Ayurveda teaches that cooking is an extension of the gross digestive process carried out in the stomach and intestines and of the more subtle digestions of the liver and the cells throughout the body. Cooking is a crucial part of the process of transforming food molecules into the elements of tissues like muscle and bone. The most important consideration about nutrients from the perspective of Ayurveda is that nutrition is the end result of a series of activities . . . digestion, absorption and assimilation. Food is the source of life and digestion is the root of all health; it nourishes, maintains, and cures. Ayurveda holds that we are what we eat--literally.
- Cleanse foods carefully prior to cooking.
- Serve meals while warm and freshly prepared. Cooked foods are considered “leftover” after 5 hours except for kitcheri which may be eaten within hours. The problem with leftovers as well as with canned and frozen foods is that prana or vitality is gone.
- Vegetables should be cooked until they are just tender. Occasionally, certain conditions of a person’s digestive process might suggest that food be cooked until it can be made into a puree.
- It is highly recommended that cooked and uncooked foods not be combined in a single meal.
- Honey may be used in its uncooked form and applied to cooked foods. Honey becomes poisonous when cooked.
- Ayurveda prefers to avoid certain food combinations the most common of which are combining milk with fish and citrus fruits with whole grains, especially whole wheat. Cooks can easily make themselves familiar with food combining.
- Choose the manner of cooking which best suits your culinary goals. For example, boiling makes food more vata balancing. Baking makes it more kapha balancing. Stir frying (sautéing) balances vata and if ghee is used, pitta is also balanced. Steaming helps balance pitta and kapha. Roasting to the point of charring is considered carcinogenic even though this method may reduce fats.
FOOD SELECTION GUIDELINES:
General guidelines for choosing edible and healthy foods according to Ayurvedic practice are simple enough. Oversimplified – yet useful for conceptualizing – is the idea of eating local, eating in season and eating fresh out of the ground. It is an ideal, of course, which can be scarcely achieved in everyday practice (without a garden and fruit trees) yet it represented a way of life in the culture which gave birth to Ayurvedic concepts of health and wellness.
Today we can set out general guidelines which honor the principles of Ayurveda as it was originally conceptualized, yet which speak to modern circumstances. Consider the following:
- Choose organic over non-organically grown foods.
- Choose freshly picked, vine-ripened foods whenever possible.
- Favor foods grown in your local area as they will have more specific usable food value.
- Choose foods for a meal which favor a single taste, e.g., sweet or pungent or astringent. This simplicity results in much better digestion.
- Favor foods which are dosha specific to your constitution.
- Choose either cooked or uncooked (raw) foods for any meal. Your digestive system will appreciate not combining cooked and raw in a single meal.
- Choose only fresh foods. Avoid leftovers, canned or frozen foods . . .or, use them as little as possible.
- Favor meals which are warm and freshly prepared.
- Choose optimum food combinations. Said another way . . . avoid unhealthful combining such as milk with fish, whole grains with citrus fruits, etc.
MEAL PLANNING GUIDELINES:
A notable element in maintaining a more-or-less Ayurvedic kitchen is the amount of time which must be spent in meal preparation. This is especially true if a household contains a disparity of doshic types. Variety of doshas presents a real challenge to the cook, although with practice variety can be managed – it can even provide interest and inspiration. Crock pots are useful tools in the meal preparation and management process as is a wok (which facilitates stir frying).
Microwave ovens, on the other hand, are not encouraged. Following research in the Soviet Union which led to microwaves being banned, Vaidyas have stated that the basic prana or energy of foods is disturbed in microwave cooking. For this reason using the microwave is not advised for cooking or reheating, if possible. Also, since raw foods tend to increase vata and are difficult to digest, they need to be cooked. Cooking with flame is preferred because it avoids introducing harmful electromagnetic field effects.
The cook prepares dishes that have the effect of balancing one dosha for each eater. Each person may take foods which do not balance the dominant dosha when they are taken in smaller amounts or less frequently. Condiments are used at the table to modify effects. Thus, each person adds to the cooked foods on her plate those spices and sauces which are balancing to her body type. And since the different body types tend to different qualities of digestion, these differences can be addressed by providing appetizers or digestives to be taken before, during, or after a meal. Fresh ginger slice with lime juice and salt might work for a kapha person. Cumin-coriander-fennel tea might favor a pitta person and a vata person might favor lassi (yogurt and water mixed), and so on. Ayurvedic meals, although much more rule-bound than Western meals, are always a taste treat and visual delight.
