Vegan cafes, meatless meals and healthy organic foods are trendy these days. Awareness is growing around issues like organic farming, side effects of modern medicine, climate change, healthy living, animal welfare, moral issues of eating meat, industrial agriculture and pollution.
Many unhealthy eating behaviors are a direct result of advertising, which fosters a false desire to keep up with others or to achieve supermodel ideals. A tribal mentality to follow the illusionary standards promoted by profit-seeking corporations has created misunderstanding and bad judgement towards healthy eating.
According to Ayurveda—a 5000-year-old health protocol from India—the digestive system is the root cause of the majority of the body’s ailments. Digestive problems also are good early indicators of the onset of disease. Thus, curing digestive problems can help us avoid or heal many diseases. Ayurveda prescribes how and when one should eat and how to combine foods for maximum benefit. Correcting the diet can eliminate the fundamental causes of both physical and mental diseases. Further, living in harmony with nature’s elements and balancing their flow helps maintain health and well-being. It’s easy to incorporate some basic Ayuvedic principles into your eating habits to boost your wellness level.
Eat a plant-based diet. Plants carry the highest amount of life force in them, and eating living plans rather than boxed, processed foods helps us ingest more life energies, connect with the earth and achieve a higher state of consciousness. Non-vegetarian foods are difficult to assimilate and process within the body. Meats overwork the digestive system and lead to bloating and tiredness. Instead, create a well-rounded plant-based diet that contains a variety of plants to create a full spectrum of macro and micronutrients for the body. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day—there is always room for vegetables and fruits in every dish! Try eating apples, pears and bananas in the morning, or have some berries, papaya, and melon as an afternoon snack.
Keep it whole and simple. Focusing on a vegetarian lifestyle also simplifies the diet. “Simple” and whole foods help with weight loss. Processed foods lack sufficient fiber, vitamins and minerals and also can increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. The majority of food products sold today contain genetically modified or synthetic ingredients. Many foods contain traces of pesticides or use artificial preservatives. It is time to switch to organic and unprocessed foods. Toxins in foods and unhealthy lifestyles are creating a society suffering from diseases and stressing the health care system.
Pay special attention to food preparation. Try to cook food instead of eating in the raw. Cooking is like a pre-digestion process that breaks down fiber to take the load off the digestive system. Use spices like cumin, coriander, hing, salt, ajwain, black salt and more to avoid gas and bloating of the stomach. Presoaking lentils and grains before cooking helps reduce cooking time and promotes better digestion.
Eat local and seasonal. To help the body stay in harmony with nature, try to eat local and seasonal foods only. Such foods help protect against seasonal illness and balance our psychology. Eat a balanced diet that includes healthy oils like nuts and seeds and heavier foods like cooked veggies. Be conscious of creating balance between paired opposites like light and heavy, dry and oily, hot and cold, dense and liquid, rough and smooth and hard and soft foods.
Be happy. Try to be in a good mood while eating because the state of mind affects the digestion of the food. Mindful eating involves minimizing distraction and not speaking during the eating process. During a meal, focus on the taste, texture, presentation and smell of the food. Eating fresh food also helps our mind feel refreshed.
Additionally, there are a number of medicinal herbs and foods you can incorporate into your dishes:
‘Ghee’ or clarified butter is considered the golden elixir of Ayurveda and should be used instead of the industrial butter available in supermarkets. Ghee helps improve digestion, memory, sleep problems, voice, vitality and vision and removes toxicity from the body. It is best when made from an Indian cow’s milk.
Ginger is a universal medicinal herb that eases digestive, respiratory and circulatory disorders, rids toxicity in the body and helps ease alcohol or smoking addictions. Its therapeutic properties include being anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and antioxidant. A versatile herb that can be added to any food to make it tastier, including teas or soups, ginger reduces symptoms of colds such as coughing and breathing problems. It helps cure piles, pain, bad digestion, motion sickness, rheumatism, indigestion, vomiting, gas, colic, motion sickness, osteoporosis, gout, laryngitis, diabetes, arthritis, hemorrhoids, headaches, heart disease, cramps, fever and more.
Coriander leaves and seeds are used in numerous cuisines, and have far-ranging positive effects on a variety of health conditions. It soothes and helps cool any burning sensations in the body and can heal an irritated digestive system—particularly when mixed with fennel, cumin and cardamom seeds—as well as irritable bowel syndrome, urinary tract infections, gall stones, burning urethra, hyperacidity, diarrhea, heartburn, bloating and gas problems in the body. Coriander seeds help reduce cholesterol triglycerides and symptoms of diarrhea. Coriander also is an antibacterial and antifungal herb that guards against staphylococcus, streptococcus, E. coli and salmonella. Coriander juice is anti-toxic and can be used to alleviate insect bites, stings, the effects of heavy metals, lead and arsenic, as well as be applied externally on skin rash and inflammation. Tea made using cumin and coriander seeds can relieve headaches and improve digestion. Ground coriander seeds mixed with honey help respiratory system problems. Mixed with aloe vera and turmeric, it can improve liver conditions. The scent also helps relieve nosebleeds, stress and sleep disorders. Chewing coriander seeds also can reduce bad breath and freshen the mouth.
Turmeric is useful in balancing the three biological energies or doshasfound throughout the human body and mind. It is an antioxidant that is helpful against a wide variety of diseases like asthma, arthritis, injuries, trauma, pain, inflammation, blood impurities, blocked arteries, blood clots, poor digestion, multiple sclerosis, dyspepsia, parasites and abdominal cramps. Milk boiled with turmeric is a popular remedy for colds, sleep disorders and inflammation in the body, while turmeric juice helps heal wounds and bites. Turmeric is useful in protecting liver from toxins and improving bile secretion. Scientists now are exploring its anti-cancer and anti-Alzheimer’s properties. A paste made with turmeric, salt and lime has been used to alleviate joint pain, while one of turmeric and neem applied to the skin can cure insect bites and other irritations. It can also be used as a beauty treatment; when mixed with chickpea flour, sesame or almond oil, sandalwood and milk cream it becomes a moisturizer that creates a natural glow and cures all kinds of skin problems from acne to leprosy.
Spring is a great time to cleanse your system with a fast or detox, so why not try out some of these tips as you ready body and mind for the new season? Eat light, with lots of sprouts, lentils, beans, soups and fresh, juicy fruits. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and soda, and drink warm water instead of cold water, which slows down the digestive system.
Lastly, be grateful to the food being eaten, sit quietly during and after meals for few minutes. Good health goes beyond the body but uplifts the mind and spirit as well.