COOKING--SOME AYURVEDIC STRATEGIES
Ayurveda is the science of life and the knowledge of how to improve it and extend it. Life depends upon three entities: mind, body, spirit or Consciousness. Life does not exist without all of these. Fundamentally, Consciousness is everything there is but in the realm of the senses the body is an extension or expression of Consciousness. The mind, having no material existence, is the link between body and spirit. It is through the operation of the mind that the body becomes aware of its spiritual nature. Conversely, the spirit knows the sensory experiences of the body through the mind. According to Ayurveda sleep, diet, and a spiritual path nourish the life. There are two terms relevant to our discourse, which will weave throughout our discourse: ahara and annam. Diet, ahara, in Sanskrit, means food and the procurement of it. It means the ongoing nature or habit of taking food. The physical or energetic nature of food is given by another Sanskrit word--annam The body is nourished by annam. The Vedas tell us that the physical body is nothing but the body of annam or food. The physical body is the grossest expression of Consciousness--the fifth sheath covering the spirit. Consciousness is a non-material intelligence and energy. Modern quantum physics tells us that all matter is fundamentally energy. And because it has form it has intelligence. Thus food and Consciousness are essentially the same. When we take food into the body we take energy and intelligence into it--to maintain and prolong its vitality. We nourish its physical functioning, the ability of the mind to function, our emotions, the senses, and thus the quality of our awareness or Consciousness. We become in a literal way every quality we eat or in any other way experience. Another verse in Ayurveda warns that food is our medicine; a good regimen of diet is worth a hundred drugs but no amount of drugs can overcome a poor regimen of diet. Thus the values of food and diet are:
· maintenance of the bulk of the body giving life physicality
· promotion of balance in physiology thus promoting health, strength, vitality
· purification and healing in case of disease thus promoting longevity
· sensory enjoyment and sense of well-being
· influences mental, emotional, and sensory functioning to promote skill in action
· affects awareness to promote right action
In other articles we have described the body as being the expression of three dynamic principles—vata, pitta, kapha. These are governing principles of physiology associated with tissues, organs, and systems of the body. We have described their manifested qualities as evidence of their functioning in the body. When their functions or qualities get out of balance then discomfort or pain arises. Food and the manner of taking it is the best tool for restoring and maintaining the proper balance of the qualities and functions of these governors of physiology. Of the many facets of our lives food is the one which we have the most control over. Basically, we can eat whenever or whatever we want. We can eat food raw, boil it, steam it, fry it, bake it, roast it, dry it, smoke it, pickle it, season it, or garnish it, and so on. Foods taste sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. The possible variations are great indeed. But each one of these factors affects the manner in which our body performs. While vata, pitta, kapha take their instructions for governing the body from the DNA molecules in the cell nucleus, everything else in life that we experience modifies the way the cell carries out its DNA programming. Thus, food and our manner of diet are so crucial to our health. The rest of this article will give some ideas about using Ayurvedic principles to guide us in this area of health.
We are concerned with cooking in this article because Ayurveda suggests that cooked food taken while warm and freshly prepared is best. Cooked food should be discarded after 5 hours as it has little vitality (prana) left. Cooking is a crucial part of the process of transforming food molecules into the elements of tissues like muscle and bone. The modern understanding that the cell walls of many foods may need heat and fluid to enable their contents to be released from the encasing cellular membranes supports the Ayurvedic understanding. In general, vegetables should be cooked until they are “just tender.” Under certain conditions of a particular person’s digestion it may be suggested, however, that the food be cooked until it can be made into a puree consistency. Fruits, of the other hand, are commonly eaten raw. They digest easily and quickly picked and eaten right from the branch. Ayurveda sees cooking as an extension of the gross digestive process carried on in the stomach and intestines and of the more subtle digestion in the liver and cells throughout the body. Thus there is a kind of balancing that must be done--cook the food enough to be able to digest it yet not overly so as to destroy its nutrient value. And this may need to be adjusted for each individual’s digestive capacity. Note and remember that Ayurveda holds that digestion is the root of all health so protect it at all costs.
