Up Your Diet Equation

Words: Dr Ambika P NAYAK

Our modern diet plan quantifies food per gram — of the whole meal, or each composition, and overall calories for every meal.

Ever wondered if there was a standard plan for every human being, including the apparently healthy individual? The fact is: people vary so much from one another with regard to body type and structure, as also individual needs, based on their day-to-day physical and mental activities, professional involvement, personal likings for food, effect of the seasons and place, where they belong, thanks to their different cultural backgrounds, among other things, that there can’t be just one diet that fits all. This is also complexity at its best.

Besides, have you also ever wondered what is the right type/quantity of food for you? It may seem odd when an Ayurveda physician avers that the right way of filling one’s stomach is by ‘asking your own self.’

Crash Diets No Good

One common outcome of today’s crash diet plans is the feeling of dissatisfaction due to a sudden decrease in the quantity and quality of food. This often leads to irritation, fatigue, disinterest towards routine activities and, ultimately, nutritional deficiencies, which present with assimilatory complaints and more.

The foremost factor to consider while planning a diet is the element of satiety; it comes from the Latin, satis, which means enough. Oxford Dictionary defines it as the state, or feeling, of being completely full of food, or of having had enough of something.

Factors that influence satiety are gastric stretching — quantity of intake causes the stomach bag to stretch and send a signal to the brain through nerve stimulation and meal composition. The quality of food and macronutrients in food trigger the release of certain hormones which, in turn, prompt satiety. Our brain is sensitive to glucose for its energy needs. Also, other components in the meal cover our nutritional requirements. In Ayurveda, every day meal is, at best, a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, fibre, water, fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Anatomy and physiology in Ayurveda is advanced and explained in different terms. Ayurveda’s principles are just as valid today, as they were aeons ago, especially through clinical application.

Acharya Charaka, the renowned Ayurveda physician of yore, states that one should identify their own stomach capacity and conceptualise to split it into three portions — one each for solid food and liquid food, and the third for vatapittakapha. This has to be contextually understood as digestive juices.

The mixer grinder paradigm can be used to demonstrate this idea. When a jar is filled with only dry items to grind, or overly filled, it doesn’t grind well, or when there is excess, or less, liquid portion in it, there will no proper grinding of the ingredients. Improperly digested food, therefore, can cause various gastric issues. Remember — our stomach is a hollow muscular organ responsible for naturally breaking down the ingested food. Besides, the size of the stomach varies from person to person — this is obvious.

Wholesome Nutrition

As Dhanya S et al articulate in Journal of Ethnic Foods, “Nutrition is most important because from a proper wholesome and balanced diet, all the body constituents — doshadhatu and mala — are formed. This is why it is said that ‘we are what we eat.’ Food is not only essential for our physical well-being; it provides nutrition for our mind as well.” They add, “In the Upanishads, it has been stated that the food we consume gets divided into three parts. The gross part is converted into flesh and a subtle part nourishes the mind. It is also stated that the water we drink gets divided into three parts. The major part becomes urine, the middle part becomes blood and the subtle part nourishes our life force, or prana.”

They elaborate, “Ayurveda is a healing science which considers food as a major therapeutic tool. Ayurveda recommends us to eat sattvic [pure and fresh] foods avoiding rajasic [fiery] and tamasic [spoiled] foods. Sattvic foods are fresh and light and help to clear the mind. Ayurvedic food habits help us to regularise absorption, assimilation and elimination. The role of food on the behaviour and character of a person is not negligible. As our food will be pure and natural, our brain will also be healthy and active. Ayurvedic food habits help in strengthening the immune system and assisting the gut in functioning more effectively. With a clear mind and a healthy body, one can more easily fulfil one’s life/soul purpose.”

As the legendary Suśruta, the ancient Ayurveda physician and surgeon, articulates, one should eat a proper quantity of food at the proper time by sitting on a raised platform. He explains, “After meals, we should sit comfortably like a king and go for a short walk. On eating, we should first take a sweet taste, followed by salt and sour tastes and, thereafter, pungent, bitter and astringent tastes. Sweet taste helps to overcome vayu in the stomach, especially in a hungry person; salt and sour tastes stimulate the digestive fire; and, the pungent, bitter and astringent tastes, taken in the end, subdue kapha dosha. Also, some fruits taken in the beginning help to overcome vata dosha. Indian gooseberry is recommended at the start, in-between and end of the meal. One should take heavy foods, up to one-third of the fullness and light foods can be taken up to satiation.”

Planning the right diet schedule according to the principles of Ayurveda is customised. The quantity of food is also highly individualised and subjective. Heavy meals, or small meals, are harmful to health. It is, therefore, necessary to fill the stomach with the right proportion of different kinds of food to maintain satiety and nutritional balance, while keeping in mind the purpose of maintenance of health, gaining or losing weight, or deriving other useful benefits thereto.

Dr AMBIKA P NAYAK, MD [Ayurveda], is Founder & Managing Director of Ayurvedeeyam, a speciality Ayurveda Clinic in Bengaluru. Her passion for 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, just as much as her axiom, Svasthasya svāsthya rakṣaṇaṃ — the age-old, fundamental principle of Ayurveda. Dr Nayak, who has presented papers and participated in national and international symposia, is also 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.com

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