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About the Author
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Food as Medicine
Ayurveda completely transformed my relationship with food. When I was a teenager, I used food like a drug, numbing my mind and heart from all that felt out of control in my life. I used to starve myself for long periods of time, thinking that I was somehow gaining greater self-mastery. In actuality, my body was wasting away from a potentially deadly psychiatric disorder: anorexia. I was also suffering from other conditions, such as anxiety, insomnia, excessive fear, and acne.
When I began eating at Vedika Global, however, I felt much better physically and mentally. Eating according to Ayurveda empowered me to overcome all of my physical health challenges within just a few months. Over a longer period of time, this led directly to healing my mind and, ultimately, to transforming my spiritual consciousness (a beautiful continual process).
Now, when people approach me to learn how to experience more wellbeing in life, I always tell them it starts with food. Along with sleep and balanced sexuality, food is one of the three sub-pillars (upastambhas) of health — and the most important.
The ancient spiritual text Chandogya Upanishad emphasizes the purity of food and its ability to heal our body and mind. In Ayurveda's understanding of purity, undigested food becomes toxicity in our body, called ama or aam in Sanskrit. Ama is a causative factor in physical and even mental diseases. Hence, food is healing only to the extent we can actually digest it, and thereby convert it into nutrients our body can utilize to create good health. We are not only what we eat, but what we digest. Thus, we want to keep our bodies free of toxins.
When we eat a pure and wholesome diet, we can experience perfect digestion. Our mind, intellect, and ego are able to start to become purified, too. We begin to experience a calmer, clearer mind. And only with a calm, pure mind can we actually reach for spiritual freedom (moksha), which is the ultimate goal of the science of Ayurveda.
There is a famous Ayurvedic proverb: "When diet is correct, medicine is of no need; when diet is incorrect, medicine is of no use." Hippocrates, father of modern medicine, similarly stated: "Make food thy medicine and medicine thy food."
Wishing you much health and joy as you heal your diet.
Eating according to Ayurveda's vast wisdom gives you food for your body, mind, and spirit.
BENEFITS OF EATING ACCORDING TO AYURVEDA'S WISDOM
* Mental clarity
* Beautiful voice
* Glowing complexion
* Sharp intellect and memory
* Excellent immunity
* Strong digestive power
* Physical and mental strength
PRACTICING THE AYURVEDA WAY
Throughout this book I have included experiences from students and private clients from various "Take Health Into Your Own Hands" trainings, workshops, and one- on-one health consultations I've given at conferences, universities, companies, and nonprofits. You can learn more about these Ayurveda trainings in Resources.
1 Eat warm, cooked, gently oiled foods.
This may come as a surprise, given how much salads are touted as the classic healthy food choice, but cold, raw, uncooked foods are difficult for your digestive system. Ayurveda compares your digestive capacity to a physical fire, which you extinguish whenever you consume excess cold foods.
It is best to eat warm, cooked, and oiled foods, as all of these factors help food to kindle your digestive system and travel smoothly through the digestive channels of your body. We learn in physics that heat expands, while cold contracts. Ayurveda envisions the body as possessing channels or pipe-like pathways called srota, which are responsible for transporting and circulating nutrients, and for elimination. All of these bodily channels need to stay open and unclogged for optimal health.
When you consume cold foods, you constrict your body's digestive channels, making your food sit in your system for a longer time. Warm food, on the other hand, keeps all of your channels open and flowing, serving to kindle your digestive fire, thus supporting healthy elimination. Cooking your food "pre-digests" it for you, meaning your digestive system doesn't need to work as hard.
Having the right amount of oil ensures your food can travel smoothly through your body's digestive and elimination passageways. Typically, about 1 teaspoon of oil is good, although it's beneficial to modify the amount throughout the year (see chapter 9) and according to your individual health needs. The type of oil you choose also varies throughout the year, though ghee can be safely used anytime.
Even if you can't cook your food, due to time constraints, traveling, or lack of kitchen, simply choosing warm instead of cold foods can make a huge difference in your digestion and overall health.
2 Drink water (preferably boiled water) only when you're actually thirsty.
Just as warm, cooked foods are preferred to cold, raw ones in Ayurveda, so, too, is warm, boiled water preferable to cold. Cold water, good for putting out a physical fire, also diminishes your inner digestive fire. Boiling helps lighten the quality of the water, making it easier for your body to digest. Once water has been boiled, you can drink it for the next 24 hours. Even if the water cools to room temperature, the fact that it has been boiled makes it much easier to digest (though warm, boiled water is best if you need elimination support).
This is not to say that you should chug gallons of hot water a day. Nowadays, we are conditioned to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. We are also told that if we wait to drink until we are thirsty, we'll be dehydrated. (Not surprisingly, the water bottle industry was beginning to boom just as this myth started circulating.)
