolism error-free.
Food as Medicine
As per Ayurveda, food is not only a source of energy but can also be used as medicine. Dietary guidance should be incorporated at every stage of the treatment protocol with or without medicines, always keeping in mind the delicate balance of the body and mind.
A balanced diet according to this ancient system of medicine means a diet consisting of the predominant 6 tastes namely: sweet, salty, sour, spicy, bitter and astringent. This may sound a bit crude and could be attributed to the primitive nature of the science; however, a balanced use of these 6 tastes in our meal nourishes the body, while the excess use of one or more of these tastes serves to vitiate the delicate balance of the body.
How each of these tastes works to build or disrupt the body mechanism has been explained in detail in the authentic textbooks dealing with this science.
The Concept of Ama
The 'Ama' concept of disease is a fundamental excerpt in the study of disease pathology according to Ayurveda. As per the science, all the basic elements integrating into the human body is derived from the essence of a well-digested food in the stomach. This food -essence then assimilates into the body to form and nourish the blood, muscles, bones etc. and even ensures your reproductive health.
If for any reason, this process is impaired in the stomach, it leads to a stagnant substance which is no longer food because it is mixed with all the gastric juices and enzymes and broken down by the mixing and churning movements in the stomach, yet is not digested well enough to be sieved into the small intestine for further digestion or assimilation.This stagnant substance is called Ama and is one of the basic cause of all diseases.
In other words, indigestion is one of the primary cause of all human health agonies. This is why the digestive health is primarily examined in the inaugural session to a visit to an ayurvedic physician.
Know What you eat
Mark twain had said, 'To eat is human, to digest is divine.'
It is very important to know what you are eating, not only in terms of calories but also what matter it contributes to your body. In this healing science, food is classified into heavy and light foods based on what they are constituted of.
The light foods are capable of kindling the digestive fire, so is easily digested. They can be safely eaten to satiety without fear of indigestion by itself. Some examples are rice, pulses like green gram, venison etc.
Heavy foods should not be taken to stomach contentment unless you augment it with exercise or heavy work as they are much difficult to digest on a moderate digestive fire. Some examples are milk, milk products, most fishes, etc.
Processing foods, combining it with other foods, all can change the property of food and should always be kept in mind when you have a meal.
All these may sound simple, but in the long run, they do actually affect one's health and demeanor.
How Much Should you eat?
The quantity of food to be taken is greatly stressed in maintaining a good health.
Generally, it is advised to fill 2/3rd of the stomach with food and fluids. Leaving 1/3rd of the stomach free enhances the mixing and breaking down movements that aid to get the food mixed thoroughly with the gastric juices for digestion and also to propel it further down the intestine onto the next stage of digestion.
However, the individual's digestive fire should also be kept mind before deciding on the right quantity of food. A person with a weak digestive fire should take a smaller quantity of food than a person with stronger digestive fire.
The right quantity of food keeps the digestive fire intact and promotes comfortable digestion after each meal. This, in the long run, ensures that the metabolic and excretory functions are performing properly without interference, thereby enhancing longevity.
Taken in the right quantity, food can set right all the errors caused by poor quality or untimely food and pave the way to proper digestion and health.
How often do you feel bloated and tired after a meal?
How do you Know you Have had the Right Amount of Food?
The phrase, "I am stuffed", indicates that you have over-eaten.
Food in the right quantity will:
- Relieve hunger and thirst
- Will leave the person refreshed and active
- There will be no difficulty to breathe or move about
- There will be no unlikely rise in heartbeat
- No abdominal heaviness or lethargy
- The food will be digested in time, leaving you hungry before the next meal-hour.
How do you Know Your Previous Meal has Been Digested?
After a well-digested meal:
- One should feel light and enthusiastic
- Burpings should be clear with no odor of the previously taken food in it
- Bowel movements should be regular
- Hunger should be generated before the next mealtime
What is a Good meal?
The food we eat should be appetizing and nourishing, but that is not all. It is always advisable to have warm, freshly prepared food as it does not only stimulate your taste buds but also kindles your digestive fire so that the food is digested and assimilated well.
Frozen foods, cold water, and beverages are very common in our present day food habits. However, in Ayurveda, cold food and especially cold water can make it hard for digestion and also cause problems like constipation or a bloated abdomen.
Authentically, the texts advises to take:
- warm, oleaginous, non-contradictory foods
- in the right quantity
- after complete digestion of the previous meal
- within an optimum time (neither too fast nor too slow)
- in a comfortable environment with all the necessary accessories
- without talking or laughing
- fully keeping in mind your body and its needs.
One should be aware of the food going into the body and what it is doing to you, how does one feel after the meal- whether refreshed or flatulent.
Once you inculcate this habit, you will be more aware of your body's needs and wants, and could also end up saving lots of money from going to a dietitian or nutritionist.
Being fully aware of your food, the internal and external environment has in recent times been "coined" into what is now called 'mindful eating'.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
Mindful eating has been claimed to reduce stress, blood pressure and also prevent over-eating, so helping with weight loss.
Focusing on the food over a meal helps you to actually differentiate between the biological signals of hunger and the unwanted craving for food. Eating this way is more fulfilling, both to the mind and body.
Your food has been building you up ever since you were in the womb and is still doing so even while repairing the natural wear and tear that comes with life. It would be unfair to make it the second priority.
How Have our Food Habits Changed
Eating food in the olden days demanded patience, respect, and etiquette. Today, it is more a mechanical process performed to procure the essential nutrients and electrolytes keeping in mind the versatile mathematics associated with the number of calories taken.
Earlier, eating your food was more an opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends, a time to appreciate and scrutinize the young ones and to get to know what's going on in each other's lives. Now it is more about gulping your food down in a meeting or a side -activity during TV time.
Do these changes matter? Let us put it this way... Earlier everyone had scarcely anything to eat, yet looked healthy and happy. Today everyone is on the look-out for the best organic foods yet look weary, tired and devour medications.
Ever thought why?
One explanation is eating lunch in a comfortable and friendly environment stimulates oxytocin production. Increased levels of oxytocin boost serotonin production. Both oxytocin and serotonin hormones have been held responsible for the feeling of happiness and well-being. Serotonin also helps to increase gastric motility and stimulates better digestion.
Another explanation is that stress activates the sympathetic nervous system(SNS) to release the hormone cortisol, which helps an individual to face the stressful condition. However, the SNS decreases motility movements of the GIT and increases the tone of the sphincters. So constantly eating in a stress-filled environment can slow down the digestive process leading to indigestion.
So either way eating in a comfortable and stress-free environment helps to improve the digestive capacity.
A Brief Summary
- The role of food is inevitable in Ayurveda
- Food is one of the pillars of health
- A balanced meal consists of the 6 tastes- sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy and astringent
- A meal should be tailored to suit one's digestive fire
- Eating the right quantity of food depending on one's digestive fire is important to prevent Ama or indigestion
- Ama is one of the main cause of diseases
- One should always focus while eating food and be aware of the body and mind during a meal
In ancient days, people used to start their food with a short prayer. Indeed one must be grateful to the Almighty, not only for the morsel of food; but that one could digest, assimilate and then shit it out naturally. Starting your food with a short prayer has also been proved a healthy habit as it gives the digestive system a head-start to prepare for the incoming food.
Eating right needs a lot of will-power, but if your tummy is happy, so are you.
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© 2017 Dr Cimi Bhaskaran