Food is medicine! Making the right nutritional choices enables us to receive the greatest benefits from the foods we eat, fueling our bodies for energetic, happy, and rewarding lives.
Ayurveda, a Sanskrit term meaning “the science of life,” is an over 5000-year-old tradition that offers time-proven methods to create the foundation for a healthy diet and can guide us toward making healthy food choices. According to Ayurveda, proper digestion is the key to receiving the optimal nutritional benefits from the food that we eat. Known as “agni,” our digestive power is much like an internal fire that manages how we metabolize food. When our agni is strong, we receive the greatest nourishment from what we take in. However, when it is weak, no matter how healthy we eat, we may not derive the optimal benefits from our food. Improper digestion leaves undigested residue in our bodies. This residue, or “ama,” can cause us to feel sluggish and tired, among other problems.
Observing a few simple guidelines to help us connect with the body and its signals enables us to get the most from the foods that we eat. Most of the western diet is based on sweet, sour, and salty foods, all of which carry too many toxins. To feel content when eating, Ayurveda recommends including all six tastes: sweet is the taste of energy, is nutritive, and builds body mass; sour is the taste of acid, which helps promote appetite and digestion; salty is the taste of ocean, enhances appetite, and stimulates digestive juice; pungent is the spicy taste that enhances appetite, improves digestion, promotes detoxification, and clears congestion; bitter is the taste found in leafy vegetables, acts as an anti-inflammatory, detoxifies, and can promote weight loss; and astringent is the taste found in beans, which heals and compacts.
Healthy foods that satisfy our cravings for the sweet taste include whole grains, dairy, meat, and honey. Green, leafy vegetables provide the bitter taste, and foods such as cranberries, lentils, legumes, and tea are astringent. We can enjoy the pungent taste through spices such as cayenne and black pepper. Some foods satisfy more than one taste. For instance, because it is dairy, yoghurt is sweet, but it is also sour due to the fermentation process.
Creating meals that are colorful is also beneficial, esthetically and nutritionally. A multicolored diet comprising red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and indigo/purple offers vital nutritional support. Strawberries, carrots, peaches, asparagus, blueberries, and plums are all examples of foods that offer important vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to complete a healthy diet.
It is always best to eat in a quiet environment, sitting down, and never when upset. In this way, we can give our full attention to what we are eating. Also, sitting quietly for a few minutes after eating allows us to focus on the sensations in our bodies. Taking a short walk following a meal also helps the body digest. Additionally, to aid digestion and promote detoxification, ginger tea is a delicious choice after a meal.
Understanding hunger cues enables us to choose the best time to eat, rather than relying on the clock to plan our meals. On an appetite/fullness scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the most hungry and 10 being the most full, we should eat when we feel we are at about 2 or 3 and stop eating at about 7. The latter allows for about 1/4 to 1/3 of the stomach to remain empty, aiding digestion.
Ayurveda recommends lightly cooking foods and seasoning them with spices, making foods easier to digest and assimilate into the system. When we choose to eat raw foods, doing so in the middle of the day is ideal, as that is when agni is at its strongest.
Ayurveda recognizes that we are not what we eat, but “we are what we digest.” Making conscious choices of foods that strengthen our digestive ability, we build the foundation for better physical and emotional health and a new sense of wellbeing in our lives.
To begin enjoying the benefits of an Ayurvedic diet, try this delicious and simple recipe from The Chopra Center Cookbook, co-authored by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. David Simon:
Almond Bliss Shake
1 T. almond butter
2 t. organic raw honey or maple syrup
1 oz. protein powder, plain or vanilla
1 pinch nutmeg
1 pinch cardamom
1 C. low-fat vanilla soymilk or rice milk
1 medium banana, peeled and sliced
Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Nutritional facts per 12-ounce serving: Calories 487, Total fat 12.4 g, Saturated fat 3.3 g, Carbohydrates 61.1 g, Protein 32.9 g.
Nirmala Raniga is an addiction specialist and the founder of the Chopra Addiction and Wellness Center, a unique residential addiction recovery treatment center in Squamish Valley, B.C., Canada. The Center offers holistic recovery programs combining modern Western medicine with Eastern healing traditions including instruction in meditation, yoga, and other mind-body wellness practices. 2008 nominee for YWCA Women of Distinction Award and Celebration of Business Excellence Award, Nirmala is a Chopra Certified master educator of Primordial Sound Meditation, Seven Spiritual Laws Yoga and Perfect Health Ayurvedic Lifestyle. She is passionate about sharing timeless wisdom tools for mind-body health, deeper life fulfillment and emotional healing.