Ahaara (Diet & Nutrition)
Holistic Health Series
Resource Note # 3
Food plays a major role in human existence. For its sustenance, every single cell in the body depends on a continuous supply of nutrients that food provides.
However, food also has a larger symbolic meaning in life. It is associated with love, sensuality, comfort, affection, security, and reward. Every individual has turned to food at one time or another in order to satisfy one’s basic desires, or to control one’s emotions in the face of stress.
Diet may be defined as the consumption of food and drink in order to sustain life, and to meet the human body’s basic need for functioning, growth and development. Scientific studies of nutrition have proven that a proper diet not only prevents and cures certain diseases, but also helps to prolong human life by balancing its physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects.
Food may be classified according to the predominance of the gunas, i.e. sattva, rajas or tamaspresent therein. Further, food items may also be codified by the effects that they have upon the three doshas, i.e. vata, pittaand kaphain the body through the qualities of rasa, viryaand vipaka.
Foods may also be examined in the light of the bio-chemical nutrients, i.e. carbohydrate, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals present therein. Finally, the genetic characteristics of the food, its method of cooking, the quantity of food consumed, as well as the manner and attitude with which food is eaten also play a key role in the overall health and well being of a person.
By appropriately adjusting, modifying or changing an individual’s food and diet over a period of time, it becomes possible even to influence his or her basic character. As an ancient saying declares, “As is the food, so is the mind. As is the mind, so is the man.”
1. Food and its Psycho-physiological Qualities (TriGuna)
Based upon its end-effects, food may be classified into three categories – Sattvikfoods, Rajasikfoods and Tamasikafoods. While the rajasand tamasqualities are useful in certain situations, eating a diet that is predominantly sattvikin nature is important for balancing the mind.
Sattvikfoods are non-stimulating and completely vegetarian in nature. They are relatively easy to digest, and thus yield energy quickly. This category of food includes most fresh vegetables and fruit, basmati rice, moong beans, fresh milk products, and ghee.
Rajasikfoods are rich in energy, but are relatively stimulating in nature. These include most spices, many grains and beans, potatoes, tomatoes and sour fruits.Tamasikfoods include fermented, stale and over-ripe foods. Artificially preserved and flavoured foods, over-refined & processed foods, as well as mushrooms, eggs and meat also form a part of this category of diet.
Classification of Foods (Gunas)
|Fruits||Mango, Pomegranate,Coconut, Figs, Dates, Peaches, Pears||Sour fruits; Apples, Banana, Guava, Tamarind, Most Citrus||Avocado, Watermelon, Plums, Apricots,Note: Fruit overall are Sattvika, but these are more Tamasika than other fruit|
|Vegetables||Sweet potato, Sprouts, Leafy Greens, Zucchini, Yellow Squash, Asparagus||Potatoes, Nightshades, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Spinach, Winter Squash, Pickles||Mushrooms, Garlic, Onion, Pumpkin|
|Grains||Basmati rice, Quinoa, Blue Corn, Tapioca Barley||Millet, Corn, Buckwheat||Wheat, Brown rice|
|Beans||Mung beans and dal, Red and Yellow Lentils||Brown Lentils, Lima beans, Kidney beans, Adzuki beans, Tur dal, and small amounts of black, Pinto, Pink beans||Urad dal and large amounts of Black, Pinto, and Pink bean|
|Dairy||Fresh, unprocessed; cow’s milk, Ghee, Soft Cheese, Homemade Yogurt, Goat’s Milk||Sour cream, salted or sour butter, cream, cottage cheese, ice cream||Cheese (hard, aged)Processed milk, and eggs|
|Nuts and seeds||Almonds, White sesame seeds, fresh cashews||Most nuts, brown sesame seeds||Peanuts, Rancid nuts, black sesame seeds|
|Spices||Saffron, Turmeric, Cardamom, Coriander, Fennel, Cumin||Curry, Chili, Cayenne, and Black pepper||Jalapeno pepper, nutmeg|
|Sweeteners||Fresh sugarcane juice, Jaggery, raw sugar, raw honey (if bees are not harmed)||Processed sugar, Artificial sweeteners, CookedHoney||Molasses, soft drinks, stevia, extremely sweet tasting foods|
|Beverages||A number of herbal teas, such as licorice tea and Brahmi tea||Coffee, black and green tea||Alcohol, Marijuana, most other drugs|
|Meats||None||Fish, most Seafood,Chicken||Beef, Pork, and Venison|
2. Food and its Bio-chemical Qualities (Nutrients)
From a modern, bio-chemical viewpoint, there are five basic categories of nutrition that constitute the diet of a person: a) carbohydrates, b) fats, c) proteins, d) vitamins & e) minerals.
