By Dr. Regina Antony
Ayurveda believes that food should have a healthy combination of all six tastes. Food should be
Pratyagram – freshly made,
Ushna – served in hot condition,
Snigdha – unctuous – containing some amounts of fats and oils
Dravottara – moderately moist and
containing all the six tastes.
(Reference – Sushruta Samhita, Sutrasthana 46/ 459-465)
Read related – Six Tastes Of Ayurveda: Qualities, Benefits, Therapeutic Action (Shad Rasa)
As far as possible, easily perishable fruits and vegetables should be collected locally. The shelf life of such fruits and vegetables is only a few days. Fruits and vegetables help to enjoy the full nutritional benefits, when procured locally.
Table of Contents
Disadvantages of distant foods
Disadvantages of procuring food from distant places:
In today’s world that is well connected by different means of transport and communication, import and export of foods has become very common. In order to increase the shelf life of these foods, refrigeration and artificial preservation techniques are utilised which are harmful to health.
Read related – Collection And Preservation Of Ayurvedic Herbs
Also, to meet the needs of the growing population, artificial methods of growth and cultivation of foods are also in practice, like the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides. Commercial farming has also become widespread, destroying natural rain forests and turning them into farmlands. Hence foods procured from distant places, grown with the help of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, preserved using chemicals and refrigerated and transported are not considered good for health.
Rule of local foods applies only for short shelf-life ingredients:
The rule of local foods is not strict to types of food ingredients with longer shelf life.
In places of long winters, deserts, excessively hot and sunny countries, only one or two types of seasons exist throughout the year. Here, it is very difficult to grow full range of food ingredients.
Read related – Various Methods of Ayurvedic Food Processing – Ahara Samskara
Three types of lands are explained in Ayurveda.
जाङ्गलं वातभूयिष्ठमानूपं तु कफोल्बणम्॥२३॥
साधारणं सममलं त्रिधा भूदेशमादिशेत् ।
jāṅgalaṃ vātabhūyiṣṭhamānūpaṃ tu kapholbaṇam||23||
sādhāraṇaṃ samamalaṃ tridhā bhūdeśamādiśet |
In the context of medicine, Desha is said to be of two kinds –
Bhumi desha – region of land and
Dehadesha – the body.
Bhumi desha (land region) is of three kinds –
Jangala (arid or desert-like land) – which is predominant of Vata
Anupa (marshy land with more of water) – which is predominant of Kapha
Sadharana(land with moderate water, vegetation, sunlight) – which has all Tridosha in balance.
Jangala – Arid land. This place naturally promotes Vata dosha. Foods that are grown here usually are light and Vata promoting.
Sadharana – Moderate land.
Anupa – Marshy lands – Foods that are grown here can promote Kapha.
So, a person living in marshy lands has Kapha increase in him and the local foods might also have Kapha promoting action due to the influence of moistness and soil quality.
For him, some long shelf-life food ingredients brought from Arid (Jangala) or normal places (Sadharana) is beneficial.
Ideal food ingredients that can be imported:
Ingredients that hold a long shelf life. Qualities of which do not get afflicted with the change in locality. Foods that can be transported to other places without requiring artificial / chemical preservation techniques.
Stable ingredients that can withstand variation of temperature and humidity without losing their nutritional values.
Read related – Classification Of Foods And Drinks – Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana 27
Locally available fruits and vegetables are preferred because of its short shelf life.
It is fine to collect food ingredients from distant places as long as there is no compromise in their nutritional values.
Cooked and Raw foods
Ayurveda mentions various methods of food processing. These include altering the form and consistency of foods so as to make them compatible and easy to digest.
Many times the foods cannot be consumed directly, as such. The inherent characters / qualities of the food substances or their form should be changed so as to make them suitable for consumption. In order to change the characters or form of foods, they need to be transformed or processed into a different form, i.e. they should be converted into usable forms using various methods. This would make the consumption and digestion of food substances easier.
Ayurveda mentions a group of food substances called ‘kritanna varga’ which means ‘group of cooked foods’.