On the point of nutrients Ayurveda has important insights to offer. We remark first that the concept of vitamins is absent in the classical literature of Ayurveda. There is much ancient knowledge of the therapeutic value of metals and minerals, however. But modern experience with these food values has helped Ayurvedic clinicians diagnose and treat nutrient related disorders more accurately. For example Vitamin B-12 and folic acid deficiency can effectively be related to symptoms of chronic fatigue. There is a lingual expression of this imbalance which helps in this diagnosis.
A second point comes from recent investigations by Yale researchers around organic versus non-organic grown foods. Researchers have found that organic foods are up to 85% more nutrient-rich than their non-organic counterparts. Modern practices of farming, pest control, soil management, distribution, handling, storage, etc. have significantly altered the nutrient value of food according to recent research findings. Foods are picked in an unripe condition and some are treated to bring about a kind of ripening while in the transit and storage phases. Almost all foods are stored for days, weeks, and months before they are consumed. Ayurveda arose when farming methods were drastically different. This is why Ayurveda is silent about nutrients in the food. But Ayurveda does say that foods should be picked fresh, prepared and eaten immediately.
The most important consideration about nutrients, from the perspective of Ayurveda, is that nutrition is the end result of digestion, absorption, and assimilation. Nutrition from the perspective of food supplementation is worthless if absorption and assimilation are defective. Further, if supplementation occurs in some inappropriate form it may actually feed the imbalance or disease it is intended to improve. Persons taking mega-doses of Vitamin C and Vitamin B complexes, for example, may have increased inflammatory symptoms associated with this mega-dosing. Taking calcium and vitamin E supplements at the same time is thought to bind the Ca in the oil and to make the Ca insoluble/indigestible—resulting as calcium deposits at the joints. One must always ask: What supplement, when, how much, and for whom, etc.? On the basis of the above we can set out some general guidelines as follows:
· Choose organic over non-organic grown foods.
· Eat freshly picked, vine-ripened foods whenever possible.
· Favor foods grown in your local area as they will have more value specific to you in that climate.
· Clean foods prior to cooking and eating (solutions for removing poisonous chemicals are available).
· Favor warm, freshly cooked foods.
· Avoid leftover, canned, frozen foods.
· Protect digestion by not eating raw and cooked foods in the same meal.
· Favor meals with a single taste (sweet, bitter, astringent for example) as they digest more easily than meals with many tastes. This does not mean that one should only eat one taste all the time, however.
· Favor foods that promote balance of physiology, mind, and emotions as given by their sattvic qualities (rajasic and tamasic qualities promote balance under certain conditions and are generally unfavorable for regular consumption). See our article: “Foods to be taken Regularly”
· Avoid improper food combinations such as milk with fish, vegetables, meats, fruit, etc.
· Learn and follow the many behavioral guidelines for eating (See our article: “Eating Guidelines.”).
· As to the manner of cooking--boiling makes food more vata-balancing; baking makes it more kapha- balancing; stir-frying balances vata and if with ghee pitta is also balanced; steaming helps balance pitta and kapha; roasting which causes charring is considered carcinogenic even that it reduces fat content; raw foods tend to aggravate vata and are hard to digest; cooking with flame avoids introducing harmful electromagnetic field affects into the living environment associated with electric wiring and electric stoves.
· Cookware which favors clay, iron, glass, or stainless steel is best. Avoid Teflon coated cookware. (An interesting caveat from a modern psychic—Edgar Cayce—avoid cooking tomatoes in aluminum)
· The kitchen or cooking environment should be well stocked, calm, pleasant and sanitary. This includes the mental state of the cook--negativity or mental imbalance of any sort should be avoided during the preparation and eating of meals. For this reason cooking by women during their menses is contra-indicated.