Carbohydrates such as sugar and starch provide the fuel upon which the body runs. These comprise the largest bulk of what humans eat.
Fat is essentially a storage form of fuel that can be burned when there is no ready source of carbohydrate available to the body.
Protein is the basic building block of the body and makes up the framework of its more rigid structures such as the cell walls, skin, bones, solid organs and blood vessels. It is the framework of protein molecules inside each cell that helps it to maintain its integrity. When the body is in the growth phase during its youth, it requires more protein than in the adult years.
Vitamins and minerals are the catalysts that prompt these compounds to interact efficiently.
The three basic nutrients (carbohydrate, fat and protein) are thus the fuel and the building materials of the body. The human body thus needs these in comparatively larger quantities. While fats are usually consumed in lesser quantity than carbohydrates, protein is taken in still smaller amounts.
In contrast, the vitamins and minerals are analogous to the screws and bolts that are necessary for the construction and the operation of the body. Therefore, these two components of diet are required by the body in small or trace quantities only.
Most whole natural foods (with the exception of meat, which contains no carbohydrate) contain a balance of the three major nutrients as well as appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals. A balanced diet of pure, light and nutritious food that is pleasant, wholesome and easily digestible suits a sedentary lifestyle and promotes a cool nature and quiet temperament.
From a bio-chemical standpoint, the recommended composition of daily meals is as follows:
a) Grains (30%)– Wheat, Rice, Barley, Corn, Oats, Millet etc.
b) Dairy Products (20%)– Milk, Curd, Buttermilk, Butter, Cottage Cheese, Desi Ghee etc.
c) Vegetables and Roots (25%)– Okra, Spinach, Brinjals, Potatoes etc. and also the uncooked leaves of Turnips, Carrots and Radish tops
d) Fruits & Sweeteners (20%)– Juicy fruit, Citrus fruit, Dried fruit, Dates, Honey, Jaggery
e) Nuts (5%)– A handful of nuts a day, that might include Almonds, Cashew nuts & Walnuts.
3. The Bio-dynamic approach to Food (TriDosha)
Ayurveda organizes diet and nutrition around the personal experience of every individual. It formulates the properties of any food item around the inner experience of taste, and the observed reaction of the individual towards the food item. The selection of foods for cooking and eating is primarily based upon the effect that these have upon the three doshasin the body.
Every food item (meat, fish, vegetable, fruit, milk etc.) is characterized by an essential quality or energy state. The dynamic properties and qualities of food, and the capacity of the food item to modify the doshasin the body, can be partially identified through the taste (rasa) and other properties such as virya(the potent energy) and vipaka(post-digestive effect) of the food item.
In 80% of the cases, the qualities of the food may be deduced by its rasa– which is associated with the secretions in the mouth. Another 10-15% of the properties of the food may be explained by vipaka. For instance, honey is sweet (madhura) in taste. However, it is converted into a pungent (katu) substance upon digestion. In the remaining cases, the properties are usually explained by the virya. One case in a thousand is a special category known as prabhava.
However, the observation of the personality or the role of the plant or animal as it participates in the overall ecological system also provides a good clue to the properties of the food item. Milk is a good case in point. The milk from a goat is nutritionally similar found to cow’s milk or buffalo’s milk, with minor variations in the amount of butterfat and protein.
However, goat’s milk is found to have the unique property of curing diarrhea that arises from its somewhat astringent taste. This has something to with the basic nature of the goat, which is an animal that has the quality of being small and dried up. Its feces are hard. The goat has quickness, lightness and jumpiness of movement, which is congruent with its basic nature. Thus, the ability of goat’s milk to reduce diarrhea, tighten the bowel movements and also reduce weight is not surprising.
