India is celebrating National Nutrition Month in September. In Ayurveda, September is also the month that sees the end of the rainy season (Varsha) and the beginning of Autumn (Sharad). The pandemic and the constant worry of falling ill, has taught us the importance of eating right and taking care of our bodies. This is why an Ayurvedic diet - one that follows the principles of Ayurveda and of balancing the body and mind, is useful in maintaining good health.
An Ayurvedic diet is much more than just about food – it is a wellness system that has been in practice for thousands of years, and is as simple as sitting down and having your meal, consciously. Ayurveda believes in the principle that our bodies are connected with nature, and a balance is needed to ensure good health.
Here is how you can follow Ayurvedic principals while cooking and eating food:
Eat as per your dosha:
As per Ayurveda, the Universe is made up of five elements - Vayu (air), Jala (water), Akash (space), Teja (fire), and Prithvi (earth). When these elements combine and form the human body, they create three dominant energies, known as doshas. Ayurveda stresses on the need to choose food based on your body composition and your dosha.
These three doshas determine how your body reacts to various situations and food types, and the spiritual and physiological processes in your body. Once you are aware of your dosha type, you can cook food and eat according to what suits it.
The three doshas are:
Reflects the elements of ether and air, and thus is a cold and dry dosha (late autumn to early winter). Those who predominantly have a Vata dosha tend to be quick thinking, fast, creative, joyful and very communicative. Their body types are either very large-framed or very small-framed, they have dry skin and often suffer from cold hands and feet.
Those who have a predominance of Vata in their bodies would benefit from eating warm, oily, nourishing food, garnished with spices such as coriander, turmeric, ginger, black pepper and saffron and ghee, in order to balance the dosha.
Warm milk, nuts, butter, warm soup, vegetables such as beetroot, carrots, garlic, French beans, sweet potatoes, radish, and well-ripened fruits such as bananas, coconut, pineapple, papaya, peaches can be consumed. However, Ayurveda recommends that people with a higher level of Vata should avoid eating raw food and salads, bitter or astringent food, coffee and processed and canned food.
This dosha is formed by the interaction of Earth and water (winter to spring). Those with Kapha dosha tend to be naturally calm, balanced, and have a good memory. On the flip side, they also tend to overeat, exercise less and sleep excessively.
Ayurveda recommends that those with a Kapha dominance in their body eat well-seasoned and spiced food, including pungent spices and herbs such as ginger and chilli. It is better to avoid food that is salty, sweet, oily or has a high protein content.
Vegetables such as cauliflower, avocado, cabbage, potatoes, okra, spinach, pumpkin, are good for curing pitta imbalance, along with soothing spices such as coriander, saffron and cardamom. Those with Kapha dosha should avoid sour fruits such as oranges, pineapples and sweet fruits such as bananas, peaches and figs.
This dosha is formed by the interactions of fire and water (spring, through summer till early autumn). People with this type of dosha tend to be well organised, vocal, clear in their expression and are systematic. However, if the fire in the dosha predominates, they can be inclined to having fits of anger and rage. Those with pitta are advised to stay away from sources of heat and look for cool, well-ventilated interiors.
Their diet should include food that is warm or cool, bitter and sweet vegetables such as cabbage, cucumber, bitter guard, cauliflower and mushrooms. Ayurveda also recommends that they add sweet fruits such as apples, avocados, melons, oranges, peaches, plums to their diet. Those with a Pitta imbalance should avoid spicy, heavy and oily food, coffee, alcoholic or fermented food.
Eat seasonal food: As Ayurveda, and all other diets tell us, each season has a different effect on your body. The food we eat also produce different effects on the body based on the season. For example, ghee and jaggery are heat-producing, hence, should ideally be consumed in winter, while curd, lassi and buttermilk help cool down the body, and are perfect during summer.
Timing matters: Ayurveda likens the process of digestion to fire or ‘agni’. flame. If the agni is strong, our body can take in the nutrients it needs from the food and eliminate the rest. Ayurveda, hence, recommends following the sun when eating – ensure that you eat your biggest meal between 12-2 pm, when the sun, and thus the body’s digestive fire, is at its highest. Your digestive energy also goes down with the sun, hence ensure you eat a light dinner before 8 PM.
Season: Indian food is known for its herbs and spices – pepper, turmeric, coriander, curry leaves, asafoetida, all find their way into our dishes. As per Ayurveda, spices do not just enhance the flavour of food but help boost immunity as well. They also help our bodies absorb the nutrients in the food. Ayurveda recommends adding all six flavours – sweet, salty, sour, spicy, bitter and pungent – in a balanced flavour, as per one’s dosha.
Avoid ice-cold drinks: Your body has digestive fire, or agni. As per Ayurveda, by consuming ice-cold food, or water, you douse the agni. This affects the digestive process and causes the toxins to clog up the system. Always bring any drink that you take out from the refrigerator, back to room temperature, before you consume it.
Create a spiritual relationship with food: For many, food is something to binge on, or to consume in order to ‘fuel’ the body. In order to develop a healthy body and mind, you need to ensure that you source seasonal and fresh produce and ingredients, cook and eat, mindfully.
Avoid canned and processed food and opt for local produce, instead. Choose food that has a positive impact on your gut, as that would help keep many problems at bay. Also, ensure that you eat only as much as your body requires – listen to your hunger cues and never overeat.
Never eat when you are distracted, worried or are in a hurry to go somewhere. Take some time out of your schedule, sit down and eat every meal peacefully. You will notice a huge difference in how your body and mind works.