Healthy habits in Ayurveda 5
While discussing with Rishi Punarvasu the author of ” Charaka Samhita”, some vaidyas raised the question “Koruka?” meaning “who does not fall ill?”. Somebody said “One who eats chyavanprash every morning.” Another said, “One who takes lavan bhaskar and triphala regularly.” Eating chandravati every day was described by another as the source of health. Finally the fundamental principle of natural maintenance of good health was expressed by Vagbhat as “Hitbhuka, Mitbhuka, Ritbhuka “.
Hitbhuka means eat that which is nourishing for your health and do not eat merely for taste.
Mitbhuka means eat moderately only that much which is essential for sustenance of the vitality and stamina of the body.
Ritbhuka means eat that which is earned and prepared by righteous means and also what is suitable in a particular season.
We all might have heard these in one form or the other at some time but how many people really pay attention to these? In view of the life style adopted by most of us today and considering the growing pollution in the gross and the subtle environment, we ought to be more careful about healthy food.
1. Shuka Grain (Cereals): Wheat, rice, barley, maize, millet, corn etc, are principal ingredients of Ayurvedic cooking. The cereals are natural sources of nourishment for human body. Carbohydrates are their major constituents. They also contain about 6 to 12 % proteins. The presence of minerals and vitamins is, however, nominal in the cereals; only vitamin B is found in greater quantity in their outer sheath. The shelf life of these cereals ranges between one to two years after harvesting.
2. Shami Grains (Pulses and Legumes): This category of grains consists of grams and pulses, which are rich in proteins. Mung, kidney beans, red and yellow gram and lentil, black-gram, soybean seeds, pigeon peas, etc. fall in this category. These are main source of proteins for vegetarians. The protein contents and mode of metabolism of these are healthier and more compatible with the metabolic functioning of the human body as compared to those in the non-vegetarian foods (meat, chicken, eggs etc).
3. Kandamula (Tubers and Roots): Sweet potato, carrot, beetroot, turnip, radish, etc are members of this class of naturally healthy foods. They are rich in carbohydrates and are important sources of balanced calories in our bodies and activation of metabolism. These, if eaten in appropriate quantities, are good means of strength and energy in the body system. The rishis of the ancient times used to take only kandamula as their main food. The term phalahara for the food prescribed during fasts refers to these only.
4. Phala (Fruits): As we all know, vitamins, minerals, natural glucose and carbohydrates are present in substantial proportions in fresh fruits. Amalki, apple, banana, dates, figs, grapes, guava, mango, orange, pomegranate, papaya, lime, etc are easily available fruits in almost all parts of the world. According to Ayurveda, these fruits also have medicinal properties. Fruits like apricot, cherry, pineapple, strawberry; etc… could also be used when available. Fruits should be eaten in their specific season and should be naturally ripe. Over ripe or rotten fruits are harmful. Unripe fruits would be difficult to digest and will not have the desired natural qualities. Care should be taken to avoid eating fruits preserved in cold storage as most fruits are that you buy in grocery stores today and also those ripened through the use of chemicals like carbide. These have severe negative effects and frequent use of such unnaturally ripened fruits can cause dreaded diseases like cancer. (Think about this the next time you think juicing is healthy)
5. Shakas (Vegetables): Fresh vegetables are important ingredients of a healthy food. They provide us with essential vitamins, minerals and compounds. Use of different types of green beans, bitter gourd, brinjal, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, long gourd or opo squash, okra or bhindi, tomato, etc… is very good for health. The use of fruits, specific vegetables should also be consumed only in the specific season of their natural growth. Use of vegetables of one season in another season is prohibited in Ayurveda. This is proving difficult in modern times when everything is available all year around and the understanding of seasonal foods is lost.
6. Harit (Greens Leafy Vegetables): Coriander, fenugreek, green peas, mint, daikon radish leaf, spinach, etc… should be part of a healthy diet.
7. Shuska Phala Va Tilahan (Dry Fruits and Oil Seeds): Almond, cashew nut, chestnut, coconut, groundnut, peanut, pistachio, etc… The oils inside these provide natural lubricants and fats necessary for the body’s mechanical and other functions. The edible, oily-seeds of sesame, mustard, etc.. also serve this purpose.
8. Ikshu (Glucose rich substances): Molasses, sugarcane, sugar, treacle, and other glucose rich substances fall in this category. These are often used to sweeten the drinks and eatables.
9. Ambu (Watery or juicy substances): This category includes all edible substances that are rich in water content. Major part of our body-system is filled with water. We should fulfill the consistent requirement of its supply by drinking substantial amount of water.
