Is An Ayurvedic Diet Really The Healthiest Choice For Me?
Diet and nutrition can be one of the most underrated components of health. It has only really been in the last ten years that we, as a western culture, have been privy to the intricate knowledge of how our digestive system influences the body — mentally, physically, and emotionally. There is now an abundance of literature that acknowledges the relevance of gut health and the relevance of the relationship between nutrition, immunity, and psychological well-being, alongside our individual biological makeup.
Moreover, while this reflects what the Ayurvedic philosophy has recognized for over 5000 years, there is still so much more that needs to be taken into consideration for a holistic sense of well-being.
I have NO IDEA how to address a holistic lifestyle!
There is a wealth of information pertaining to specific regimens of what not to eat versus what is good to eat. Quite honestly, it can be overwhelming and often promoted solutions have very black and white absolutes. Meat, no meat. Fat, no fat. Sugar, no sugar. However, if we look at well-being in the Ayurvedic philosophy, we begin to see that the way our unique bodies are balanced is certainly not black and white and that our diet has indeed the power to affect our mind, body, and spirit.
This said, general Ayurvedic philosophy can be applied to any food regimen, and though you may be applying the right principles, the quality and quantity of food are vital. There is often a misconception that all fats, sugars, and proteins have the same nutritional value, and this may be doing more harm than good. Meaning, not all foods are created equally, no foods should be consumed in excess, and that different foods release different components of dynamic energy.
What does science say?
In recent years there has been quite a significant influx in research (see here, here, here, here,) indicating that certain foods, albeit so an excessive intake of foods (obesity), increase the body’s immune response causing inflammation. This inflammation can lead to:
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Crohn’s Disease
- Congestive heart failure
- Gall Bladder Disease
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Heart attack
- Kidney failure
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Polymyalgia Rheumatica
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Further digestive issues (Source):
- Gallstones, cholecystitis, and cholangitis
- Rectal problems, such as anal fissure, hemorrhoids, proctitis, and rectal prolapse
- Esophagus problems, such as stricture (narrowing) and achalasia
- Liver problems, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C, cirrhosis, liver failure, and autoimmune and alcoholic hepatitis
- Pancreatitis and pancreatic pseudocyst
- Intestinal problems, such as polyps and cancer, infections, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, malabsorption, short bowel syndrome, and intestinal ischemia
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, and hiatal hernia
Yet, this list does not even begin to address the relationship between mental health and inflammation. Demonstrating that finding a lifestyle that addresses both eating to combat inflammation (looking after the gut’s microbiome) and then applying Ayurvedic philosophies by knowing your Constitution is the best way to achieve holistic well-being and balance.
But I do not have any of these diseases
Knowing that inflammation can cause the above-mentioned health problems is simply the first step. The second step is knowing what imbalance looks like before it becomes a diagnosis.
When we know what it may look like to be unbalanced, then we may begin to look at the specific causes in relation to our own unique energy makeup, and thus make a change. There are many overt symptoms of an off-balance system, and though I will list those below, knowing that feeling “off” or “wrong” now has evidence-based knowledge that things may actually be “off” or “wrong”, brings new wisdom to western culture. This knowledge allows us to simply recognize that when we feel off-balance, something in our lifestyle needs to be attended to.
So, what does imbalance look like?
Imbalance looks like any form of inflammation as represented by:
- Heavy, low energy
- Food intolerance
- Visible differences in sensation, perception, and interpretation as they relate to the five senses (smell, taste, touch, sight, sound)
- Concealed inflammation expressed mentally as Mood disorders such as depression or anxiety
- Overt inflammation expressed physically as redness, stiffness, swelling, heat, or pain
What could be “off” with my diet?
This is where knowing which foods cause inflammation is so helpful. However, in saying this, it may not specifically be the food you are eating, but the quality and quantity. For example, let us look at Bob’s diet:
“Bob has done some research on eating for his constitution, and along the way read that white rice is refined, removing much of its good nutrition, and that red or processed meats may have carcinogenic risks. Further, he knows that beans are a good source of protein, that there are meat substitutes, and that fruit juices have many nutrients. Bob’s Dosha is mostly Pitta, stating it is okay for him to eat Seitan (wheat meat), wild rice, kidney beans, and a certain variety of fruits, vegetables, and spices. Bob bases his diet on what he understands, however to attain a feeling of satisfaction he often sits down and eats a cup or so of cooked wild rice, a cup or so of beans, Seitan, washed down with a glass of prune juice (because he has been feeling a little “clogged”). Bob does not like many vegetables, so he sticks with the basics of potatoes, peas and carrots.”
Looking at Bob’s diet, we see that he is eating foods that have high glycemic index, hidden processing in the juice, a lot of starch, and very little quality nutrition by way of antioxidants, vitamins, omega 3, and fiber.
Furthermore, although Bob has selected foods that are within his constitution, he is negating the reality that there is clearly imbalance indicated by his needs to over consume as well as his constipation.
This is where a diet that reduces inflammation while still following your Ayuvedic constitution has the ability to heal holistically. Mind, body, and spirit balanced through an understanding of the foods that enhance nutrition. Once you can identify which constitutional makeup is uniquely yours, you can begin looking at a diet based in personalized anti-inflammatory nutrition.
Even without an acknowledgment of your constitution, such nutrition beings with mindfully selecting your foods:
- Processed and packaged foods
- Refined sugar, glucose, and the like
- Hydrogenated Oils, Fats and Fried Foods
- Alcohol, Fermented foods and drinks
- Processed/Smoked/Deli meats
- Pickled Foods
- Table salt
- Cow’s milk
- All additives, coloring, flavorings, preservatives
- Over cooking or microwaving
- Eat organic and free from pesticide seasonal fruits and vegetables
- Always eat fresh, energies deplete after 24 hours
- Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s): Olive Oil, Fish, Seeds And Nuts
- Always be aware of the right oils for cooking, supplementing, and ingesting through foods – different oils have different properties providing different health benefits.
- Select 4-5 servings of both green vegetables and orange/red vegetables
- 2-3 servings of fresh organic fruit
- Seek to utilize food as medicine
- Ensure food combinations are enhancing energy (see here)
- Choose proteins, carbohydrates, vegetables, herbs and spices that reflect a balanced feeling within, always think:
- Does this make me feel energized?
- Is this of the earth?
- Is there any negative feedback occurring in mind, body, or spirit?
As previously mentioned, knowing your particular constitution (Vaya, Pitta, Kapha combinations) will offer more specific and uniquely designed nutrition that correctly balances your individual energy makeup allowing for optimal health in the true Ayuvedic form.
Remember that just because it is okay on your constitution list, the foods may not be anti-inflammatory.
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