Improve Your Health with Ayurvedic Foods

Date Posted:7 November 2011 

The term "comfort food" is a misnomer. Rich sauces, cakes and ice cream might give you temporary pleasure, but in the long run they are more likely to lead to discomfort. Think of that the next time you reach for the potato chips or candy bars in the middle of the night!

Genuine comfort food is food that satisfies you, while providing you with goodness and nutritional value. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, these foods should be nurturing, wholesome and intelligent. "Intelligent" in this sense refers to the ability of the food to carry nature's intelligence to the body and mind. Known as triptighna, these are fresh, organic, homemade Ayurvedic foods—not preserved, frozen, processed or leftover foods (known collectively as junk food; food that is lacking intelligence and will never make you feel nourished or satisfied). Many people who live on a diet of junk food end up quickly gaining weight, because the nutritional value of these foods is so low, they always crave more.

Although it is important to maintain the intelligence of food, it is also important to be able to digest it. Cooking food provides agni (digestive fire), which makes it easier to digest and assimilate. Grains, beans and dahls should always be eaten cooked. The majority of vegetables are most beneficial when they are cooked, and many should never be eaten raw, such as spinach, chard, kale and cabbage. Sometimes milk can be difficult to digest, so Maharishi Ayurveda recommends boiling it with the natural herbal remedies of cardamom and cinnamon.

Take care not to overcook your food, however. To protect nature's intelligence, add olive oil or ghee during the cooking process. If you love salads, you don't have to cut them out altogether. Enjoy cucumber, lettuce and other juicy vegetables at summer lunches, but avoid them at night or during the winter months, as they can aggravate Vata. Keep away from brussels sprouts if you have poor digestive fire. Start the day with stewed apple or pear, and then enjoy raw fruits for snacks during the rest of the day.

Spices are not only used in cooking to make your food taste better. They can also improve the intelligence of a meal, and help with digestion and assimilation. Sautee spices in ghee and add them to your food. Ayurvedic foods often contain turmeric, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and cardamom, as they have great dosha-balancing powers and are extremely effective metabolism boosters.

To cut down on cravings, cut junk food out of your diet and focus on introducing fresh, homemade foods. Make sure you eat a wide range of foods with different tastes and flavours. The six different tastes are sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent. The body needs all of these tastes to be satisfied. Remember that cooked food provides greater nourishment than raw food, which is more difficult to digest and often decreases agni. Weak agni leads to an accumulation of toxins in the channels of the body, stopping it from drawing all the nutrients it needs from the food you eat. Ultimately, this is what leads to cravings.

Portion control is another important tip from Maharishi Ayurveda. Take your time when eating so that you know when you have had enough. Never overeat simply because the food is there. After a main meal, your stomach should be two-thirds full. A good way to make sure you stop eating when you are full is to chew each mouthful of food twenty times before swallowing it. Put your fork down on the table between mouthfuls. Too often, people eat "on the go," without taking the time to enjoy the flavours of their meal and pay attention to how their body is responding to the food. Get into the habit of sitting down at the table to eat each meal, and you will find that you feel better and more satisfied, and probably eat a lot less!

The heart is controlled by the sub dosha Sadhaka Pitta. If this sub dosha is imbalanced, the result can be emotional lows. Many people crave sweets because the sweetness pacifies Pitta. Unfortunately, the sweet taste is all these foods can provide. They lack the intelligence to deliver the sweetness to the brain, meaning your craving is not satisfied and you want to eat more of the sweet foods. Instead of chocolate or candy, go for a sweet, juicy fruit, rice pudding or a mango shake.

If you have an aggravated Vata dosha, you will be prone to worrying thoughts and mental imbalance. Open the channels of the brain with such spices as black pepper, cumin and coriander. Eat easily digestible, nourishing meals. For a sweet treat for the mind, snack on walnuts, almonds and coconut milk. Natural herbal remedies for the mind from Maharishi Ayurveda include Worry Free Tea. Sip the tea throughout the day instead of caffeinated drinks.

As you can see, the key to embracing Ayurvedic foods and natural herbal remedies is accepting that junk food will simply not give your body the satisfaction it needs. When you commit to replacing junk with healthy, wholesome foods, you will find that your cravings for unhealthy foods disappear. You will be amazed to find that your body soon starts to crave healthy, nourishing foods. This is because your body loves the effects of the nourishing, nutritious food, and wants more of it.

You may wonder why Maharishi Ayurveda does not work from a standardised food chart, which lists exact quantities of nutrients. The concept of Ayurvedic foods is based on the premise that every person is an individual, with their own unique tastes, preferences, intolerances and imbalances. For example, one person may love hot weather, while another cannot bear it. Tastes and preferences vary greatly, even within families. Everyone is created differently, with energies and desires completely unique to them. This means that each body has its own intelligence. While a strong, healthy body will have lots of natural intelligence and will crave the things that are good for it, a body that is imbalanced will crave harmful things. If you are susceptible to Pitta imbalances, such as skin breakouts, you should stay away from hot, spicy foods. However if your physiology has many dosha imbalances, you will find yourself craving this hot, spicy food.

The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians advises that your diet be based on a thorough understanding of your individual tastes and imbalances. The food you eat should taste good, give you nutrition, and make you feel happy, healthy and balanced.

Dr Hari Sharma's book "Contemporary Ayurveda" is full of insights into the most common health issues facing the western world. Sharma suggests that the typical western diet has too little of the pungent, bitter and astringent tastes, and too much of the sweet, salty and sour tastes. These sweet, salty, and sour tastes are what increase Kapha dosha, which leads to obesity—a Kapha imbalance. Aim to get a little of each of the six flavours on your plate for a complete, well-rounded diet.

Create Ayurvedic foods by cooking your ingredients with Churnas from Maharishi Ayurveda. These are flavoursome spice mixes that are carefully formulated to maintain dosha balance and add wholesome nutrients to your meals.

Everybody has their own prakriti (combination of doshic energies) as well as their own vikriti (doshic imbalances). If you need guidance on Ayurvedic foods, a Maharishi Vaidya or Ayurveda Consultant can help you by recommending the best natural herbal remedies for your unique constitution. If you need inspiration for your meals, why not invest in a cookbook for Ayurvedic foods?