Ayurvedic Food Choices

Ayurveda-  (A-yur-ve-da) is an ancient Indian healing system that puts food at the center of the Ayurvedic lifestyle. My earliest knowledge of Ayurveda came with Deepak Chopra’s entry into the world of alternative health more than 20 years ago. I saw him at Penn State and his philosophy on food, life, healing, etc. captivated me. He co-founded the Chopra Center for well-being in California. (www.chopracenter.com)
Photo of Dr. Deepak Chopra

My renewed interest in Ayurveda comes as a result of interviewing Dr. Joanna Carmichael, who operates The Kalyana Centre about 15 minutes where I live. Her profile will appear shortly. But for this posting I just want to highlight the kind of diet/lifestyle that this system of healing promotes.

My information is based on my 20 years of being familiar with Ayurveda and experimenting with my own diet, as well as my talk with Dr. Carmichael, and most recently the book, A Life in Balance by Maya Tawari (Healing Arts Press), a cancer survivor, which is where my facts for today are taken. The book is very comprehensive and I am focusing only on the diet, but for a complete understanding of Ayurveda, I recommend this as a ready reference. My report today is just the tip of Ayurveda, as simplified as I can make it without overwhelming you.

As with many alternative healing modalities, the emphasis is on body, mind, and spirit and by feeding the right food for your body’s constitution, these will come into balance. Balance is the key! As the author notes in Chapter One: “Ayurveda is not only the ancient Indian science of preventative health and healing but also a philosophy of healing.” (p. 8)

In order to attain that balance from a dietary point of view, you need to uncover your body’s constitution, or dosha. They are three main doshas: Vata, Pitta, & Kapha and they are linked to the five elements of the earth: space, air, fire, water, and earth. As I read in the book,  all life is interconnected, or as the author states: “Food is the keeper of all five elements; in its transformation the body of life is formed.” (p. 15)

These five elements are kept in different parts of the body: Earth’s memory is held in the heart; Water’s memory is held in the kidneys; Fire’s memory is held in the intestines; Air’s memory is held by the lungs; and Space’s memory is held in the brain. So we hold all the elements in our body, but depending on your constitution or doshas, some are genetically more dominant than others.

My body’s constitution is Pitta-Vitta. Most people have dual constitutions and a few people have all three (tri-dosha). Since I am most familiar with my dosha, I will give a brief description of the foods that keep my body in balance, which means that my weight will also be normal for my body type.

On p. 98 is the beginning of the list of foods applicable to my Pitta-Vata body type. Since I am predominantly Pitta, Fire is my main element related to digestion, and digestion has been my focus for a long time. When I eat foods that are not good for my constitution, I feel it right away in my intestines, so relearning my Ayurvedic food list is bound to be helpful.

The foods are listed as major, minor, and regressive, which means I plan to focus on the major veggies, less on the minor ones, and eventually avoid the regressive ones altogether. Fortunately, the major list is very comprehensive, and the minor list adequate, while the avoidance list is quite small.

Here is a sample of my major vegetable foods. There are 33 in all:

artichoke, arugula, broccoli, carrots, celery, seedless cucumbers, green beans, pumpkin, sprouts, squash & sweet potatoes.

My minor veg. foods (18) include beets, cabbage, kale, papaya, peas, and spinach, while my regressive veggies (9) include Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, Swiss chard, tomatoes, and turnips.

In reading through my list, I realize that I like most of the major and minor veggies and avoid most of the regressive ones anyway, so my body already knows what it likes.

A similar procedure is done for fruits, grains, (by season), beans, nuts & seeds, dairy, oils, sweeteners, herbs, spices& sweeteners, condiments, seaweeds, & beverages. This comprehensive list occupies six 8 1/2 x 11 pages for my Pitta-Vata constitution.

This helpful book also contains recipes for all the body types, some of which may be suitable for all body types, since there is overlapping of the foods. In fact, t this 354 page book devotes the second half to Universal Recipes for Each Body Type and includes an interesting section on equipment, tools, food preparation, etc.

The recipe section begins with recipes for all body types, so do not worry that you need to prepare different meals for each person in your family. There are actually picture codes that represent each season and a fifth code for festivals. And there are letters to represent the body types, ex. PV for Pitta-Vata, my body type.  Some of the ingredients will need to be purchased in a health food store or ones that carry a selection of international foods.

Preparing foods from a different culture is both exciting and challenging. Keep in mind, though, that with your personal dosha list, you can prepare foods the way you like within your list. Also keep in mind that Vedic culture (what Ayurveda is taken from) emphasizes combining six tastes at every meal, although your body type might dictate emphasizing some more than others: sweet, sour, pungent, salty, bitter, and astringent. The recipes in the book include/reflect these five tastes.

I have reprinted on of my recipes, Savory Roasted Vegetables from 2008,  to demonstrate that it can be adjusted for the veggies of your dosha by substituting some of the foods on your list.  All the veggies on my ingredient list are also on my Pitta-Vata list, although the spices are on my minor list, so I might make this again using some of the major condiments, such as cumin and caraway.

Savory Roasted Vegetables

Utensils: Cutting board, knife, baking sheet
Prep. Time: 20 minutes- 1/2 hour, depending on the vegetables used
Cooking Time: About 30 minutes, depending on how well done you like the vegetables
Note: Preheat oven to 400 degrees while cutting the veggies
Categories: Vegan, Gluten-Free

Organic whenever possible
one-two zucchini, scrubbed & cut into bite-sized chunks
one-two yellow summer squash, scrubbed & cut into bite-sized chunks
one stalk of fennel, washed & cut into pieces about 1 1/2 inches by 1 1/2 inches (no need to be exact!)
one red bell pepper, seeds and white veins removed, cut into slivers
3-4 cauliflower florets, sliced thinly
2-3 Tbl. olive oil
1/3 cup loosely packed fresh herbs (I used dill, thyme, parsley, basil) (1/2 this amount if dried)

1. Cut all the veggies as described. Place in a large bowl and toss with 2-3 tablespoons olive oil and herbs.
2. Place veggies on a baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes, tossing once; then switch to broil for 3 or 4 minutes until desired crispness, tossing once. Sprinkle on a little more olive oil or fennel dressing right before serving.
3. Serve over rice or pasta or just as they are—colorful and crisp!

Note: If you want to use new potatoes or fingerlings, precook for 5 minutes while cutting up other veggies. If you want to use asparagus, trim and cut into thirds, adding after veggies have baked 5-7 minutes.

FINAL NOTE: The way I plan to start is to study my list and begin including them in my cooking. Since I already gravitate to the foods on the list naturally, I don’t think this will be difficult. For example, almost all the veggies on my major list I like, so I can roast asparagus, bell peppers, squash, and sweet potatoes, adding condiments from my Pitta-Vata list, such as ginger, parsley, dill, garlic & thyme. I am not going to freak out if I don’t have every taste in every meal. I decided that if I follow my Pitta-Vata food list, I will eventually incorporate all the tastes.

If I worry over every piece of food I put in my mouth or every condiment that I leave out, I won’t have a balanced lifestyle, so please use this information without becoming anxious, as we often do when making dietary changes. (By the way, there are exercise modalities recommended for each body type as well, but that discussion is not part of this posting. Just know that the exercises I like, such as yoga and swimming, as opposed to running or heavy hiking, are perfect for Pitta-Vata body types, so if you listen to your body, it will guide you in the right direction.)

Finally, if I find this food plan is too challenging, I will take a course from Dr. Carmichael at the Kalyana Centre so that I stay on track. There are Ayurvedic practitioners all over the U.S. and elsewhere.  HAPPY EATING!

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