Ayurveda nutrition and digestion
- Of all the factors that are responsible for the growth and development of the human body, diet is the most important. (Ch. Sh S. 6/12)
Foods and all substances have different qualities just like how you could give qualities to substances with your sense of touch. Soft, rough, dry, wet, etc., etc., etc.,. There are a myriad of textures and qualities you could give to different substances. Ayurveda sees these qualities and their effects on your body and on your mind. In Ayurveda they are not just qualities but they are also linked to the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and either. Those as well have their qualities. They are also linked to the six tastes: sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter, and astringent. All of this will be explained as we go further.
Let’s take a food substance like urad dahl. It is a bean, a pulse, a black lentil, also called black gram, masha or its latin name is Vigna Mungo. It is black and looks exactly like mung, which is green. Urad is very heavy and hard to digest. It is known as poor man’s meat. It would put weight on you as well as build your immunity. The problem is that now with that information that it will build your immunity and build strength, the western world will start to take it any time, anywhere, and as we do it in the West…… in excessive quantity. Without any proper understanding of the body, we throw things into it because are sold on the higher the nutritional content, the new “superfoods”, the better it is for us. Not true. If you use to much of it to quickly and hamper the digestion and just turn to undigested toxicity within the system, even the most so called healthy foods are no more than a toxic mess to the body if the digestive fire cannot digest it properly. This is just one more food that would be added to the list of stuff that “they” would find you allergic to if this were to happen.
Lets look at this deeper. Qualities and quantity is what the whole digestive health game is mostly about. Although there is a ton more detail below that. Light quality is easy to digest. When you put an action into a substance like toasting it, cooking it in a light way those actions create more qualities on that substance making it lighter. Eating light foods detoxifies the body. Heavy hard to digest foods puts weight on and also builds the immunity. Like increases like. The digestion needs to be able to handle it or the food just turns into undigested toxins. So we cook it well to do this. The same actions will make heavy and hard t digest foods easier and lighter for digestion. Mung beans are light, urad is heavy. yet they look pretty much the same except for color to the uneducated eye. All foods are like this. it is in those details that health can be had.
Once you get the hang of this it becomes pretty easy. The challenging part is trying to understand what foods are heavy and what is light and why.
Earth and water elements go downward. If you were to take a handful of sand and drop it, it would fall to the earth. Same with a cup of water, if you were to dump it out, it would fall to the ground, splash and come to rest on the ground. They are heavy. Meanwhile, a candle flame is always moving upwards. You can even turn the candle to the side and the flame moves up. It is light. In more than one way. Air element is light just in its being air but if yu were to sit still for a moment can you feel a breeze? Air is light and moves. Either is just space. It is everywhere. it is a container for everything. The chair you are sitting on takes up space. Although it is made of other elements it has space to it. These are the elements that also impart qualities to your foods. From this you can see that foods with lots of earth element are hard to digest but anabolic or building to the tissues as well as the immunity. The opposite is correct as well. Lighter qualities create detoxification.
- Guru-laghu (heavy, light)
- Mridu-kathina (soft, hard)
- Shita-ushna (cold, hot)
- Vishada-picchila (clear, unctuous)
- Snigdha-Ruksha (oily, dry)
- Sthira-sara (firm, moving)
- Shlaksna-khara (smooth, rough)
- Manda-teekshna (slow, piercing)
- Sukshma-sthula (subtle, gross)
- Sandra-Drava (viscous, liquid) (Ch. SS. 25/36)
- Heavy: Heavy foods include bread, pasta, cheese, and yogurt.
- Light: Light foods include millet, buckwheat, rye, barley, corn, spinach, lettuce, pears and apples.
- Oily: Oily foods include dairy products, meat, fatty foods, and cooking oils.
- Dry: Dry foods include beans, potatoes, barley, and corn.
- Hot: The hot quality describes hot beverages and warm, cooked foods.
- Cold: The cold quality describes cold beverages and raw foods.
(Eating raw foods is difficult for the body to digest because raw foods are cold, uncooked and too fibrous to digest. It is not detoxifying this way.)
The other piece of this is that foods dont just have one quality, they may have many. Take yogurt for example. It is obviously heavy. but it is also slimy. It is clogging to the body. If you don’t believe that just have some yogurt before you go to sleep and see if you don’t wake up with congestion or even a full blown cold.
It is sour in taste which has its qualities and effects on the tissues which we will describe soon…….. but there is more……….. if yogurt is fresh it is very slimy like snot. Most all store bought yogurt is hard and fixed in the shape of the container. This is because of its age. It is old. Fresh yogurt has a sweetness to it and is pretty viscous whereas old yogurt has a deep sourness to it and is more solid. Each of these will have different effects on the body and tissues as it is consumed So you see now we have thrown another parameter into the mix. Time. What is its effect? It dries and changes qualities as well.
These elements also when combined in different ways make up the six tastes and there is an order to eating as to how the digestion works on the 6 tastes/foods as well.
The six tastes and generally there effects are:
Sweet starts digestion (1st part of digestion in mouth and stomach) and is the heaviest. If it was to be eaten last it is most likely not to be digested and turned into toxins
Sour really gets the digestion going as it has fire element. It is the next step in digestion and is good for the heart. The next three are also connected to the digestive juices and salts that are secreted by the gall and that area of digestion. (small intestines)
Salt opens the channels and is the hottest substance so it really gets the digestion even more fired up.
Pungent more of the same.
Bitter is connected to the cleansing and clearing when the food has been moved further into the large intestine and
Astringent makes the colon work with pulling out the water from the chime and making the stool solid.
Rule for order of rasas while eating:
- Sweet taste should be consumed first
- Sour and salty tastes should be consumed in the middle
- Pungent bitter and astringent tastes should be taken at the end.
(Su. SS. 46/466)
Now knowing what foods have what tastes/qualities is the place to be listening and learning. All of this balanced with understanding the seasonal changes.
Rule for optimum serving:
- According to one’s digestive fire
- Conducive to one’s body type according to constitution
- That which gets digested in time
(Ch. SS. 5/1-4)
There is more to learn…………………………
Properties of diet are dependant on 8 factors (ashtvidh aahaar ayatan) namely:
– Prakruti (Natural Qualities)
– Karan (Preparation)
– Sanyog (Combination)
– Raashi (Quantity)
– Desh (Habitat)
– Kaal (Time)
– Upyog sanstha (Rules of use)
– Upyokta (User) (Ch. VS. 1/21-22)