Much of the dietary advice you may receive today is based on the latest fads or research from a single study. It seems that nearly every week, the information changes. A food that was good for you last week is harmful to you this week. It can be confusing to know what to eat and what is actually good for your health.
One of the reasons I appreciate Ayurveda is because of its longevity. The wisdom of Ayurveda has been around for close to 5,000 years. It is time-tested and the information has not changed. While some of the following information may be contrary to popular beliefs about nutrition today, I encourage you to try these tips and to see for yourself the wisdom and better health they can bring you.
Milk and Dairy Products
With all of the non-dairy offerings today, such as different varieties of soymilk, almond milk, and coconut milk, many people are opting out of milk and other dairy products. The way much of the dairy is produced today is harmful, not only to the mommy cows, but also to your health.
However, Ayurveda maintains that consuming dairy is necessary for optimal health. A balanced Ayurvedic diet includes milk, yogurt, and ghee. In today’s world of dairy farming, the recommendation is to get cow-friendly products. That means grass-fed, organic, and possibly raw milk and dairy.
The process of pasteurization that kills bacteria and other potentially harmful microorganisms also kills the beneficial enzymes that help you digest dairy. The best way to ensure dairy is digestible is to buy raw milk from a safe source and bring it just to the boiling point for one minute. By doing this, you also reduce Kapha in the milk.
According to Ayurveda, milk is a whole food and doesn’t combine well with other foods, especially bananas, fish, melons, yogurt, sour fruit, yeast bread, and kitchari. This is because combining milk with these types of food can be extremely difficult to digest. Try drinking milk warm and with sweet spices such as cardamom or nutmeg instead.
Ghee, or clarified butter, is a healing food, according to Ayurveda. You can purchase ghee made from the cream of grass-fed cows. Ghee increases the digestive fire, agni, and improves absorption and assimilation. It nourishes ojas, which are the healing properties in all of the tissues. Ghee is a good carrier for medicinal herbs to all seven bodily tissues, or dhatus. Ghee is especially good for Pitta and Vata types as its cooling and oily properties help relieve excess heat and dryness often associated with imbalanced Pitta and Vata, It can be good for Kapha types in moderation, but since ghee and Kapha are both associated with cool and oily properties, you need to be careful about creating an imbalance. Counterindications for ghee include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar.
Incompatible Food Combinations
Nutrition in Ayurveda is about decreasing ama, which is toxins, and increasing ojas, which is life-force energy. One way to do this is follow the guidelines for food combining. There are certain foods that shouldn't be combined with other foods or that need to be eaten alone. For example, Ayurvedic texts state that melons must be eaten alone, and we’ve already established that milk is best if you drink it alone or with sweet spices such as cardamom or nutmeg. Another thing you should consider eating apart from any meal is ice cream or cold beverages. Ayurvedic teaching frowns upon any frozen or iced food since the temperature douses agni. But if you must eat ice cream, let food digest from your previous meal before indulging.
While these food combination guidelines can be a bit challenging to remember and observe all the time, it’s particularly beneficial to follow them if you’re having tummy troubles or other digestive issues. Here are some key combination guidelines:
- Yogurt shouldn’t be combined with milk, sour fruits, hot drinks, fish, mango, starches, cheese, and banana.
- Eggs shouldn’t be combined with milk, yogurt, cheese, fruits, and potatoes.
- Starches (pastas, potatoes, breads, rice, etc.) shouldn’t be combined with bananas, eggs, milk, and dates.
- Honey shouldn’t be combined in equal proportions (1:1) with ghee in a recipe or combined with grains. In addition, honey should never be cooked.
- Corn shouldn’t be combined with dates, raisins, and bananas.
- Lemons shouldn’t be combined with yogurt, milk, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
- Nightshades, such as potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant, shouldn’t be combined with yogurt, milk, and cucumbers.
Finally, Ayurveda discourages eating fruit or drinking fruit juices with any meal.
If certain of these foods must be combined when you make recipes, Ayurveda recommends adding spices and herbs to alleviate the ill effects of those combinations. For example, cumin and fennel help reduce gas when added to cooking gas-producing food, like vegetables, beans, and lentils.
The Six Tastes
Another healthy Ayurvedic food practice is including all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent) in every meal. Taste, or rasa, is an important part of Ayurveda and has many meanings: essence, flavor, enthusiasm, juice, and experience. According to Ayurveda, having a meal with the six tastes balances health and well-being. When you become more familiar with the different types of taste, you can deepen your appreciation and enjoyment of the food you eat.
Here are some examples of foods in each of the six taste categories. Keep in mind that many foods have more than one taste.
- Fruits: Dates, bananas, mangos, melons, figs
- Veggies: Sweet potatoes, beets, olives, cucumber
- Nuts: Cashews, coconuts, almonds
- Spices: Basil, cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg
- Dairy: Milk, eggs, ghee
- Meat: Beef, buffalo
- Fruits: Lemons, grapefruit, limes
- Veggies: Pickles, tomatoes
- Dairy: Cheese, yogurt, sour cream
- Veggies: Celery, seaweed
- Ocean fish, including tuna
- Spices: Table salt, sea salt, rock salt, soy sauce
- Veggies: Kale and other leafy greens, eggplant
- Spices: Cumin, dill, turmeric, saffron
- Other: Coffee, dark chocolate, sesame oil
- Veggies: Onions, peppers, radishes, leeks
- Mustard seeds
- Spices: Black pepper, clove, paprika, ginger
- Fruits: Apples, cranberries, pomegranates
- Veggies: Avocados, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, green beans
- Meat: Venison
- Spices: Cilantro, parsley, oregano, rosemary, fennel
For more information on the six tastes of Ayurveda, click here.
Where and When Your Eat
In addition to being aware of dairy products, food combinations, and the six tastes, try to also keep in mind all of the other traditional Ayurvedic eating practices, including where and when you eat.
Do you have a regular time and place you eat every day? Part of Ayurvedic practice is to eat only when you are hungry, but also to avoid eating after 7 p.m., in between meals, and when you’re agitated or upset. It’s important to also sit while you’re eating (but not in your car) and stay aware of what you’re doing while you’re eating. For example, don’t watch TV or use any other electronic device during meals.
Ayurveda suggests creating a settled eating environment by avoiding intense discussions or arguments (as much as possible).
The amount you eat and what you eat play a significant role in your health and well-being. According to Ayurveda, try to keep the amount of food you eat during each meal equivalent to two cupped handfuls.
It is also suggested to keep your meal balanced and reduce foods that are too heavy and rich. Additionally, Ayurveda recommends that you eat a variety of foods and always eat each food in moderation. It’s also important to refrain from excluding entire food groups, such as a no-fat or no-carb diet. Remember to also chew your food completely before swallowing, and take sips of warm water throughout your meal (but not too much) to aid digestion.
Cooking with Love
When you cook for your friends or family, according to Ayurveda, it’s important to be in a happy state of mind. This is because the emotions you pour into your food while cooking will affect those who are eating the food, so make sure you add plenty of love to all of your cooking.
When cooking, as much as possible, try to make the experience a settled, conscious event rather than throwing something together under pressure. Give yourself time to enjoy the simple act of preparing the food, smelling the spices, feeling the textures, and having fun.
Finally, eating should be a pleasurable experience. After all, you’re nourishing not only your body, but also your mind, soul, and spirit.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
Learn the best foods and healthy practices to bring balance and vitality to your unique mind-body type with our introductory online course, Discovering Ayurveda. Learn More.