Yoga, Ayurveda and Indian Cooking

How Yoga and Ayurveda have influenced Indian cooking.

As increasing numbers are suffering from disease related to poor nutrition, dietary habits and sedentary lifestyle, it has become important to educate people about a healthy diet.

Yoga and Ayurveda: Sister Sciences

Yoga and Ayurveda see healthy diet differently from modern science. Both these ancient sciences provide a practical approach to food and cooking.  Ayurveda does not label a food as healthy or unhealthy. It all depends on the quantity consumed. Any food eaten in excess is unhealthy and over a long period the body is burdened by toxins generated from food that cannot be absorbed. Depending on the body and personality type food can also be used as medicine to heal. However this is a science and art requiring years to study and experience.

Ayurvedic principles of cooking are so much a part of Indian cooking, that every Indian housewife hands these principles to her daughters (yes, that is the way it still is in India). Thus Indian women grow up understanding the nature of spices, their medicinal properties and how they are to be combined. Incorrect combination of spices and incorrect tempering of spices using the method of "baghar" is a telltale sign of poor Indian cooking.

All basic recipes and specialities in India have been handed down over centuries. Indian cooking has not changed much since the Vedic times when the principles of Ayurveda were part of the Atharva Veda. Today Ayurvedic cookbooks are gaining in popularity. To the uninitiated it may seem that Ayurvedic cooking and indian cooking are different. In fact they are one and the same, or should I say, they were one and the same. It is unfortunate, that increasingly Indians are deviating from traditional methods of cooking.

Ayurvedic Tips for healthy living

  • Eat foods of different colours: The fantastic orange-yellow colour of ripe mangoes betrays the presence of Vitamin A. Eating a variety of different coloured food provided the body with all it needs. Which is probably why food that looks unappetizing, is unappetizing!
  • Eat foods of different tastes: Foods  such as salty, sour, bitter, sweet, astrigent. Food is a sensory experience and when the tongue receives all the different tastes, specially in one meal, the entire digestive system gets stimulated.
    This explains why many Indian meals have a variety of different flavours and even the sweet dish, generally small, is eaten along with the meal and not after though some modern Indians have adopted the custom of eating the dessert at the end of the meal.
  • Bitter is better: Most of us have a sweet tooth or are addicted to processed foods such as fries, chips and wafers. Bitter is a taste that most of us avoid. Yet it would be beneficial to cultivate this taste. Bitter foods, drinks and teas purge the body of toxins. Many ancient culture established ceremonies presumably to encourage the cultivation of the bitter taste. For instance Japanese tea ceremonies or the rituals surrounding the cocoa beans. Today green teas, black teas or the cocoa are considered too bitter and processed white sugar is added to make this more acceptable to the palate.
  • Begin the day with a glass of warm water: After a night’s rest, the body has used by its water reserves for digestion, absorption, cleansing and elimination, besides scores of other functions. The water reserves of the body must be continually replenished. Warm water also stimulates the digestion and prepares the body for breakfast, or in other words, to "break the fast".
  • Keep a daily 14 hour fast: The body needs a period of daily fasting also called the 14 hour fast. This period of rest at night is used by the body for regenerative activities, such as regeneration of teeth but also for the important task of purification and cleansing. For instance elimination of toxins through the skin.
  • Do not eat in between meals. Drink water instead: Cultivate the habit of eating around the same time everyday. Far more important than time is a sense of routine which is always comforting to the mind and body. Routine prepares the mind and body for what is to come next. Eating in between disturbs the digestive system and the delicate balance between all the different and complex functions of the body. If you eat regular meals and still feel hungry then you might not be hungry but thirsty! We often mistaken thirst for hunger and eat too much. Remember anything that is not water is food and must be digested. Therefore aerated drinks, tea, coffee, alcohol is not to be compared to water.
  • Drink 8 glasses of water a day: The water reserves of the body must be continually replenished. At least 8 glasses of water a day are recommended. More water intake may be required during sickness, heat or stress situations. The brain is made up of 80% water and the body about 70%. Water is absolutely essential, and other drinks do not count.
  • Less is more: Use spices sparingly and prepare the spices correctly using the "baghar" method.

Comments:

Kate from Manchester, UK:
Very useful article. Especially the part about eating foods of different colours. I had never heard of this before but it does seem to make sense since I enjoy eating food that looks good. The 14 hour fast seems hard to keep, but I am going to try.

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