Food Glorious Food
Ayurvedic Guidelines For Food
Food should be of the best quality, fresh and freshly prepared. Locally grown food is best. This is food with the quality of Sattva, which means illuminating, pure. In Vedic cosmology, the universe is composed of three Gunas - Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. Rajasic food is activating, like chili peppers, meat, fish and garlic; Tamasic food is old, inert, stale, dulling to the mind and senses. Then there are lesser gunas, or attributes, that are paired like hot and cold, heavy and light, moist and dry. Ayurveda uses these attributes in food to balance the qualities in the organism. For example, if you are too hot, suffering from inflammation, then Ayurveda would recommend cooling foods like celery, watermelon, cucumber, or cilantro. If your tissues are dry. eat soups and fresh juices, not popcorn, crackers or chips.
Food should be freshly prepared. Processed food, is not recommended. Animals producing food, whether milk or meat, should not be tethered or confined, but allowed to roam free with plenty of fresh water and sunshine.
Food should generally also be well cooked since raw food is much harder to digest. Fresh fruit is considered cooked by the sun and should be eaten by itself.
Quality and Quantity
Ayurveda classifies foods according to their taste (Rasa) and their qualities (Gunas). Rasa exists in the mouth however, not the food. The six tastes are sweet, sour, salt, bitter, pungent and astringent. You should have all six tastes every day, ideally in every meal. A good example is an Italian soup made with white beans. The beans have sweet and astringent tastes, onions and garlic are pungent, basil and rosemary are bitter, the broth is salty and grated cheese is sour.
Many Americans are overfed but undernourished. Ayurveda teaches you to use your senses in choosing foods for optimal health. If you lack energy the first place to investigate is food. One tool I have found useful is cronometer.com. While not an Ayurvedic nor a perfect tool, it can open our eyes about food choices. Many of us think we have a healthy diet, but it can point out that we are consistently missing foods rich in minerals perhaps, vitamins or fiber. Ayurveda teaches us to cultivate our innate senses in choosing foods that are good for us.
Overeating, skipping meals, stress, antibiotics, birth-control pills and other pharmaceuticals, lack of sleep are bad for digestion. It is not what we eat, but what we digest that counts. A rule of thumb for quantity is to eat two handfuls of food at a meal. The stomach should only be half full after a meal, leaving space for water and air. Water and other beverages should be room temperature or warmer. Drinking icy beverages are like pouring water onto a fire.
Timing and Rhythm
Snacking weakens digestion so eating between meals is not recommended. However, if you are truly hungry you should eat. If you feel hungry drink a glass of water and take a walk; if the hunger goes away you weren’t really hungry. All eating is best completed no later than 6PM or 7PM. At least two hours should pass from the last meal until bedtime to allow restoration to be the primary metabolic action during nighttime.
Understanding one’s own constitution and eating accordingly is one of the lessons of Ayurveda. Vegetables, however, are usually a big part of everyone’s daily intake. Eating pure food leads to greater awareness and this too, is a goal of Ayurveda, to bring us to a higher state of consciousness. As we become more attune to ourselves we will notice the messages our body gives us about the foods we need and the foods that are not good for us.
Anything in nature can be medicine or poison. Everything counts; not just the quality of the food, but the quality of the growing, harvesting and preparation.
Meals should be taken in a calm and relaxed manner. Sharing food with friends and family strengthens vital relationships, but meals can also be taken in silence as a spiritual practice.
Food should be chewed thoroughly, as digestion begins in the mouth. Information immediately goes to the brain from the tongue and marshals the forces necessary for digestion of whatever is at the end of our fork or spoon. Noticing the colors, smells, flavors and textures of food is important.
Ayurveda teaches us to become conscious eaters and observe the sacramental nature of nourishing ourselves. In Vedic culture it is customary to feed another before beginning the meal, whether that be a cow or a homeless person to acknowledge our connection to all creation.