India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world with a kaleidoscopic diversity and rich cultural heritage. It has achieved multifaceted socio-economic progress during the last 50 years of independence. The globalization may be good for the nation economically but it has left a corrupting influence on Indian culture and values as we have created an unhealthy environment around us. We cannot bring change to our acts overnight but surely we have to start from NOW onwards. What are the problems? What are the consequences? How it all started? What are the root causes? What we as Ayurveda learners supposed to do with it? What is the need for that? And how a person can achieve good health? All these solutions related to health and healthy practices lie within the Ayurvedic texts. We just need to decode the text for the benefit of common people. Not only that, we also need to elaborate on each and everything given in the text and explain it scientifically.
Ayurveda teaches us the positive approach about the quest of longevity. Ayurveda prescribes the appropriate diet as the foundation of all other therapies. It provides a solid determination of an individual’s dietary needs and digestive capacity as well as the necessary sex, age and seasonal adjustments required to fine tune these.
People have woken up to view Ayurveda from a different dimension. They are in fact again trying to inculcate it in their routine but unfortunately, they suddenly realise the importance of time and begin to rethink and reevaluate their personal convictions. In this case, we need to present to people the idea of our traditional system with modifications according to the need of time.
The pursuit of the magical diet is an ongoing quest in the modern world. Indeed the role of food in health and disease can no longer be underestimated. The latest medical research clearly indicated the medicinal effects of food through vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Modern medicine is now waking up to the fact that natural healers have always known: we are what we eat.
Food is the foundation of our physical reality and even our thoughts and emotions are closely tied to it. But complete health is never served on a platter. One has to think to achieve it. Some basic concepts of Ayurveda are inherited in each one of us. And it can be stirred into the society through education and understanding. Then people only have to give worthy ideas a practical shape in their day to day life.
There is an old English saying- “In life, all that is good and glorious, is to be disciplined, not uproarious.” Same is mentioned by Acharya Charaka also –
परीक्ष्य हितमश्नीयाद्देहो ह्याहारसम्भवः|| Ch. Su. 28/41||
This means that- do not take food without knowing it or only because you like it. Know what is good or bad for you and take what is beneficial as the existence of the body is possible because of it.
It is evident that we don’t get sick very easily. It takes time and effort. The same effort is needed into getting healthy. What Ayurveda considers as the pillars of health is proper food, proper sleep and to practice celibacy. Here Acharya has given priority to the food we consume. Also, there is a concept of “Sarvarasaabhayaas” that is to practice all the kind of substances and not just what delights you. But as we can see around us people now days are consuming certain predominant rasas in their diet such as lavana and katu i.e salty and spicy food.
Rasas have a direct impact on doshas and continuous use of certain substances lead to vitiation of the dosha which in future results in any illness or disease. The concept of “Sarvarasaabhayaas” also brings home the idea of consuming all the three carbs, proteins and fats as was in olden days where people used to take the combination of these as Rice, pulses, and butter in their meal.
Even if a person is consuming all good but not according to the principles it can lead to improper digestion and assimilation. Which will lead to improper shakti/ bala or we can say energy production.
There are eight rules mentioned by Acharya Charak in Vimaan Sthana 1st chapter as Asht Ahar Vidhin Visheshaytana.
This includes Prakruti, Karan, Sanyog, Rashi, Desh, Kaal, Upyog samstha and Upyogta.
If these are practised properly they are beneficial to the body and harmful if used otherwise. The good and bad of food depend on these eight rules only.
तत्र खल्विमान्यष्टावाहारविधिविशेषायतनानि भवन्ति; तद्यथा- प्रकृतिकरणसंयोगराशिदेशकालोपयोगसंस्थोपयोक्त्रष्टमानि(भवन्ति)||Ch. Vi. 1/21||
1. PRAKRUTI –
Prakruti means quality or nature. The nature of a particular substance which is indicated in the description of Shook, Shami or Shak vargas etc. Acharya here categorised certain substances according to their properties just as the modern science classify as carbohydrate, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Their qualities/properties and functions are mentioned separately so that they can be used according to the need.
Ayurveda suggests that nature or body type of a person is also taken into consideration while deciding the diet of that person.
Some persons are allergic to certain substances which are considered healthy for the rest of the population. For Example- Wheat allergy, it is an immune response to any of the proteins present in wheat. Celiac disease, it is an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system responds abnormally to gluten.
There is a recent attempt to type people dietarily according to their blood type. While the idea sounds good and has some data that can support it, it fails the most basic test of observation. Within the same blood type, we can find individuals of all shape, size, and temperaments- tall and short, active or sedentary, passive or aggressive. Does this mean that their blood type is sufficient to prescribe any appropriate diet for them? It has a point but misses the core issue.
