Thursday, September 21, 2006

Nutrition Question: Standardized Food Chart

QUESTION: Why doesn't Ayurveda recommend a standardized food chart, which can simply tell me I need x milligrams of calcium per day or y milligrams of Vitamin C and so on?

ANSWER: Ayurveda sees nutrition as a choice based on an individual's unique tastes and imbalances. The logic is simple. We are all made differently. Our energies, moods, emotions, actions, and reactions are unique to us.

Even in the same family, one person may love to eat Chinese food, while another could have absolutely no taste for it. Similarly, one person might not be able to tolerate cold weather, while another would be happy out skiing in February.

Now this obviously means that our bodies have an innate intelligence of their own, which decides what kind of clothing they need, what kind of food is suitable for them, what kind of activities they would like to pursue.

Quite simply, a healthy body is blessed with plenty of natural intelligence--you could also call it strong natural immunity--and will love what is good for it. But if there is an imbalance, then the body--or rather, the senses--will crave things that are harmful rather than healing to us. For example, a person prone to Pitta-related imbalances like skin eruptions should ideally avoid hot, spicy foods. But if that person's physiology is ridden with dosha imbalances, then he or she will not be able to resist eating spicy curries.

Therefore, The Council of Ayurveda Physicians recommends that your diet be intuitive--based on a good understanding of your tastes and of foods that bring you both good taste and good nutrition.

In his insightful book Contemporary Ayurveda, Dr Hari Sharma makes an interesting observation about the American diet: "The typical American diet," observes Sharma, "under-represents the pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes, and overemphasizes the sweet taste, as well as the salty and sour.

These three tastes increase Kapha dosha, which is part of how Ayurveda would explain the prevalence of obesity (a Kapha imbalance) in the West."

The best way to ensure you get a "complete" diet is to try and get all six flavors on your plate--sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent.

Add flavor and healing nutrients to your food by cooking them with Ayurveda's Churnas. Blended in precise proportions to ensure dosha balance, these spice-mixes are both delicious and versatile.
On the whole, the balance of tastes ideal for your individual constitution depends on your prakriti or original combination of doshic energies, and vikriti--the imbalances you are trying to correct at any point in time. Consult a vaidya for guidance on foods that would work best for you; then browse our recipe section for hundreds of recipes and tips on what to eat and how to cook ayurvedically.

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