On the other hand, the water buffalo (bhains) is an animal that is heavy, large, calm, quiet and slow to anger or movement. Its feces are copious, loose and mushy. Its milk is considered to be very good for underweight, under-nourished and nervous people. It tends to calm them down, make them heavier, and also strengthens them. Thus, milk from two different types of animals is observed to have opposing effects upon the human physiology and psychology.
The essence of the food’s effects can be formulated by using the conceptual system of tridosha, which expresses a holistic understanding of food in a way that is usable and practical.
Further, a vegetarian diet is easily digestible, satisfactorily fulfills the average nutritional needs of an individual, and forms the ideal diet for those leading a sedentary life in modern times.
Food And Tissue Nourishment Chart
|Dhatus||Tissues||Nourished in (time period)||Malas||Foods rich in these||Effect|
|Rasa||Plasma||1 day||Kapha||Fresh fruits and fruit juices e.g. Papaya, melon, strawberries, cherries, apricot, peaches etc., Tomatoes, Asparagus, Milk, Water, Shatavari||Wrinkle-free skin, Nourishment and sexual secretions in men|
|Rakta||Blood||5 days||Pitta -Bile||Spinach, Beetroot, Carrot, Tomatoes, Pomegranate, Apple, Grapes, Red Meat, Broccoli, Dates and Figs, Folic Acid, Asparagus||Circulation and Oxygenation, Dhi, Dhriti and Smriti (Ability to grasp, memorize and remember)Pink lips, nails, ears and nose tip, Good digestion and problem-free skin|
|Mamsa||Muscles||10 days||Wax in the ear and the navel||Egg, Meat, Beans (Rajma, Soyabean), High-protein diet, Pumpkin, Avocado, Banana, Physical exercise||Muscular body, Can pick up a lot of weight,|
|Meda||Fat||15 days||Sweat||Ghee, Butter, Oil, Cheese,||Strong capacity for physical work, oily skin and hair, lubricated joints, no constipation, cold and cough ailments|
|Asthi||Bone||21 days||Hair and nails||Eggs, Milk, Sesame seeds, nuts, coconut, radish, Banana, Sunlight||Strong bony build-up, good teeth, slow degeneration|
|Majja||Bone marrow||25 days||Tears||Walnut, Almond, Coconut, Brahmi, Jatamanasi, Fish, Cod Liver oil,||Intelligence, full of compassion and love, Well-nourished, Can pick up more than their own body-weight|
|Shukra||Reproductive tissue||30 days||None||Saffron, Cardamom, Milk, Black Dal, Chicken, Gold, Silver, Ashwagandha, Shatavari||Attractive appearance with good features, Ojas, Teja on the face|
4. The Rasa(Taste) of the Food
The term rasahas many profound meanings. These include taste, melody, experience, comprehension, interest, enthusiasm, appreciation, emotion, enthusiasm, appreciation, emotion, juice, plasma, mercury, semen, and essence. Rasais the taste associated with secretions in the mouth. The moment a substance (food, medicine, or herb) touches the tongue and leads to salivation, the first experience is that of taste or rasa.
The origin of the phenomenon of taste may be traced back to the evaporation of water droplets from the ocean by the heat of the sun, which causes clouds to form. When a water droplet is formed in the cloud, it has no taste. However, the electrochemical reactions during thunder and lightning lead to each droplet attracting the molecules of the five elements in a unique permutation and combination. Upon precipitation, these different kinds of water droplets seep into and nourish the body of the plant that yields the food item.
This gives rise to the six basic tastes (rasa) of the food, viz. a) madhura(sweet), b) amla(sour), c) lavanya(salty), d) katu(pungent), e) tikta(bitter), and f) kashaya(astringent).
Although each taste contains all the elements, the particular combination of molecules determines the nature of the taste. For instance, sweet taste has a predominance of Water and Earth elements. The water molecules containing the tastes eventually fall to the ground, and enter the plants. It thus creates various tastes in each plant.
Hence, water is the mother of all tastes. This is indirectly confirmed by the fact that taste is perceived through the tongue, which is the sense organ related to Water element. It is observed that a dry tongue is unable to taste accurately.
