Healthy Eating habits in Ayurveda
This article focuses on eating habits and regulations, in general, related to intake of food. Gleaned from the age-old text of Ayurveda, these rules stand in testimony to the experience of people for thousands of years. Let us have of brief look at them one by one and examine them afresh, if needed, in the context of contemporary lifestyles.
- When feeling hungry, never ignore the call of nature. One should always take food whenever one feels hungry. Avoiding food during hunger, besides being debilitating for the body, is harmful for eyes. This is an important rule for eye-care. Such advice would not come from the modern Opthalmologist ! Unnecessarily skipping meals vitiates vata and sets in a morbid process in the body. Occasional deliberate abstinence from food is good once in a fortnight but the meal skipped in that case should be evening meal or dinner.
- Regularity of meals is extremely important. Having meals at fixed, regular intervals is recommended not only by Ayurvedic but all other schools of medicine.
- How to ascertain whether food taken during a particular meal has been fully digested or say ingested? When the body feels light, empty and tasteless belchings occur and real hunger and thirst are felt, one should believe that the previous meal has been fully ingested. That is the time to take the next meal. Normally a full meal takes four to six hours for complete digestion and assimilation.
- Divide the stomach into four equal parts. Imagine three parts to be filled with food and water and the remaining one part with air. This is the ideal situation. One should not take so much of solid food as will fill the entire stomach. Age old civilizational wisdom suggests that one should `undereat’ rather than overeat. Eating less than the appetite is always beneficial for the system. Unfortunately modern notion on the subject suggests that we should eat according to our appetite or as much of solid food as the system naturally demands. This is against the laws of nature and is detrimental for health and longevity.
- On feeling hungry, a person should take food which should be in accordance with his physical needs, his constitution (`prakriti’), ongoing season and environment. Stale, semi-cooked and distastful food is best avoided.
- Mutually incompatible food combinations are harmful for the body and should be avoided.
- Fruits should be eaten before main meal course. Salads can be taken alongwith main meals.
- Never try to finish your food in a hurry. One should always eat slowly, with a relaxed disposition. Chew your food thoroughly in the mouth. Inadequate chewing leads to disturbance of wind (`vata’) humour in the body.
- According to Ayurvedic philosophy, two major meals should be taken during the day. Lunch or mid-day meal is best taken at around 2 p.m. and dinner or evening meal by 8 p.m. The evening meal should never be delayed. Late night meals are bad for health. Food taken late at night gets digested very slowly because of the natural slowing down of the digestive processes after evening. The best time to have the evening meal is before sunset or around half an hour after sunset.
- Do not drink water immediately before and after meals. The best way is to take water one hour after meals. Water taken before meals interferes with proper digestion while that taken immediately after meal increases phlegm (‘Kapha’) in the body. Avoid drinking excess of water as it will upset your digestive process. Sipping water in small quantities intermittently during the course of the meal is beneficial.
- As far as practicable, include variety of items in your meals. Meals should not become a stereotyped mix of some specific items.
- During travel or in motion, eat more of fresh fruits and vegetables and less of cereals and meat. Drink adequate water.
- Never indulge in brisk walking or running after meals. This is the worst thing that you can do for your health.
- It is always proper to maintain a calm and happy disposition after meals and keep tension and worry at bay.
- Never sleep after meals during day time. It is better to take rest and lie down but sleep is best avoided.
- Indulgence in hard strenuous work immediately after meals is also not advisable. It is best to take rest without sleeping after lunch and walk about two hundred steps after dinner. Some people have long walks after dinner. This again is not good for health. The maximum one may walk is half to one mile.
- The following activities are best avoided for one hour following meals – indulgence in sex, roaming in the sun, horse riding, walking long distances, talking or laughing too much, exercise, excessive sleeping and intake of large quantities of fluids.
- It is always best to lie down after meals. Lying straight is invigorating and lying on the left side is conducive to longevity.
Having stated important health rules connected with eating, the next point of discussion is the extent to which these rules are practically adoptable or are adopted. In fact this point also applies to diet, sleep and exercise. Modern culture has rendered human living fast and businesslike. In the matter of disease and medicine, people generally seek quick relief. Suppressants and palliatives are the main constituents of most Allopathic drugs. But the important point is that adherence to these basic rules of health in a better way acts as a great preventive and can eliminate the need of many of above drugs. This would, of course, run against the commercial interests of the drug industry people but surely they have better alternatives for business ! A few illustrative examples from practical life would highlight these points in a much better way.
Fast life today has produced fast foods. Fast foods have become extremely popular all over the world and have created a huge industry. People throng the retail outlets selling fast foods. People tend to hurry into these outlets gobble or finish up the food quickly and hurry out of the shops to go back into their demanding businesses. The food is often eaten without adequately chewing, without a state of relaxation and calm mental disposition and huge glassfuls of water gulped down immediately after intake of food. Then, also see that these foods are often greasy, demineralised and not so fresh – the raw material coming straight from the cold storage chamber. These fast food outlets are patronised all through the day but perhaps the most popular hours of public visit to these outlets is the late night hour-10 p.m. onwards. It is now for the intelligent person to observe how many fundamental rules of healthy eating are violated by fast food patrons. The results are there for us to see – Acidity, sour eructations, constipation, catarrh, cough, sinus trouble, asthma and many related health problems which are directly attributable to such eating habits. It is not the intention of the writers to condemn fast food or the fast food industry. It is largely the eating habits of people which need modification-the time, manner and style of eating.