Full-Spectrum Nutrition with AyurvedaJun 30, 2022 10:00AM ● By Neeru N. Kaushik and Neha Kaushik
Ayurveda, the world’s oldest healing system and “mother of all sciences,” defines health as a balance of body, mind and spirit—in harmony with the environment and cosmos. Its goal is to achieve this balance and harmony so that life can be led to its fullest.
One of the cornerstones in Ayurveda for achieving balance is proper nutrition. Although “you are what you eat” could easily be a mantra, Ayurveda takes it several steps further with all processes involved in the proper nourishment of body, mind and spirit. This includes not only substances that are ingested, but also their proper digestion, absorption, assimilation and transformation.
If ingested substances are not properly digested in the stomach and colon, nutrients will not be absorbed properly by the blood and lymph, and they will not be carried to the various organs for proper assimilation; thereby, their transformation into energy for use by the body will not be realized. Every step of this process is critical to health.
To achieve the proper functioning of each of these processes, it is important to understand one’s unique body constitution. Ayurveda defines our constitution as composed of the five universal elements—fire, water, earth, air, space—grouped together to form three Doshas: Pitta (fire/water), Kapha (earth/water) and Vata (air/space). Keeping these natural elements in balance is key. If one or more of these elements is out of balance, all aspects of health are effected.
In addition, the seat of all Doshas is in the gastrointestinal tract: Kapha is the stomach, Pitta is the stomach and small intestine, Vata is the colon. Therefore, an imbalance in any of the Doshas will have an impact on digestion. Western medicine is now realizing the connection of the gastrointestinal system to illness and often refers to it as “the second brain”.
Although each of us contains all three Doshas, the combinations are unique, with one or two predominating. Understanding your unique combination will help to determine a Dosha-specific diet that will most favorably achieve balance and harmony for you. To determine your own Dosha profile and diet, it would be best to consult with a trained Ayurvedic practitioner. This will ensure that if imbalances are present, they will be correctly addressed.
In addition to following a Dosha-specific diet, it is important to remember that Ayurveda defines health as being in harmony with your environment and the cosmos. Understanding this principle explains the importance of choosing foods that are appropriate to the season. Each season is also identified in Ayurveda with Dosha terms: winter is Kapha (cold), spring/summer is Pitta (warm) and fall is Vata (damp). We can help our bodies thrive by choosing foods that are seasonal, local and grown without pesticides. Remember the rule of thumb “like attracts like” and choose foods opposite to the season to balance the Doshas.
And while it might be obvious to choose warm foods in winter, and cool foods in summer, it might not be so obvious to stay away from cold foods. Lowering our normal body temperature is actually detrimental as it reduces the heat necessary for proper digestion, thereby interfering with the entire process as described above. Raw or frozen foods, as well as processed, canned or packaged foods are also harder to digest and contain preservatives and other ingredients that create toxins which prevent nutrients from reaching the cells.
For a Pitta balancing diet (spring/summer), choose foods that reduce heat and are water-rich. Include fruits such as apples, pears, plums, berries, pomegranates, papayas, pineapples, peaches, mangoes and melons—especially watermelon. Vegetables might include artichokes, asparagus, zucchini, tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, baby bok choy, baby beets and green leafy vegetables, along with bitter greens like escarole, dandelion leaves or broccoli rabe. Staying well hydrated with water or herbal teas will combat dryness. Ginger, with its anti-inflammatory properties, helps ease overheating. Avoid hot and spicy or deep-fried foods, as they impair digestion.
For a Vata or Kapha balancing diet (fall/winter) choose foods that are warming, cooked and easy to digest so that the digestive fire (agni) will not be dampened. Warming foods to include are root vegetables, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, beets, carrots, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, as well as steamed or stewed green leafy vegetables. Adding warming spices—such as garlic, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, cumin and cayenne—will help to burn off toxins as well. Baked or stewed fruits—such as apples, pears, plums—with some cinnamon will add a boost of antioxidants. Add whole cooked grains (quinoa, amaranth, millet, barley), legumes (beans, peas, lentils) and ghee (easy to digest fat).
It is also advisable to eat your main meal during the middle of the day when digestion is strongest and finish eating at least two hours before bedtime to allow your evening meal to be completely digested. Eat slowly and chew thoroughly to aid digestion and increase absorption. Throughout the day, sip warm water and warming teas, such as ginger and turmeric, to keep the digestive fire strong.
Poor digestion effects all aspects of health and, in turn, digestion itself is effected by stress, insomnia, emotional issues, lifestyle choices and, as already mentioned, pesticides and other toxins. Seasonal detox plans and Ayurvedic treatments can be beneficial in addressing these issues and assist in helping the body, mind and spirit regain balance and harmony. Maintaining an intuitive connection to your body is the key to allowing it to function and heal with its own innate wisdom. Most important is keeping a positive outlook on life, as that will translate into a positive health outcome as well.
Dr. Neeru N. Kaushik, ND, MA, MS, MS Acu, and Dr. Neha Kaushik, NMD, MPH, MS, practice at Institute for Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Therapies, located at 805 Kings Highway East, in Fairfield. Connect at 203-331-9111, [email protected], [email protected] or AyurCT.com. See ad, page 10.
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