Ayurveda has been practised in India for over 5000 years and its definition of nourishment goes beyond food. According to Ayurveda, ‘The hunger of the cells is the craving for nutrition. Hence, only substances containing nutrition can function as food’.
Concept of food in Ayurveda
Food materials in Ayurveda is broadly classified into wholesome substances and unwholesome substances although this maybe relative and dependent on many factors. For example, though milk is a good food material, for some, it can aggravate certain diseases. Therefore, the general agreement is that under normal conditions there are wholesome and unwholesome food materials. Even good food material may turn incompatible under abnormal conditions. Ayurveda has thus explained the details of food incompatibility (viruddha ahaara).
Let us understand it better.
Incompatible foods are like toxins or slow poison to our body and incompatibility in food occurs on combination or processing of certain food materials that are not compatible. Some substances are incompatible by nature. Some are incompatible by region, season and dose. Anything that provokes the humors but does not eliminate them is considered as incompatible. Incompatible substances vitiate physical humors and tissues. Here are some examples
- Incompatible by property – fish and milk
- Incompatible by combination – Ripe wild jack fruit with black gram
- Incompatible by processing – Meat of pigeon fried with mustard oil
- Incompatible by place – Eating in a place rich in ashes or dust
- Incompatible of body – Consuming honey when the body is hot
- Incompatible by time – Eating of black night shade (Solanum nigrum) which is kept overnight (after gathering)
- Incompatible by dose – Honey in equal quantity with ghee
- Incompatible by nature – Poison
With modern food technology that are both authentic as well as illegal, the chances of incompatibilities increase on adding preservatives, colouring and flavouring agents which are actually not nutrients. Other additives include an umpteen number of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers that are frankly poisons. Incompatible food rarely causes sudden death or morbidity. They usually cause diseases over a period of time since they are consumed regularly.
Food & Types of diets
According to Ayurveda, there are three types of diet that are unwholesome. They are mixed food (samasana), excessive food (addhysana) and uneven food (vishamaasana). These three unwholesome food patterns cause morbidity or even death. Mixed foods are a mixture of wholesome and unwholesome food materials. Excessive food here means dining before the former food is digested. Eating untimely, in excess or little, is termed as uneven food.
Impairment of bio-fire and indigestion are the immediate effects of unwholesome food. According to the nature, bio-fire is of four types. They are dull fire, augmented fire, inconsistent fire and optimal fire. They are prompted by kapha, pitta, vaata and equipoise of humors respectively. What we always want is the optimal bio-fire. Dull bio-fire will cause indigestion. Augmented fire will also cause indigestion due to improper digestion. It is like charring the food when overheated. In case of inconsistent bio-fire the person will have occasional good digestion and occasional indigestion. This is due to the inconsistency of vaata.
The harmful undigested & untransformed or partially transformed: Ama visha
In Ayurveda, indigestion (ajeerna) is of three types. They are unripe indigestion (aama) due to kapha, stagnated (vishthabdha) due to vaata and charred (vidagdha) due to pitta.
Food poisoning is termed as aama- visha by Ayurveda. The term aama means immature, unripe or raw. Any substance which is not converted properly to be utilized as substrate for further transformation is called raw-filth (aama dosha). This is considered as a toxin and is the cause of diseases. There are two types of raw filth – generated from improperly digested food as defective body fluid and produced by the interaction of highly vitiated humors. Diseases caused by raw filth are called raw diseases (saama-roga) and humors, tissues and wastes polluted with raw filth are also considered as saama. The treatment line when there is involvement of raw filth is different from usual. Here the raw filth is to be first addressed before attempting elimination therapy. Raw-filth is usually in intense conjugation with tissues and to eliminate it detoxification therapies are needed to cut the conjugation.
Habituation (saatmya) is another important consideration. Even unwholesome substances may not cause diseases if it is habituated. Anything maybe considered as habituated if it does go well with the physiology of the person. Usually substances which are not habituated (asaatmya) pose problems in conversion to the body. Hence Ayurveda pays due importance to the habituation of the patients.
Food and dietetic norms as prescribed in Ayurveda:
In view of all these factors, Ayurveda has laid down various norms of consuming food. Some important points are listed below:-
- Eat food on time
- Consume only habituated food
- The food should be clean (unpolluted) and hygienic
- Consume wholesome food
- The food should be unctuous, warm and light
- Pay attention to the food while eating it
- The food should contain all the six tastes, but sweet taste (carbohydrates) should be in excess
- Do not eat fast
- Do not eat very slowly
- Before having meals, it is appropriate to wash the feet, hands and face. It is preferable to have a bath too before meals.
- Food should be first served to all the dependents and elders. Remember to not leave out the ancestors
- Think of the suitability of the food served. Eat only if it is acceptable
- Never despise the food given to you
- Do not talk or laugh while eating
- Do not consume very dry foods. It is good to have some liquids while consuming dry foods
- Have your favourite foods in a good ambiance in the presence of your good friends
- Try not to eat re-heated foods
- Do not eat contaminated food with grass, hair etc
- Reject very hot and very cold food
- Food with excess of vegetables is also not ideal.
Thus, Ayurvedic stipulations of dietary norms are based on the basic principles of Ayurveda and are not haphazard random dictums. Man has varying tastes and variety is his spice of life. But fancying new foods and following new trends irrespective of considerations of health maybe risky. Therefore, it is always better to cling on to the accustomed traditional food that suits us and our environment. Also, it is good to understand that ‘man does not live on bread alone’.