In Ayurvedic texts, “ahara”, which means food, is one of the most important aspects of life and the most important of its three pillars. The three pillars are “ahara” (food), “nidra” (sleep) and “Brahmacharya” (abstinence). These three pillars promote growth, strength, development and improvement of “Ojas” or vigor of the body.
Some of the major diseases manifest in the body resulting from psychological and lifestyle disorders caused by poor diet. While healthy foods nourish your body and mind, unhealthy foods have the opposite effect. This is why a properly ingested diet, according to Ayurvedic principles, is vital to keeping your body, mind and sense organs healthy.
So how do we eat properly?
The principles of dietetics and nutrition in the Ayurvedic system of medicine include different classes of food and drink, information on healthy and unhealthy diets, learning the discipline of food, etc. This is called “Ahara Vidhi Visheshayatana” or the eight principles of food. Of these, three deal specifically with the Ayurvedic rationale for spacing out meal times, the right time to eat, and portion sizes. They are the following:
Raashi (amount of food)
To understand this principle, you need to know how digestion occurs in the body. If you continue to eat after your stomach is full, there is no more space for digestion and digestion will not occur as usual. So what is the right amount to eat? Ayurveda divides the stomach into four quadrants. We should ideally eat to fill our stomach half full, another quarter of the capacity should be reserved for water and the last quarter should be kept empty. Unfortunately, nowadays, with the number of distractions, our mind is not aware of the amount of food we eat. During a meal, we are preoccupied with the television or our cell phones, and we do not care whether our stomach is full or not. It is therefore important to maintain a good connection with food as we consume it.
Upayoga Samstha (rules for taking food)
Upayoga Samstha means the rules of food. Food should only be eaten when the last meal has been properly digested, and one should be hungry and enthusiastic about eating. Our body shows hunger when it needs food. Hungerless snacking, especially if done at night, will definitely cause indigestion. Activities like laughing, talking and watching TV while eating should be avoided. It is not a good idea to eat when we are anxious, worried, deep in thought, angry or sad. Or in other words, eating when emotionally compromised should be avoided.
Food should not be eaten in a hurry or too slowly either. In addition, the quality of food must also be taken into consideration. For example, food should be hot, tasty, easy to digest, of good quality, in sufficient quantity according to a person’s Agni, and should contain all six rasas. In Ayurveda, there are six tastes or rasas: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy and astringent. Ayurveda recommends including each of the tastes in every meal. Too much of any of the six rasas should also be avoided.
Ayurveda further emphasizes a fixed meal time for proper digestion and assimilation of food. It’s not just about maintaining a set time for meals; how the food is prepared is also important. For example, jumping out of bed at 7 a.m. and grabbing a quick bite is not the way to go. We need to wake up early, engage in light exercises like yoga and meditation, and complete our morning ablutions. This is when our body enzymes start working for digestion.
Ayurveda believes in personalized eating habits based on one’s doshas. But usually one can have light and hot breakfast like porridge, millet rotis or chapatis, hot oatmeal, rice pudding, eggs, steamed fruits and so on at 7 a.m. Lunch should be the largest meal and should be taken between 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. We can eat fruit between breakfast and lunch if hunger strikes. But it should be taken before 11am. After lunch, at 4 p.m., you can have fruit juice. Dinner should be eaten at least two hours before bedtime. This means that it can be taken between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. and not after. A relaxing walk after dinner is good practice, after which you should go to bed at 10 p.m.
Upayokta Samstha (He who consumes food)
This principle covers mindful eating. You need to be aware of how food is prepared, focus on the taste when eating it, feeling the consistency, enjoying the meal, understanding the benefits you get when consuming it, and more.
With an understanding of these principles, you will be able to maximize the benefits you get from your diet and reduce your risk of developing disease.