Ayurveda, the science of life has always strived towards the preservation of health and the prevention of diseases. Naturally, it has dealt with the aspect of dietetics very deeply in view of social and climate conditions.
Ayurveda principles define the diet as the one which is ‘hitakari’ (beneficial) to the body if taken in the right proportions and taken at the proper time of the day. Here ‘hitakari’ means which keeps a person healthy and at the same time corrects the irregularities occurring in the body.
Dietary rules of Ayurveda
Ayurveda regards food as medicine and not just a means to carry on with life. Food in Ayurveda is said to be the origin of strength, endurance, health, and regular activities of all the organs.
Ayurveda has a well-planned daily diet, which is quite suitable for today’s ailing society. The ideal diet plan of Ayurveda includes readily available food items which are within reach of a common man.
Nowadays the majority of us have become conscious about what to eat, but we don’t know how to make the most use of the good food that we are taking. Here, Ayurveda comes to our rescue.
Ayurveda guides us not only for what to eat but also tells us how to eat, when to eat and how much to eat.
Dietary teaching of Ayurveda is to eat to provide adequate nutrition for mind and body without overtaxing the digestive system, eat easy to digest foods that are wholesome and provide multiple health benefits to body without using any medications.
Let’s understand the golden dietary rules laid out by Ayurveda.
What to eat?
Per Ayurveda, the concept of a balanced diet is not as per the calories that a food item gives us. It instead focuses on a diet having all six tastes (rasa) viz. Sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent.
Ideally, all six tastes should be included in each main meal. If the body receives all six tastes, then our Tridoshas always stay in balance and chances of falling ill reduce substantially. Moreover, the diet having all six tastes are nourishing as well as healing.
Including all the six tastes in your meals is an effective way to reduce our food intake and cut down on unhealthy cravings. Furthermore, these six tastes are not required to be taken in equal amounts, but as per it suit your body.
Lately, we tend not to consume enough food with bitter and astringent tastes while consuming too much food with sweet and salty tastes.
It causes imbalance. We should also emphasize the use of some of the flavors and avoid others, according to their Prakriti.
The food tastes should be eaten in the following order – first sweet, then followed by salty, and then sour and pungent, and at last bitter and astringent. But we always end our meal with the desserts which ideally should be taken at the start.
Here are examples of some foods in each of the taste types:
- Sweet – milk, butter, fresh cream, wheat, ghee(clarified butter), rice, honey, raw sugar, ripe fruits
- Sour – lemon, citrus fruits, yogurt, raw mango powder, pomegranate, tamarind, vinegar, grapes
- Salty – salt, salty pickles, salty vegetables like celery and seaweeds
- Bitter – bitter gourd, green veggies, turmeric, fenugreek
- Pungent – hot, spicy foods, chili peppers, ginger, black pepper, clove, mustard, reddish, garlic
- Astringent – beans, lentils, rhubarb, apples, sprouts, amla, cauliflower, cabbage
Ayurveda has deeply thought of medicinal properties of hundreds of food substances commonly used in daily diet.
Out of those, considering various factors in dietetics and general availability, Ayurveda regards some food substances as the best for an ideal beneficial diet and hence could be used regularly.
- Foodgrains – rice (especially red variety), wheat, barley, millets
- Pulses – green grains, gram, pigeon peas
- Green vegetables – coriander leaves, snake gourd, radish
- Fruits – grapes, mango, dates, coconut, banana, apple
- Meat – flesh goat, birds like pigeon, quail and carp fish
- Raw sugar, rainwater, cow milk & ghee, honey, rock salt, sesame oil, jaggery, ginger
What not to eat?
Ayurveda gives a concept of Pathya-Apathya. Pathya means wholesome food mentioned above, while Apathya is that which adversely affect the body and mind.
The unwholesome foods which must not be used habitually:
- Pearl barley
- Black gram
- Germinated grains
- Beef, the meat of sheep, boar & buffalo
- Sheep’s milk & ghee
- Safflower oil
- Dried vegetables
- Sugar molasses
Ayurveda mentions another destructive habit of incompatible food combinations which should be avoided at all costs.
When foods having opposite qualities, tastes, heating or cooling attributes are eaten together, digestive fire slows down, and contrary reactions of such foods produce toxins in the body.
When these same foods are taken separately, they stimulate digestive fire and nourish the body.
Therefore, such foods should be taken at different times according to one’s body type. Combining such foods may lead to a complex and chronic disease.
For example, eating bananas with milk, in the long run, diminishes digestive fire, forms toxins, causes sinus congestion, cold, cough, allergies, etc.
Other examples of incompatible foods which are being used commonly nowadays are:
- Milk with fish, meat, curd, sour fruits, bread containing yeast, cherries
- Honey with equal quantity of clarified butter; boiled or cooked honey
- Yogurt consumed with milk, sour fruits, melons, hot drinks, meat, fish, mangoes, cheese
- Eggs eaten with milk, meat, yogurt, cheese, fish, bananas
Avoiding such food combinations prevents us from many deadly diseases which are difficult to cure and can leave us crippled with severe diseases forever.
