Food is our medicine. And, when it is taken at the right time, in the right quantities and is full of prana or life force, it will provide us with the fuel that can be appropriately digested so as not to leave behind any uncooked or undigested food. Undigested food can build up in our systems, cause aggravation and ultimately lead us to a state of dis-ease.
“No disease can be cured unless supplemented by the right diet. 90% of the disease can be prevented by the right diet alone.”– Dr. Everett Koop
“Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.”– Hippocrates
Ayurveda states that there are three pillars or supports that we need to build and preserve in our lives to foster our wellbeing for our physical, mental and spiritual bodies.
First are our inputs or the things that we bring into our bodies (the second is sleep and the third is the right use of our sense organs). Of the three, inputs or ahara is primary. And, food is our most important input. We need it to nourish our bodies. Food (and water) are our fire and give us energy, strength, immunity and radiance.
Food also energizes the mind. It provides mental clarity and sharpness for our senses. It supports the soul/spirit through our rituals of preparing and receiving a meal.
Ayurveda looks at nutrition and the process of digestion so differently from the conventional point of view. I find it worthwhile to compare these perspectives side-by-side.
|Conventional Nutrition||Ayurveda Nutrition|
|Why We Eat||Preferences, habits, image, emotion||Life Essence (prana)|
|Nutritional Component||Calorie Counting||Five Elements |
& How we process what we eat
|Balanced Diet||Food Pyramid/Groups||Constitution (innate makeup)Vata, Pitta & Kapha |
& Incorporating the Six Tastes
|Motto||“You Are What You Eat”||“You Are What You Digest”|
Ayurveda considers balanced digestion to come from a balanced agni or fire. Agni is the energy of digestion, transformation and metabolism. When we eat, what we eat, and how we eat are all important to managing and maintaining our digestive fire.
The principal factor for balancing agni is timing. In general, our agni is strongest when we are in the adolescent phase of life, in the winter season, and at the mid-day or noon time. Our digestive fires weaken as we age, in the season of spring and late at night.
When the conditions of when, what and how we eat are not ideal, we cannot fully digest our foods properly. When we don’t digest properly, unprocessed food accumulates in our system and leads to disorder and disease. This uncooked food is called ama in Ayurveda. In fact, ama or undigested food, accounts for most of the diseases that we possess.
The general signs of ama include: heaviness, lethargy, dull mind, gas, constipation, and a bad taste in the mouth, it can also lead to an increase in phlegm and mucus production. In fact, ama can have varying characteristics depending on your dosha.
In general, we can prevent the build-up of ama by:
- Eating smaller quantities (two hands full).
- Avoiding tamasic (dull) foods: leftovers, processed, canned, fast food, food with additives/preservatives/coloring/pesticides… or foods that were cooked then frozen.
- Avoiding ice-water and cold foods – they interfere with the digestive process.
- Making lunch your main meal (when digestive fire is highest).
- Eating less heavier foods and choosing lighter foods (but not cold, raw salads or smoothies that slow digestion). Choosing warm, freshly cooked vegetables.
- Calming the mind before eating.
Learning these simple concepts will be the best gift you can give yourself.
I provide more details on Ayurveda’s concept of digestion and how it relates to our overall health in my “On Wellness Way” podcast.
Until next time, be well and be grateful for the food that nourishes! – Kim.