- Eating for Balance:
- Choosing Foods for An Ayurvedic Diet
- By: Shreelata Suresh
According to ayurveda, every
individual has unique needs for balance. Since diet is one of
the most important ayurvedic tools for achieving balance, ayurvedic
healers generally design individualized diets for people they
see, based on various factors such as age and gender, the doshic
tendencies that need to be balanced at a given time, the strength
of the body tissues and the digestive fires, and the level of
ama (toxins) in the body. The place where a person lives and
the season are also factors that affect dietary dos and don'ts.
Notwithstanding the individualized
approach to choosing foods for balance, there are some universally
applicable principles that are important to follow if you are
living an ayurvedic lifestyle:
1. Include the six tastes
at every main meal
In ayurveda, foods are classified
into six tastes--sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent.
Ayurvedic healers recommend that you include all of these six
tastes at each main meal you eat. Each taste has a balancing
ability, and including some of each minimizes cravings and balances
the appetite and digestion. The general North American diet tends
to have too much of the sweet, sour and salty, and not enough
of the bitter, pungent and astringent tastes.
A fruit-spice chutney or a spice-mix
can provide a little of each of the six tastes if you are in
a hurry, but it is ideal to choose foods from each category for
complete, balanced nutrition. Just in the category of fresh vegetables
and herbs, for example, you could choose fennel bulb or carrot
for the sweet taste, fresh lemons for sour, arugula or endive
for bitter, radish or white daikon or ginger root for pungent
and cabbage or broccoli or cilantro for astringent.
The Amalaki Rasayana, made from
the Amla fruit, offers five of the six ayurvedic tastes--all
2. Choose foods by balancing
In ayurveda, foods are also categorized
as heavy or light, dry or unctuous/liquid and warm or cool (temperature),
and different qualities balance different doshas. A balanced
main meal should contain some foods of each physical type. Within
this overall principle, you can vary the proportions of each
type based on your constitution and needs for balance, the season
of the year and the place you live.
To keep Vata dosha in balance,
choose more heavy, unctuous or liquid, and warm foods, and fewer
dry, light or cool foods. To help balance Pitta, focus more on
cool, dry and heavy foods, and to balance Kapha, try more of
light, dry and warm foods.
If you live in cooler climes,
you'll want to gravitate towards warm comfort foods, and vice
versa. Similarly, in winter, when Vata dosha tends to increase
in most people's constitutions, almost everyone can benefit from
including warm soups and nourishing dhals, fresh paneer cheese
and whole milk in the diet. In the summer, plan on eating more
cool, soothing foods to help keep Pitta dosha in balance.
3. Choose foods that are sattvic
A third ayurvedic classification
of foods is by the effect they have on the non-physical aspects
of the physiology--mind, heart, senses and spirit. Sattvic foods
have an uplifting yet stabilizing influence, rajasic foods stimulate
and can aggravate some aspects of the mind, heart or senses,
and tamasic foods breed lethargy and are considered a deterrent
to spiritual growth.
Everyone, whether actively seeking
spiritual growth or not, can benefit by including some sattvic
foods at every meal because they help promote mental clarity,
emotional serenity and sensual balance and aid in the coordinated
functioning of the body, mind, heart, senses and spirit. Almonds,
rice, honey, fresh sweet fruits, mung beans and easy-to-digest,
fresh seasonal vegetables and leafy greens are examples of sattvic
foods. To get the full sattwa from sattvic foods, prepare and
eat them whole and fresh.
4. Opt for whole, fresh, in-season,
Authentic ayurvedic herbal preparations
are made by processing the whole plant or the whole plant part,
not by extracting active substances from the plant. Similarly,
from the ayurvedic perspective, the most healthful diet consists
of whole foods, eaten in as natural a state as possible, the
only exception being when removing a peel or cooking helps increase
digestibility and assimilation for certain types of constitutions.
If the digestive fire is not strong enough, even wholesome foods
can turn into ama (toxic matter) in the body.
Foods that are frozen, canned,
refined so as to denude the food of its nutritive value, processed
with artificial colors, flavorings, additives or preservatives,
genetically altered, or grown with chemical pesticides or fertilizers
are not recommended by ayurvedic healers, because such foods
are lacking in chetana--living intelligence--and prana--vital
life-energy--and will do more harm than good in the physiology.
For the above reasons, it's best
to choose foods and produce that is locally grown or produced,
foods that are in-season, and foods that are organic, natural
5. Rotate menus and experiment
with a variety of foods
The sages that wrote the ancient
ayurvedic texts would be horrified by our current fascination
with the low-carb diet or the no-fat diet or the juice diet--from
the ayurvedic perspective, any diet that is exclusive in nature
is by definition incomplete in its nutritive value and ability
to balance all aspects of the physiology. Eat a wide variety
of foods for balanced nutrition--whole grains, lentils and pulses,
vegetables, fruits, dairy, nuts, healthy oil or ghee, spices
and pure water all have their roles in the balancing process.
If you find yourself eating the
same dishes several times a week, or you gravitate towards the
same produce or foods every time you shop, resolve now to start
making your meals an adventure. Every week, try at least a few
new foods or fix familiar foods in new ways, so that your taste
buds and your digestion are constantly exposed to some new stimuli
in addition to the familiar.
According to ayurveda, each meal
should be a feast for all of your senses. When your plate reflects
an appealing variety of colors, textures, flavors and aromas,
your digestive juices start freely flowing in anticipation and
your body, mind and heart are all fulfilled by the eating experience.
6. Include spices and herbs
in your daily diet
Spices and herbs are concentrated
forms of Nature's healing intelligence. They are particularly
revered in ayurveda for their ability to enhance digestion and
assimilation, help cleanse ama (toxins) from the body and their
yogavahi property--their ability to transport the healing and
nutritive value of other components of the diet to the cells,
tissues and organs.
Spices, in ayurveda, are generally
eaten cooked. Sauté spices in a little olive oil or ghee
(clarified butter) and pour the mixture over cooked foods, or
simmer spices with foods like beans or grains as they cook. Fresh
herbs such as cilantro or mint are generally added at the end
of the cooking process, just before serving.
Ayurveda recommends spices/herbs
to stimulate the digestion before a meal, during a meal and after
a meal. Eating a bit of fresh ginger and lemon about 30 minutes
before a main meal helps kick-start the digestion. Eating dishes
cooked with a variety of spices and herbs helps the process of
digestion --absorption--assimilation--elimination. Chewing fennel
seeds after a meal helps digestion and freshens the breath naturally
Ayurvedic rasayanas such as Amalaki
and Triphala offer additional ways to help nourish and cleanse
the digestive system. Amalaki Rasayana helps enhance digestion,
helps balance the production of stomach acid and nourishes the
body tissues. Triphala Rasayana helps tone and cleanse the digestive
tract and helps nourish the different tissues.
Note: This information is educational,
and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
If you have a medical concern, please consult your physician.