Food As Medicine

Words: Dr Ambika P NAYAK

Acharya Charaka defined Ayurveda as a discerning programme that expounds what is favourable and unfavourable for the welfare of all human beings:

Hitaahitam sukham duham ayustasya hitaahitam |

Maanam cha taccha yatroktam ayurvedah sochyate ||

Ayurveda is not only a medical science, it also a handbook of, and for, life.

The first objective of Ayurveda is to maintain health in the healthy [Swasthasya swasthya rakshanam]. Ayurveda, therefore, designates food, sleep and self-restraint as the three pillars to healthy living.

As philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach quipped in the context of his country, Germany, and its peoples’ stress and turmoil: “We are what we eat.” The aphorism expatiates the fact that we are made from what we consume. Food is one of the basic needs for our survival; it is also one of the most integral topics covered in Ayurveda literature. There are especial details available for each ingredient used as food — including their usefulness and ill-effects, besides recipes for everyday utilisation — the first purpose being maintenance of health and following certain diets to managing illnesses. This has a dual benefit — of food being the ‘fuel’ and also medicine. This isn’t all. Preventive medicine has been given great importance in Ayurveda too.

Nutrient Power

There is this verse from Charaka Samhita that gives us a list of food items meant to be ubiquitous in everyday diet. It covers most of the essential nutrients required to prevent disease. In other words, to keep us healthy. Modern nutritional science would acquiesce to the idea — no more, no less.

Shashtikaan shaali mudgaan cha saindhava aamalake yavaan |

Aantareeksha paya: sarpi: jaangalam madhu cha abhyaset ||

Shashtika Shali/Rice. A variant of rice that has 60 days’ crop cycle can indicate the cereal group in general too. They are a source of carbohydrates. Their breakdown gives us glucose — the foremost source of energy especially vital for the working of our brain.

Mudga/Green Gram represents the category of pulses — a rich source of protein that helps to build tissue and also aid their repair.

Saindhava Lavana [Himalayan Pink Salt]. The first necessity of salt in food is to provide taste. It is also the source of minerals for the optimal functioning of the nervous system and muscles. It is responsible to maintain hydration in our body.

Amalaki/Indian Gooseberry is a rich source of vitamin C, the great antioxidant, essential for body tissues, better absorption of nutrients from food, and to building immunity.

Yava [Grass family grains, like barley and oats]. They are a good source of soluble fibre, minerals and vitamins.

Antareeksha Jala/Rain Water. Aside from being a naturally available source, rain water is rich in various salts, minerals — the big surprise is it is loaded with cyanocobalamin [vitamin B12].

Paya/Milk. This is known to be a complete meal by itself, thanks to its good nutritional value. However, adulteration, as also malpractices — including antibiotic and hormonal ‘use’ — have been blamed for certain ill-effects in consumers.

Sarpi/Ghee. This is a rich source of vitamins, antioxidants, and healthy fats; they are important for the nervous system to thrive.

Jangala Mamsa/Meat. This would be happy news to meat lovers. Ayurveda propagates the usage of meat in food, as it is a rich source of protein and other essential nutrients, viz., zinc, essential amino acids, and vitamin B12. The caveat is: meat should be put through healthy processing, cooked well and consumed in moderation. It, thus, becomes good food. It is, however, imperative to avoid red meat and excessively processed meat, as they may trigger the risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Madhu/Honey. This is a famed natural sweetener. It has useful antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects, including wound healing properties.


The traditional Indian diet — be it a meal, or quick bite — corresponds to a comprehensive diet plan. It covers all the nutrition factors, including various tastes, from sweet and salt and pungent to astringent tastes, thanks to our famed ‘smorgasbord’ of cuisines. There are also other accompaniments in the traditional Indian thali that makes it a balanced meal. Besides, our diets, when followed appropriately, are reasonably efficient in balancing vata-pitta-kapha tridoshas. What also adds ‘spice’ to our meals is — when we subtly modify certain dietary factors, it helps to restore balance to mildly vitiated tridoshas.

Dr AMBIKA P NAYAK, MD [Ayurveda], is Founder & Managing Director of Ayurvedeeyam, a speciality Ayurveda Clinic, based out of Bengaluru, with a branch in Udupi, Karnataka, India. Her passion for Ayurveda, the ancient, yet ‘completest’ natural medical system, and professional clinical skills are keyed to raising awareness for Ayurveda as a first choice of treatment for illness and healthy living. Dr Nayak also has credentials of being a family physician and she is loved by her patients of all age groups. She frequently shares talks regarding health with corporates and is a strong advocate of panchakarma, thanks to its fully holistic and proven therapeutic efficacy in the treatment and prevention of illness, or disease. She is also Assistant Editor [Ayurveda] @ ThinkWellness360.

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