There are specialized taste buds on the tongue. When sweet food is put into the mouth, the taste buds on the tip of the tongue send a message to the related organs, which are the thyroid gland and apical area of the lungs. Sour taste is related to the lobes of the lungs, while the salty taste is linked to the kidneys. Pungent relates to the stomach and heart, while the bitter taste is linked with the pancreas, spleen, and liver. Finally, the astringent taste is related to the colon.
Some substances have only one taste, while the others contain many tastes. Every substance is a unique combination of attributes that determine its influence upon the body. Taste can have a long-standing effect on the doshas, and create either therapeutic or unbalancing actions on body and the mind. Each taste has a psychological component, creating positive or negative influence, which becomes apparent with frequent usage.
The descriptions of the six tastes, along with with their influence upon the body, are as follows:
4.1 The Sweet Taste (Madhura)
The word madhurameans pleasant, charming, beautiful, agreeable, melodious as well as sweet. The elements that make up the sweet taste are Earth and Water. The sweet taste pacifies both vataand pitta, but increases kapha. Its qualities are heavy, cooling and oily. It is strongly present in foods such as sugar, honey, dates and licorice and mildly in milk, rice, and wheat.
When used moderately, sweet is wholesome to the body. Being anabolic, it promotes the nutrition of all the seven body tissues and thereby provides strength & longevity. It encourages the senses, improves complexion, and relives thirst and burning sensations. It enhances blood sugar, and helps to heal emaciation too. Excessive usage of sweet foods may cause cold, cough, congestion, heaviness, laziness, obesity, lymphatic congestion, tumors, edema and diabetes. It also makes the blood viscous, and thus causes cholesterol, high triglycerides & arteriosclerosis.
4.2 The Sour Taste(Amla)
Sour is translated as amla, which refers to that which is acidic in nature and easily ferments. The sour taste is predominantly comprised of the Earth and the Fire elements. It decreases vata, but increases pittaand kapha. Sour substances are liquid, light, heating, and oily in nature.
The sour taste is found in foods such as yogurt, vinegar, cheese, citrus fruits (e.g. lemon and grapefruit), unripe mango, green grapes, and fermented foods. It increases salivary secretions, stimulates appetite, and enhances the secretion of digestive enzymes. A moderate amount of sour taste is anti-flatulent & anti-spasmodic too. In excess, the sour taste dries the membranes and may create congestion, indigestion, gastritis, ulcerative colitis & ulcer. Due to its fermentation action, sour is toxic to the blood and may cause acne, rashes, eczema & psoriasis.
4.3 The Salty Taste (Lavana)
The salty taste is known as lavana. Water and fire are the predominant elements therein. Salty taste is heating, heavy, oily and hydrophilic in nature. Owing to the Fire element, it is anti-spasmodic in nature. When used moderately, it relieves vatabut increases kaphaand pitta. The classic examples of the salty taste are table salt, sea salt, rock salt, and seaweed.
Due to the Water element, the salty taste is laxative and enhances the flavour of the food. Being anabolic in nature, it stimulates salivation and aids the processes of digestion, adsorption as well as assimilation, and helps the elimination of wastes. However, too much salt makes the blood thick & viscous, and causes thickening & narrowing of the blood vessels – thereby producing hypertension. Due to its hydrophilic nature, salt may also induce edema & swelling.
4.4 The Pungent Taste (Katu)
Pungent is trasnlated as katu, and contains the Fire and he Air elements. Pungent is light, drying and heating in nature. It pacifies kapha, but excites pitta and vata.
The pungent taste is present in spices such as red pepper, black pepper, mustard, ginger and asafetida as well as in foods such as onion, radish, and garlic. When used in moderation, it kindles agni, improves digestion and absorption, cleans the mouth and clears the sinuses. It aids circulation, breaks up clots, removes fat from the body, and helps with the elimination of waste products. Most pungent substances are blood thinners and antispasmodic.
When overused in the diet, the bitter taste may kill sperm and ova and cause sexual debility. It may also induce inflammation, irritation, ulceration, burning, choking, fainting, hiccoughs and fatigue with thirst, peptic ulcers, colitis and skin conditions.
4.5 The Bitter Taste (Tikta)
Bitter translates as tikta, and is dominated by the Air and Ether elements. It increases vata, but decreases pittaand kapha.
