There are certain qualities that a meal must possess. Food devoid of all these qualities must be avoided. These qualities are stated below according to their priority.
Warmth ignites and aides the digestion process, which is like slow chemical based disintegration of the ingested food. Optimal temperature is crucial for proper functioning of digestive enzymes. Extra warmth can be done away with through blood circulation, but extra heat required for digestion takes long time to build if the food is cold. Warmth helps to digest even if the food is not tender, improper food, eaten improperly and in excess amount. Therefore warm food is the most important factor.
Warmth also triggers the taste buds. Even not very palatable food becomes bearable when it is served warm. It pleases the mind, which is another vital aspect of food. Fumes of warm food excite the sense of smell and increases salivary secretions.
Warmth relaxes the muscles of the alimentary canal and melts the mucus lining to ensure smooth passage of the food.
Warmth pacifies Vata and Kapha metabolism (excess motion or excess inertia) and promotes Pitta( transformation process). Both excess Vata and Kapha hinder the digestion process; excess Vata may cause gas trouble, pain due to tensed muscles or dryness, similarly Kapha can cause constipation and heaviness.
So Eating ice cream is not great, esp. for Vata people!
Snigdha has 2 meanings – 1) Made with love , 2) tender with moisture or oil
Food should be made with love and eaten with love! Everything has certain vibrations, positive or negative. Therefore food offered in Temples is called Prasad, ideally it is purified with positive feelings like happiness, gratitude, humility and love.
Also it is said that one should not eat in places where the food is not offered or cooked with love. That ways, you also ingest the negative vibrations along with food.
That is why taste of food cooked by mother in early years, lingers in the memory of a person throughout the life.
Also food should not be very hard or dry. The amount of moisture in the food helps the intestines to move the food easily, very hard pieces of food might hurt the inner linings of the intestine. It is easier for the digestives juices to penetrate moist food
In proper proportions
According to Charak, the stomach should be filled 1/3rd with food, 1/3rd with water and 1/3rd with air to ensure proper movement of food in the stomach. Therefore we should stop eating when a little hunger is still left. One should not feel heaviness in the body after a meal.
According to Chakrapani (Ancient Commentator of Charak) one should include 175 gm. of grains, 40 gm. of soup (fluids) and 80 gm. of meat in a complete meal.
Eaten after complete digestion of previous meal
If the food is eaten before the previous meal is completely digested or without proper hunger, then the digestion capacity gets weakened. The digestive juices, ample to digest the next meal, take some time to get regenerated in their respective organs. Meals taken without the proper secretion of digestive juices, leads to improper digestion. Hunger signifies that the digestive juices are fully restored and have already started working in the stomach, and therefore it is best to eat only when hungry. Scientifically it is said that the food gets digested in 4-6 hours but every person is different and there are various factor governing the hunger and digestion capacity ; like age, physical activity, last meal, daily routine and Prakruti etc..
Improper digestion has 2 aspects: Insufficient digestive juices and delay in digestion because of other factors like heavy food, cold food, excess quantity or improper timing. Insufficient juices lead to incomplete disintegration of food. Since the food reaches a certain point in digestion and is sent to the next stage only after the reaching a certain level of disintegration, insufficient juices causes delay by stagnation of the food at one point. Also they are not able to prevent the purification of the food inside the body, which causes gas trouble and many other problems.
Therefore meal should be taken punctually, it helps your body to tune itself to your time table. The body can plan the digestion and other activities. Besides, more importantly, you should eat only when hungry and as much as hunger permits.
Compatible to the body (viryavirudha)
One should check for any allergies towards any food item. Some people are allergic to dairy products, some to eggs, some to certain fruits or vegetables or grains. For example, wheat causes allergies because of gluten contents.
According to Charak, each substance is digested in a different way in the intestine or each substance react differently to the digestive juices. Because of different Prakruti of individuals, the same substance might be digested, absorbed and effect the body in different ways.
In an agreeable place with good facilities
It is very important to have clean surrounding for a meal as insects might contaminate the food. This is very basic. Charak uses the word “ Priya” meaning the one you love. One should have food in the place which is loved by the person, place decorated according to the taste of the person, with friends or loved ones if possible, with appropriate resources.
Charak also stresses the importance of feeling gratitude, contentment and happiness during the meal, even if it is not great food. If you don’t like the food, you can leave it but preferably should not eat with a distressed mind.
Not consumed very fast
Digestion of food starts in the mouth as saliva mixes with the food. Also food gets broken into smaller pieces by chewing, which increases the surface area for further digestion of the food. People who swallow the food few seconds after putting it in their mouth, ensure improper digestion and thus incomplete absorption of nutrients. Such people even on consumption of a balance diet, might have deficiencies because of low absorption.
Also chewing for some time helps you feel the taste, texture and smell of the food. If you take interest in your food, it will reduce other stresses while eating. Also the food eaten with pleasure nourishes the body better.
Not consumed very slow
Some people have tendency of thinking or doing other things at the time of eating. Some chew unnecessarily for a very long time. They get the feeling of boredom or the hunger is no more after sometime. So these people might have poor intake of food.
According to Prakruti, normally Kapha Prakruti people or even Vata Prakruti people might face this problem. Pitta Prakruti people, in normal condition, have good hunger and good concentration.
Slow eating is esp. not good in the cold seasons of the year since less food intake might lead to various digestion problems as discussed earlier.
Eaten without talking or laughing
Talking or laughing might lead to food entering the air passage, which is lethal.
According to the body requirements and interest
This is the last factor mentioned, which signifies that it is the most dispensable one, but at the same time, if convenient and affordable, one should always have tasty food, cooked well with nice fragrance and beautifully presented. The point is that the unhealthy/cold/very dry food, even if tasty and good looking, should not be given preference according to the earlier mentioned factors.
There are preachers who say that you should have control over your taste buds. And in order to ensure this, they insist on eating tasteless food, which is a wrong approach. Eating bad food increases craving for good food. And good food is body’s natural requirement, because good food positively affects not only body but also the mind.
Food consumed without following any of the above guidelines creates “Aam” or toxins in the body.