When to eat?
Due to today’s busy lifestyle, we rarely have our meals on time, which is why we go through headache, heaviness, and feel exhausted.
That is why in Ayurveda dietetics ‘when to take food’ has much importance.
According to Ayurveda, it is better to take a diet in the morning and evening. Ayurveda regards these two timings as the ‘Pitta kala’ when there is maximum secretion of digestive juices, and hence, body tissues utilize the full nutritional value of the foods consumed.
In the evening we should aim to eat at least three hours before going to bed, and this should be between 6-8 pm. Late night meals interfere with sleep, and the body continues to work for digesting food even in sleep.
Nowadays, it is seen that morning meals are taken hurriedly. But Ayurveda advocates not taking daily meals only because you have to hurry to your work but when,
- One is hungry
- The body is clean of urine and stools
- One feels physically and mentally comfortable to have food
- When the previous meal is completely digested
How to know if your last meal is digested or not? Ayurveda notes some signs of properly digested meals like clear belching without any smell, feeling of comfort, healthy appetite & thirst, the passage of normal urine & stools and lightness in the body.
It is important not to eat if you are not hungry. Often the bodily cravings could be subsided by taking easily digestible soups, juices, fruits, nuts rather than a full-blown meal, to gain energy in a short time.
It is thought that, once the meals are taken, nothing should be eaten within three hours. Now modern dietetics also supports this opinion with the view for proper digestion.
How to eat?
Majority of us suffer from everyday problems like indigestion, gas, bloating, stomach pain, constipation, heartburn, and fatigue after eating.
Ayurveda offers simple solutions to these common complaints by considering not only what we eat but also how we eat.
It is essential to follow these twelve Ayurvedic guidelines:
- Take warm food as it provokes secretions of enzymes and digestive juices in the abdomen
- Take unctuous food as it evokes the subdued power of digestion and promotes strength. The best way to ensure this is to add an adequate quantity of oil or ghee to your food
- Eat in proper amount neither less nor more than your appetite
- Eat only if the previous meal is completely digested
- Do not eat the food of the opposite nature, e.g., taking cold drinks or iced water with hot food
- Each meal should be taken in peaceful and pleasant surroundings
- While taking meal take care of all the accessories needed while eating
- Eat food in a relaxed condition and not when irritated, angered, or stressed as this hinders the digestion and leads to bloating and builds up toxins in the body. Watching TV or reading while eating also has similar effects
- Do not eat in a hurry as you can never savor the taste of food and food might enter into airway tract
- Do not eat very slowly either because we would eat more than what is required and food would become cold
- Avoid talking and laughing while eating
- Take your food in a prescribed manner, with due regard to the self. The knowledge of the usefulness of food items is a prerequisite for self-preservation
How much to eat?
The quantity of your food is as important as its quality. However good the food is, if not taken in the right measures at the right time, it may lead to diseases.
Ayurveda opines that human diet varies according to the country, season, surroundings, and body type. Hence as a standard rule, it is advised that to digest a meal properly, the stomach should be no more than a third full.
If we divide our stomach into four parts, we shall fill two parts of it with food, one part with liquids which is to be taken before meals and rest should empty. This space allows the digestive juices to break down the food consumed fully.
Practically, this means that we should stop eating when we feel that just after a couple of more bites, we will be full.
To know this feeling, we should eat our food with due attention otherwise we might overeat if we are indulged in other activities like talking, watching TV, reading, etc.
Overeating produces a quick abnormal increase of doshas. On the other hand, consuming insufficient food does not help in building strength, growth, and vigor. So, in both cases, illness is bound to happen.
Some points to be noted
Ayurvedic texts say that everyone whether healthy or sick should avoid speaking, walking long distances and sleeping immediately after consuming liquids, exposure to a hot environment, traveling in vehicles, swimming and riding on animals soon after taking meals.
Avoid food which is contaminated with hair, dust, etc., warmed again, which contains more raw vegetables and which is very hot & spicy.
The current trend of preparing food for a week, keeping it in cold storage and reheating as and when required is not a good eating habit as per Ayurveda.
Ayurveda stresses on not overeating of raw vegetables, which is another trend today. It is said that vegetables should be at least steamed a little before intake to enable its better digestion and absorption.
Texts specifically say that eating uncooked food leads to digestive disorders, impaired metabolism, and the formation of Ama (toxins), which is the main culprit for causing several types of ailments.
Food – The greatest medicine
According to Ayurveda, our body system is a reflection of the laws of the universe, so to stay healthy; we must be in tune with our nature.
So our digestive system is likely to stay healthier if we chose foods that are closest to nature like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and pulses rather than filling stomachs with processed and packaged foods.
Ayurveda suggests specific physical, mental, and social hygienic rules and regulations for taking food as dietetics is not only a science of nutrition but a holy deed.
The points, as mentioned earlier, make it easier for us to understand the right dietary habits uniquely suited to each person.
Do not forget that Ayurveda regards food as the most excellent medicine and it indeed is if appropriately consumed. Because Ayurveda also says that even poison used judiciously can act as medicine while drug misused can act as a poison.