Feeling thirsty isn't a sign you're already dehydrated. Ayurveda classifies thirst as one of your body's natural urges, akin to the urges of hunger, sneezing, burping, yawning, sleeping, and eliminating waste (learn more here). Just as you wouldn't want to try to force yourself to urinate when you don't feel the urge, Ayurveda says you need not force yourself to drink water to avoid feeling thirsty. Drinking way too much water can cause water intoxication (hyponatremia), in which your nerve impulses, kidneys, and brain can get seriously, and sometimes fatally, stressed.
If you're thirsty, drink boiled water until you're satisfied. Then stop. It's really that simple.
3 Embrace certain dairy products.
Dairy is shunned in certain circles. It is thought to be responsible for a number of ailments, from digestive upsets to acne. Ayurveda, however, embraces certain dairy products and suggests that it's not just what you are consuming but how you are consuming it that disturbs you. Even those who thought they were lactose intolerant (myself included) find that they can consume the dairy products Ayurveda recommends.
Ghee. Ayurveda heavily emphasizes clarified butter, or ghee — so much so that several Ayurvedic texts devote a whole chapter to it. Ghee (see recipe) is extremely beneficial to your digestive health. In the Ayurvedic text Bhavaprakash, ghee's benefits are described:
Ghee is rejuvenating, sweet in taste, good for vision, kindles digestive fire, removes poison and inauspiciousness, bestows luster, courage, beauty, good voice and memory, increases intelligence, prolongs life, gives strength, cures gas in the abdomen, fever, insanity, abdominal pain, ulcers, increases immunity, benefits herpes and diseases of the blood.
Modern research has started validating what the ancient Ayurvedic sages have known for thousands of years: ghee is tremendously good for you. It is the highest known food source of butyric acid, a beneficial fatty acid that boosts immunity, supports healthy levels of cholesterol, reduces fatty tissues, increases energy production, and regulates elimination. You can learn more in the references section.
You can cook meat and vegetables in ghee, and add warmed ghee to cooked lentils. You can also add a small spoonful of ghee to dry, light foods like popcorn and salads. Ghee helps increase digestibility without causing vata dosha (the gaseous bioforce) to build up excessively in the body as uncomfortable bloating and constipation. You may be pleasantly surprised to know that Ayurveda even recommends ghee to those seeking to lose weight and those suffering from diabetes. I would, of course, recommend less ghee to those who are trying to lose weight. You can consume ghee even if you're lactose intolerant, as the casein (dairy component) has been removed.
In Sanskrit, the word for "to oil" is sneha, which also means "to love." Like any lasting love relationship, ghee gets better the longer you have it. So make a large supply of ghee and store it for long-term use.
Warm milk. I thought I was lactose intolerant before encountering Ayurveda, but then I learned I was only unable to digest milk because I was drinking it cold and unflavored. As with food and water, Ayurveda recommends consuming milk warm so it runs smoothly through your bodily channels. See here to learn how to make warm spiced milk for a satisfying and delicious treat.
Light spiced yogurt. Regular yogurt is heavy and does not promote good digestion for most people, but when whisked with water and spices, it forms a delicious and healthy treat called takra (see recipe).
Fresh cheese. Fresh cheeses that are typically not fermented, such as paneer (a type of cheese common in Indian cuisine), goat's milk cheese, fresh mozzarella, and fresh farmer cheese are fine when eaten in smaller quantities.
PRACTICING THE AYURVEDA WAY
"When you taste ghee, you'll love it, so make it your friend because it is also very beneficial. After including ghee in most of my food, I have not only lost weight, I also lowered my diabetic and cholesterol counts, to the delight of my Western physician!" — Roopa
* 4 cups (8 sticks) unsalted organic butter
1. Place the butter in a deep pot on high heat, stirring frequently until the butter melts and starts boiling. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until the butter looks clear. You'll hear snapping, crackling, and popping sounds as the milk fat solids separate from the clarified butter. Continue cooking until the ghee is golden-colored with slightly browned solids at the bottom, 30 to 35 minutes.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the ghee to cool for about 30 minutes.
3. Strain the ghee with a fine mesh strainer, which will catch the milk-fat solids.
4. Pour the ghee into a 1-quart jar and allow it to sit without a lid until it cools completely. Store ghee in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Its medicinal properties will increase over time.
4 Mindfully part with or modify other dairy products.
Cold yogurt. Ayurveda warns against consuming yogurt straight out of the fridge. This is contrary to Western food dictums — we're told that yogurt is great for digestion and energy, due to its probiotics. Regular yogurt is heating, heavy, sticky, and sour. It clogs your bodily channels. It does not support the downward movement of bowels, which further contributes to its constipating effect.
In general, Ayurveda does not recommend fermented food, as it is one of the root causative factors for constipation. Given how important healthy digestion is in Ayurveda, we want to avoid constipation at all costs.
