The Ayurvedic approach to food and diet

In Ayurveda, it’s often said, “we are what we eat”. Essentially, the food we consume isn’t just sustenance; it’s the building material for our physical and mental well-being. At Grassroots Yoga and Meditation, it is our belief that a balanced life rests on five core pillars: diet, movement, mind, rest, and spirituality. In this article, we’ll focus on the first pillar: diet.

Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science, offers a holistic approach to food and diet. It’s a system we wholeheartedly embrace because it imparts the wisdom of nourishing both body and mind through our choices.

Maintaining a balanced diet that aligns with your individual needs is paramount for overall health. However, it’s crucial not to veer into extreme or fanatical territory in your diet! This will only result in a negative outcome for your body.

The digestive fire

Your digestion is as crucial as the food you introduce to your body. According to Ayurveda, the fire element takes charge of digesting your food. It separates between the nourishing components of the food and the waste material. Nutrients are absorbed into the body while the waste initiates its journey towards elimination.

Ayurveda emphasizes that a weak digestion hampers the proper breakdown of food. This means all the valuable nutrients in your food won’t undergo the necessary breakdown and absorption in your body. Instead, they accumulate as undigested substances, which can potentially deteriorate and ferment within the digestive system, leading to various health issues. In Sanskrit, this accumulation of undigested food, considered toxic to the body, is referred to as “Ama”, derived from “Am” signifying harm or to weaken.

Ayurveda and the digestive fire
My journey with gut health.

Before I embraced yoga and Ayurveda, my lifestyle was far from balanced. I was always eating at different times and I was always in a hurry. My diet was unbalanced, with frequent indulgence in unhealthy foods. Plus, I liked to party! A lot of excessive drinking and smoking, and my sleep schedule was anything but consistent.

As a result, my digestive system struggled under this strain. I regularly experienced issues like constipation, haemorrhoids, and persistent acid reflux. In fact, a medical examination revealed the early stages of an ulcer in my oesophagus.

These symptoms clearly indicated a weakened digestive fire. I couldn’t effectively process the food I was eating. According to ancient Ayurvedic wisdom, this undigested state was the breeding ground for potential ailments.

Thankfully, my relationship with food and my lifestyle has undergone a profound transformation since those days.

7 Ayurvedic Tips for eating well and supporting a healthy body and mind

Eating wisely is one of the most important things you can choose to do every day. Ayurveda has been saying for thousands of years how to eat well to live a healthy balanced life. Here we share 7 tips to consider when it comes to food and diet.

Benefits of eating a plant-based diet
1. The benefits of eating a predominant plant-based diet

Many scientific studies  emphasise the health benefits derived from adopting a predominantly plant-based diet. This dietary approach abstains from meats, dairy, eggs, as well as refined and processed foods. Instead, it emphasises the inclusion of ample fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, and seeds.

The findings strongly suggest that eating a plant-based diet, is not only cost-effective, but also contributes to a reduced risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and lower cholesterol levels. Additionally, a plant-based diet may lead to a decreased dependency on medications for managing chronic diseases, and a decline in ischemic heart disease mortality rates.

It’s worth noting that transitioning to a plant-based diet does not mean a complete shift to vegetarianism or veganism. In fact, some who identify as such may not necessarily follow a health-focused plant-based diet, opting for processed meat substitutes over whole grains and legumes.

For those who choose to include animal products in their diet, mindfulness is key. Changing dietary habits demands patience and consistency. Consider gradually reducing meat consumption while incorporating more leafy greens and whole grains for a balanced and nourishing approach to eating.

2. Quantity of food.

Ayurveda advises that excessive food intake leads to the formation of Ama (toxins). It is crucial to consume an appropriate quantity of food. Ideally, after a meal, you want to feel satisfied without experiencing bloating or heaviness in the stomach.

This ancient science also cautions against excessive water consumption before or during a meal. Doing so you are distinguishing your digestive fire, hindering proper digestion.

