“You are what you eat”. I’m sure this is not the first time you are hearing this. According to Ayurveda (the Ancient science of healthy living), food plays a critical role in both keeping us at ease or in taking us towards disease! An ounce of prevention as well as a pound of cure (courtesy Ben Franklin!) can both come from food. Intrigued? Read on for the four basic guidelines.
One of the simplest guidelines from Ayurveda is to eat with awareness. One might ask, isn’t food simply a package of carbohydrate, protein and fat and if so, what difference does it make if we eat with awareness or not. Turns out eating, much like sex, is a mind-body experience. The sight, aroma, texture and taste of food play a role in setting the stage for effective digestion, e.g. releasing the digestive enzymes, initiating intestinal motility and optimal absorption etc. You earned your lunch, so why not sit down and enjoy with full awareness!
Liquid Intake : When and What
The second guideline has to do with water and beverage consumption. In Ayurveda, the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and space) take great significance in maintaining our health. The digestive power is thought of as ‘fire’ (agni). For optimal digestion and assimilation of food, this fire needs to be nurtured, e.g. some physical activity leading up to each meal to stoke this fire, timing of meal to coincide with the peak of this fire etc. It is therefore best to drink beverages and in particular, ice-cold beverages, at least an hour before or an hour after a meal. A more physiological explanation for this guideline could be that water taken during or immediately adjacent to a meal would dilute the digestive enzymes and compromise the process. Hold that cola!
High Prana Foods
Fruits anyone? Fresh fruits and vegetables are a great source of ‘prana’ (life force energy, also referred to as ‘chi’ in the Chinese tradition). The good news with fruits (most of them anyway) is that they are easily digested, think apple, banana, melon etc. The not so good news, according to Ayurveda, is that when fruits are forced to stay in our stomach and intestine longer than needed, they tend to sour, which in turn can lead to flatulence and dyspepsia. So fruits are best eaten before meals, say an hour before. This is particularly important for citrus fruits as they can sour readily. Snack on your fruits in the early afternoon and feel the burst of prana!
The 80s and 90s saw the vilification of fats and more recently it is the turn of carbs to earn the scorn of diet experts. Ayurveda has a thing or two to say about carbs. First, the use of only whole grains – the idea of refining or messing with carbs didn’t even cross the mind of the saints who propounded Ayurveda! Second, carbs are best consumed with a small amount of fat, e.g. rice or bread eaten with a dollop of butter or ghee (clarified butter). We now find support for this in modern medicine, which has brought glycemic index to the forefront –glycemic index refers to the rate at which glucose, which is derived from carbohydrates, is released from food. The glycemic index is lowered when the carbs are mixed with a bit of fat (which is the basis for some to suggest that a donut is actually better than a bagel but I wont go there. Go ahead, indulge a bit by dabbing a bit of local butter on your whole wheat toast!
Guidelines have to be practical and for them to be practical, i.e., to be practiced on a regular basis, there has to be a benefit that one can feel within a few days. Give these guidelines a try and tell me if they are practical for YOU!
Image courtesy: waahtv.com