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Ayurvedic Balanced Diet

Note : This story was published in Vigyan Prasar’s prestigious newsletter ‘ Aahaar Kranti’ in June 2021.

Healthy eating is a habit and we learn this continuously. So, let’s learn the basics of Ayurvedic eating habits. It has several dynamics which need to be explored and discussed. In this article we will try to focus on Ayurvedic Balanced Diet. 

Ayurveda is a combination of two Sanskrit words. 

Ayurveda = Ayur (life) + veda (science or knowledge). 

Thus, Ayurveda translates to Science of Life or Knowledge of Life. 

Vijnana Bharati (Vibha) and Global Indian Scientists’ and Technocrats’ Forum (GIST) have come together for the Aahaar Kranti mission with the motto of उत्तम आहार-उत्तम विचार (Uttam Aahaar Uttam Vichaar) or `Good Diet-Good Cognition’. The initiative focusses on India’s unique advantage of having the knowledge of Ayurveda. The initiative emphasises that it is time to apply this rich knowledge of Ayurveda-based nutrition to practice.

A balanced diet is one which includes foods from all food groups, which in turn become nutritionally adequate. The quantities and proportions of these foods should be in such a ratio, which fulfills our daily requirements of all the nutrients and energy. Ayurveda explains the concept of the balanced diet in Nitya Sevaniya Aahara Dravya i.e. wholesome daily foods. 

Food articles, which are enlisted in this group; encompass cereals, millets, vegetables, fruits, oils etc. And as expected, incorporation of most of the food articles from this list regularly, will adequately supply all expected nutrition. But, there is a small problem. We understand what we should eat, but for example – advising the 50-60% energy from carbohydrates does not specify type of carbohydrates to be consumed. All cereals and millets are rich source of carbohydrates, but not all cereals and millets are good and compatible to everyone. So, there are a few factors which affect this selection. It varies according to the habitat, body constitution, age, occupation, appetite etc. of the consumer. This creates ambiguity in selection of the kind of carbohydrates to fulfill the daily energy intake. Similar selection hurdles occur when it comes to selection of proteins and fats in the diet. 

Therefore, Ayurveda concept of balanced diet Nitya Sevaniya Aahara Dravya i.e. wholesome daily foods will pave the way for appropriate selection of right kind of food article. Prof Sanjeev Sharma, Director of National Institute of Ayurveda help us understand the concept of selection. He says, “Ayurveda recommends to select grains especially Godhuma (Wheat), Shali (Paddy – Oriza sativam), Yava (Barley – Hordeum Vulgare Linn), Shastika Shali (Paddy harvested in 60 days) when it comes fulfilling the daily energy intake value by carbohydrates. Many pulses are there which provide the proteins but preferably Ayurveda advocates the Mudga (Green gram – Vigna radiata), Go-dugdha (Cow’s Milk), Gogritha (Cow’s Ghee), Jangala Mamsa (meat of arid region) viz Aja Mamsa (Goat meat) etc. In the same while selecting the fruits, fruits like Amalaki (Indian Gooseberry- Embilica officinalis), Dadima (Pomegranate), Pathya (Terminalia chebula), Mridvika (Grapes) which will supply the required vitamins and minerals (Micronutrients). Vegetables like sunishannaka (blepharis edulis), Bala Mulaka( Tender radish- Raphanus sativus), Patola (Pointed Gourd – Trichosanthes dioica), Jeevanti (Leptadenia reticulate), Vastuka (Chenopodiastrum murale) are good source of fibers. For fat supplement Ayurveda advices to take cow’s milk and ghee. In this way, we can consider the Ayurvedic way of balanced diet serve us”. 

Ayurveda Diet in your Stomach 

Have you ever asked your stomach – What makes you happy? It will come up with a simple answer – Whatever makes you happy. 

So while deciding your meal, THINK. Not about the calories and energy intake, but the preparation pattern and style. This is what Ayurveda diet is all about. It not only limits its concept to the selection of food article but also extends to food preparation and modulation (Ahara Sanskara and Ahara Kalpana). Prof Sanjeev Sharma helped us list down some principles of Ayurveda diet. 

Principles of Ayurveda diet 

– According to the individual’s body and mind food articles are chosen, prepared and catered. 

– Ayurveda recommends preparing the mind and body before heading towards having the meal under the context of bhojana purva karma (food rituals before food intake). 

– To decide the quantity and quality of food for an individual is based on the vital factors like digestive fire, age, day and night and occupation of the person. 

