What Is Ayurvedic Food?
I get asked this question a lot, “what is Ayurvedic food?” In its most simplest terms, Ayurvedic food is food that is filled with prana (life-force); food that is balancing to our dosha or prakruti (unique constitution) and our vikruti (current imbalances); and food that is able to be properly digested by our agni (digestive fire). Everything we eat needs to nourish our body, mind and spirit and this is only possible if our body is able to digest, absorb, assimilate, and transform the nutrients in our food.
Ayurvedic Definition of Health
When we look at the Sushruta Samhita’s definition of health, we want to make sure that the food we eat nourishes and brings balance to the dosha, the dhatu, the srotamsi, and the mind, senses and soul. We also want to make sure that we have sama agni or balanced metabolism. Lastly, we want to also have proper elimination of mala. If we can do all of these things with the food we eat, we will have balanced digestion, assimilation and absorption of the nutrients in the food we eat.
Agni or Digestive Fire
In the Sushruta Samhita’s definition of health, the second portion focuses on agni or the digestive fire. Agni‘s primary function is to digest, absorb, assimilate, and transform all the food you consume into energy. Your agni can be described as sama (balanced), tikshna (hyper), vishama (irregular), manda (slow). Vishama or irregular-metabolism is an increase in vata; tikshna or hyper-metabolism is an increase in pitta; and manda or slow-metabolism is an increase in kapha. Everyone wants to get to a state of sama agni or balanced metabolism.
What Types of Food Are Ayurvedic Food?
Ayurvedic food will be different for each person, since what is balancing to one person can be aggravating to the next. To choose the right Ayurvedic foods for yourself, it is best to schedule an Ayurvedic Consultation with an Ayurvedic professional like myself to determine your prakruti and vikrtui and your state of agni, so that you can know which types of foods are most balancing for your unique constitution, your doshic imbalance and the strength of your digestive fire. However, generally Ayurvedic food will bring balance to your unique constitution through the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, ether/space); the 6 rasa or tastes (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent); the virya or potent energy of either ushna (heating) or shita (cooling); the vipaka or post-digestive effect of sweet, sour or pungent; the prabhava or dynamic action that cannot be explained by the logic of rasa, virya and vipaka. Each dosha is associated with specific elements, tastes, potent energy, post-digestive effect and unique, specific action. To bring balance, we want to follow the rule of opposites and the rule of “like increases like.” We want to balance the dosha, by using the opposite action. This can also include the 20 main attributes of heavy/light; cold/hot; oily/dry; slow & dull/sharp; stable/mobile; slimy/rough; dense/liquid; soft/hard; gross/subtle; and cloudy/clear. For example a vata person is light, cold, dry, mobile, rough, subtle, and clear, so dry and light foods like popcorn aren’t balancing for a vata person. Also dry and cold foods like raw vegetables are aggravating to vata.
How to Eat Ayurvedic Food
How you eat Ayurvedic food is just as important as what Ayurvedic food you eat. There are certain food combinations that are considered aggravating to all dosha, so these rules should be followed by everyone. For a list of incompatible food combinations, check out our post on Ayurvedic Eating. Other general rules include:
Avoid eating raw and cooked food together.
Avoid eating fresh foods with leftovers.
Your agni will better digest foods that have aggravating qualities if they have been cooked together in the same pot.
Add spices and fresh herbs to your cooking to make your food more digestible or to bring balance to foods that may be incompatible or aggravating to your dosha.
Our agni becomes accustomed to foods we eat over time (although this is not always the case with everyone), so introducing new incompatible food combinations will be more aggravating than ones we have been eating for some time.
Avoid combinations on the incompatible foods list, but an occasional indulgence won’t aggravate digestion too much especially if you have sama agni or balanced metabolism.
Cooking is an important part of eating Ayurvedic food.