5 Pillars Of An Ayurvedic Diet

The ancient Ayurvedic diet plan stands in complete contrast to modern science today.  Yet, it is not Ayurveda, but food science & food engineering that is in constant flux. From coffee to chocolate, health blogs & even newspapers publish studies on a daily basis that contradict each other. From cigarette to cancer, the links are pretty established though. So why isn’t this woman dying? “Woman aged 112 says her secret to long life is smoking 30 cigarettes a day”[1]

1. The Doshas (prakriti)

Every human is unique. Both DNA & the Doshas are unique to each individual and is determined by the individual’s parents. Unlike DNA, parents are just one of the factors in determining the dosha of their offspring. The other factors are the age of mother at the time of conception, the season at conception, the mother’s diet during pregnancy and so on. The other dissimilarity is what makes the Ayurvedic diet unique. Although the combination of doshas decide your unique prakruti, Ayurveda still slots you in one of the 7 prakritis; vata, pitta, kapha or a combination of the three. To know your prakruti, download this PDF (courtesy ayurveda.com). It is recommended that you fill up this questionnaire along with your partner or your best friend. They can answer some of the questions better that you can. For answers that you don’t agree on, create a separate sheet. Repeat the test for your partner. Is one of you predominantly a vata?  Go back to the conflicting sheets. The answer of the vata person has resulted in your current prakruti or an imbalance (vikruti). The other answer is your long term constitution. I’m assuming is partner knows you well over a period of a couple of years atleast and not someone you met at the pub yesterday!

If you are a Vata & swear by salads as a health food, you are out of luck. Raw veggies are bad for your health! Similarly, if you are a Pitta and religiously eat your almonds & walnuts, you will notice that you develop a insatiable thirst. These warning signs need to be deciphered in time before they aggravate to diarrhea and loose motions.  It’s not enough to eat healthy. Eat what is right for your body type. There are enough resources on the internet that provide a diet chart for each of the tridoshas. Ensure that you keep the rest of the 3 parameters in mind while deciding what to eat.

2. The Tastes (rasa)

There are a total of six tastes according to Ayurveda;

Sweet (Madhura)
Sour (Amla)
Salty (Lavana)
Pungent (Katu)
Bitter (Tikta)
Astringent (Kashaya)

An idea meal should have all the six tastes. The Puranas have reference to meals fit for the Gods because it had all the six tastes. The right balance of the tastes depends on your prakruti. Sounds cool? Well, not so fast! What does Amla or Indian Gooseberry taste like? The answer is right there in the list of tastes, sour. Well, it does taste sour, but Ayurveda is thorough with everything, including tastes. So Amla also happens to be madhura (sweet), kashaya (astringent), katu (pungent) and tikta(bitter). Amla & sweet? Am I talking about the murabba or the sweet pickle? No, I’m talking about the greenish yellow fruit that’s make your eyes twitch when you bite into one. The initial sour taste is so overpowering that you fail to register the other tastes. Bite into one again and try to register the tastes in your brain. Ayurveda wants you do this every time you eat something. Be one with the food, chew it slowly and enjoy every rasa! To continue our little quiz, what taste is rice? But rice has no taste, which is why we mix dal or curd or rasam with it. Chew some plain rice slowly and try to notice the slight sweet taste in it. To develop your newly acquired skill further, try it out on a full traditional Indian thali. Once you crack it, consider yourself a pro.  In every meal, start with the sweet taste and follow it up with sour, salt, pungent, bitter and finally astringent.

3. The Variety

What should I cook for dinner today? This difficult questions haunts us multiple times everyday. Depends on what ingredients are handy in the kitchen or what is available in the market.  People who are trying to escape this question swear by a food substitute invented in 2013 by Rob Rhinehart. He calls it Soylent [2] His customers drink it for breakfast, lunch & dinner, saving on time and stress related to deciding on healthy food to eat. Ayurveda belongs to the opposite school of thought. Only eight food items are prescribed for daily intake & one of them happens to be (rain) water.

