By Sunita Mohan, HD, RNCP Homeopathic Doctor and Ayurvedic Nutritionist
What Is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is the ancient system of healing from India. The word ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit roots ayu and veda, or “life” and “knowledge.” The use of spices as "wonder foods" has been in the ayurvedic teaching for thousands of years. Spices are a convenient, therapeutic and flavorful way to keep your diet healthy and healing.
Ayurveda is in many ways a health-care system but also a complete approach to living life. When it comes to weight loss, an ayurvedic doctor or nutritionist can recommend specific spices to include in your diet as part of a program or treatment. Simple recipes that have been passed on by generations are the secrets to weight loss. Also, look for foods that have anti-viral, anti-bacterial and, most importantly, anti-inflammatory properties. Decreasing inflammation helps you lose weight and keep it off.
The Ayurvedic Spice Box
The "spice box,” or masal thani, is a complete arrangement of spices in an Indian kitchen. The exotic colors and aromas of spices can change an ordinary dish into a divine one. Most spices have therapeutic properties, so every meal that includes spices can become an opportunity to enhance your health and well-being.
A powerful and key spice in disease prevention is asafoetida (hing); it has been held in great esteem amongst indigenous medicines from the earliest times in India. It is reputed for properties that expel gas from the stomach and counteract any spasmodic disorders. It is also a digestive agent and a sedative. It can also induce bowel movement. It has antioxidant effects, well known for protecting cells from free radical damage, and also has anti-cancer benefits.
Black pepper (Piper nigrum), or peppercorn, stimulates the taste buds in such a way that an alert is sent to the stomach to increase hydrochloric acid secretion, thereby improving digestion. The outer layer of the peppercorn stimulates the breakdown of fat cells, keeping you slim while giving you energy to burn.
Turmeric is the main ingredient in many Indian dishes. And it has many beneficial properties and applications, including: treatment of gallbladder problems, indigestion and infections; used for Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, asthma, athlete’s foot, boils, colic, dermatitis, diarrhea, gas, high cholesterol, inflammation, intestinal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, psoriasis and yeast infections.
You want the spices in your food to enhance the dish you are preparing rather than overpower it. Many spices release their flavors and aromas best when sautéed in ghee (clarified butter) or oil. Some can be dry-roasted, which changes the colour and aroma of the spice; the best example of this is dry-roasted cumin seeds. When roasting spices, make sure you remove from heat when aromas are released and continue stirring or shaking to prevent burning. Look for organic whenever possible, and store in airtight containers away from heat and light.
Choose More Satvic Foods
The qualities of satvic foods produce calmness, clarity and creativity in the mind, and health and vitality in the body. Examples of satvic foods are: organic fresh fruits and vegetables, raw honey, grains, beans, lentils, almonds, unprocessed milk, ghee, nuts and seeds. These foods are moist, sweet, fresh and soft, have delicate flavors, and should be served at room temperature.
The opposite of satvic foods are tamasic foods, or processed foods. When we eat tamasic foods, it brings: dullness, confusion, inertia, ignorance, and attachment. Examples of tamasic foods are: foods that are aged like cheese, leftovers, fried foods, frozen foods, homogenized foods, fermented foods, red meat, alcohol, and mushrooms. These foods are: dry, old, stale, rotten, heavy, dead, processed, preserved, tasteless, and hard for the body to process.
The Six Tastes and Your Ayurvedic Body Type
Ayurvedic cooking involves six tastes, which are used to prepare a balanced dish. Include all the tastes in your day to make your diet divine and healing: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent.
Here are some examples of each of the 6 tastes:
- Sweet: Almonds, sugar, milk, rice, wheat, large beans
- Salty: Salt, seaweed, salted snacks
- Sour: Lemon, yogurt, cheese, tomatoes, sour fruits, pickled fruits, tamarind
- Pungent: Ginger, mustard, clove, hot spices, radish, chilies, garlic
- Astringent: Beans, lentils, pomegranate, unripe bananas, apples, cabbage, potatoes, cranberries
- Bitter: Green tea, green leafy veggies, endive, tonic water, fenugreek, rhubarb, turmeric, chocolate
Each taste has a balancing ability, and including some of each provides complete nutrition, minimizes cravings and balances the appetite and digestion.
The six tastes affect our dosha, or body constitution, differently. According to ayurveda, each of us has a unique mix of three mind/body principles, which creates our specific mental and physical characteristics. These three principles are called doshas. Most of us have one or two doshas, which are most dominant in our nature, with the remaining one(s) less expressed.
The three doshas are known as: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
The Kapha Dosha
Kapha is typically the largest of the body types. Physically, they have wide hips/shoulders; thick wavy hair; good physical stamina. Mentally, Kapha types tend to me slow to learn, but they have great memories. Emotionally, they tend to be very loyal, stable, and reliable.
The Pitta Dosha
Pitta individuals are typically of medium build. Physically, they have good muscle tone; have a tendency to always feel warm; have premature graying hair or balding; have reddish complexions; enjoy high energy levels; and have really strong digestion – they can eat almost anything. Mentally, they are extremely intelligent, focused, ambitious people. Emotionally, they are passionate about life, have a tendency to be perfectionists, and can become easily irritated.
The Vata Dosha
The third dosha, Vata, tends to be the most slender of the three body types. Vata people can actually find it difficult to gain weight. Physically, Vata individuals are thin with prominent bony structures; tend to be cold all the time; have dry skin and hair; and have little muscle tone. Mentally, they learn fast and forget fast, enjoy change, and are very creative. Emotionally, Vata types are excitable, enthusiastic, but can become easily anxious.
Knowing your constitution will help you select the tastes that work best for you. To find out your dominant dosha, take this quiz.
To keep Pitta balanced, choose more sweet, bitter and astringent foods; spices like turmeric and peppercorn can cool Pitta.
To keep Vata balanced, choose more salty, sour or sweet foods; cumin and ginger can calm Vata.
To keep Kapha in balance, eat more bitter, pungent or astringent foods; turmeric, cumin and ginger can stimulate Kapha.
Ayurvedic Cooking: The Mung Bean Soup Cure
Mung bean soup, or mung dal, is one the most cherished foods in ayurveda. This dish is tridoshic – balancing all three doshas – especially when cooked with spices appropriate for each dosha. This dish is very nourishing and relatively easy to digest and generally does not create abdominal gas or bloating. It’s an easy and safe way to lose inches off of your waist. For the complete recipe, click here.
Daily Ayurvedic Detox
Daily detox is also very important. My favorite is a hot lemonade drink every day. Start with one cup hot water, and add 1 tablespoon of raw or unpasteurized honey, and half of a fresh lemon squeezed. You can also add fresh ginger pieces.
This will help you detox and start the digestive fire of your body!