One commonly used method of food transformation is the usage of fire for cooking foods. Food substances that cannot be consumed raw because of heaviness is cooked over fire and made light for digestion. For example, rice when raw is heavy (guru). Once it is cooked over fire, it becomes light for digestion (laghu).
Meat cannot be consumed without cooking as it is heavy. It has to be cooked well over fire and made soft before digestion. Cooking over fire also improves the palatability of foods.
Usually, only fruits are consumed raw. Even spices need not be cooked before consumption as contact with heat may result in loss of volatile principles in them.
But if the digestive power (Agni) in an individual is poor, then raw foods are not advised. This is because raw foods tend to be heavier than cooked foods for digestion.
Liquid and Solid foods
Ayurveda considers solid foods to be heavier that liquid foods for digestion. Master Sushruta mentions that the food we consume should ideally be ‘dravottara’ which means ‘moderately moist’.
According to Charaka Samhita Vimanasthana 2/3, stomach should be divided into three equal portions. Out of this,
One third of stomach should be reserved for solid foods.
One third of stomach should be reserved for liquid foods.
One third of stomach should be left vacant for action of Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
If one consumes food in this pattern, he will not become victim of diseases and other bad impacts caused by improper consumption of food. This capacity differs from person to person and between different body types. Samsarjana Krama is a special type of dietetic regimen explained in Ayurveda.
Read related – Understanding Digestion Process From An Ayurveda View
It is a graduated form of dietetic protocol in which, form of food is gradually graduated from liquid to semisolid form and from semisolid to solid food. In other terms, diet is graduated from light to heavy foods and later to normal and regular food.
Such type of diet is explained in context of post-treatment protocol of cleansing treatments especially after completion of therapeutic emesis and purgation. These cleansing procedures make the digestive fire very weak. So consuming a normal diet soon after these procedures would definitely lead to indigestion.
Liquid diet (peya) at the beginning of Samsarjana Krama is the easiest to get digested. This will kindle digestive fire to an extent and make it strong enough to digest semisolid food. Therefore in next schedule, semisolid diet is introduced. This further kindles digestive fire so that is becomes capable of digesting normal solid food. Therefore at end of Samsarjana Krama, digestive fire would have been kindled to its maximum strength and the patient is given a normal diet.
Read related – Samsarjana Krama – Graduated Dietetic Protocol After Cleansing Treatments
Oily and hot foods
What are the ideal qualities for food and treatments?
On a couple of instances, Master Sushruta has talked about ideal quantities of food
काले सात्म्यं लघु स्निग्धमुष्णं क्षिप्रं द्रवोत्तरम् ||४६५||
kāle sātmyaṃ laghu snigdhamuṣṇaṃ kṣipraṃ dravottaram ||465||
Sushruta Samhita, Sutrasthana, 46/465
Congenial food should be taken timely, it should be light,
Snigdha – unctuous
Ushna – hot, freshly made
dravottara – moist.
जीर्णशाल्योदनं स्निग्धमल्पमुष्णं द्रवोत्तरम् | भुञ्जानो..
jīrṇaśālyodanaṃ snigdhamalpamuṣṇaṃ dravottaram | bhuñjāno||
Sushruta Sutrasthana 19/32
The wounded person should consume one year old rice and the food should be
Snigdha – unctuous
Ushna – hot, freshly made
dravottara – moist.
In both these occasions, Master Sushruta stresses upon the unctuous and hotness qualities of the food.
Snigdha or unctuous means fatty or oily
In food and also in treatment, we see this combination being repeated on numerous occasions.
Read related: Unctuousness Quality – Snigdha Meaning, Action On Doshas
For consuming ghee, oil or fats, hot water is advised as a co-drink.
Oil massage is usually followed up with sweating therapy (sauna). Here also, oiliness and hotness is made into a combination. This is useful to melt and move away the toxins. These toxins are then expelled out with Panchakarma treatments.
After oil pulling or a high dose nasal oil drops therapy, herbal smoking is recommended. We see this both in the explanation of healthy daily regimen and also in therapeutic procedures for diseases of head and neck.
Hence, the combination of unctuousness and hotness is ideal for food and also in treatment.