We have discussed numerous general issues and listed general guidelines but now we want to talk about meal planning in sometimes difficult real-life situations:
1. cooking for multiple family members with different body types
2. cooking for balanced vs. imbalanced physiology (maintenance and prevention versus healing and recovery)
3. cooking when both (1) and (2) occur together
4. cooking for households with dissimilar or irregular routines daily routines
5. cooking for spiritual versus physical purposes
In other articles we have discussed and explained the notion of Ayurveda body typing within the terms of our model of physiology--vata, pitta, kapha. Recall that we stated that body typing serves two useful purposes:
1. a lifelong theme or target value for maintaining balance in each individual
2. a theme of physiology because of its liveliness which tends toward imbalance and therefore needs to be constantly addressed or balanced for one’s entire life
Further recall that body typing implies a specific set of qualities and functions unique to that body type. Maintaining balance in physiology means balancing functioning of vata, pitta, and kapha in the individual according to the particular body type. Balance is promoted by taking in qualities of opposite nature to the predominant physiological principle or dosha. If pitta is the dominant Dosha, with its hot, oily, sharp, liquid qualities then we eat foods with cool, dry, dull, non-liquid qualities. In case (1) where there exists a family of different body types consider the following tactics for maintaining balance among each member simultaneously:
· Prepare meals that are suggested as tri-doshic, that is, each item in the meal balances all doshas for any person. Remember that using ghee and spices can change mono-doshic values of foods into tri-doshic ones. For example, potato or broccoli sautéed reduces the astringent affect of the vegetables. This most important understanding about Indian spices has been largely ignored in the West--that spices are used for their physiological or healing value rather than for their tastes.
· Prepare dishes that have the effect to balance one Dosha and which balances the dominant Dosha for each family member. Each person may take foods which do not balance the dominant Dosha when they are taken in smaller amounts or less frequently than Dosha balancing foods.
· When there are concerns for weight (kapha) cook a meal which balances that Dosha and use condiments at the table to modify the effect of mono-doshic food. This means that baking and steaming favor kapha balancing but if a vata person adds salt and ghee to the foods on the plate the foods become more vata balancing. A kapha person might add pepper or ginger to the food while the pitta person might add cilantro, coriander, fennel, or coconut to it. Thus each person ADDS to the cooked foods on the plate those spices and sauces which are balancing to his or her body type. In this option the method of cooking has been chosen because it lends itself to modification by condiments on the table. If we had chosen boiling as in a soup for a vata meal we could have suggested that the kapha person season liberally with hot spices such as ginger, cayenne, black pepper, etc.
· NOTE 1: If one does not know one’s body type or that of other members at the table, prepare meals that are: a) tri-doshic or b) foods of mixed tastes and values and invite each member to take foods in the quantities desired. Option (b) allows our innate intelligence to work and often leads to proper choices for balancing that individual.
· NOTE 2: Different body types tend to different qualities of digestion which can be addressed by providing appetizers or digestives to be taken before, during, or after a meal. Fresh ginger slice with lime juice and salt might work for a kapha person. Cumin, coriander, fennel tea or peppermint tea might favor a pitta person. A vata person might favor lassi--yogurt and water mixed. These are only brief examples to illustrate an idea.
· NOTE 3: There is no Ayurvedic concept for dessert. There is, however, a suggestion about eating sweet things. Eat them first--this may curb appetite somewhat and they will be digested better by being in the stomach longer. Sweets are generally heavy, cold, and liquid; thus they are heavy on digestion—decreasing it.
· NOTE 4: Food lists describing the doshic effects of the many edibles are readily available for the Western culture. Please be aware that there are many varieties of items listed, such as Jonathan, Macintosh, Rome, Pippin, Delicious apples. Each is grown in a variety of soils, climates, etc., which may materially affect their inherent qualities. For these and other reasons their affects in the body may change according to season, country of origin, etc. Use these lists as general but provisional starting points for your use of them.
