It is always interesting to consider ‘nutrition’ from an Ayurvedic perspective.
Of course Ayurvedic nutrition does not have a concept of vitamins, minerals, calories, and nutrients as modern science does. So we had to consider other ways to navigate what is good to eat everyday and what foods should be saved for special occasions.
Ayurveda considers not just what is ‘nutritious’ but what is digestible and sustainable. The deeper qualities or gunas of foods and ways of preparing foods determine how good it will be for long term health.
The tools that Ayurveda uses to distinguish between everyday foods versus special treats are more simple than you might think. These guidelines are healthy for everybody, regardless of dosha or disorder.
Listen to what your body says: if you feel bloated or heavy, uncomfortable, or sleepy after you eat then something you ate was too heavy (or too much!) for your digestion.
Foods that are mild and satisfying in taste are your staples, like grains and beans and roots. The nourishing and nurturing qualities of these foods are inherent in foods due to the predominance of earth and water elements in them.
These ‘staples’ should make up 2/3 of what you eat. The remaining 1/3 is up to you: veggies, meats, sauces, spices, treats, fruits, and dairy.
Rice and wheat are considered the best for a long life. White rice is easier to digest than brown. Eat bread if your ancestors did; if it is freshly baked. Minimize highly refined flour products like pastries and pastas. Barley is great for weight loss. Other healthy choices include: kamut, buckwheat, millet, teff, hominy, wild rice and quinoa.
Split Yellow Mung beans are the easiest and fastest to cook and digest. All legumes will increase Vata (produce gas and dryness), especially chickpeas, which is why they are always cooked with lots of oil, garlic, or Asophatida/Hing.
Try: aduki, lentils of all sorts, fava, yellow and green split peas, black beans, black-eyed peas, or my favorite: refried beans.
Squash (summer and winter types) are the best! Sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, asparagus, cabbage, eggplant and okra are also good choices. Try cooked radish or kohlrabi or turnip. Foods that take longer to grow have a stabilizing quality. This is good if you want to age slowly. Consequently green leafy vegetables are to be kept to a minimum if you want a long life and no parasites.
Try some less common root veggies: yam, taro, lotus, yucca. Avoid tomatoes and potatoes (South American– but sweet potato is fine). Peas, beans, and the brassicas can cause Vata aggravation (i.e. gas) so prepare with a little hing and ghee. Cook and spice all vegetables.
Goat and wild (or ranched) meats are best. Fish should be limited unless your ancestors ate a lot of it. Generally keep flesh eating to a minimum. Light meat broth is ideal for recovering from illnesses or when stressed and for vegetarians needing extra nourishment.
Spices augment digestion. They increase your absorption and assimilation of foods. Most spices are best sauteed or roasted to release their flavor and nutritional value rather than used raw.
Try: cumin, turmeric, coriander, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, thyme and fennel, ginger (fresh or dried), hing, sage, rosemary, nutmeg, saffron, paprika, lemon zest…!
If cooking with spices is new to you try to limit yourself to three spices per dish. Here are a few combinations to begin with.
Ghee is the only oil that improves digestion. The others can be delicious and useful but will be heating and heavy to digest (except butter which is very heavy to digest and is cooling). The less refined the better. Try: sesame, coconut, olive and peanut. If you are very physically active animal fats will be good for you.
Cow or goat, un-homogenized, organic, un-ultra-pasteurized, and raw if you can get it. Always heat milk, always drink it alone (drinking with salt, sour taste, or fish constitute a bad combination and will damage digestion). If you missed dinner time but are hungry have a glass of warm milk with cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg.
Generally sweeteners should be kept to a minimum. Honey should be had daily (in modest doses, and never heated). Use sugars that are less refined like jaggery, maple syrup, or Demerara.
Fruits are good for between meal snacks and eaten alone. Try a baked apple! Pomegranates are especially good end of summer cleansers. Bananas are heavy, cold, and phlegm-y so avoid them if you have asthma, bronchitis, allergies, etc. Dried fruit is good in small quantities.
Never drink iced drinks, especially with meals; they will make you fat. A cup of water or tea with meals is good. Drink when you are thirsty; not when you are bored or tired.
Fresh local fruit, a cup of warm milk or chai, fresh bread with butter, fresh baked cookie or cracker, handful of toasted nuts, dried fruit, seeds (sesame, pumpkin, sunflower).
This includes anything that was not recently cooked, packaged and prepared foods, milk substitutes, energy bars, powdered mixes, bread (or anything) that has been frozen, canned, or preserved with chemicals.
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