In the food, the unctuousness (oily and fatty foods) provides the nourishment while the hotness in the form of freshly made and served hot foods and by the inclusion of spices makes the food to undergo digestion smoothly. Here, hotness can be understood as foods served fresh and hot and also as the hotness quality present in other ingredients such as spices.
If there is a combination of unctuousness and coldness, for example, it causes blockage, it causes stickiness, indigestion etc. symptoms. This is why cooked foods that are refrigerated or stored for a very long periods of time, junk foods etc. are known to cause digestive and cardio-vascular disorders due to blocking of channels. (1)
In the treatments as well, the unctuousness helps to amalgamate toxins (imbalanced Doshas), while the hotness in the form of herbal smoke or sweating treatments make them to move out from the site of pathology.
Having said that, Master Charaka warns, it is very important to avoid excess unctuousness and hotness.
स्निग्धोष्णमुष्णरूक्षं च रक्तपित्तस्य कारणम्|
snigdhoṣṇamuṣṇarūkṣaṃ ca raktapittasya kāraṇam|
This means excess unctuousness and hotness or hotness + dryness causes bleeding disorders such as nasal bleeding.
Read related: Eating Etiquette: Ayurvedic Healthy Eating Rules
Xenohermosis Fruits, Vegetables with bright colors
Are coloured fruits and vegetables better than their white variants?
There is a scientifically proven theory that, while the food plant is growing up, if it is stressed, like limited water supply, injury, excess wind, sunlight etc., or if the plant puts an extra effort to be attractive, then that plant will have more phytonutrients, antioxidants etc. (1)
This process is explained as xenohermosis (2)
Xenohormesis is a biological principle that explains how environmentally stressed plants produce bioactive compounds, chemicals, polyphenols etc. that can confer stress resistance to the plants. That stress resistant quality is transferred to humans, when we eat them.
So, the plants that bear coloured vegetables and fruits are trying harder and the fruit / veg skin has more pigments than their white counterparts. These coloured pigments are the precious antioxidants or phyto-nutrients that are highly beneficial for human health.
The idea is, the more the plant makes an effort to live, the stronger the nutrition profile of that plant, the more the benefits that they carry inside our bodies, when we eat them.
For example, a purple eggplant is better than a white eggplant, red or purple-ish radish is better than white radish, red hibiscus is better than white, black or red grapes are better than pale green grapes etc.
Grape plants produce resveratrol excessively during the times of stress. More antioxidants are found in yellow, red, orange and blue fruits.
Grape plant less water, sunny, injury –> stress –> more resveratrol –>
longevity of grape plant cells and tissues.
This is also the reason why red wine is better than the normal wine.
So, next time when you go veggie shopping, try to include fruits and vegetables with a variety of bright colours.
Refrigerating Cooked Foods?
What is Ayurveda’s take on refrigerating cooked food and then re-heating them?
Dr JV Hebbar
There are a few problems with this.
Ayurveda considers the process of cooking very seriously. While cooking, mild to moderate flame is to be maintained, The process should be gradual and ideally the foods should be consumed when the food is hot or at least lukewarm.
Like in medicines, food is also a healthy combination of nutrients and chemicals. Cooking the food is a way of charging up these nutrients and chemicals so that, when they enter the body, they are easily absorbed and the nutrients are distributed to all parts of the body.
If the cooked food is allowed to cool down, then the charged nutrients fall back to normalcy and the nutrients may not be well absorbed.
Refrigeration of fruits, vegetables etc. for a certain time is allowed as per Ayurveda, as it helps to preserve them for longer duration.
But refrigerating the cooked food is not ideal, as it makes the food harder to digest. If the food contains cooking oil, refrigerating it causes blockage of channels. Here oiliness combines with coldness and whenever there is such a combination, the body channels (respiratory, digestive, circulatory etc.,) get blocked.
Heating the refrigerated food is also avoidable as Ayurveda is against re-heating or re-boiling. Although it is allowed only in certain exceptions.
Read: Ayurveda’s Take On ReBoiling Water And Herbal Teas