The bitter taste is found in turmeric root, aloe vera, fenugreek, sandalwood, neem and coffee. Though not delicious in itself, bitter promotes the flavour of the other tastes. It is anti-toxic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti- inflammatory, anti-pyretic, and laxative in nature. It also helps to relieve burning sensations, itching, fainting, and obstinate skin disorders. In a small dose, bitter taste can works as a digestive tonic and relieve intestinal gas. By itself, bitter is nauseating. It dries the system, and causes a reduction in the fat, bone marrow, urine & feces.
Over-consumption of the bitter taste may deplete any of the body tissues, reduce bone marrow, lead to osteoporosis and may even induce dizziness and unconsciousness.
4.6 The Astringent Taste (kashaya)
Thekashaya, or the astringent taste, is derived from the Air and Earth elements. It is cooling, drying, and heavy in nature. It reduces both pittaand kapha, but increases vata.
Unripe banana, pomegranate, chickpeas green beans, yellow split peas, okra, turmeric, mango seed, arjuna, alum and most raw vegetables are all examples of astringent taste. Astringent taste is anti-inflammatory, decongestant, improves absorption, promotes clotting, creates the binding of the stool, scrapes the fat, and aids in the healing of ulcers.
In excess, the astringent taste can create spasms, griping sensations in the intestines, and constipation. Frequent use of astringent foods may cause choking, constipation, cardiac spasm, depletion of sperms, reduced sex drive, convulsions, & neuromuscular disorders.
5. Virya (Potent Energy)
When any medicinal herb or food substance is put on the tongue, the first experience is its taste. Soon afterwards, the person often feels a heating or cooling energy in the stomach or small intestine. This is due to the potent energy of the substance, which is known as virya.
Viryameans “energy, strength, power, potency, and the active principle.” It can be expressed in terms of the effects of the two qualities of hot and cold, which have a direct effect upon the digestive fire and the metabolism.
The functions and effects of viryaare as follows:
|Normal Functions of Ushna (heating) Virya||Normal Functions of Shita (cooling) Virya|
|Pacifies vata and kapha. Stimulates pitta||Pacifies pitta, builds kapha and vata|
|Promotes metabolic activity (digestion)||Promotes anabolic activity (growth)|
|Kindles the digestive fire (agni)||Slows down the digestive fire (agni)|
|Promotes digestion (pachana)||Relieves burning, irritation & inflammation|
|Increases body temperature||Decreases body temperature|
|Enhances blood circulation||Enhances lymphatic circulation|
By self-experience, people form general rules about what a particular taste ‘’feels like’’ in the body. This is its virya. For instance, the sweet taste generally has a cooling energy. However, honey and molasses are exceptions to the rule. They both have heating energy. Similarly, sour taste is usually considered to be heating in nature. However, limes are cooling.
However, most substances usually follow the guidelines indicated below:
|Rasa||Virya||Action||Other Qualities Increased|
|Sweet||Cooling||Strong||Heavy, Oily/unctuous, Soft|
|Sour||Heating||Weak||Light, Oily/unctuous, Sharp|
|Salty||Heating||Medium||Heavy, Oily/unctuous, Sharp|
|Pungent||Heating||Strong||Light, Dry, Sharp|
|Bitter||Cooling||Medium||Light, Dry, Sharp|
|Astringent||Cooling||Weak||Heavy, Dry, Soft|
6. Vipaka (The Post-Digestive Effect)
The final post-digestive effect (vipaka) transports the superfine products of digestion for further transformation into living cellular components. The Vipakaof every taste occurs in the colon. It has an impact upon the excreta (urine, feces, and sweat) as well as upon body tissues.
The qualities of vipakamay be summarized through the three post-digestive tastes of:
a) sweet, b) sour, and c) pungent).
In general, the sweet & the salty rasa have a sweet post-digestive effect. The vipakaof the pungent, bitter & astringent tastes is pungent. The sour rasa has a sour post-digestive effect.