Yoga and Ayurveda propose a valuable guideline regarding food portions. It is recommended to follow this principle: fill 50% of your stomach with food, allocate 25% for water, and leave the remaining 25% empty.

3. Quality of the food.

The quality of the food you consume significantly impacts the health of your body and mind. It’s advisable to minimise the intake of heavily processed foods containing additives, preservatives, artificial flavourings, and colourings. Additionally, avoid consuming burnt, overcooked, or undercooked food.

While an occasional treat is enjoyable, steer clear of junk food, artificial imitations of natural foods, and canned products. During the era of Ayurveda, there were not highly processed or artificial foods; the emphasis was on a diet comprising fresh, freshly prepared ingredients. Although our modern lifestyle may pose challenges to cooking fresh for every meal, incorporating fresh vegetables is highly encouraged.

Sadly, many of the vegetables available in supermarkets have been grown using pesticides (a topic for another day!). When feasible, opting for organic, produce is strongly recommended.

The cost of living doesn’t always allow this. Instead, ensure thorough washing of your produce. One useful tip is to soak non-organic vegetables in water with a dash of white vinegar for five minutes, followed by a thorough rinse.

Prioritise local and seasonal produce. This approach may facilitate the purchase of organic fruits and vegetables at a reasonable price.

4. Preparation of the food

Living a yogic lifestyle, we learn to respect our food and its preparation process, acknowledging its source. We honour the immense contribution of nature, which provides the sustenance for our lives, giving thanks to all those involved in bring food to the table.

Food should be prepared with positive intention and love. When we prepare food with negativity or in a negative state of mind, that energy can be absorbed by the food we eat. Try not to prepare food when you are stressed or over emotional.

5. Right attitude while you eat.

The Ayurvedic approach to a meal is to partake in a relaxed and joyful state of mind. This means savouring your food, not rushing, staying present to each bite. Avoid distractions like watching the television, being on your phone, or the computer. Try to minimise excessive talking or engaging in heated conversations.

Eating in an angry, stressed, nervous, or anxious manner activates the sympathetic nervous system. This leads to the release of hormones like adrenaline, typically reserved for emergency situations, which, in turn, can shut down the digestive system.

Ayurveda teaches us how to prepare our food

Expressing gratitude and offering respect to the food is essential. We consider our meals as a health-bestowing gift from nature. Prior to each meal, we close our eyes, take three deep breaths, and center ourselves in the present moment. Mentally, we bless the food and offer thanks to all beings and aspects of nature that contributed to the provision of this nourishment.

Ayurveda recommends to eat during day light hours
6. Right time for eating

Ayurveda advises that the optimal time for meals is during daylight hours,. The main meal of the day is ideally consumed when the sun is highest, typically around midday. This aligns with the period of highest digestive activity.

Going to bed on a full stomach is not conducive to good digestion or quality sleep. The final meal of the day should finish at least two hours before bedtime to allow for proper rest. This evening meal should be light, perhaps a soup, as the digestive fire tends to be weaker during this time. Opting for easily digestible foods is important. This reduces the burden on the digestive system, promoting a more restful sleep.

Remember, the process of digestion commences in the mouth. Thoroughly chewing your food aids this process. Both Yoga and Ayurveda recommend chewing each mouthful from 30 to 40 times.

7. Climate and season.

Diet, climate, and seasonality are closely linked, emphasising the significance of living in harmony with the natural rhythm and aligning our eating habits with the prevailing season.

In summer and living in warmer climates, it’s instinctual to gravitate towards lighter, cooling foods, along with fresh fruits and chilled beverages. In cooler climates, we tend to favour heartier, more substantial fare, which generates warmth within the body, aiding in maintaining our internal temperature.

For me, this approach to eating is simply common sense. It involves consuming locally available produce that aligns with the current season. Not only is this beneficial for our physical and mental well-being, but it also healthy for the environment.

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