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Restorative Cooking and Ayurveda

2 years ago / by Sweta Vikram
Image credits: Shutterstock

In an era where our outer stresses affect our inner physiology, Ayurveda may be the solution for your nutrition needs to power you back up

A client recently told me, “I can’t tell you how good it feels to not be bloated or gassy at gatherings. I feel confident, and my anxiety feels lower.”

We had worked on this gentleman’s digestive issues. Most people don’t like to talk about it, but having a gastrointestinal problem is common. A 2020 study revealed that digestive diseases account for over 100 million ambulatory care visits annually in the U.S. I am guessing the numbers have only gone up in the past few years.

We live in a world where people are too quick to judge or share proclamations:

“Kale is a superfood.” “Eat turmeric pills for immunity.” “Replace a meal with a protein shake.” “Carbs are the devil.” I fell in love with Ayurvedic cooking for several reasons, but primarily because it honors food as medicine. Also, it does not label foods as GOOD or BAD. In Ayurveda, for the most part, the question isn’t whether a food is good or if it’s good for you. We consider if it is good for you right now. In Ayurveda, we look to seasons to determine what to eat based on what is naturally available. For instance, eating mangoes in December is not natural because it’s not the season for this delicious fruit.

What Makes Ayurvedic Nutrition Exciting

Ayurveda focuses on eating in a way that we can prevent diseases and promote longevity. It isn’t pretentious but all encompassing. It’s a living science that honors your age, your doshas, your geographic location, your agnibala (strength of digestive fire), your metabolism, your vikruti (doshic imbalances), your physical needs, and much more before recommending what are the best foods for you. Even these recos are not a forever declaration etched in stone. Once your agni is back up and your doshas are in balance, your dietary options change. Yes, you are not stuck in a rut, eating only tofu or no carbs, or only animal protein, or just raw foods. It’s a lifestyle of permission and satiation versus deprivation.

Ayurvedic versus Western Nutrition

If you are new to Ayurveda, it might be a little difficult for you to look at food without naming it as proteins or fats or carbohydrates. Ayurvedic nutrition might feel confusing as it doesn’t measure calories. In Ayurvedic cooking, a balanced dish combines elements of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent. In western nutrition, there are two main tastes: salty and sweet. Did you know that health issues can arise from an imbalanced palate? The three doshas of vata, pitta, and kapha are connected to the five elements of ether, air, fire, water, and earth. They can fluctuate over time and create imbalances. These doshas can be brought back into balance by certain tastes (remember the six Ayurvedic tastes I share above?) and get vitiated by other tastes. Voila!

What’s the Focus?

To sum up, Ayurveda places special emphasis on ahara (diet), anna (food), and agni (digestive fire). This ancient healing science from India, which is over 5,000 years old, believes that healthy nutrition nourishes the mind, body, and soul. Like western nutrition, Ayurveda also acknowledges the impact of what we eat on how we think or feel, also known as gut-brain connection in modern day lingo. For example, after eating extra spicy foods three days in a row on hot days, you might feel a little irritable! Or if you eat excessive amounts of dairy during late winter, notice if your Kapha gets congested. It could look like postnasal drip or cough or mucus or lethargy.

The Ayurvedic Cooking Philosophy

Ayurveda also emphasizes that various factors influence food: its biological properties, origin, environmental factors, seasons, preparation, as well as level of freshness. It also provides a logical explanation of how to balance food according to one’s dosha and physical needs. Ayurveda states that a diet can be vegetarian or include animal protein depending on each individual’s needs.

Ayurveda reminds us that our mind is directly influenced by the quality of food, how it’s prepared, the quality of the food, the aroma, its appearance, and the mood/emotions of the chef. All of these factors influence our five senses. In our home, we don’t bring any gadgets or arguments or anything unpleasant to our dining table. A relaxed mind helps one enjoy optimal digestion.

Ayurveda’s Other Kitchen Rules

  • Eat your meal within four hours of preparing it to keep the prana intact.
  • Eat in a peaceful environment.
  • Don’t mix dairy with fruits.
  • If you are feeling overpowering emotions like grief, anger, stress, jealousy etc. … Ayurveda would recommend not eating at all.
  • Don’t combine animal products with carbs. Yup, mutton biryani or lasagna are a big no in Ayurvedic cooking.
  • Avoid cold, raw, and stale foods.
  • Make lunch the heaviest meal of the day.
  • Consider your spice cabinet as your confidante.
  • Avoid snacking throughout the day.

Don’t be overwhelmed because Ayurveda is an intuitive, living, and practical way of life. You will notice the difference in your mind and body. Don’t think preparing Ayurvedic meals must be complicated or challenging. One-dish meals (with dosha-balancing spices) can be brilliant. Ayurveda will remind you that cooking, and food should bring you joy! The cook’s mindset is key so bring love to the kitchen.

When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”

The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained Ayurvedic coach, contact the author.

To read more of The Balanced Life, check out 5 Things Keeping You From Being Happy