Ayurvedic cooking tests whether food has a heating or cooling effect in your body, which in turn impacts metabolism and digestion.
I have had innumerable people ask me if Indian cooking and Ayurvedic cooking are one and the same. Much as I love my tikka sauce and samosa, they don’t necessarily fall under the umbrella of Ayurvedic cooking.
Also, the food served in Indian restaurants is very different from the Indian food cooked at home. At least in the United States, Indian restaurants cater to the palate of non-desis (meaning people who are not from India or its surrounding countries) with food that is rich, creamy, meat-based, and heavy. The breads (naan and so forth) are so dense. Indian food cooked in most Indian homes is colorful—loads of veggies sauteed in seasonal spices, lentils, rice, salad, and lighter bread like roti.
What Does Food Mean in Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is one of the oldest healthcare systems to originate on the Indian subcontinent. An Ayurvedic diet and Ayurvedic cooking are intuitive ways to eat and nourish your body.
With its healing properties, food is considered one of three pillars of health according to Ayurveda. Importantly, Ayurveda does not discriminate between good or bad food; diet (ahar) should be chosen according to the prakriti, or constitution, of each individual.
The Ayurvedic philosophy teaches that food is very important not just for nourishing the body but also the mind and conscience. Hence, when we eat, how we eat, what we eat, how much we eat, the time we eat, and our posture while eating matter as much as the type of food eaten.
The Rule of Right Now
In Ayurvedic cooking, there are many rules. There are also no rules in that Ayurveda takes into consideration the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical aspects of an individual. The question is not whether the food is good for you, but whether the food is beneficial to you right now.
Ayurveda tries to assess whether a particular food item has a cooling or a heating effect inside the body, which in turn has an impact on metabolism and digestion. It’s important to note that there is no direct correlation between the physical temperature of a particular food and its internal nature.
For example, if you are in a tropical country with seething temperatures, coconut (which has a cooling effect) will be beneficial for a Pitta dosha. However, even if you are Pitta dominant, when it’s minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, coconut will do you more harm than good. You don’t want your body cooling when it’s cold outside, right?
Food habits that are beneficial to the body and mind are known as pathya, and food habits that are harmful or disease-producing are known as apathya. Pathya can be categorized based on aggravating or beneficial effects on the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) or based upon their effect on the human mind: sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic.
7 Basic Principles of Ayurvedic Cooking
1. What we digest matters most. According to Ayurveda, one of the most important factors in health is good digestion. Make sure the food is light and the amount of food is easy to digest. This also means not serving too many things at once. Can you see how those $12.99 all-you-can-eat buffets can wreak havoc on your digestive system?
2. Make lunch your biggest meal. Ayurveda teaches us that we are a miniature of nature. Our agni (digestive fire) is strongest at the lunch hour when we have the support of the sun and our digestive juices work best.
When your digestive fire is strong, ojas (life essence) is abundant in your mind and body. When, on the other hand, your digestion is poor, ama (toxins) are deposited in the digestive tract. Over time, when ama accumulates it can give rise to all manner of discomforts in the mind and body, ranging from digestive issues to skin problems to allergies and brain fog, compromised immunity, and a host of other problems.
3. Don’t forget your kitchen is your apothecary. Try to cook and eat at home as much as possible. Don’t forget that you have potent products in your kitchen cabinets. Spices and herbs have medicinal value aside from adding flavors to food. But cooking with spices isn’t the same as eating spicy foods. Use spices intelligently to balance the doshas.
4. Honor the six Ayurvedic tastes. In Ayurvedic cooking, a balanced dish combines elements of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Depending on the season and an individual’s doshic imbalances, the proportion of the tastes are altered. For instance, Pitta is characterized by sour, pungent, and salty tastes. Ayurveda teaches us that like increases like. So, in the summer season (especially if you are a Pitta-dominant person), you will use more bitter, astringent, and sweet tastes in your cooking—the opposite tastes.
5. Favor cooked foods over raw foods. Ayurveda says that it is easier for humans to chew and digest cooked foods seasoned with the right spices rather than raw foods. Proper digestion is necessary to absorb a food’s nutrients.
6. Pay attention to food combinations. A tenet of Ayurvedic cooking is that certain foods do not go well with others. Acidic and alkaline foods mixed can create a mess in our digestive system. Don’t eat dairy and fruits together, for example, or dairy with meat.
7. Cook and eat fresh meals. Ayurveda recommends eating meals within four hours of cooking. Leftovers have no prana, or nutritional value. Foods that sit on the shelf for longer periods of time (think cookies and instant noodles) are tamasic in nature.
The Ayurvedic diet provides personalized recommendations about which foods to eat and avoid based on your body type. It mostly focuses on a wholesome diet that can contribute to the treatment or prevention of diseases. Ayurveda also encourages mindful eating, a practice that may promote a healthy relationship with food. If you want to learn more about Ayurvedic cooking, feel free to contact me.
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The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.