In most instances, when people increase their output of energy, they feel hungrier and increase consumption of their staple food. The energy requirement is affected by several factors such as- Body size, BMR, Activity, Pregnancy, Lactation, Age, Climate Etc.
As requirement differs from person to person the food selection should be done accordingly.
Karan means Sanskara or processing. This means to change certain properties of a particular substance by processing. It’s done to enhance properties and to make the substance more salubrious.
For example- Rice, in general, is ‘guru’ but loses its property and becomes ‘laghu’ after treating with heat and water, which makes it easily digestible.
– Curd which causes oedema reduces if it is given as buttermilk after churning.
– Bhavna enhances properties and if it’s done with swarasa (pure juice) it further intensifies the properties.
– The material of certain utensils is supposed to affect properties of the substance kept in it like Trifla should be kept in a cast iron container whereas Ghrit kept in the bronze container becomes toxic.
So the selection of material for storage of food items is equally important.
There is this recent trend of packing everything in a plastic container which has hazardous effects on our health. Also, people are lavishly using aluminium cookwares nowadays but the water-soluble form of aluminium causes harmful effects.
In Samhitas and ancient texts, we can clearly find uses of earthenware’s which are non-reactive. Also where ever they mentioned metals they used only silver and gold as they are least reactive. This shows that people that time were quite clear about principles of reactivity and chemical changes and we are quite ignorant.
-High dietary intake of preserved meat’s, salt-preserved foods and very hot drinks and food, Chinese-style salted fish is reported to cause nasopharyngeal cancer, particularly common in South East Asia.
– Change in properties after storage as new grains are a guru, old grains are laghu. The change may be good or bad depending on the methods of storage. Quality depends on storage and includes the nature of grains, the period of storage and method of preservation.
– Since the industrial revolution the food processing industry has invented many technologies that both keep food fresh longer and alter the fresh state of food as seen in nature.
Some of the techniques are cooling, pasteurization, autoclavation, drying, Salting and separation of various components, and all appear to alter the original nutritional content of food.
Pasteurization and autoclavation have no doubt improved the safety of many common foods but some techniques have downfalls also.
Techniques such as milling, centrifugation, yielding flour, oil, juices; inevitably, changes nutritional content of food. Heating techniques also reduce foods content of many heat-labile nutrients such as certain vitamins and phytochemicals.
Because of reduces the nutritional value of processed food are often ‘enriched’ or ‘fortified’ with some most critical nutrients that were lost during processing.
– Processed food tends to have an inferior nutritional profile and often contain potentially harmful substances such as oxidized fats and Trans fatty acids.
A dramatic example is the history of an epidemic of beriberi in people subsisting on polished rice. Polishing leads to the removal of essential vitamin Thiamin, causing beriberi.
Another example is the development of scurvy among infants in the late 1800’s in the US. When the sufferers were being fed pasteurized milk to control the bacterial disease but it destroyed Vitamin C.
Because processed food is often cheaper, more convenient (in purchasing, storage and preparation) and are more available, the consumption of nutritionally inferior foods has been increasing throughout the world along with nutrition-related health complication.
Sometimes when two substances are mixed a different action emerges which did not exist in either. Sometimes there is synergism or otherwise. E.g. Combination of milk and fish causes skin disease.
The rejection of detrimental food is as important as the selection of healthy food. This is described vividly in Ayurveda under the heading ‘Viruddha Aahara’ or incompatible food. Here the principles of diet are described in a detailed manner along with the consequences.
Overexcited generation in their excitement sometimes fails to notice the obvious. They run to the unhygienically maintained roadside stalls to grab the junk food which they consider cool (not thermally) but they end up with food poisoning and other infectious diseases. They take health casually and are often seen combining hot and cold food items which are considered Viruddha in Ayurveda. Eg. Gulab Jamun and ice-cream.
People should also keep in mind other such examples-
– Milk and yoghurt together can precipitate inside the stomach and that may irritate and induces vomiting.
– Protein and starch combination inhibits salivary digestion of starch.
– If eating fruits after a meal, the fruit will stay too long in the stomach along with the food which will later lead to fermentation.
-Tea contains anticoagulant compounds called coumarins and when taken with garlic (that also have ant clotting property) they may increase the risk of bleeding.
-Oil and food must not be reheated. Reheating of oil creates more oxidation and if consumed may create more oxidative stress creating more free radicals.
– Deep frying of potatoes can develop toxic substances, such as acrylamide, which is carcinogenic.
Rashi means the proper or improper proportion of individual ingredients and total quantity. It is not rocket science, we just have to satisfy the nutritional needs, both in terms of energy and all other essential nutrients.
Our Acharyas had oversimplified it by further dividing it in ‘Sarvagrah’ and ‘Parigrah’. It can be understood like this, Sarvagrah is total calories a person should consume that is exactly what people now a day’s call maintenance calorie. The term refers to the number of calories you need to take in each day to optimize body functions and to remain at your current weight.