– To enhance the process of digestion, absorption and assimilation of the consumed food Ayurveda recommends to accept the principles of Bhojanottara Karma (food rituals after food intake) like walking hundred steps, eating betel leaves, herbal smoking etc. 

– Ayurveda categories the individuals based on prakriti i.e. Body constitution viz. Vataja, Pittaja, Kaphaja

– Person belonging to particular prakriti should always strive hard to take the food, which are opposite to the prakriti to maintain the normalcy of the Dosha or Bio-energies and Dhatu or Body tissues. 

– Intake of food according to the habitat and season are the widely accepted doctrines enumerated by Ayurveda.

Ayurvedic Diet based on Body Types 

We all are not same. Ayurveda has a complete system to understand and act accordingly. Best part is Ayurveda follows the concept of understanding the body types or doshas in order to heal oneself. There are three ayurvedic body types, or doshasVata, Pitta and Kapha. Now how to identify your body type or your dosha

Before going further, understand that a human body can be divided into seven different body types – vata, pitta, kapha, vata-pitta, pitta-kapha, vata-kapha or tri-dosha. Dr. Vikram Chauhan, CEO and Founder of Planet Ayurveda has helped us decode the basic 3 body types of doshas

Properties of Vata dosha 

तत्र रुक्षो लघु शीत: खरः सूक्ष्म चंचल अनिलः।। (अ ह १/ ११ ) 

Vata has properties like light, Rough, cold, subtle, changeable and moving. 

Properties of Pitta dosha

पित्तम ससनेह तीक्षण उष्णं लघु विस्त्रं सरं द्रवम।।  ( / १२ )

The properties as oily, sharp, hot, light, fleshy, spreading and liquid belong to pitta dosha. 

Properties of Kapha dosha     

स्निग्ध शीतो गुरु मन्द शलक्षणो मृत्स्न स्थिरः कफः।।  ( / १३ )

Moist, cold, heavy, slow, smooth, dense, dull and static are properties of kapha. 

People have prakriti which has a predominance of one particular dosha. With the help of Dr. Vikram, now let’s understand the basic concept of selecting a diet according to dosha predominance. “In Ayurveda it is clearly stated that सर्वदा सर्व भावानं सामान्य वृद्धिकारणाम। ( सू / ४४). This means that food articles having similar properties to predominant dosha in a person will increase that dosha resulting in onset of diseased condition. On the other hand one more thing is stated that ह्रास हेतु विशेषश्च प्रवृति रुभायसस्य तू।। ( सू / ४४) which means intake of food articles having opposite properties to predominant dosha help in keeping everything balanced. So People having kapha dosha predominance should avoid excessive intake of sour, salty and sweet food articles, in case of pitta dosha predominance pungent sour and salty food articles must be avoided and in vata dosha predominance astringent, pungent and bitter food articles consumption must be minimized.” 

This is very important and useful as each type of dosha has a unique set of characteristics and the body type of a person depends on their physical and emotional attributes. The constitutions may change based on one’s physical, mental and emotional conditions. It is important and best to know one’s dosha and then create a lifestyle that suits it. 

Ayurveda Experts recommend a 10 point strategy for a healthy lifestyle : 

1. Waking up early in morning. 

2. Having lukewarm water empty stomach after passing stool and brushing your teeth. 

3. Have a bath with lukewarm water in summers and with warm water in winters. 

4. You must have your breakfast and it should be nutritious. 

5. Have frequent and short meals according to your appetite because having food according to your appetite is the ultimate key for keeping your digestive fire balanced. 

6. One should eat the next meal when the previous is digested. For example, If you feel like you are not hungry in the evening after having a satisfying lunch then you can skip your diner. It is completely fine. 

7. Avoid having cheesy, greasy and heavy food articles. 

8.Do exercise on a daily basis at least once in a day like in the morning or in the evening and never exercise when you have an empty stomach. 

9. Try to have a light dinner and sleep on time. 10. A good sleep is very important as it helps in relaxing our body and mind. 

Here, one must remember, healthy lifestyle just does not mean waking up early in the morning, going for a walk, eating three times a day and sleeping early. But a healthy lifestyle also includes a healthy diet. People do say that exercising keeps you healthy but following a healthy diet plan is also very important. If you really want to follow an Ayurvedic lifestyle then you have to understand the importance of health and a healthy body because when you understand the value of these two then only you will be motivated to live a healthy lifestyle. 