Each of the three vipakashas slightly different effects from those of the same name. The sweet vipakaincreases kapha. It thus promotes tissue growth as well as the anabolic functions of the body, and helps to eliminate feces, urination, and sweat. The sour vipakapromotes metabolic functions and increases pitta. It makes the stools loose and creates an acidic pH of urine, feces, sweat and other bodily secretions. The pungent vipakaincreases vata. It enhances catabolic activity, and may cause constipation besides blocking the flow of the bodily excretions.
|Rasa||Vipaka||Actions||Effects on Doshas|
|Sweet, Salty||Sweet||Anabolic||Increases Kapha|
|Pungent, Bitter, Astringent||Pungent||Catabolic||IncreasesVata|
Sugar and salt are the same in that they promote anabolism & water retention, and can lead to obesity, hypertension, and diabetes if used in excess. In the digestive process in the small intestine, the Fire component of salt nourishes the agni– leaving the Water component predominant by the time it reaches the colon. This Water element results in the salt taste having a sweet vipaka. Hence, the sweet vipakaresulting from the sweet and salty tastes has the same action. However, the pungent vipakahas slightly differing actions depending upon whether the rasa of the substance is pungent, bitter, or astringent. All types of pungent vipakaare catabolic and dry bodily secretions, but each has its own additional effects. The pungent vipakaderived from pungent substances tends to cause hemorrhoids irritation of the colon, and dry, irritating skin conditions. Pungent vipakafrom the bitter rasamore antipyretic (cooling) and has a particularly strong effect on the reproductive system by diminishing sperm formation and causing low libido. Finally pungent vipakafrom astringent rasais more likely to produce fissures and fistures, osteoporosis, and pain in the joints.
7. Prabhava (Unique and Specific Action)
When two substances of similar rasa, virya, and vipakashow different actions, this phenomenon is known as prabhava. For instance, ghee with milk in doses of two teaspoons per cup is laxative, while it has constipating effect in a smaller dose such as half a teaspoon per cup of milk. The answer lies in prabhava, which means an unpredictable action of a substance.
Every substance has a unique permutation and combination of five elements that yield a particular rasa, virya, and vipaka. If two food or medicinal substances have similar rasa, virya, and vipakabut different atomic structural arrangements, then we obtain different experiences and pharmacological action from each substance. The term prabhavais then used to refer to a dynamic action that cannot be explained by the logic of rasa, virya, and vipaka.
This is akin to coal and diamond being made up of the exact same elemental carbon, but have radically different physical properties on account of differences in their crystal structure. In the diamond,each carbon atom is bonded to its neighbors like the points of a pyramid – which cannot absorb any visible light. As a result, diamonds are transparent. On the other hand, in coal or graphite, the atoms are connected to one another in flat planes – which can absorb light of all wavelengths (colors). As a result, coal is black in colour
Some examples of prabhavaare as follows:
- Chitrak and Danti are two Ayurvedic herbs. Both have pungent rasa, heating virya, and pungent vipaka. However danti is a laxative while chitrak is not. This difference is on account of prabhava.
- Rock salt and sea salt both possess salty rasa, heating virya, and sweet vipaka. Yet sea salt aggravates kapha, and is therefore not good for hypertension. On the other hand, rock salt is okay in that condition. Prabhava is the only explanation for this variation.
- Fresh cayenne pepper and fresh pippaliboth have pungent rasa, heating viryaand a pungent vipaka. However, cayenne aggravates hemorrhoids whereas pippalidoes not. This effect is also due to prabhava.
The fields of action of rasa, virya, vipakaand prabhavacan be easily observed in everyday life. The first subjective experience of a substance on the tongue is the rasa(taste). A short while later, one feels the virya(heating or cooling energy). Finally, the substance has an action on urine, feces and sweat. This is vipaka, which is the post-digestive effect of the substance.
For instance, suppose an individual eats hot chili pepper. He or she will immediately experience its pungent taste. A little later, its heating energy would be felt. Finally, the person can observe a burning sensation in the feces and urine the next morning.
8. The Digestive Process
Digestion is the process of biochemical transformation of complex food particles of a relatively large size into a simpler form that is suitable for absorption and assimilation. By the action of various enzymes, the primary processes of digestion and absorption occur in the gastrointestinal tract in six different stages.
