This is a post by Dr. V. Thrivikraman as posted on the previous Mayapur Discussions forum.
The aim of Ayurveda is two folded: to maintain the health of a healthy person and to cure the disease of a patient.
Ayurveda considers food, proper sleep, and disciplined sexual contacts the pillars which hold the body like pillars of a house support the whole structure.
“We are what we eat.” Food is the prana for all living beings. Complexion, memory, good voice, longevity, happiness, nourishment, strength, intellect, etc., are conditioned by food. The body as well as diseases are caused by food. Wholesome and unwholesome foods are responsible for happiness and misery respectively.
The food we eat contains three gunas (properties): satvaguna, rajoguna and tamoguna. Food with satvaguna helps improving brain functionality, keeps the mind calm and increases the energy level of the body. Food items with rajoguna lead to cravings for all physical and material things, causing imbalance in the body resulting in more strain and health problems.
Consuming food that is tamasic in nature makes us ignorant, lazy and drowsy. According to Ayurveda, non-vegetarian, spicy and oily food belongs to rajoguna, fusty and musty food contains tamoguna; fresh vegetarian food with less spices and oil has satvaguna.
“Annam Brahmeti vyajanat” (Taithireeya Upanishad) – Food is considered as God. Never ever criticize a food item. “Annam Na Nindyate Tad Vratam” (T.U)
Improper Digestion, the Root Cause of many Diseases
“Rogah sarvepi mandagnouh” (Ashtangahrudayam Chikitsa). As per Ayurveda, the root cause of many diseases is improper digestion. The reasons for indigestion are-over intake, uncooked food, taking more heavy food items, chilled items and untimely, improper and unhealthy food. Those who eat in a sad or angry mental state also get indigestion.
Ayurveda recommends having two meals a day: one in the morning at 10.30 and one in the evening before sunset at 4.30pm (“Pratar Sayam manushyanam asanam sruthi choditam”).
Agni, heat or digestive fire in your digestive system, helps to digests the food. This will be at an optimum level during the day due to the influence of sun and physical activities. Physical activities are less after sunset and the moon gets its influence in the body. Moon is cool in nature and slows down digestion.
There is a saying: Who takes one meal a day is a Yogi, two meals a day is a Bhogi (born to eat) and three meals a day is a Rogi (a patient). In today’s fast life style, most people take three meals a day.
Keep a Fixed Time for Every Meal
Ayurveda recommends having food in time. As per the present practice of three meals a day, take proper good breakfast at 8–9 am, moderate lunch at 1–2 pm and light dinner at 6–7 pm. Do not eat anything in between (“Na antara bhojanam kuryat”). Drink warm or normal water, juice in between the main meals. Do not drink water while taking food. Give an hour gap to drink after every meal. After dinner, wait two hours minimum to sleep.
Now, most people skip breakfast and take late heavy dinner. After having a heavy dinner even we sleep at night, our digestive system, heart and brain have to work hard to digest the food and these organs do not get the needed rest at night to work efficiently the next day. This will end up in incomplete absorption of nutrients and elimination of waste products. Continuous practice of this will accumulate toxins in the body leading to many health issues. Heavy dinner makes a person feel tired in the morning. To get up from bed after a light dinner will make one more fresh and active.
What to Eat
One should stick to the food items one is used to, this will be easy for the body to digest. For example South Indians get stomach upset when they take potato and yellow dal but they are comfortable with rice. North Indians are more comfortable with potato and yellow dal but have issues with rice. One has to find out one’s suitable food. Any food which creates heaviness in the abdomen, is difficult to digest, creates flatulence and constipation can be considered as incompatible food which has to be avoided from your regular diet.
Red varieties of rice, wheat, little millet (saavan), spinach, gooseberry, snake gourd, bitter gourd, ash gourd, yam, carrot, ginger, lemon, curry leaves, coriander leaves, green gram, ghee, rainwater, milk, butter milk, honey, pomegranate, papaya, berries, kiwi, passion fruit, grapes, rock salt, turmeric, fenugreek, cumin seed, coriander, mustard seed, pepper, cardamom, etc., can be taken daily.
There are so many varieties of food that it is difficult to fix the quantity and frequency of each food item separately to take on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
Deep fried items, too much oily and fatty food may be avoided or can be taken once or twice a month according to the digestion and health condition.
Items prepared out of batter like idli, dosa, poori and parotta can be taken 2–3 times a week.
