The Ayurvedic approach to food and diet
We believe the secret of living a healthy, balanced life is by following the five pillars of wellness, which are diet, movement, mind, rest and spirituality. In this article we’ll focus on the pillar of “diet”. Mahima and I follow the ayurvedic approach to food and diet. Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga. A system that teaches you how to eat well for a healthy body and mind.
According to Ayurveda, “we are what we eat”. The food that we put in our body; is how we build it, physically and mentally.
Eating a balanced diet, choosing the right food for you is very important for a healthy body and mind. However, you don’t have to get too extreme and fanatical in your diet! this will only result in a negative outcome for your body.
The digestive fire
Your digestion is as important as the food you put into your body. According to Ayurveda the fire element is responsible for digesting your food. It separates the nutritious part of the food and the waste material. The nutrients are absorbed into the body and the waste material starts the process to be eliminated from the body.
Ayurveda says if your digestion is weak, you are not going to be able to digest food properly. All those wonderful nutrients you get from your food won’t get broken down and absorbed in your body.
Instead, it accumulates undigested food that can deteriorate and ferment in the digestive system causing diseases. This undigested food that becomes toxic in the body in Sanskrit is called “Ama”. “Am” meaning to harm or to weaken.
My journey with gut health.
Before I started practising yoga and Ayurveda, my lifestyle was very unbalanced. I was always eating at different times and always in a hurry. My diet was unbalanced, and I often ate unhealthy foods. It definitely didn’t help, I also used to party! A lot of drinking and smoking, combined with not getting regular and consistent sleep.
As a result of my lifestyle and diet my digestive system wasn’t functioning well. I used to experience constipation, haemorrhoids, and a lot of acid reflux. To the point that the doctor found the early stages of an ulcer in my oesophagus.
The symptoms that I described definitely were signs that my digestive fire was weak. I wasn’t able to digest the food i was eating. As the ancient Ayurveda science says, the result of my undigested food was causing the start of a disease.
Thankfully, life and my relationship with food is very different now to how it was back then.
7 Ayurvedic Tips for eating well and achieving 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.
1. The benefits of eating a predominant plant-based diet
Many scientific studies have concluded that healthy eating is attained by eating a healthy plant-base diet. This is a regime that avoids meats, dairy, eggs as well as all refined and processed foods. Instead adopting a diet that includes more fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and nuts and seeds.
The results suggest that eating a plant-based diet is not only cost effective, but also lowers the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and reduces cholesterol levels. A plant-based diet would also lessen the number of medications required to treat some of the chronic disease and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates.
However, to eat well for a healthy body and mind, you don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan. In fact, some vegetarians and vegans do not eat a healthy plant-based diet. Choosing to eat processed meat substitutes rather than wholegrains and beans.
If you choose to eat animal products, do so consciously. To change your diet it requires patience and regularity. perhaps reduce the amount of meat you consume Introduce more greens and grains into your diet.
2. Quantity of food.
Ayurveda says that food taken in excess causes Ama (toxins). You have to eat the right amount of food. At the end of a meal, you want to feel satisfied without feeling bloated or heavy in the stomach.
This ancient science also recommends not to drink too much water before or during your meal. In doing so you are distinguishing your abdominal fire and unable to digest your meal.
There is a golden rule that Yoga and Ayurveda suggest when it comes to the amount of food you consume. It’s a good rule to follow… 50% of your stomach must be filled with food. 25% with water and the other 25% must be empty.
3. Quality of the food.
The quality of the food you eat is crucial for the health of your body and mind. Avoid as much as possible super processed foods that contains additives, preservatives and artificial flavouring and colouring. Try not to eat food that is burnt, overcooked or undercooked.
We all like a treat now and again, but try to avoid junk food, artificial food (Food that is produced imitating nature) and canned food.
In the time of Ayurveda there was no super processed or artificial food! Only a diet that contained fresh ingredients, and food that was freshly cooked. Our Modern lifestyle may hinder cooking fresh for every mealtime, but the use of fresh vegetables is highly recommended.
Sadly, a lot of the fresh vegetables we buy from the supermarkets have been produced using pesticides. (A blog for another day!) Where possible, eating organically is highly recommended. The cost of living doesn’t always allow this.
Instead wash your food well. One tip is to soak your non-organic vegetables in water with a little white vinegar for 5 minutes. Then rinse well.
Importantly, buy locally and seasonally. This way you may be able to purchase organic fruits and vegetables at a reasonable price.
4. Preparation of the food
Living a yogic lifestyle, we learn to respect our food and how it is prepared. Its source. To honour nature that supplies the food that sustains our life. Give thanks to all those involved in bringing food to the table.
Food must be prepared with good intention, with love. If your food is not prepared with good intention, in a negative state of mind, this negativity is passed to the food that you will eat. Try not to prepare food when you are stressed or over emotional.
5. Right attitude while you eat.
The Ayurvedic approach to eating a meal is to do so in a relaxed manner and joyful state of mind.
This means not hurrying your food. Be present to what you are eating. Avoiding distractions like television, phone, computer. Try not to talk too much or get involved in heated conversations.
If you eat in an angry, stressed, nervous or anxious manner, you’re activating the sympathetic nervous system. This means your body is producing hormones like adrenaline, that are used in emergency situations. As a result, the digestive system shuts down.
The simple practice of abdominal breathing can bring you to a calm and relaxed state before you eat. This activates the aspect of the autonomic nervous system that is for resting and digesting.
In Ayurveda, the approach is to eat your food as an offering to the digestive fire. And before eating, pay reverence to the fire element within you using Mantra.
It is important to be grateful and offer respect to the food. Offering our food to the Divine force, which we understand as nature.
Mahima and I eat food with the attitude that it is a health-giving gift from nature. Before each meal we close our eyes, take 3 deep breaths in and out to bring ourselves into the present moment. Mentally blessing the food. I pay thanks to all beings and sources of nature that have been involved in suppling the food that we are about to eat.
6. Right time for eating
Ayurveda says that the best time to eat is during daylight hours. Eating according to the sun’s position and when the digestive fire is strongest.
The main meal of the day is eaten when the sun is at its highest around lunchtime it is also when the digestive system is most active.
Going to bed on a full stomach is not good for your digestion or your sleep. Eating the final meal of the day should be at least two hours before bed time to rest.
This evening meal should be light, like soup as this is when the digestive fire is not so strong. Eating food that is easy to digest at this time is important. This helps to reduce the work required by the digestive system, giving this vital biological system enough. And so, you can sleep more soundly.
The digestion of the food, starts in the mouth. Chewing your food well helps the process of digestion. Yoga and Ayurveda says to chew the food from 30 to 40 times.
7. Climate and season
Diet, climate and seasonality are all closely linked and highlight the importance of living in accordance to the rhythm of nature and eating for the season.
When you are in a warm climate it’s natural to reach for more cooling lighter foods, fresh fruits and cold drinks.
In cooler climates we veer to heavier foods more substantial foods that produce heat in the body to keep us warm.
For me, it is common sense to eat in this way. Eating locally what is around me, at this moment of the season. It’s healthy for the body and mind but also healthy for our environment.
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