Basic Principles of Ayurvedic Nutrition
By Denise O’Dunn
The foundation of Ayurvedic nutrition is based on the idea that you are the result of what, when, where, how and why you eat. Ayurveda explains that your food should be eaten mindfully and with gratitude, and that it must be fresh, of the highest quality, digestible, delicious, lovingly prepared and satisfying to your senses. Ayurveda offers a balanced approach to preparing, eating and digesting your food based on your unique body-mind type or Dosha, as well as the time of day, the season, your life-cycle and where you live.
According to Ayurveda, foods and herbs are categorized by their taste, general qualities and how they affect the elemental Doshas (mind body combinations) of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata is made of Air and Ether. Vata is light, cold, dry, rough, clear and mobile. Pitta is made of Fire and Water. Pitta is light, hot, wet/oily, sharp, clear and mobile. Kapha is made of Water and Earth. Kapha is heavy, cool, wet, soft, dense and static. The six tastes that are recognized in Ayurveda are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. Each taste has qualities associated with it that will either increase or decrease the Doshas. As an example; sweet is heavy, sour is moist, salty is warm, bitter is cold, pungent is hot and astringent is dry.
Two fundamental principles in Ayurveda are; “like increases like” and “opposites create balance.” Foods with qualities that are similar to a Dosha will increase that Dosha and foods with attributes that are unlike a Dosha will decrease or pacify that Dosha, thereby, keeping the Dosha in balance. The tastes and qualities that balance Vata are sweet, sour, salty, warm, heavy and moist. The tastes and qualities that balance Pitta are sweet, bitter, astringent, cool, dry and heavy. The tastes and qualities that balance Kapha are pungent, bitter, astringent, light, warm and dry. You can refer to the Dosha balancing food lists in Ayurvedic literature or simply consider the general qualities of the food (hot/cold, light/heavy, dry/wet) as to whether it will increase or decrease a particular Dosha.
Ayurveda proposes that all six tastes be included in every meal in Dosha balancing ratios. According to Ayurveda, if your meal consists of all six tastes, your brain and body communicate in way that assists efficient digestion and leaves you satisfied. Proper digestion leads to good assimilation of nutrients and contentment reduces food cravings and over eating. By sprinkling Dosha specific seasoning, or Churna, on your meal you can be assured that you are receiving the six tastes at one time.
Ayurveda teaches us that your food should appeal, not only to your sense of taste, but also your sense of sight, smell, touch and sound. Digestion begins with the production of enzymatic saliva in your mouth and it’s your sensory organs that stimulate this mouth-watering process. When you use a variety of foods and spices that are flavorful, aromatic, and visually appealing with an assortment of colors and textures, it enhances your culinary experience and provides you with a wide range of nutrients.
Unlike a fad diet, the dietary practices in Ayurveda encourage a conscious way of living. Ayurveda is a way of embracing food as life-giving energy, and a way of understanding how your individual nature and the influences around you determine how well your food will serve you. Ayurveda explains that your dietary needs and your digestion are affected by the rhythms of nature and the changes that occur in your life. Living an Ayurvedic lifestyle is to make food choices that are based not only on your original Dosha, but according to the quality of the food, the current season and your location. Example: the influence of a hot, heavy, humid, Florida summer day can be balanced by a cool, light, dry, leafy-green salad. The time of day also has its influence according to Ayurveda. 10 am to 2 pm is the period dominated by Pitta (fire and water) and is considered the best time of day to eat your largest and most complex meal as your digestive fire or Agni is strongest. The cycle of life is yet another determining factor in conscious eating. As we grow older we enter the Vata (air and ether) time of our lives, Agni may weaken and vital tissues become more dry. By eating smaller, more frequent, warm, moist and nutrient rich meals, like hearty soups, you can maintain a balanced state of health.
As a practice based on science and spirit, Ayurveda encourages you to prepare and eat your food in a peaceful, loving and pleasant environment; and to greet your food with reverence, acknowledging its source with gratitude.
The enduring principles of Ayurveda beautifully express the essential nature of eating mindfully and gratefully as a path to living healthfully and happily.
Kitchari is a soft cooked mixture of grains, and is usually prepared as a combination of basmati rice, mung dal (beans) and a blend of digestive spices. While providing essential nutrients, Kitchari allows your digestive system to rest, which helps to facilitate your body’s natural cleansing process.
2 cups Mung Dal (split green or yellow)
1 cup White Basmati Rice
2 tablespoons Ghee (clarified butter)
1 teaspoon Black Mustard Seed – whole
1 teaspoon Cumin Seed – whole
1 teaspoon Fennel Seed – whole
½ teaspoon Fresh Ginger Root – grated
1 teaspoon Turmeric – ground
1 teaspoon Coriander – ground
1 teaspoon Cardamom – ground
½ teaspoon Cinnamon – ground
1 pinch Hing (Asafoetida) – ground
7 cups Water (approx.)
1 pinch Salt (natural mineral)
Sort through the mung dal and rice to remove any stones. Rinse the dal and rice until the water runs clear; drain.
Melt the ghee in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the mustard seeds in the ghee until they pop. Add the other whole seeds and ginger; sauté. Stir in the remaining ground spices. Add the mung dal and rice; sauté for another 2 minutes. Add the water and salt; bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 – 40 minutes or until the dal and rice become very soft.
Vegetables, suitable for your Doshic type, can be cut into small pieces and added during the last 15 – 20 minutes of cooking time.
Vata and Kapha – fresh grated ginger
Pitta – chopped cilantro leaves or grated coconut
Disclaimer: This article was written for educational purposes only and is based on the tradition of Ayurveda. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, prescribe or heal any health condition or to replace standard medical treatment or advice.