Food Sadhana: What, How And When To Eat In Ayurveda
The 8-Hour Diet has been getting wide-spread attention lately as the new diet which proposes only when to eat and doesn’t control what you eat. In fact the authors argue that staying up late, and eating around the clock in our 24-hour culture is responsible for the country’s high rates of diabetes and obesity. They also say that our extended eating interval throws our digestive system off-kilter and messes with the many hormones and enzymes that manage it.
Additionally, new research from Salk Institute in California has come up with similar evidence suggesting that eating within an eight-hour window every day can be key to weight loss. Eating within the window period could reverse obesity and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Apparently what time you eat and when you eat matters more than what you eat. The eight-hour limit seems to undo the harm done by an unhealthy diet.
The logic behind this is, sticking to strict meal times allows the body to predict when it will eat, thus being better prepared to burn calories. Allowing the body to predict regular meal time’s helps in synchronizing the digestive system and preparing it to process food. It is also found to affect the balance of bacteria found in the gut which control metabolism.
In the research, mice fed a high-fat diet within an eight hour time frame, for instance between 9 am and 5 pm were both healthier and slimmer than those given the same number of calories throughout the whole day. This applied even to obese mice who had their eating window reduced to nine hours, and were able to drop five percent of their total body weight within a few days while still enjoying the same amount of calories.
Professor Satchin Panda, who led the study, said: “Most of the advice is, ‘you have to change nutrition, and you have to eat a healthy diet.’ But many people don’t have access to healthy diets. So the question is, without access to a healthy diet, can they still practice time-restricted feeding and reap some benefit?”
The protective effects were maintained even during “cheat days” when the mice were allowed unrestricted food over the weekends. This means an occasional lapse won’t do the dieter any harm.
In Ayurveda, our digestive system is co-related with the concept of Agni. If it is healthy, we stay healthy. To make it possible, Ayurveda has defined the dietary regimes, which are applicable for us to remain optimally healthy. It not only deals at physical levels, but also at psychological and social levels.
Research is catching up to the conventional wisdom from traditional medicine which dictates that we must eat food at the same time, sleep and wake up at the same time and follow a rigid discipline. But, today these ideals have been forgotten mostly to facilitate convenience and our lifestyle which is different from what our ancestors followed. Ayurveda dictates strict timing for eating and many other rules on eating food called ‘food sadhana’. Sadhana is a sanskrit term for spiritual practice; that is focused and enriches your life. Sadhana takes you from limitation to liberation. The practice or sadhana of wholesome cooking is the only sadhana that takes us through a complete cycle, from the earth and back to earth.
The importance of food and its relation to one’s growth is outlined even in the vedas which precedes many ayurvedic texts. Vedas maintain that food is primarily of plant origin, and dependent upon the earth’s minerals, and supplemented by natural foods provided by animals like milk and honey which can be obtained without slaughtering animals.
Ayurvedic Cycle of Food
What we eat from nature is also within us. We are the air, water, soil and light of this planet. Every grain of sand, mountain range, river, and leaf contains the same elements. The food body of the universe is our personal food body.
It all begins with a good seed; a seed that contains memory of all time; one that has not been tampered with or genetically manipulated and from which a healthy and happy plant will sprout. The healthy plant is prepared into food; the waste and roughage return to earth after the body is nourished.
Principles of Eating in Ayurveda
Engaging with the food: All the senses of sight, smell, taste, sound and sensation must be stimulated for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. Food should deserve your attention.
Eat seasonally: There are specific foods that are eaten according to the seasons. This will of course, vary across time zones. But the best way you can implement this is to eat fresh fruits and vegetables that occur in season or closest to the last season. Although canned/frozen foods are not unhealthy, eating organic in-season produce can give you more nutrition.
Balanced diet: Ayurveda using all components of food including dairy and meat. But this should always be balanced. One cannot simply eat a large piece of steak and just a small serving of vegetables. There should be balance in flavors, texture, nutrients and portions.
Our bodies and minds are intrinsically connected. The quality and content of our thoughts are as vital to our physical health as food. When you sit down for a meal, ask yourself this question: How can I best nourish myself?
Cooking in Ayurveda
The art of cooking is an important practice in Ayurveda. It gives us endless practice to refine the food body. This sadhana is the hub around which everything falls into balance. Food sadhanas are meant to remind us of a time in the past when humans melded with the earth, and a time in the future when we will know the bliss of this melding. The two most important ingredients in any meal are love and kindness. Without these, the ‘ojas’ or the energy of food after it is digested is vastly diminished. Don’t project negative emotions on food while cooking. While we may be angry, sad, disappointed, stressed or fatigued, if we are conscious of our state, the essence of our love can shine through. There is a certain gentleness, which can be learnt, that needs to prevail when we are holding food. It must be picked up, washed, prepared, and cooked with a firm care. Should negative emotions prevail, leave the kitchen allow the emotions to dissolve, and then return with softness.
Be gracious while preparing a meal and offer a small portion of the cooked food to the fire with a prayer to God. Observe this ritual before the food is served. A small fire in an earthen pot can be kept for this; a prayer will also suffice.
