According to modern science, nutrition of a food substance depends on its chemical composition. But according to Ayurveda, the way body responds to a particular food decides the nutrition that the food can provide to the body.
There are few factors that determine the nutrition of a food –
Bio-availability of the nutrition
In order to understand the concept of bio-availability in the light of Ayurveda, consider this example – If you have a rod of iron and a capsule of ferrous sulphate, the rod of iron will indisputably have more content of iron then the capsule. However, the body will not be able to absorb anything from the rod of iron or even the plain iron powder. The chemical presence of nutritious elements does not determine their bio-availability for the body. Therefore, even if there is lots of minerals and vitamins in a food substance, the body might never be able to absorb more than 50% of them. Let us take a baseline of a very popular health supplement – turmeric. Raw Turmeric is today available in in powder and capsulated form. Most of the people in Western countries are buying it as a health supplement. However, according to Ayurveda, raw turmeric should never be consumed as the body is not able to absorb its nutrition. Besides, it might produce toxins and derange dosha if not digested properly.
The other dangerous concept creeps in along with the one above. Since the bio-availability of the nutrients is low , therefore more and more concentrated doses of nutrients should be consumed to ensure that we receive the optimal amount of all nutrition. However, consumption of such concentrated doses have a harsh and deteriorating effect on the body. Let us bring in turmeric in this context. Turmeric with higher curcumin(main bio-active ingredient in Turmeric) is available in the market. But it is not the natural form of turmeric. Ayurveda suggests that the food with unnatural qualities is dangerous for the body. Now, if the turmeric you are consuming is Genetically modified, then you must have a look at this video, otherwise you are on your road to cancer and a hoard of autoimmune disorders, because of a health supplement! –
For more information on effects of genetically modified food, please refer to
Preparation of the Food
Another important factor in terms of bio-availability of nutrition is the processing of the food. For example, cooked tomato provides more nutrition than a raw tomato. In fact, raw tomato is more acidic in nature as compared to a cooked one. According to Ayurveda, cooking makes most of the foods’ nutrients more bio-available. Ayurveda considers that soups, teas and broths are far better than juices as juices are harder to digest as compared to the cooked preparations. Ayurveda advices a sick person to eat khichadi( rice lentil soup) rather than fresh fruits or anything raw. Therefore, we need to relook at our tradition of breaking a fast with a glass of orange juice!
Now in case of turmeric, raw turmeric is not good, roasted turmeric is better. But the best preparation that is good for all body types and can be consumed in larger quantities is Turmeric roasted in Ghee(Indian Butter). According to Ayurveda, turmeric is dry in nature. Therefore, when fried in ghee, it becomes unctuous, gets absorbed without any erosive effects on the intestines and spreads throughout the body. Ghee is supposed to be a “Yogavahi” or the carrier of the medicinal properties. It absorbs and preserves the medicinal properties of the herbs and helps to spread them across the body.
Requirement of the body
One man’s food is another man’s poison. According to Ayurveda, each human body is different. There can be no general rule for all people regarding nutrition. Nutrition is a personal dharma of each body! Ayurveda classifies human body in to 3 primary types – vata, pitta and kapha. Each type has different requirements and reacts differently to external stimuli. (Ayurvedic Body Types) Now let us consider the example of alcohol. A glass of wine will not alter its composition according to its consumer. Yet different people have different physiological responses on alcohol consumption. According to Ayurveda, alcohol is very good for Kapha prakriti person as it warms up the body and stimulates the sluggish metabolism of the kapha body. But the amount of alcohol that can be good for a kapha person might cause a pitta prakriti person to pass out or cause inflammation or acidity. (Now we are not considering habitual drinkers in any of the examples!). Similarly, same amount of alcohol might cause bloating in a vata prakriti person.
Extending the example of turmeric in this case, few mg of turmeric are good for consumption everyday. Indian dishes, esp. the curries are replete with the use of small quantities of turmeric. Turmeric adds taste, color and aroma to the dishes and also ensure consumption of optimal quantity of turmeric. A normal Indian meal with few tsps of turmeric provides the required amount for a normal healthy body.
Turmeric is hot in temperament. Therefore a larger amount can be consumed in the winter season. This helps to prevent the seasonal cold and cough, esp in the children. Haridrakhand (Haridra- Turmeric) is the classical Ayurvedic health supplement, highly recommended in winter. It contains various other herbs along with turmeric. 1-2 tsp with warm milk before bed is a good dose for a great immunity.
So again, nutrition is directly proportional to the requirements of an individual body.
According to Ayurveda, “Ati sarvatra varjayeta”, meaning excess is prohibited everywhere. Here quality and quantity, both are important in terms of nutrition. Now turmeric is very nutritious for the body. But there is an optimal amount in which it bestows its natural benefits to the body.
However, if one were to consume huge amount of raw turmeric, it is sure to cause indigestion and bloating in the body. Generally small amount of roasted turmeric should be consumed as a health supplement.
One of the modern myths regarding nutrition is regarding the protein intake.
Past few decades were full of promotion for protein intake.The markets are full of products that promise huge volumes of protein. But such huge amount of protein is not required at all by the human body. Looking at the nature, we find that the animals that consume a solely protein based diet normally have a shorter life-span as compared to the vegetarian animals.
Recent studies suggest that excess intake of protein can promote carcinogenic metabolism in the body. The China Study is one. of the most extensive study of human nutrition that concludes vegetarian diet to be far superior to heavy protein based diet, in terms of cancer prevention.
Capacity to absorb the nutrition
This is actually the single governing rule for nutrition in a body. Nutrition is basically the useful substances that your body can actually extract from the food and not exactly the amount present inside the food. Let us consider the following example – what is the single most important factor in education of a child? We can say that good books, stationary, learning toys, good teachers, good learning environment etc. are important. But the single most important factor for learning in anyone is the willingness to learn. If a child is not willing to learn, then no one and nothing can teach him. Same goes for the nutrition in our bodies.
Ayurvedic Lifestyle for Excellent Digestion
Good and bad food combinations are very important factor in Ayurvedic nutrition. You must have read about the drug to drug interactions. Drug to drug interaction means the way one drug reacts with another drug. This is an important factor as some drugs might get converted to toxins, decrease the absorption of the other drugs or interfere with their mode of action when present together. Ayurveda goes beyond drugs and talks about food to food interaction.
Viruddhaara or the contradictory/incompatible food combinations are elaborately mentioned in Ayurveda. For example – milk and curd, fish and milk etc. are some bad food combinations. Also, food to time interaction, for example – eating curd at night and food and incompatible health status combination like consumption of red meat by a weak person with weak digestion; are prohibited. Above are just a small example of the long list of incompatible and unhealthy combinations including various dimensions like food, growing method, cooking method, time of meal, eating process and so on.
Here are some useful links for elaborate information –
Good Food and Bad Food According to Ayurveda – Food that should be consumed rarely I
Good Food and Bad Food According to Ayurveda – Food that should be consumed rarely II