Rice Kanji (Well cooked rice, served without strain the water portion), kichdi, pongal a kichdi like preparation of Tamilnadu) cooked with little ghee, Idiyappam (steamed rice noodles), Pathiri (Rice roti), etc., are examples of light foods which are easy to digest. But even those should not be taken on a full stomach.
Curd, red pumpkin, eggplant, ladies finger, banana, drumstick etc. are a few items heavy to digest. These examples are to carefully observe the significance of each to adopt in a regular diet.
How to Take Food
Food should be taken within two hours after cooking. When a cooked food become cool, it loses its prana, and is not sufficient to supply the nutrients to preserve and maintain the prana in the body. Many have a practice of preparing food for a week on weekends and keeping it in a freezer. They consume this daily after reheating. Reheated food is unhealthy and even can lead to cancer. Most of the restaurants including five-star hotels serve reheated food.
Take food after bath, cleaning hands, face and feet, after proper defecation & urination. Take food when mentally pleasant. Serve food first after praying to the Lord, guests, children, Gurus and pets. Have food, prepared and served hygienically by loved ones.
Eat when you feel hungry and observe your own digestive capacity. Sit in a dining area by thinking only about the food without talking or criticizing the food. Eat with your likely persons. Food contaminated with hair or other dirty substances, reheated, more of pulses, too hot, cold or salty should be avoided.
Concentrate completely on the food while eating. Apply all your sense organs to experience and enjoy the food fully. You can have the texture of the food with your fingers, enjoy the pleasant aroma, see the dish and enjoy the taste. This sensory feeling secretes more digestive juices and improves the digestion.
When you have food while continuing a conversation or watching TV many of this sensory perceptions will be missed and you may take more quantity and you will be unaware of the quality too.
There is a saying “Chew your liquids and drink your solids”. One has to chew well while eating and the solid food should be in liquid form after mixing with saliva for proper digestion. Liquids, one should take sip by sip, enjoying the taste and mixing up well with saliva. Do not eat too slow or fast. When you eat fast the grinding of food with your teeth and mixing the food with saliva is missing. This will affect the next level of digestion in the stomach and lead to improper digestion.
Do not eat very slowly. When you eat slowly, the food becomes cold and there will be irregularity in digestion. Continuing both these habits will lead to acidity and gas trouble in the beginning and health issues like, gastritis, peptic ulcer, diabetes, high cholesterol, piles, recurrent cold, sneezing, etc., later.
Ayurveda explains about six types of tastes, i.e., sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. One has to take all these tastes in one’s daily meal. Sweet should be taken at first, salty and sour items in the middle and pungent, bitter and astringent at the end for smooth digestion.
Do not take hot and cold foods together. Never take ice cream, sweets or juices at the end of a meal. This will slow down the whole digestive process.
Quantity of Food
One has to fill half of the stomach with solid food, quarter with liquid and remaining quarter to leave empty to enhance digestion. The quantity can be assessed within 2–3 days, when fully involved in eating.
One has to take more care in deciding the quantity while taking oily and heavy items.
Avoid unhealthy food completely to stay healthy.
“Virudham api cha aharam vidhyath visha garopamam” (A.H su 7th chapt). Consuming incompatible food should be considered similar to poison. One, who is habituated to incompatible food, eating food before the digestion of prior food, taking food when already indigestion is there, leads to partial digestion and assimilation of food.
Any ready to eat food products available in the market are unhealthy. Biscuits, cakes, chocolates, bakery products, noodles, pizza, burger, aerated drinks, ice cream, packed potato chips, etc., have to be avoided completely.
Take maximum freshly cooked food at home.
Health is not a commodity readily available in the market to purchase. It is the individual responsibility to be healthy with proper food, exercise and sufficient rest.
When you think you don’t have time to take care of your health be aware that you also don’t have much time to live in this planet earth.
“Sareeram adyam khalu dharma sadhanam,” the body is very important to do Dharma. The purpose of a human birth is to attain “Purusharthas” – Dharma-Artha-Kama-Moksha. You need health for attaining this and Ayurveda is designed for this. Ayurveda says to follow its recommendations to stay fit mentally and physically (“Dharma Artha Kama Mokshanam upayogam sukhavaham Ayurveda upadeseshu vidheyah paramadarah”). So start practicing a healthy food habit for physical and mental health and for spiritual advancement.