If you’ve ever had a delicious meal at an Indian restaurant, you’ve experienced the healthiest and most balanced method of cooking in the world. Applying Ayurvedic principles to your own diet isn’t at all complicated, but learning to modify your food choices and cooking style requires a basic understanding of the term itself.
Ayurveda, the foundation of wellness in India, is centered in the idea that our bodies are made of five elements: space (akash), air (vayu), fire (tejas), water (ap), and earth (prithvi). At the helm is space, the cosmic space that allows the remaining elements to operate. Balancing the elements through diet and lifestyle can help you achieve greater wellness. Here are five tips to consider as you integrate Ayurveda into your diet.
1. Eliminate Fast Food
All too often, the modern American diet subsists on processed foods containing chemicals, fermentation, and oils that negatively affect the natural dietary balance your body needs. Make a commitment to reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates and saturated fats, especially those that come from meat and cheese. Cook with fresh, whole ingredients in your own kitchen instead of grabbing meals to go, ordering pizza or heating frozen entrees loaded with fat and sodium. With less saturated fat and more attention to food combinations that suit your constitution, your body can better extract the nutrients it needs.
2. Learn the Terminology
An Ayurvedic cook knows how to categorize food according to traditional terminology. Learn to speak the language. Besides the elements, you should learn the three mental properties: sattva (curiosity), raja (motivation), and tama (the desire to stop, slow down, and rest). Also learn the three terms for doshas, or body constitutions: vata (air and ether), pitta (fire), and kapha (water and earth). Observe your behavior and determine which dosha or combination of doshas rule your own body and eating behaviour.
3. Strengthen Your Prakruti
With the understanding that learning and living an Ayurvedic life takes time, you can begin to strengthen your constitution, or prakruti, by eating foods that remedy your imbalances. For example, if you’re like the many Americans who gravitate towards tamasic foods that make you feel sluggish and slow, a simple change like replacing your frozen breakfast burrito with grains or fresh fruit will encourage mental clarity. As you gradually eat more sattvic foods such as beets, greens, lentils, soybeans, wild rice, and fresh yogurt, your improved mood will help fight colds, fatigue, and other health problems.
4. Monitor Your Digestion
The most valuable benefit of eating in the Ayurvedic tradition is an improved and healthier digestive system. Part of your new regimen should be an increased awareness of how you eat. Do you shovel the food in quickly to keep up with a partner who eats at the speed of light? If so, slow down and take your time. Put the fork or chopstick down between bites. Drink water or tea at room temperature (the Ayurvedic tradition shuns icy drinks with meals), and go at your own pace. Also consider the time of day you eat and drink, adjusting mealtimes to reduce hasty eating on the run — no more breakfast in the car on your way to work!
5. Create Balance
Look for balance in your life. With the basics under your belt, move forward by fine-tuning your diet. Remembering to maintain a primarily sattvic approach, experiment with dosha combinations to balance your moods.
Ask an experienced Ayurvedic cook for help and guidance in learning how to pronounce the terms, and determine why your habits are steering you toward a particular direction. With focus and dedication, you’ll soon see why Ayurvedic cooking as outlasted every food fad on earth. Namaste!