It is said that ‘you are what you eat’ and, this is absolutely true! Ayurveda, the Indian health science, which is more than 5000 years old, was the first to introduce the art of ‘personalized cooking’ for health and healing purposes. In fact, Ayurveda went one step ahead and showed it is not just what you eat that makes a difference, but, how the food is prepared also matters.
Ayurvedic cuisine is based on the understanding of what constitutes the human body and balances its life forces, and focuses on the unique combination of vata, pitta and kapha. Ayurveda is often referred to as the Father of Indian vegetarian cuisine, due to its heavy usage of plants and plant produce. It is Ayurveda, which, in its journey to evolve dishes that create the perfect balance in the body, introduced various healthy cooking styles like steaming, blanching and roasting.
It is Ayurveda, which discovered how the method of cooking and the time taken to cook can change the composition of a particular food, thereby leaving its effect on the body. The most popular method of steam cooking, wherein the vegetable is wrapped in a leaf and steamed is an Ayurvedic method of cooking. Similarly, various aspects are taken into consideration, for instance, lycopene in tomatoes enhances when cooking, carrots retain their nutritional value when consumed raw, or onion when tempered with asafoetida balances the diuretic properties in onion making it good for cold or cough and aids digestion, and many such health and healing aspects are taken into consideration in traditional ayurvedic cooking.
It is Ayurveda, which gifted several firsts to the culinary world. The art of lactic fermentation has resulted in use of ghee and yogurt, which is one of the biggest gift by Ayurveda to the world. Both ghee and yogurt (buttermilk) is used in Ayurveda to treat a wide range of illnesses ranging from constipation to ulcers, arthritis to digestive disorders and even hangovers.
Very few of us are aware of the fact that soups are actually an Ayuvedic innovation. Centuries ago, in Chola Kingdom, soup was used as a morning beverage for improving appetite, while lactating mothers were given soup to regain strength in ancient days.
Salads were mostly prepared raw, with just sprinkling of ginger silvers and lemon juice. This was first documented during 337 to 422 AD, thanks to Ayurveda. Back then, the belief was to have raw food or par boiled food with minimal spices and cooking time, so as to impart the right flavour to the dish, while its nutrients are kept intact. This philosophy of cooking is still followed by those practising Ayurvedic cuisine, being aware of its healing and restorative power.
However, what makes Ayurvedic cuisine unique is the cooking method it uses for each food and the use of local ingredients including use of certain herbs, aware of their healing powers. Most recipes in Ayurveda use kasturi (curcuma aromatic), which is a fragrant variety of turmeric root, plenty of berries and flowers, instead of spices like chillies to extract the required flavour, without much cooking. Every dish is made to suit a person’s individual constitution, whether vata, pitta or kapha.
Minor illnesses can be prevented or cured through Ayurvedic cooking methods. For example, your cold can be cured with a bit of carefully-crafted food, a small headache can be treated without popping a pill, or your skin can be made to look more radiant without use of any special beauty products. All your digestions issues, eating disorders, fatigue, constipation, depression will find some relief by adopting the traditional, right method of Ayurvedic cooking.
Ayurveda believes there is no one diet for all and not one lifestyle works for all. To find out what foods best suit you and your lifestyle, and to incorporate Ayurvedic cooking into one’s lifestyle, you have to first find your body constitution (pitta-kapha or vatta-pitta), with one of these being dominant.
To use your food as medicine, you need to be aware of Ayurvedic cuisine, its methods and healing power. Choose the best food for your body in any environment. The most important principle to be applied in Ayurvedic diet is that your food should be fresh, without pesticides, your food should be seasonal, and local, as far as possible. The best form of food is always freshly cooked whole meals.
Turmeric, ginger, cumin and coriander are the usual Ayurvedic spices. These not only give excellent flavour, but are digestion enhancers, and have several medicinal properties. In Ayurveda, blend of six tastes in a dish is very important. The six tastes being sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter and astringent. Example for sweet are honey, milk, sugar, rice, sour (hard cheese, yogurt, vinegar, lemon), salty (salt), pungent (cayenne, ginger, chilli pepper, or hot spice), bitter (lettuce, leafy greens, turmeric) and astringent (pomegranate, lentils, beans). Including all six tastes is a great way to incorporate Ayurvedic diet into your lifestyle, while also improving your health.
Contrary to what we usually do, Ayurdic diet tip is to begin your meal with sweet and end it with salad, as sweets are believed to get digested first. To kick-start your digestion, having fresh ginger tea is great. Cut about ¼ inch of fresh ginger, peel and grate it, cover with hot water and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. Sip this through the day.
Always drink room temperature water or warm water, instead of ice cold water, as nothing kills that digestive fire (agni) faster than ice cold water on an empty stomach. On the contrary, drinking warm water on an empty stomach helps kick-start the process of digestion. In fact, Ayurveda does not recommend anything ice-cold. Any food or drink should be consumed either warm or at room temperature. This is particularly true in case of people with Vata constitution.
Meanwhile, those with predominant Pitta condition will be better off with raw food, salad bars, and vegetarian dishes. Stay away from deep fried, garlicky tomato dishes, or anything that is spicy and aggravates pitta.
Those with kapha dosha, will do best with light choices, lightly steamed/cooked veggies, lot of cheese, and sour cream.
Here’s a list of some best food to eat for Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Vata – People with this constitution benefits from heavy, oil and warm foods like clarified butter, fresh ginger, warm milk, cream of rice or wheat, warm soups and long-cooked stews, almonds, sweet fruit like dates, figs, red grapes, root vegetables, and chicken broth.
Pitta – People with pitta benefits from cold, heavy and dry food, like clarified butter, sunflower seeds, milk, steamed broccoli, lassi, cucumber, salads and leafy greens, cold cereal like oats, lentils and legumes.
Kapha – People with kapha benefits from dry light and hot food like hot water with fresh ginger, lemon and honey, warm buckwheat, millet, leafy greens, artichoke, green beans, sprouts, astringent fruit, lentils, steamed brussel sprouts.