Shashtika Sali (Njavara/Navara Rice), Mudga (Green gram/Moong), Amalaki (Indian gooseberry/Amla), rock salt (Sendha Namak), rain water, ghee (Clarified Butter), Jangalamamsa (meat of animals in arid habitat, eg. peacock*, goat, chicken, etc) and honey are wholesome and can be taken regularly – Acharya Charaka

For Shastika rice, I found a brown rice variety being sold under that name [3], but am not yet sure if it’s the same rice that Charaka says has medicinal properties. Don’t assume rain water is the same as R.O water. Rain water is rich in minerals and a pH value between 6 & 7.5 [4], while RO water is highly acidic [5] & not fit for daily consumption.

Apart from these 8 items, it is not recommended to repeat any food on a daily basis for a prolonged period. It is said that variety is the spice of life. Even after adjusting for your prakruti, the list of foods that you can consume is so long that you can unique meals for a month without any repetition. This also ensures that even if you make a few wrong choices or fall to a few temptations, you will still do fine.

 

4. The Timings

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It jump starts your metabolism, keeps you healthy and helps you manage your weight. Ayurveda, again, has the opposite viewpoint. Breakfast is the least important meal of the day. You should eat small portions at breakfast and even skip it if you are not hungry (skipping breakfast is not recommended for vata people). As far as the metabolism is concerned, the Yogic lifestyle of starting the day with Pranayama does the trick.

“Eat With The Sun” is Ayurveda’s mantra.  Match your food intake with the sun’s intensity. This means a light breakfast, a heavy lunch and again a light dinner.

If this seems too much of a hassle, at least stick to a daily schedule & try to modify your daily routine to be as close to sunrise and sunset times as possible. Give a gap of three hours or more between meals.

5. Mix n Match

How do you get all the recommended six tastes on your plate? The Indian thali achieves this feat effortlessly. Vegetables, dal, roti, rice, it has all the possible tastes. However, Ayurveda also has a list of foods that are incompatible with each other. Eating a pair of incompatibles in a single meal can cause indigestion and leave you with an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach. Eating the same pair of incompatibles over a period of 4-5 years causes chronic diseases. Love your milk shake? Well, I have bad news for you; milk and fruits are a pair of incompatibles, especially milk & banana. Squeeze some lemon on your salad? Lemon is incompatible with cucumber, tomato & yogurt.

If this sounds too daunting for you to follow, I have some consolation. Eating a pair of incompatibles once in a blue moon does not cause much damage. These pairs can cause serious damage if you eat the same food day in day out. For example, if you start your day with a banana shake and have been doing it for five years, you’ll need to visit a vaidya immediately. If you follow my advice in the “Variety” section above, you’ll do just fine even without keeping a tab on what you mix n match. Here’s the complete List of Incompatible Pairs courtesy Ayurveda.com

 

[1] https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/woman-aged-112-says-secret-7246844

[2] https://www.soylent.com/about/

[3] https://www.amazon.in/dp/B06XSH5WMZ/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_dp_ss_2?pf_rd_p=cd818f9c-142a-4b42-ad2c-f0421857aaf5&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B01J1IEEIA&pf_rd_m=A1VBAL9TL5WCBF&pf_rd_r=GECFS3PRAVC576T2AH0H&pf_rd_r=GECFS3PRAVC576T2AH0H&pf_rd_p=cd818f9c-142a-4b42-ad2c-f0421857aaf5

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18196188

[5] http://www.sughosh.com/say-no-to-r-o-filters-and-bottled-water/

*This blog does not promote the consumption of peacock meat in India & would like to inform its readers that killing peacocks is forbidden under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Cover photo courtesy Shankar S https://www.flickr.com/photos/shankaronline/7637670804

About aryap

Student of Ayurveda, Master of Raj Yoga, Reading Purnas & Upanishadas, Charaka Samhita & the History of Ancient & Medieval India to reconstruct the principles of Ayurveda. A big thanks to Dr. Manohar Gundeti for his guidance & support

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8 Comments on “5 Pillars Of An Ayurvedic Diet”

  1. Highly appreciated this post! Yes, there are so many confusing conclusions out there and our choices lost in so much research. Your post highlights valuable perspectives on how to claim back our well being by aligning with nature and our constitution.

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