According to Ayurveda, a well-functioning digestive system is the ultimate key to good health.
One of the basic fundamentals of Ayurveda suggests that “food is medicine and medicine is food”. It further goes on to emphasize that “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use; when the diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”
Hence, one of the best things that we can do for our health is to eat as per the Ayurvedic guiding principles. Wondering what these principles are and how to transform your diet to live the Ayurvedic life? Let’s explore the 8 rules that one should follow to create health, vitality, and energy through the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda.
1. The Origin Of Food
In Ayurveda, the Sanskrit word Prana refers to the life force. The food we eat carries the life force that determines our health. Modern Science identifies this life force as various nutrients such as minerals and vitamins.
However, not all food items are abundant in this life force. The food with most Prana comes directly from the Earth. They carry the energetics of the universe – the sun, the water, and the Earth within them. Yes, we’re talking about freshly harvested fruits and vegetables. It’s important to note that the Prana begins to diminish in these food items as soon as they are harvested. For this reason, seasonal and local vegetables that reach you in fresh condition are the best addition to your diet.
Talking about the origin of food, it goes without saying that processed foods, genetically-modified foods, and foods with artificial preservatives and synthetic chemicals do not contain the said life force. The Ayurvedic principle for healthy eating suggests that we eliminate such food items from our diet.
2. The Timing Of Your Meals
Did you know that our digestive fire or Agni is the strongest when the sun is at the highest position? According to Ayurveda, our body functions the best when it is synchronized with the rhythm of nature and the universe.
The timing of our meals must be coordinated with the rising and setting of the sun. For this reason, we should start the day with a light breakfast, have the heaviest meal as lunch and end the day with a light dinner to coordinate with the strength of your digestive fire. Here are a few other things to keep in mind about timing your meals.
- Avoid eating anything before Sunrise or after Sunset.
- Eat your heaviest meal when the sun is at its peak at noon.
- Have 3 proper meals at fixed times. Do not snack between meals as they interfere with digestion and stress the stomach. Drink warm water to curb cravings.
- Avoid eating anything 3 hours prior to sleep as it interferes with the recovery process of the body.
- Don’t sleep or lie down within two hours of having a meal as it’s bad for digestion.
It’s also recommended to eat only when you’re hungry and stop eating before you’re entirely full. Avoid any strenuous exercise right after your meals, so that your body can digest the food properly.
3. The Characteristics Of Your Food
Ayurveda recognizes the unique constitution of each individual. This unique mind-body constitution is determined by the three Ayurvedic doshas – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. At any given time, one or two doshas can be heightened in your body, resulting in an imbalance.
An Ayurvedic practitioner can analyze your symptoms and recommend a diet that helps you in restoring the balance and harmony in your body.
For someone with excess Vata energy, food items that are warm, hydrating, dense, and rich in healthy fats are recommended. For those who have Pitta dosha, cool and astringent foods are beneficial. And for Kapha imbalance, light, warm, and fiber-rich food items are suggested to restore the balance.
4. The Right Quantity of Food
How much should you eat? This is a tricky question to answer. It takes time to develop an understanding of our own bodies. However, Ayurveda provides some guiding principles that can help us eat food in the right quantity.
Ayurveda recommends that we eat for our satisfaction, and not for a feeling of fullness. For some of us, it can be a struggle to understand what exactly it means to eat for satisfaction. The following two rules will be helpful in such cases.
- Do not eat unless you feel hungry. To ensure that you feel hungry in order to eat your meals at a fixed time every day, you can take the help of appetite-inducing herbs. A slice of fresh ginger root spiked with some rock salt and fresh lemon juice about an hour before a meal is helpful.
- Eat less than your maximum food intake potential. Simply eat till you are about seventy percent full. If you eat more than that, it takes a lot of energy for the digestion process to complete and you end up feeling lethargic. Overeating leads to obesity and excess production of free radicals that speed up aging.
5. Cultivating Healthy Cooking Habits
How you prepare and eat your food also determines how well your body benefits from it. In Ayurveda, there’s an emphasis on creating a healthy cooking and eating environment.
Since everything is connected, your state of mind while you’re preparing your meals also determines the quality of food. A good meal is the one which is prepared with attention, care, and love.
Prepare fresh food for each meal and make sure that the proportions are such that there are no leftovers. Keep the cooking area clean and ensure that you use fresh ingredients only.
6. The Six Tastes To Include In Your Meals
In Ayurveda, there’s an emphasis on including a variety of tastes in your diet – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent. Each of these tastes has a unique energy that is essential for our body.
- Sweet – Strengthening and nourishing in nature, naturally occurring sweet food items like wheat, rice, dairy, cereals, and dates help in decreasing Vata and Pitta.
- Sour – Cleansing and purifying in nature, sour food items like lemon, vinegar, and pickles decrease Vata and increase Pitta and Kapha.
- Salty – Balancing and regulating in nature, salts like sea salt, Himalayan salt, and rock salt decrease Vata while increasing Pitta and Kapha.
- Bitter – Detoxifying in nature, raw green vegetables, turmeric, and herbal teas increase Vata while decreasing Pitta and Kapha.
- Astringent – Anti-inflammatory and cooling astringent foods like green grapes, pomegranates, and cranberries increase Vata while decreasing Pitta and Kapha.
- Pungent – Warming and stimulating pungent foods like hot peppers, ginger, onions, and garlic increase Vata and Pitta, while decreasing Kapha.
Try to include a food element for each of these tastes in your diet to maintain the energy balance of your body. One good way to do this is to cook using a variety of spices and vegetables.
7. Healthy Drinks To Aid Digestion
With the variety of Ayurvedic and herbal teas, it’s possible to drink for your health. One of the best things that you can do for healthy digestion is to drink a glass of hot water with a tablespoon lemon juice. This will get the digestive juices flowing, and cleanse the digestive tract.
In Ayurveda, teas have a special significance as a health beverage. They work as herbal remedies when taken with or between meals. Not only do they enhance digestion but also help in curbing cravings and detoxing.
Here are some of the Ayurvedic herbs that can be used to prepare teas.
- For Pacifying Vata Doshas – Spicy herbs such as Cinnamon, Ginger, and Cloves
- For Pacifying Pitta Doshas – Cooling herbs such as Peppermint, Coriander, and Rose
- For Pacifying Kapha Doshas – Energy-boosting herbs such as Licorice, Black Pepper, and Cardamom.
An Ayurvedic practitioner can recommend specific Ayurvedic tea concoctions based on your unique body constitution. It’s also recommended to drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. However, if you’re struggling with digestion, you should avoid cold beverages as they reduce your digestive fire or Agni.
8. Mindful Eating For Good Health
Are you used to watching your favorite shows or attending work calls while during your meals? Ayurveda suggests that while we eat, our entire attention should be focussed on our food. We should notice the taste, the smell, the texture, and give ourselves an opportunity to feel grateful for the joy of eating.
Next time you sit down to have a meal, bring your awareness to your food and try to eat in silence, allowing your senses to enjoy every morsel. Do not eat simply to satiate your appetite. Eat for your soul.
Last, but not the least, remember that we take up food not just through our mouth, but through all our senses. The world is our table. Be mindful of any energy that you allow in your body. Make wise choices to live a healthier and more fulfilling life.