Cheese. This is another fermented food that is heavy to digest. Have you noticed how you feel unmotivated to move after eating a feast of fettuccine Alfredo or ravioli? The inertia you feel after eating cheese-filled foods is not healthy. It's indicative of a quality of dullness, darkness, and even depression called tamas (learn more in chapter 5). Only those who have very strong digestive fire can handle small quantities of cheese (see here to determine the strength of your digestion). The best time of the year to eat cheese is the winter, when digestive fire is naturally peaking (learn more in chapter 9).
Cream. Sour cream and most other types of milk cream used in soups and curries are not recommended by Ayurveda because they contribute to clogging bodily channels and cannot be easily digested. Anything undigested becomes a liability to your system.
Beneficial Dairy Products
* Butter (if you have very good digestion; see here to find out if you do)
* Takra (homemade Ayurvedic spiced yogurt drink)
* Warm, boiled whole milk
* Light fresh cheeses, like paneer, feta, goat, and mozzarella
Nonbeneficial Dairy Products
* Sour cream (and other types of creams)
* Frozen or sweetened yogurt
* Store-made ice cream
* Store-made buttermilk
* Cold milk
* 1 percent, 2 percent, or skim milk (cold or warm)
* Cream-based cheeses, such as Parmesan, cheddar, brie, and blue cheese
PARTING WITH BELOVED FOOD ITEMS
I empathize completely if you're feeling separation anxiety from foods you've loved for years. After learning how harmful frozen yogurt is, I actually sat and "broke up" with it. In my head, I said, "Okay, Mr. Frozen Yogurt with sweet fruits, I know you are no good for me, and so it's time we part ways now. I am saying goodbye to you so I can say hello to greater health. Because I deserve better."
5 Avoid incompatible food combinations.
Some things just don't go together. Ayurveda teaches that certain food combinations can block your bodily channels and create skin problems, toxicity, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fever, anemia, or indigestion.
Often when I meet clients, I see that the root cause of their problems — whether skin conditions, obesity, or respiratory issues — is eating incompatible foods. In general, avoid mixing raw and partially cooked foods. Here are some specific incompatibilities.
Milk should not be mixed with:
* Any fruit except figs, dates, raisins, and mango (this includes smoothies)
* Any vegetable (avoid creamy soups if made with milk or cream)
* Lentils, beans, and millet (except finger millet or ragi)
* Any meat or fish
* Sour-tasting foods
* Any alcohol
Meat should not be paired with:
* Black gram lentils
* Sprouted grains
Bananas should avoid the company of:
* Black gram lentils
Honey should not be cooked and should be avoided in the summer and fall. It should also not be eaten with:
* Hot water (you shouldn't add honey even to teas)
* Ghee in equal quantities (you can have honey and ghee together in unequal quantities)
While it's not within the scope of this book to go into depth about how each of the incompatible food combinations can harm you, here are a few explanations.
When your body is digesting fruit and milk together, the fruit tends to curdle the milk in the stomach, leading to a lot of acidity and sourness. Milk and fish create obstructions in your bodily channels, which food must travel through to be assimilated into nutrients your body can use. Milk doesn't mix well with salt, as they have opposing qualities.
Bananas eaten with buttermilk or regular milk, and the other incompatible food combinations listed above, can lower your digestive power and create toxicity in your body, which leads to many other diseases and imbalances.
Simply eliminating incompatible food combinations in my own diet cleared up my skin and improved my digestion. Start saying goodbye to these combinations and saying hello to better health!
6 Observe your digestion to assess your overall health.
Do you experience pain, bloating, and heaviness upon elimination? Have headaches often, and inexplicable chest pain? Feel tired all the time, yet suffer from insomnia without a clue about why?
These are all signs your digestion could be compromised. In the West, we tend to think elimination and digestion are completely separate. Western doctors often won't say your digestion is disturbed when you have chronic constipation (and haven't eliminated for a few days). Ayurveda, however, sees digestion and elimination as deeply intertwined. When digestion is optimal, healthy elimination is the natural result. What benefits digestion also supports your elimination.
Having a healthy digestion is the best indicator of overall health in Ayurveda. Healthy digestion positively impacts your sleep quality and reduces stress, among other potent health benefits. It's importance cannot be overemphasized.
If your digestion is healthy, you:
* Feel the urge to eliminate one or two times a day
* Eliminate around the same time each day, ideally by 7:00 a.m.
* Have soft, well-formed, log-shaped stools
* Have yellowish-brown stools
* Have stools that float in the toilet
* Eliminate a consistent amount each day
* Feel ease in eliminating
* Feel very satisfied after eliminating
Observe your elimination in terms of its timing, consistency, and frequency. Think of it as a window into your health. If your stools don't follow the signs of healthy elimination, make adjustments, such as incorporating into your diet some of the recipes that follow.
Excerpted from "The Ayurveda Way"
Copyright © 2017 Ananta Ripa Ajmera.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
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