According to Ayurveda, choosing the right food to eat is personal. Although there are many examples of healthy foods out there, Ayurveda believes that foods should be selected based on their natural qualities, compatibilities, modes of processing, quantities and timing.
Let’s take a deep dive into the quality of foods…
I’d like to begin today’s topic with a few basic rules for eating according to Ayurveda. And, the first is to eat in consideration of the functional energies we possess. Remember Vata, Pitta and Kapha? Even if we have different circumstances going on with our current state of health, we should always keep in mind what it is that our natural tendencies lean toward (please visit this blog for more details on dosha).
After honoring our body constitution which is made up of Vata, Pitta and Kapha energies, we should eat in consideration of our age (or the phase of life we are in) and the season we are experiencing (whether it is winter, spring, summer or fall).
Because when we honor these factors, (our innate energy, the season and the phase of life we are in) we are keeping connected to nature. And moving with the flow of nature helps us to harmonize and prevent dis-ease in the body-mind complex.
The next food guideline I have is to eat food that is cooked, warm and has enough moisture (in the form of oil) to keep your digestive fires burning. Agni is the sanskrit word for our digestive fire. Ama is defined as the undigested or uncooked portions that can build up in our system and create dis-ease. When we choose foods and prepare them in a way that is conducive to good digestion, we reduce the buildup of excess ama. When more agreeable foods are selected and prepared correctly, they will give us more strength and vitality.
Before we think about making specific food choices, it is good to consider the following qualities of foods.
1.) A food’s natural quality or its prakrti.
- Foods have specific tastes called rasa in Sanskrit. This means they are either sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter or astringent or have a combination of these particular tastes.
- There is also the concept of vipaka in Ayurveda which is a food’s post digestive effect. There will be foods whose tastes may change after the process of digestion which can cause reactions in the body, again depending on your dosha quality.
- Foods also naturally have a specific potency or virya which can be either cooling or heating according to Ayurveda. And, we know from past teachings that the cooling action increases Kapha and Vata while the heating action increases Pitta.
- In addition, each food has its own set of gunas or qualities that need to be taken into consideration when decided upon. For example, wheat has a heavy quality and if a person has a Kapha imbalance (and therefore they hold more of that heavy quality), than wheat should be avoided. Barley is light and dry so it would be a better choice for Kaphas but not so good for a Vata predominant constitution. I covered some of these examples on the podcast when I spoke of the 20 gunas and how they affect particular constitutions. Click here to get all of the details.
2.) How a food changes when it is combined with other foods or liquids. A big part of making food choices in Ayurveda is addressing the idea of incompatible foods. Incompatibility can be found with foods that have a mismatched potency (heating and cooling don’t go together well) or if they have an inappropriate processing method, or if they are being consumed in incorrect quantities, in incorrect order, or at incorrect times. Ayurveda says that when incompatible foods are taken regularly, they will cause ama buildup.
3.) How food is processed. Whether food is boiled, soaked, grilled, or left raw, each state effects the way food behaves. Here are some examples: roasting makes nuts and grains lighter, evaporation or drying makes milk or fruits heavier, soaking beans or rice before cooking increases the weight of these foods as well. If you are looking to lighten up the quality of beans or rice, you should avoid pressure cookers or rice cookers because they tend to hold on to the water of these absorbing foods. Frying food with oil beyond its boiling point, can change a food’s natural structure and may make it carcinogenic. In general, fried foods are heavier to digest, they increase acidity and create more dullness for the mind.
4.) The quantity. Even healthy food when consumed in a larger quantity is unhealthy. In general, you should eat more lighter foods and less heavier foods. Speaking of light foods may make you think of raw foods. But raw foods aggravate Vata, because the light, airy and dry quality increases Vata’s energy which can lead to anxiety, nervousness and dryness in the body. Raw foods are actually “uncooked” foods and are more difficult to digest in general. So, in the end, consuming a lot of uncooked food is useless for nourishment and gets deposited as ama.
5.) Time or kala. In this case, I am talking about the time it takes for foods to ripen naturally. This will, of course, apply to fruits most easily. I’d like to say that the quality of a banana can vary greatly in this case. Unripe fruits of any kind can be harder to digest – but bananas in specific – because they are usually eaten when they are “uncooked” by nature. In general, fruits should be eaten when they are sweet and in the afternoon (rather than in the morning when the Kapha (or sweet) energy is highest). Also, cooling foods (like ice cream) should be avoided in the wintertime and heating foods (like chilis) should be avoided in the summertime.
Tune into this week’s podcast where I give more details for each category and introduce the general qualities for each type of food such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, dairy, meats and sweeteners.
Happy Exploring…until next time, 🌱💜Kim.
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