Taking in too few or too many calories can cause problems ranging from lack of energy to weight gain.
The real challenge is to incorporate K calorie control to eat an adequate, balanced diet without overeating. Part of the secret to eating well without overeating is to select foods that deliver the most nutrients at the lowest K calorie cost. This solution lies within the term ‘Parigrah’ i.e. how the calories should be divided in terms of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
This way we can modify the diet along with nutrient enhancement.
Desh means to place or land, the land where the food is grown as well as the place where it is being consumed. Soil influences certain properties of the substance. For example, the crop grown at Maru Pradesh is laghu hence easily digestible whereas the crops grown at Aanup Pradesh are guru hence take time to digest.
Food science is garnering huge consideration and concern especially in developing countries where quality is often been put aside to meet quantity concerns.
With health being uppermost in the minds of many today, nutrition which is intrinsically linked to food science, has also found itself in the midst of intense concern and scrutiny.
Nutritive values depend on the soil of that area.
Modern dietary patterns and physical activity patterns are risk behaviour that travels across countries and is transferable from one population to another like an infectious disease. While risk factors like age, sex and genetic susceptibility are non-modifiable but many such as diet, physical activity, inactivity, tobacco use, and alcohol consumption are modifiable.
For example- people in cold countries are living by the myth that consuming alcohol will make them feel warmer (but it actually lowers their core body temperature) and people living near the equator are blindly copying their behaviour. This mentality needs to be changed. We can’t just ignore the needs of our body!
The same behaviour is seen in food patterns also as we are consuming everything within our reach. But our body isn’t supporting. It is reflecting our malpractices in form of various kinds of diseases.
Indians are inspiring by the health effects of olive oil and other products but they don’t compare the differences between the cooking methods which changes the nature of food significantly.
When oil of corn, soya bean and sunflower are reheated they liberate 4 Hydroxy Trans 2 Nonenal (HNE), and foods containing HNS are associated with increased risk of CVD, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, various hepatic diseases and cancer.
Oxidative rancidity occurs when fatty acids are exposed to heat and light resulting in the formation of Hydroperoxide compounds. These, in turn, form aldehyde molecules which are toxic in nature and cause oxidative stress in the body cells and may increase the risk of atherosclerosis and degenerative disorders.
The literary meaning of the term is Time. That one should choose food according to time. To be more specific, the type of food we eat should be changed according to the- season and age/disease of the individual. The same is termed as ‘Nityag’ and ‘Aavasthik’ in Ayurveda.
Nityag kaal depends on day-night, season and age.
-The selection of diet for a day in which nutritional requirement and calorie intake should be satisfied.
-Selection of diet according to current seasonal variations and gradually excluding the food practices of the previous season (Ritu). E.g. Consuming high-calorie food in winters as BMR is high at that time and gradually excluding such food items in summers.
– Selecting food according to age. E.g. Milk is really healthy and is considered complete food for children but may cause lactose intolerance as the age progresses.
Aavasthik kaal depends on the physiological and pathological status of the person. The food items which are easily digestible in normal physiological conditions may produce adverse effects if consumed in diseased condition.
E.g. eating bakery products such as bread, cookies etc in a fever when the body is already dealing with mand-Agni. Also eating food items which are risk factors for a disease lead to the severity of that particular disease.
Means the user or consumer.
Compatibility of the user can be developed by continuous use or by practice.
Diet has been known for many years to play a key role as a risk factor for chronic diseases. The increasing industrialization, urbanization and mechanization occurring in most countries around the world are associated with changes in diet. Diets are becoming richer in high-fat, high energy foods.
Every company/ food chain tries to establish its identity and win the loyalty of its customers through the presentation of its material as something heroic and adventurous. Just as a rat, most men are being fooled and getting trapped. In this modern competitive world of advancement, there is a rat race to outshine others. In this mad race, he has lost care and concern of his own body. He may win this race but there will be no survivors to celebrate his victory.
Acharya Charaka states the same in Ch. Ni. 6/6.
An unhealthy dietary practice includes a high consumption of saturated fats, salts and refined carbohydrates, as well as low consumption of fruits and vegetables, and these tend to cluster together. The most efficient replacement for saturated fatty acids in terms of coronary heart disease outcome are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), especially linoleic acid which is abundant especially in soya bean, sunflower oil, flax seed, canola etc.
Several large cohort studies carried out in different countries have reported that a high fibre diet as well as a diet high in whole grain cereal lower’s risk of coronary heart diseases.
Medical research has conclusively established the hazards of junk food. It adversely affects our Brain, Heart, Chest, Liver, Stomach, Kidney, Bladder and reproductive system. Fortunately, we can kick this menace from their lives. All we need is strong determination and education.
8. UPYOG SANSTHA–
That is rules of use in relation to the procedure of taking food.