In case (2) where balanced and imbalanced physiologies are present the suggestions outlined above for (1) may be followed also. Only the understanding of why this is so needs to be explained. When members have balanced physiologies they eat foods to balance their dominant Dosha. When members have imbalanced physiologies they eat meals to balance the Dosha out of balance. In either case the principle is the same--balance is gained or maintained by affecting the dominant (most-lively) Dosha in a balanced physiology or by acting on the over-active (most lively) Dosha in an imbalanced physiology. Where more than one Dosha is involved the balancing food list is much more restricted and will not be discussed here. What is important to understand, however, is that tri- doshic cooking has very slow results for bringing about balance when it is used. For the purpose of a speedy recovery or healing mono-doshic cooking really should be favored.
Case (3) is really the same as (2) above even though the labels are different--different body types are the same as balance and imbalance together and different imbalances together. In the scenario where imbalance is present the condition of imbalance should not be ignored. Because of severity it may be imperative that mono- doshic cooking be followed strictly.
Cooking in households having dissimilar routines (4) is a real challenge to the cook. We have stated that foods prepared more than 5 hours earlier should be discarded. There is a notable exception to this rule: rice and dal individually or together, as kitcari (khicadi), may be kept for up to 24 hours, according to some vaidyas (vaidyas are expert Ayurvedic doctors). This point serves two purposes: 1) Unlike meat sources of protein rice and dal may be re-heated with little loss of prana. 2) Vegetarian sources of protein are generally, but not exclusively, favored in Ayurveda because they are easier to digest—yielding more net energy. Thus we have a preferred source of protein that can be re-heated for unusual meal times in households affected by job and other considerations.
Another tactic employs slow and fast cooking simultaneously. Prepare separate meals together but cook them so as to be ready for eating at different times. Crock pots serve this end well. Separate pots may be utilized for different cooking temperatures, which affect cooking times. Some ovens have timers permitting of delayed starting and ending times. Some cooks have found that pre-cooking foods and storing them in a thermos-type container permits cooking to be completed while in the container for later eating.
We should comment on microwave ovens. Research in the former Soviet Union led to that government banning the use of microwaves as early as 1976. Their findings revealed that mutagenic effects leading to cancer were observed in: 1) the food, 2) the environment, and in 3) individuals exposed the microwave radiation. Vaidyas have stated that the basic prana of food is disturbed in microwave cooking. Don’t use it for cooking or re-heating, if possible.
Finally, some persons are consciously following a spiritual path (5) as opposed to a life concerned with materiality--wealth, degrees, status, and so on. A body builder and a monk have significantly different lifestyles and their needs are significantly different. Both values can co-exist under certain conditions. We have alluded to the consciousness promoting values of foods above. Foods which are sattvic, such as basmati rice, dals, amalaki, saindhava salt, pure rain water, ghee, milk, barley, honey, promote evenness of temperament, balance of emotions, courage, forgiveness, good judgment, clarity of perception, compassion, and love of all things including Truth. This person knows about life in its full scope and depth. Rajasic foods, such as spicy foods, sugar, red meats, alcohol, caffeine, and other stimulants feed our attachment to sensory stimulation. These foods promote fiery emotions and behavior. They tend to promote a kind of addictive use. This addiction takes the form of attachment to some foods or experiences and aversion to other foods or experiences. This promotes a judgmental, critical existence. Tamasic foods, such as leftovers, fried foods, canned foods, stale or rancid foods, promote dullness, lethargy, sloth, insensitivity, etc. This insensitivity is a lack of awareness. It means inability to sense, to feel. The only foods for the spiritual aspirant are sattvic ones. The qualities of these foods are the qualities necessary for spiritual awareness and fulfillment. In general, a progression away from meats towards vegetables, then to predominantly grains, then predominantly to fruits and finally to water and air only is the dietary path to spiritual attainment.
The conditions referred to above viz.: perfection of health, righteous or dutiful action, pleasure and happiness, wealth, and spiritual fulfillment are actually the goals of Ayurveda. These are the aims of Ayurveda which are promoted or discouraged by the qualities of the things we do and by the foods we eat. All of these goals must be present at once for complete fulfillment of life--spiritual and material. You are or become what you eat in the absolute literal sense of the words. Happy eating.
© Copyright 1997 Michael S. Dick All Rights Reserved