Ayurveda is an ancient science which provides answers to modern-day health problems that need quick and effective solutions.
Ayurveda provides an insight into the eating habits and lifestyle that can impact on the mental and physical state of an individual. Food has been indicated as the primary source for maintaining a balance of Doshas (humours), which can further lead to health improvements and also, if not taken appropriately, can lead to an aetiology of a disease. Therefore, eating according to the dietary principles of Ayurveda can prevent a person from having a disease, especially when related to lifestyle. The different types of foods like grains, vegetables and fruits also have a Dosha dominance. For example, dry foods or raw salads are dominant in vata, the wind element and too much consumption of such foods by a vata dominant Prakruti (constitution) person, can imbalance the vata element or Dosha in the body and lead to problems like increased dryness in the body, anxiety and so on.
The three body types (vata, pitta and kapha) and their combinations, as explained in Ayurveda, have a definite digestive/metabolic power (Agni) that helps in the digestion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Hence, by eating according to the body type (Prakruti), one can improve and restore his/her physical and mental wellbeing. The benefits of eating according to the body type are not only felt in the body, they are also seen in the mental and emotional wellbeing. This holistic approach to health allows a person to become more balanced, vital and happy with the least amount of effort.
The general principles about diet in Ayurveda are simple and easy to understand.
Two fundamental principles in Ayurveda are: “like increases like” and “opposites create balance.” Foods which possess qualities similar to a Dosha, or (element of body constitution), will increase that Dosha, and foods with attributes that are unlike a Dosha will decrease or pacify that Dosha, thereby, keeping the Dosha in balance. For example, the tastes and qualities that balance Vata are sweet, sour, salty, warm, heavy and moist. The tastes and qualities that balance Pitta are sweet, bitter, astringent, cool, dry and heavy. The tastes and qualities that balance Kapha are pungent, bitter, astringent, light, warm and dry. You can refer to the Dosha balancing food lists in Ayurvedic literature or simply consider the general qualities of the food (hot/cold, light/heavy, dry/wet) as to whether it will increase or decrease a particular Dosha.
The food quantities should be determined by keeping in mind the digestive abilities of a person. The different body types (vata, pitta and kapha) explained in Ayurveda, have different digestive abilities. For example, vata has a weak digestive power, it is hard for vata types to digest raw foods or salads, a pitta type has a very strong digestive power and can digest almost anything but hot foods and acidic foods as they can create an imbalance and lead to acidity etc., kapha types have a very sluggish digestive power so foods which are hot and small in quantity are good for them.
Ayurveda proposes that all six tastes (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, astringent) be included in every meal in Dosha balancing ratios. According to Ayurveda, if a meal consists of all six tastes, our brain and body communicate in way that assists efficient digestion and leaves us satisfied. Proper digestion leads to good assimilation of nutrients and contentment reduces food cravings and over eating. By sprinkling Dosha specific seasoning, or Churna, on a meal we can be assured of receiving the six tastes at one time.
Digestion begins with the production of enzymatic saliva in the mouth and it is the sensory organs that stimulate this mouth–watering process. When a variety of foods and spices that are flavourful, aromatic, and visually appealing with an assortment of colours and textures, are used, it enhances the culinary experience and provides a wide range of nutrients.
Ayurveda explains greatly about compatible and incompatible foods according to the time of the day, the place and the body type of a person in that place. For example, the influence of a hot, heavy, humid, summer day can be balanced by a cool, light, dry, leafy-green salad. The time of day also has its influence according to Ayurveda – 10 am to 2 pm is the period dominated by Pitta (fire and water) and is considered the best time of day to eat your largest and most complex meal as your digestive fire or Agni is the strongest at that time. The cycle of life is yet another determining factor in conscious eating. As we grow older we enter the Vata (air and ether) time of our lives, Agni may weaken and vital tissues become dryer. By eating smaller, more frequent, warm, moist and nutrient rich meals, like hearty soups, you can maintain a balanced state of health.
Ayurveda encourages you to prepare and eat your food in a peaceful, loving and pleasant environment, and to greet your food with reverence, acknowledging its source with gratitude.
The enduring principles of Ayurveda beautifully express the essential nature of eating mindfully and gratefully as a path to living healthfully and happily. An Ayurvedic physician can help you understand your body type and the foods that go well with it and can give you a personalised Ayurvedic diet.