Acharya Charaka explained the need of such rules very beautifully in Sutra Sthana 28th chapter. He states that- one of the most probable causes of ill health can be wrongful diet, hence the rules are laid down in such a way that the disease which is likely to creep in cannot do so and are held back. (Ch. Su. 28/23-24)
(a) Ushnam i.e. the food should be served hot.
The food which is served hot is tastier and digests easily. Hot here should not be misinterpreted as food full-tilt steaming. It means that we should consume it warm, like slightly above then room temperature. Nor does it mean that one could heat refrigerated food and eat it up. Not too cold, not too hot. According to the text, it should be freshly prepared and then served hot.
(b) Snigdha i.e. the food should be greasy as it enhances taste, build tissues, is easily digestible, increases strength and improves complexion.
People use to avoid oil and butter while dieting but when carbohydrates are scarce, the body runs mainly on fats. If energy needs exceed those provided by fats in the diet, the body must liquidate some of its fat tissue for energy. We actually need it in our diet.
Fat doesn’t directly make us “fat” – excess calories make us “fat”. It’s about getting the right balance.
Fat has had bad press, to the extent that some foods are designed and marketed as ‘fat-free’. But it isn’t all bad.
In fact, getting some fat from our diet is absolutely vital. Virtually all natural foods contain some fat. It is in foods because both plants and animals use fats as the most economical way to store energy.
(c) Maatravat i.e. in proper proportion and quantity. The consumed food should not cause vitiation of doshas, means it should not disturb enzymatic activity and propels ahead comfortably so that excretion is smooth.
Now the question arises that how somebody can decide whether he’s taking the proper amount of food or not?
The answer is as simple as that. The amount consumed by a person depends on Agni of the person i.e. the hunger one experiences.
Ayurvedic classical texts even mentioned symptoms of proportional diet – “no fullness of flanks, no heaviness in chest, no discomfort or fullness in abdomen and easiness in movement”.
According to modern medical science, when an organism eats, adipocytes trigger the release of leptin into the body. Increasing levels of leptin result in a reduction of one’s motivation to eat. After hours of non-consumption, leptin levels drop significantly. These low levels of leptin cause the release of a secondary hormone, ghrelin, which in turn reinitiates the feeling of hunger. The state achieved when the need for food has been satisfied is called satiety. The symptoms of satiety are same as mentioned above.
(d) Jeernam ashniyat i.e. taking next meal only when the previous meal is digested.
(e) The food should be taken only when the surrounding environment is hygienic and we are comfortable, as psychology has a great impact on digestion. The same concept applies while choosing Food.
(f) Nor too fast, nor too slow as both these conditions don’t satisfy us properly. When we are satisfied the message is sent to the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus where our satiety centre is located. It takes almost 20 minutes. If you tend to finish the meal within minutes you’ll end up eating more as you won’t be able to judge if you are satisfied or not. The same rule is applied when you eat very slowly.
There is scientific evidence that the consumption of certain substances reduces the risk of a particular disease. For example- vitamins and minerals can prevent deficiency diseases, use of potassium salts instead of sodium salt can lower blood pressure, adequate intake of folic acid by pregnant women can reduce the likelihood of fetal neural tube defects, increases calcium and vitamin D consumption can bring down the risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture. The requirements we have to fulfil are simple-
-Nutritional values of various foods (prakruti, desh ,karan, kaal, rashi)
-Methods of planning nutritionally balanced meals for all ages (upyog samstha,,)
-Menu planning (rashi) – nutrient enhancement, and diet modifications.
We operate into the large part from autonomic reflexes built into our system. These reflexes keep us alive without our having to think about them. However, most of our diseases/symptoms eventually affect the mechanism. That is why following a path recognized to be beneficial for our individual body type is so important.
The only way to check unhealthy dietary practice is the proliferation of education, better living standards and awareness about the voluntary adoption of Ayurvedic principles in life. This science demands a deep philosophical and scientific approach. It is the oldest known organized medicine on the planet and is recognized by WHO. Due to the limitations of other pathies we are experiencing a renewed interest in this philosophy of wholeness and sustained health.
It is the human tendency, that he values something only when it’s gone.
We all have experienced dis-easiness once in our life. Let’s not wait for that. Not only should we try to combat the disease but preserve our health as well by advocating certain parameters.
Undoubtedly, food is quite an influential factor in the development of a disease. Healthy food acts like nutrition for a healthy mind and thus refresh and relax us by driving away aggression and restlessness.
Health is treasured in our mind because it provides us eternal and everlasting joy. This happiness never fades into nothingness but multiplies whenever it flashes on our mind screen.
But we don’t accomplish anything in this world alone. And I know that it is not easy to achieve all the targets needed overnight but don’t you think we could all start afresh? After all, the Human resources of a country are its greatest assets.