· Eat only if hungry. Skip a meal rather than eat with incompletely digested food still in the stomach. Eating would produce toxic materials, ama, which degrades physiology and health.
· No snacking—this introduces confusion in the nervous system about the timing of secretions and other digestive activities. The nervous system likes regularity.
· Eat at regular times in order to culture regular functioning of the nervous system.
· Eat the biggest meal at noontime to take advantage of the body’s greatest digestive capacity.
· No food within 3 hours of bed time. Food in the stomach interferes with sleep, which affects digestion.
· Avoid eating foods having opposite energy (virya) for example, milk and fish.
· Thoughts, emotions, frustrations, much like material things are energies, which influence the quality and action of food, therefore never criticize food while preparing or eating it.
· Eliminate bowels and bladder before eating.
· Remove shoes before eating--releasing pressure on the nerves here promotes better digestion.
· Pray before eating. This calms the mind and body and gives direction for use of the food.
· Always eat only while sitting--this means eating while sitting and driving is out.
· If possible, sit in a cross-legged fashion on the floor.
· Eat in a settled atmosphere to promote parasympathetic nervous system functioning.
· Eat with awareness--recognize and enjoy the tastes, the appearance, the smell, the textures, and even the sounds, if any. This produces emotional satisfaction and balance.
· Don’t read or watch television while eating--focus on the meal. This improves digestion through awareness.
· Don’t talk unnecessarily while eating and not at all when food is in the mouth.
· During the meal soft, gentle, healing music is OK to listen to (Gandharva music is best).
· Eat with your cleaned fingers--prana circulates and goes into the food with touch.
· Eat without attachment or aversion.
· Bring all items to the table necessary for the meal—to avoid getting up and so on.
· Eat warm, cooked food rather than cold food or drink whenever possible.
· Avoid all ice-cold food or drink--the digestive process slows in a cold environment and this strains the digestive process.
· Sip hot water (with lemon or lime) during the meal to aid digestion. Avoid drinking lots of fluids with meals as the digestive juices are diluted and the stomach has to work harder.
· Eat about that amount of food which would fit into the hands when they are cupped together. Others say to eat approximately 1/3 stomach in solid foods, 1/3 liquids, and 1/3 for air (vata, pitta, kapha).
· There is no concept of desert in Ayurveda. Sweets, however, should be taken first (if taken at all), because they are hard to digest and they have the affect of reducing appetite and the possibility of overeating. [Khir is vikrti of milk (increase in stage of development/evolution) and is easy to digest.].
· Eat slowly--this means chew the food well. Some Vaidyas say this means chewing 32 times for each bite. Research suggests that the incidence of stomach cancer is related to not chewing food properly. Salivary amylase, a digestive secretion in the saliva, begins digesting carbohydrates while in the mouth and the longer food stays there the more complete this activity can be.
· Fast on a liquid diet one day or more per week—the same day of the week is best. This gives the digestive and eliminative systems opportunity to rest and clean.
· Always eat only fresh food--no leftovers, no canned food, no frozen food, these are hard to digest and lack the vitality of fresh foods.
· Brush teeth after eating--traditionally in Ayurveda a neem stick is used for this purpose.
· Lie on the left side after eating for about ten minutes. Digestion is improved with this action.
· Take a short walk of 100 steps after the meal.
· Avoid strenuous exercise within 2 hours of eating.
· Never waste food.
· Whenever possible, don’t eat alone—this means that sharing food with others is sacred and beneficial.
· Have a clean, well-equipped kitchen--this means utensils and condiments are important.
· Use glass pots for cooking whenever possible; stainless steel, copper, and cast iron may be OK, too; avoid use of non-stick surfaced utensils.
· Avoid too much raw foods, undercooked, overcooked foods.
· Prefer organic foods, fresh, locally grown foods.
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