Healthy and Wise Choices 

In general terms, healthy and wise choices in your eating pattern will include fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates and proteins options, dairy foods, whole grains and oils. And you will want to limit fats, added sugars and sodium. Ayurveda being a holistic life science focuses much on preservation and promotion of the balance between the mind and body. Prof Sanjeev Kumar advocates that abiding to the Ayurveda diet principles, make an individual to remain physically, mentally and spiritually fit and fine. Intake of food after due considering the  

  1. Prakriti (constitution), 
  2. Desha (Habitat), 
  3. Kala (time), 
  4. Bala (strength), 
  5. Agni (digestive fire), 
  6. Satmya (compatibility), 
  7. vaya (Age) etc. 

This will help to maintain the normalcy of bodily constituents like Dosha, Dhatu, Mala and Agni

Digestion perspective in Ayurveda Diet 

Digestion is a very important aspect of food. We understand that the food we eat needs to be digested well to enrich us with the nutrients, phytonutrients, the essential oils and many other benefits. There are various digestive issues which normal people suffer… such as acidity, gaseous nature, indigestion with a choked gastrointestinal tract, constipation and frequent liquid stools. How Ayurveda can help in food deigestion? With the help of Dietician Dr. Dharini Krishnan, let’s discuss a few ingredients in your diet that can make digestions simpler for you. She guided to the list of beneficial food items. 

Amla: Ii is used in various ways in India. For example – as a pickle, in dried form, as powder and in masala etc. Apart from being a very good antioxidant because of the rich Vitamin C content it also has benefits in managing blood sugar levels and helps in management of respiratory diseases and also it helps in the digestion of foods.

Cumin and Pepper: Both help in digestion, as cumin water or cumin and pepper rasam are commonly used. Both pepper and cumin are also added to food preparations to help in digestion. Both are part of the spices used in Indian homes as it has many benefits which maintains a good digestive system. 

Cardamom: It contains chemicals that might treat intestinal spasms, kill some bacteria, reduce swelling, and help the immune system. We use cardamom in desserts. In summer, we can make a cool drink with jaggery, cardamom and lime juice. It is full of antioxidants and helps beat the heat which can also affect digestion. 

Ajwain: A component called thymol in ajwain seeds acts as a strong fungicide and germicide. For a choked gastrointestinal system, the best medicine is a combination of betel leaf with ajwain. About two hours after having the combo, the digestion will kick start and give immediate relief. 

Dr. Dharini believes once we digest our food properly then we can get the benefits of the nutrients present in them. She even suggested some relieving tactics like : 

  • For prevention of acidity, one can take raw ash gourd juice for 10 days in the morning on empty stomach. 
  • Problem of Gas formation and heavy feeling in the stomach can be prevented by using a combination of ginger, cumin and pepper. 
  • Constipation can be prevented by taking a lot of fibre in the diet such as guava, papaya, banana stem and a lot of warm water in the morning.
  • Frequent liquid stools can be handled easily using neem flowers which are fried in ghee in a low fire and added to warm rice and taken. 

What not to eat as per Ayurveda ? 

This list can be endless and full of ‘conditions apply’. As already discussed, the various doshas come in the way of decision making. Also, diet has choice references and limitations. Ayurveda mentions many food combinations which are to be avoided. Reason behind this avoidance is the dosha vitiation they cause. We have already discussed the doshas in detail. Now, wrong food combinations can be responsible for the imbalance of the doshas. Dr. Vikram explains it with the help of some examples – “Guna virudha (opposite in properties), eg. Combination of Fish with milk, Kalvirudha (opposite due to seasons), eg. Intake of cold and dry food items in winters, Matravirudha (opposite to proportion), eg. Equal quantity of ghee and honey and many others are also present which are to be avoided as they are harmful for body”. 

In the end, key two good health which we all know but forget to follow. 

सर्वमन्यम परित्यज्य शरीरमनुपालिये। 

तदभावे हि भावनाम सर्वाभावः शरीरिणाम।। (च नि ६/७) 

According to Ayurveda Acharyas, one should take care of his body by neglecting all other things because if body is not healthy then nothing is existing. 

Science journalist | Anchoring & Conceptualising Science Infotainment Shows for Vigyan Prasar, Doordarshan & All India Radio | Indie Writer & Filmmaker | GOI Projects | Sci-Expert @ CIET, NCERT | 16 yr Experience

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