How to Eat according to Ayurveda
Food is composed of the same building blocks of creation as you. Air, fire, space, earth and water are the elements that create life and these elements exist in you in varying degrees. Nature has the perfect foods for balancing these elements in you.
If the emotions present while eating a meal are negative, sweet foods will turn sour in our digestive tract.
Never eat when you are upset.
While silence is the best sadhana to maintain during meals, gentle, wholesome conversation is acceptable.
Meals should be eaten at the same time each day.
Don’t sleep directly after a meal. Don’t eat while standing up, watching TV or while lying down.
Fill the stomach, which holds about two-and-a-half handfuls of food, one-third full of food, and one-third with liquid.Keep a third empty to allow space and energy for digestion.
Sitting in a half-lotus position and eating from a utensil on the ground is beneficial.
Chewing food to a pulp is another delicate sadhana; it facilitates digestion and lightens the load on our organs. If we do not chew well, we deny our bodies certain essential nutrients. .Nurture wholesome attitudes to food; chew with awareness, but don’t make a fetish of it.
Food should neither be very hot nor absolutely cold.
Water should be avoided at least 15 minutes before food.
The quantity of water after food should be small.
Heavy (Guru) food should be taken in a limited quantity.
Heavy food should not be taken at night.
The proper time of night meal is two to three hours before going to bed.
After night meal, it is better to go for a short walk.
After meals, heavy mental or physical work should be avoided. Some rest is advisable for proper digestion of food.
The food should be fresh, easily digestible and protein-enriched. If cooked food is kept for a long period of time, its positive qualities diminish, due to the existence of free radicles and oxidization, and this when eaten, is harmful for our health.
Acidic and alkaline content of foods must not be excessive. Excess of alkali is not as harmful as excessive acids in food, which might lead to acidity or other stomach related problems.
Each meal must contain at least one protein-filled and one carbohydrate-filled dish. One could eat fresh vegetables, salads, fresh chutneys, pickles, papad and soup with a sprinkling of salt.
Each individual should consume not more than 1/2 to 3/4 litre of oil per month.
Stale, tinned/ canned food and edibles that are kept in the open, cooked and uncovered or left cut and in the open are harmful in nature.
To balance excess of any element in you, use foods of the opposite qualities. If you have excessive fire, cool down with cucumbers, dill, mint, rose water and cilantro. If you have too much air, add more unctuous foods such as ghee and olive oil. Pungent foods such as chili, ginger, garlic and warm the body and melt the watery element.
Eat foods that cover all six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. Your taste buds will be satisfied and you will have fewer cravings. This is simpler than it sounds. All greens are bitter. A small amount of sea salt in your food covers salty. Pungent foods are cayenne, garlic, ginger and pepper. Sour foods include lime and lemon. Astringent foods are beans and legumes. All grains are sweet, as well as milk, ghee and butter.
Ayurveda isn't against savoring food, but one who is mindful of the body and chooses the right ingredients to enhance flavor is rewarded with health. It also doesn’t advocate vegetarianism. In fact, properties and benefits of meats and other animal derivatives are described in various diseases.
Ayurvedic Doctor & Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher
One should take food evenly divided between day and night in seasons when nights and days are of equal duration.
One should not take food before or after the appropriate time (when the digestion is active) or in quantity less or more.
Taking food before the digestion is ready, creates disease. Taking food after hunger has come and gone, when the digestive fire is disturbed by vayu, the food is taken with difficulty and produces a loss of appetite.
Food in deficient quantity produces discontent and reduces strength while that in excessive quantity produces lassitude, heaviness, gurgling sound and malaise.
During a meal, one should gargle with water as to cleanse the tongue as it gives new relish to the food because of the tongue being cleaned. The tongue that is satiated by palatable foods in the beginning of a meal does not taste so the mouth should be cleansed in between.
After a meal one should attend to favorite sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and touches. By doing this the meal is positioned well. Despicable sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and touches as well as dirty food or excessive laughter can produce vomiting.
After the first meal of the day, if the digestive fire does not come up clearly, the second meal should be skipped as eating a meal when the last meal has not been digested thoroughly extinguishes the digestive fire.
One should abstain from food that is heavy in terms of quantity and substance. Such as mung beans, although light becomes heavy in excess quantity. Urad dahl, buffalo, boar, etc is too heavy in substance.
If eating something drying like rice flour, one should drink double the quantity of water after eating a small quantity of the item. Heavy food are desirable up to 1/3 of the fullness and light food up to satiation. Dry food supplemented with plenty of liquid is digested well. Dry food used frequently is not digested properly without moistening it.
Food that is dry, incompatible, and wind forming causes disorders of digestive fire. Dry preparations such as rice flour etc, incompatible such as fish mixed with milk etc, wind forming such as bengal gram, lentils, etc.
The sadhana of food is meant to be easy and gentle, not rigid. Aligning with seasonal changes, with the rhythms of the planets and to the day-to-day needs of your body is an essential practice for your health and happiness. The sadhana of food is a lifelong practice which will include eating the right foods at the right time with the right state of mind, with the right people and that which is prepared with a positive state of mind. This will ensure that you’re at the healthiest physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.