The six stages of digestion are: a) sweet stage, b) sour stage, c) salty stage, d) pungent stage, e) bitter stage, andf) astringent stage. Each stage has a distinct rasa(taste) associated with it. The juice, or the end product of digested food, becomes the food precursor for all the bodily tissues. This juice is acted upon by enzymes form the liver, so that five natural elements latent within the food may be turned into a form that can nourish the bodily tissues.
8.1 The Six Stages of Digestion (about 1 hour per stage)
1. The Sweet stage: Digestion begins in mouth with saliva, which regulates oral temperature, maintains lubrication, and begins the digestion of starch. Chewing and lubrication break down food particles in the mouth. Pranagoverns the movement of food down the esophagus into the stomach, and initiates churning. The food is then liquefied in the stomach. The Water and the Earth elements stretch the stomach to give a sense of fullness and satisfaction Absorption of simple sugars occurs here, which promotes energy and contentment. Finally, the sweet taste is yielded into the rasa dhatu(the plasma tissue).
2. The Sour Stage: Hydrochloric acid is secreted in the stomach, and makes the food acidic. The stomach is still heavy due to Earth element, but becomes progressively lighter on account of the Fire element, which promotes digestive enzymes. The digestion of protein and fat begins, and the sour taste is finally yielded into the plasma.
3. The Salty stage: The pyloric valve opens, and the food then enters the duodenum. The acidic foodstuff from the stomach mixes with the alkali pancreatic secretions and bile, yielding salts. Intestinal digestive enzymes are released, and the digestion of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats occurs now. This stage maintains the water-electrolyte balance. The salty taste is finally yielded into rasa dhatu.
4. The Pungent stage: This occurs in the jejunum. Most intestinal enzymes are pungent in nature. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates continue to be digested. The Fire component of the pungent taste causes increased heat and circulation. The Air component results in gases and intestinal peristalsis. The pungent taste is finally yielded into the rasa dhatu.
5. The Bitter Stage: The food now enters the ileum. The Air element continues to create peristaltic movement, and there is rapid absorption. The stomach and the intestines become light, which may create a sense of hunger. However, it is not good to eat now. This stage cools the body, and the bitter taste is yielded into the rasa dhatu.
6. The Astringent Stage: The ileocecal valve now opens, and the food enters the cecum. The absorption of the remaining minerals and liquids occurs here. The feces are formed by the Earth component of astringent taste. This stimulates peristalsis and results in elimination. The astringent taste is yielded into the rasa dhatu. Hunger returns now, as the Air component stimulates the pranaand the digestive fire.
9. Eating a Balanced Diet
The agniin the digestive tract is the main gate through which nutrients enter the tissues and then pass along to individual cells, thereby maintaining the life functions. There are some basic principles that help in recognizing the foods that can enable the doshas to remain in balance.
Each doshahas certain attributes or qualities, such as dry, hot, or heavy. Similarly, each kind of food is made up of certain qualities. For example, popcorn is light and dry whereas cheese is heavy and oily. The qualities in a particular person combine with qualities inherent in the food to determine how the body accepts and digests that food. Even one’s emotional outlook can be directly affected by the food that the person eats. For example, the mind feels sharp and irritable after one has eaten hot chillies.
In general, when the qualities of a food are similar to the qualities of a dosha, this will tend to aggravate that dosha. This fundamental principle can help the individual in selecting the foods that are balancing to his or her unique constitution.
For instance, vata is aggravated when a person with a constitution that is dominant in vata(dry) eats popcorn (dry). Opposite qualities tend to be balancing, such as when a pitta(hot) person drinks mint tea (cooling).
To a large extent, the qualities can be determined by considering the rasa, virya& vipakaof a substance. For instance, a food that has sweet rasa, cooling virya& sweet vipakawill aggravate kaphadosha, which is inherently sweet and cool. However, this food shall pacify pitta dosha.
Sometimes, a food may be a mixture of many doshicqualities. For instance, fresh ginger has a pungent taste, heating virya, and sweet vipaka. Taken in moderation, it results in the pacification of all three doshas.
All in all, understanding the individual is the key to finding a truly balanced diet.