10. Goras (Milk-products): Milk, curd, buttermilk, paneer, etc fall in this group. Pure milk especially that of cow and buttermilk are described as “divine” food or best source of nourishment for sadhakas. Many people observe kalpa, long-term fasting, only with the intake of milk or buttermilk. Milk, especially cow-milk, is said to be a whole food in itself. Curd is also nourishing food with several medicinal qualities, if taken fresh and in appropriate quantities in different seasons as per one’s prakrati, as well as mixed with its appropriate additions for digestibility. Fresh paneer if not fried is wholesome sources of calories. Buttermilk AKA takra, is referred in Ayurveda as an important medicinal food. Condensed milk and milk powder might be easy to preserve and use, and may help in making delicious dishes, but these are harmful to health, particularly in the lazy life style we have adopted and because of the chemical synthesis processes used in their preparation. Use of condensed milk and milk powder or dairy whiteners should therefore be avoided as far as possible. Dairy whiteners have been proven to cause cancer. In view of the reports of adulteration of milk by mixing urea and other chemicals, processing, etc, these days, we should be careful in verifying and ascertaining that milk and its products are free from toxicity.
11. Sneha (Oils and Fats): Butter, ghee, edible oils and fatty substances, if taken in balanced amounts, are also part of a healthy diet. These help in fulfilling the requirements of lubrication of body parts especially joints. However, excess use of these substances is harmful to both physical and mental health. Extra care should therefore be taken to keep the level of proportion of this category to the proper amounts.
12. Krattana Va Yaugika (Cooked Food and Edible Compounds): Cooked food is a separate class of food. All the categories described above are independent of each other. Most of the constituents of these could be consumed raw. Cooking changes the natural properties of food ingredients. Proper cooking (esp. of cereals and pulses) is important because it makes the food easily digestible and many of the new edible compounds produced under this process would also be of vital use in the metabolic system and other body functions. Cooked food could consist of members of more than one of the above classes and help giving new combined positive effects. The concept of cooking as referred in Ayurveda is quite different from what it is from what we think. Cooking today is mostly aimed to make the food more delicious. Different experiments are tried out by chefs in this regard and new dishes and new recipes are derived. This is not to be confused with what is healthy.
Deep fried food, varieties of spices and arbitrary combination of foods of non-compatible natural qualities are harmful to our health. We don’t normally think of this as long as the food is palatable. The use of precooked foods and fast foods should be avoided, as it has very adverse effects on our body-system. This type of modern food is will impair the normal functioning of our digestive system and cause harmful mutations due to the chemicals in the preservatives, the artificial flavors and the chemically processed cooking involved in its preparation. Besides, it just isn’t fresh.
What, how much and when to eat?
What to eat? The principle of “Hitbhuka and Ritbhuka” conveys us that we should always eat properly earned, pure, seasonal and nourishing food. A balanced combination depending upon the physical and mental labor required in one’s daily routine from those categories of healthy foods would be best suited. For example, you may use wheat, barley, corn, and some pulses, curd, butter, peanuts, oilseeds, etc, in appropriate quantities with larger amounts of green, leafy and other vegetables. Don’t eat overcooked or undercooked foods; use of spices, salts, sugars and oily substances should be used in their moderate amounts. Desist consuming toxic substances, stimulating and alcoholic drinks, and non-vegetarian foods.
How much to eat? “Mitashi Syata”. Meaning, eat moderately. No matter how nourishing or healthy the food may be, it would cause harm if eaten in excess. Watch the quantity of your diet. Don’t fill your stomach more than half its space, leave one-fourth for water and the remaining one-fourth for air. Lots of people eat fast. Not only does this stop the food from digesting properly due to lack of mastication, it is a subconscious way to try to eat more. If you eat slower and chew more you will find you will eat way less food.
When to eat? As per the vedic routine, one should eat only twice a day after performing agnihotra in the morning and then in the evening before sunset. Be regular in the timings of taking your meals; avoid eating late in the night. One of the major causes of metabolic disorders and varieties of diseases is that people keep watching TV and eating very late in the night. Eat only when you feel hungry. Eating is a kind of agnihotra. The ahutis are made in agnihotra only when its fire is lit well; putting the ahutis in half burning wood would only produce smoke instead of healthy effects of agnihotra.
Why to eat? Eat to maintain and strengthen the health and vigor of your body. Healthy mind resides in a healthy body. Diseased mind resides in a diseased body. There is no separation. The purpose of food is to sustain healthy and harmonious functioning of the body system, the physical medium of our life. Food is not meant to satiate the greed of our tongue or stomach.
How to eat? Take your food gracefully in a calm state of mind, paying full attention to eating. Every morsel should be chewed properly. Food should be revered like the prasada, the offerings made to the Deity. Water should be taken a little before and after the meals. Water is like nectar for our vital functions. This helps in proper digestion. Cold ice water will stop digestion. Never drink ice water.