Ayurveda doesn’t say NO to foods, rather it tells you how to enjoy your food and stay in balance.
One of the concerns that people often share is that living an ayurvedic lifestyle will not allow them to enjoy their favorite foods. Nothing could be further from the truth! Ayurveda dosen’t say no, rather it educates us on how to enjoy our favorite foods.
The five elements—earth, water, fire, air and ether—are found in all foods. We have all five elements in our bodies, too. Each of us has a different relationship to these elements and that is what makes up our “super secret sauce” or constitution, called our dosha Prakruti. Foods have their own elemental nature; some are hot and spicy (jalapeño), others are crunchy and dry (popcorn) while others are gooey and cold (ice cream). This rule is even true for the seasons of the year, stages of our life and hours of the day!
Ayurveda is the science of alchemy and transformation. Digestion is where the act of transformation occurs in our body. In yoga and ayurvedic medicine we call this our digestive fire or Jathra agni. The food impacts us differently depending upon the taste (rasa) on our tongue and the heating or cooling quality of the food (virya). You may have even noticed how certain foods you could eat with ease as a kid do not have the same effect in your 30s, and changes again in your 50s, right? The impact of that food on your digestive fire is different as you are under a different dosha stage of life.
We tend to like what is most like us! If we have more kapha in our constitution (water and earth) we might tend to like gooey, sweet and heavy foods. The doshic clock informs us that we all have more kapha in our childhood and you can see this in the diet many American children request of their parents. They enjoy milk, mac and cheese, lots of bread and nut butters—sweet, gooey and building tastes and foods. In our middle years we all have a bit more fire in our nature and many of us turn to stimulants and depressants like coffee and wine or beer to help us tame or stimulate that fire. We often create “issues in our tissues,” as our food consumption aggravates our dosha by confusing our digestion. Dysfunctional digestion creates symptoms, and over time we get sick. Proper feeding of our digestive fire with tasty foods compromising all the elements or six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent) will produce health and balance.
Ayurvedic medicine states that “every food can heal and every food can harm” depending upon the wisdom of how it is used. This explains the seasonal harvest! The bounty of the season is the medicine nature gives us to keep us in balance. For example, in the summer we need foods to counter the heat of our environment. I live in New England and the summers are hot, moist, with lots of sunlight and playtime. The seasonal foods at my farmers market are perfect to enjoy and counterbalance these qualities to help me stay healthy. The mint, basil, berries and greens help me cool and ground with astringent, sweet and bitter tastes. If I took these same foods in winter (Note: they are not grown in the winter in New England) then I would potentially have some digestive issues. I do not want to build light, dry and cool qualities in my body in the winter as the environment already has those qualities. I would then become aggravated in the qualities of cool, light and dry and my digestion would become uneven.
Consider enjoying a cuppa' coffee... it’s not a bad thing! Ayurveda uses coffee as a medicine for morning time, and after a meal, as a digestive aid. Especially for folks with kapha dominant constitutions. However, if you take coffee without food, in your midlife in the morning time you may need to add in some warm spiced milk. Why? The sweet milk will create a counterbalance to all that sharp, intense, dry taste of the coffee.
I know, I know, this seems odd. When I first started to practice an ayurvedic lifestyle it seemed like a lot of things to remember, but if you stick with the principles it gets simple.
Enjoy your favorite food! Let it help you to feel stimulated, cleansed or loved and nurtured...but if you find those foods feed your tendency to become imbalanced, watch out. It might be time to take a vacation from that “go to” comfort food. You can try to add spices to adapt it to be a better medicine for you, or try to use a seasonal veggie or fruit so you can stay in better constitutional balance with better overall health in body and mind.
You can read more about specifc foods for your Ayurvedic constitution here.