9. Food Combining
When two or more foods having different tastes, energy, or post-digestive effects are combined, the digestive fire can become overloaded. This can inhibit the enzyme system, and result in the production of toxins. Yet, when these same foods are eaten separately, they may stimulate the digestive fire, be quickly digested, and even help to burn the toxins in the body. Further, incompatible food combinations not only disturb the digestion, but also cause confusion in the intelligence of our cells and thereby lead to many different diseases.
Poor food combinations can produce indigestion, fermentation, putrefaction and gas formation. If prolonged, this may even lead to toxemia and disease. For example, eating bananas with milk can diminish the agni, change the intestinal flora, produce toxins, and cause congestion, cold cough, and allergies Although both of these foods have a sweet taste, milk has a cooling energy while the bananas are heating Additionally, their vipakais different. Bananas are sour, while milk is sweet. Similarly milk and melons should not be eaten together. Even though both of these foods are cooling, milk is laxative while melon is diuretic. Moreover, milk requires more time for digestion. The stomach acid that is required to digest the melon causes the milk to curdle. All this causes confusion to our digestive system, and results in imbalance.
Some useful guidelines with respect to combining different foods in the diet are as follows:
- Do not eat fresh foods with leftovers. Minimize the use of leftover foods from previous day.
- Avoid eating lots of raw and cooked foods together.
- If varied foods with possibly aggravating qualities are cooked together in the same pot, they are pre-digested together. The digestive fire can handle them better without problems.
- Spices and herbs are added to help make foods more compatible or to ease undesirable effects. For instance, adding cooling cilantro to hot & spicy food can facilitate its digestion.
- Different quantities of each food involved in a combination can sometimes be significant. For instance, equal quantities by weight of ghee and honey (3 parts of ghee to 1 part honey by volume) are a bad combination. A mixture of these two in any other ratio is not toxic.
- The body may have adapted to certain sub-optimal food combination through years of use, This is not to say that the practice should be continued; it still produces toxic effects
- Antidotes such as cardamom in coffee, or ghee and black pepper with potatoes, often help to alleviate some of the negative effects that are inherent in those foods. Potatoes generally cause gas, while ghee & black pepper pacify vata– and thus help to counteract that effect.
- Eating a “bad ‘’combination occasionally usually does not upset the digestion too much.
10. Quantity of Food
It is observed that the same diet has different reactions on different persons, because of the divergence in their individual digestive and assimilative capacity (agni). Besides, what may be lacking in one individual need not be lacking in another. A fixed and standard diet with a specific number of calories is therefore illogical, unscientific and, in fact, harmful to the body.
One should be sensitive to the capacity of one’s stomach. Moderation in diet is the guiding principle, i.e. to eat no more or less than what is absolutely necessary to satisfy one’s appetite.
As a general rule, half the stomach should be filled with solid food at each meal, one quarter of the stomach space is to be left for water and the balance quarter of stomach space should be left for gases, which are produced during the process of digestion.
If the space is not left for the gases to work, the heavy load in the stomach slows down digestion and metabolism. Further, the gases press against the heart in an attempt to find their way out. Heart attacks have been seen to occur soon after meals, caused by improper eating.
Three principal meals in a day are appropriate. Breakfast at 8 a.m. may be followed by lunch at 1 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. In the interval between any two meals, it is best to refrain from eating. Fruit juice or a glass of lemon water may however be suitable at such times.
Heavy meals must be avoided before sunrise, or after sundown. As a general principle, one should develop awareness of one’s own body and its particular food requirements in order to ascertain the optimal quantity of food that it requires in order to remain healthy.
11. Manner of Eating
Food should always be taken with a calm and quiet mind, and in a slow and attentive manner. Fear, anger and other disturbing feelings have a bad effect on the digestion. When the person in an excited state of mind, the food that is eaten will not have the same beneficial effect upon the body. In extreme cases, it may even do harm.
Food should be masticated well with the teeth. It should then be allowed to mix thoroughly with the saliva, which contains several valuable juices that help in the proper assimilation of the food. If the meal is rushed, the food may take a long time to be digested, and sometimes the digestion remains incomplete.
Water or any other liquid should not be drunk while solid food is being eaten, as this dilutes the digestive juices and makes them less effective. Consequently, the process of digestion takes longer to complete. Fluids and drinks may be taken half and hour before or an hour after a meal without any ill effects on the digestive process.