I grew up a child in the ‘60s, when frozen foods, canned veggies, and TV dinners were the trend. Today, we often eat on the run, holding our lunch in one hand, with the steering wheel, remote control, mouse, or smartphone in the other. Not what most pre-WWII era families would consider a healthy meal.
Eating on the run, and processed foods are far from the principles of Ayurveda, the Indian life science that is thousands of years old. The dietary principles of Ayurveda should ring like common sense, especially to those born before the invention of the microwave oven.
The simplest diet and Ayurveda rule for me to understand is that what you ingest should boost your prana, or life force. There is a lesser amount in frozen or microwaved produce and forget about packaged foods and animal products. Ayurveda also suggests certain times of the day to eat, and different foods, based on your constitution, or dosha. Additionally, modification is called for to adjust for seasonality, time of day, and other variables.
Consider an Ayurvedic Diet
For example, I’ve got plenty of Vata. Sometimes I think I may have ADHD, which is a sure-fire sign of Vata out of control. I’m not the only one. My Ayurvedic instructors in India taught me that most people in the U.S., and even India, have too much Vata thanks to our always-on-the-move lifestyles. We no longer stay in one geography with our lifelong friends and family. We work around the clock and our devices that are supposed to simplify our lives, wind us up like power-charged robots.
Robert E. Svoboda, B.A.M.S., in his book, “The Hidden Secret of Ayurveda,” attributes much of this to what we consume. “Everyone who eats a high-protein diet chock-full of chemical additives is bound to be hyperactive to some degree, and a rational diet is bound to benefit them.”
Meat, fish, garlic, and onions are considered to overexcite the mind. Animal flesh is also considered “heavy, stale, indigestible foods and all intoxicating substances” that promote “mental inertia and cloud the consciousness.” That statement also correlates to non-perishables, or rather, those things that are not found in God’s garden.
“Protein is so overrated today that our high-protein Western diet has begun to affect not only the consumer but his or her progeny as well,” says Svoboda. “Many, if not most, of the younger generation of Westerners show three of the cardinal constitutional characteristics of Vata: inordinate and disproportionate height; a tendency to flatulence; and the inability to sit quietly for more than perhaps half an hour.”
One Ayurvedic cooking suggestion for those on overdrive is to avoid cold, dry foods, and no caffeine. Nuts and complex carbohydrates are recommended, both of which are high in plant-based proteins. Since nuts are usually cold and dry, they are especially beneficial to balance the Vata when cooked as part of a warm dish with a sauce. Curried vegetables with brown rice and cashews are just one way to get those complex carbs with nuts. Vatas do better with roasted veggies and cooked fruits. This is also the one type that can get away with more oils, preferably sesame.
Svoboda goes on to name several problems that can result from imbalances when our doshas are off-center. “Arthritis, rheumatism, gout, colitis, and urinary stones are some of the diseases which can develop from such an imbalance.”
Ayurvedic doctors often attribute certain diseases to being related to specific doshas. Those with more Kapha can have lung and breathing issues like asthma. Kapha types are urged to avoid dairy, which is mucus forming.
Milk. It does a body good. Or does it? The power of marketing is substantial. I worked for many years in that world, promoting products that I did not believe in, did not buy, and would not consume. I’ve seen pre- and post-consumer data to show how purchasing habits skyrocket after a campaign.
Good food doesn’t need extravagant ads or promotional dollars.
Better yet, from your own backyard or the farmer’s market.
I realize cows graze in open fields, or so we think. I grew up in the midwest. Dairy Central. My mom said I needed to drink a quart of milk a day. Fortunately, we were not raised on soda or caffeinated hot or cold beverages. Just milk. My mother was convinced that I’d have osteoporosis, or worse if I didn’t drink all that milk.
From the time I was an adolescent, I also had chronic stomach problems. My mom took me to a specialist who gave me my diagnosis. He never said skip the dairy or avoid gluten. He prescribed Metamucil to my already fairly high fiber diet. I lived with those stomach problems for another few decades. When I finally eliminated the dairy and carbs from my diet, the pain or discomfort that was normal for me disappeared.
Americans are taught we need milk. We are a protein-crazy culture, eating twice as much as is recommended. People acknowledge milk, and other dairy products, as an excellent source of protein, along with other animal products. All too infrequently do Americans correlate green vegetables as a key protein source.
Moderate Your Dosha Via Diet
These earth folks are the most sedentary and grounded and need more spices to rev up their metabolism, bodies, and routines. Black pepper, curry, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger are a few to splash heavily into vegan, wheat-free, alcohol-free diets.
When it comes to Pitta, think fire. Digestive fire and emotional fires are in high gear for these folks. Therefore, they need to avoid overly spicy foods and can tolerate cooler food and beverage. Sweet, bitter, and watery fruits are good, too. Lemon, licorice, and coriander are a few nice flavors to add to the pitta diet. Pitta is best able to digest dairy, and yogurt, in particular, is nice and cooling for these hot folks.
Following are some easy to follow Ayurvedic dietary tips:
- Increase prana: eat organic, don’t reheat, or freeze food.
- Add plenty of spices to your food, and drink.
- Don’t eat after sundown.
- Avoid rajassic or tamassic foods like onions, garlic, mushrooms, alcohol, and meats.
- Your largest meal should be between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Enjoy your food in silence, without any distractions from TV, computers, or smartphones.
- Choose room temperature or warm liquids.
- Eat all six tastes at each meal: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent, and pungent.