Value Of Nutrition In Ayurveda

Value Of Nutrition

Words: Dr Ambika P NAYAK

The first wealth is health wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American essayist and philosopher, in 1860. It is a timeless aphorism.

The National Ayurveda Day is recognised on the auspicious day of Dhanteras. It commemorates Dhanvantari, the God of Health. This year, it was celebrated on November 2. The theme was ‘Ayurveda for Poshan’ [nutrition].

Ayurveda has given substantial importance to food; it explains the credo in great detail in the beginning of its treatises. The Ministry of AYUSH ought to be complimented for giving due recognition and acknowledgement of the role of Ayurveda in nutrition.

Ahara is said to be the foremost support system of life [trayopastambha]. Food provides the necessary nutrition for growth and health. It is a basic necessity too. It is one that directly connects humans and the earth.

As Benjamin Franklin, the first ‘Scientific American,’ said, “Eat to live, don’t live to eat.” But, today the trend is just the opposite. Result? We are witness to a compromised health ‘boom.’ Health [arogya] and ill-health [anarogya] are outcomes of one’s dietary habits. Food can make, or break it.

Diet is a vast subject in Ayurveda. The beauty of Ayurveda is that it has laid the principles, which can be modified to suit a particular individual, at any point of time and place. It is customisable, bespoke medicine, or a ‘personalised’ way of life.

Let us quickly look into the basic Ayurveda rules of diet, which when followed can lead to optimum health. They are called asta ahara vidhi vishesha ayatana — the ‘octadic’ elements being prakrati, karana, samyoga, kaala, raashi, desha, upayoga niyama, and upayokta.

Prakrati

The nature of food is to be considered like heat-producing [usna], cooling [sheeta], heavy to digest [guru], light to digest [laghu], hard [khara], soft [mridu], dry [ruksha], wet/greasy [snigdha], and so on. Generally, it is necessary to maintain a balance of these qualities, so as to not disturb the equilibrium of health. Example: if one indulges only in heat-producing food items, like spicy/masaledar food, excess non-vegetarian food, and alcohol, it is obvious one may have certain health problems, eventually, like burning sensation in the urinary tract, or mouth ulcers, hyperacidity, constipation and so on, unless the wrong indulgence is compensated for during the same time, or at least the following day, and not made into a habit.

Karana [Samskara]

This relates to processing that is being done to the food items. Washing, heating, boiling, roasting, frying, soaking, germinating etc., are the different ways. The processing brings about certain changes in the food, primarily to make it more absorbable and also bring nutritional changes. Example: the conversion of milk to curd, buttermilk, butter, ghee, paneer, cheese, and milk solids. Each of them is different by taste, appearance, nutritional value and effect on body.

Samyoga 

This is the combination of food. Foods are made from different materials. Combining different groups of food must be done cautiously. There are right and wrong combinations. Most of the traditional style meals and recipes are balanced with regard to the combination of qualities of food materials. The current trend of fruit milkshakes is a classic example of a wrong combination. When foods of different pH are taken together, the digestion of each of them may be hampered.

Kaala

This is the seasonal regime. The external seasons and changes in them have a direct impact on the living body, be it humans, animals, or plants. It is important to bring about certain dietary and lifestyle changes in tune with the changing seasons. Examples: eating mildly heat-inducing foods during winters and the opposite during summers. Sarson ka saag and makki di roti, for winters, is a famous combination in the North India, especially Punjab, as they are heat-inducing, while lassi, or chaas, are cooling and refreshing for summers. Also, if there’s an on-going illness, one must eat according to the state, or stage, of that particular illness. Example: if one has a respiratory infection, one should avoid certain food items, like cold water, ice-cream, fried food etc. They may worsen the condition by reducing one’s immunity.

Raashi

This stands for the quantity of food as a whole and individual food component [carbohydrates, proteins, fat etc]. The size of appetite, or stomach, varies, because it is a subjective entity and it must be divided into three parts to decide on the quantity of a meal a person has to take — one part for solid food, one for liquids and the third left empty for better movement of food items during digestion.

Desha

This is the ‘place.’ While deciding on the diet plan for an individual, it is necessary to consider what is native for them apropos of their place of origin and habit. Go native. In today’s scenario and movement of people to other cities, the climate and natural food habits of the place of residence ought to be kept in mind. Example: the use of wheat is more prevalent in North India and rice in South India.

Upayoga Niyama

This encompasses of simple rules to be followed during consumption of food — like eating on time, avoiding eating too slowly, or too quickly, eating food that is fresh and hot, cooking and eating in a hygienic place, etc.

Upayokta

This is the ‘person.’ Age, body constitution, illnesses, if any, are to be taken note of while deciding the diet. The food should be tasty and pleasant, acceptable to the body and mind. One should consider the choices too by not compromising on health, nutrition and taste.

Ayurveda is not a medical science alone; it is a way of life. For life to sustain, food is one of essential factors — a significant one at that.

It would be interesting to know that all medicinal plants are not food, but all food plants are medicinal. If food is right, there is no or less need for medicines. Ayurveda for nutrition doesn’t necessarily mean the addition of medicinal herbs into the diet as food supplements. Rather, it should be understood as the signpost for the judicious use of available food. The first habit that everyone should inculcate is — eating right, eating healthy and well.

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.

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