We are a product of what we eat and of how and when we eat it: both in terms of physiology and consciousness.
Wholesome food is necessary but not sufficient. Wholesome food consumed inappropriately can become poison. Food has to be properly digested in order to be transformed into healthy tissues and thoughts. Thus, Ayurvedic recommendations for healthful eating focus as much or more on protecting the digestive process as on selecting specific ingredients to maintain balance in the physiology.
In Ayurveda, the stomach is known as the vessel which cooks the food. The toxic product of improperly digested food is called Ama. Ama plays a major role in the pathogenesis of most diseases. Think of it as a high-level concept that applies to a wide variety of stuff that western medicine preferentially describes at the biochemical level: cholesterol-laden atherosclerotic plaque in coronary artery disease, neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid deposits in Alzheimer’s disease, immune complexes in rheumatoid arthritis and so on.
Ama is sticky and thereby clogs up the fine channels of the body. As it accumulates, it creates a sense of blockage or heaviness and fatigue that is not relieved with sleep. Ama is frequently associated with muscle aches, digestive disturbances, allergies, sensitivities and impaired immunity. The tongue may become coated. Environmental toxins (pollutants, pesticides, preservatives, synthetic fabrics, cleaners, etc.) also promote Ama and accelerate its conversion to Amavisha, its most damaging form. While Ayurveda offers a variety of approaches for eliminating Ama, they all basically involve stimulating our own physiology to cook it. To see if Ama might be a problem for you, do this short questionnaire: https://qatoqi.com/ayurveda/php/ama.php
By now you should have the idea that cooked food is easier to digest and more likely to be health-promoting than raw food. This includes apples and pears, but not other sweet ripe fruits. Even milk is better digested if it is boiled first.
There is much more to say about diet and digestion which will occupy us for weeks to come. For now, let’s conclude with a few key points for getting the maximum nourishment when you eat:
- Favor delicious, wholesome, freshly prepared food
- Choose a suitable time & settled place
- Eat with attention on your food
- Avoid ice-cold food and drinks—they disturb the digestive fire
- Stop eating when ¾ full—don’t over-eat
- Pause after eating before returning to activity
- Don’t eat a meal in the face of indigestion or emotional upset—stick with nourishing liquids
- Avoid eating within a few hours of a main meal
- Use spices to aid digestion, add flavor and maintain balance
With this background, we’re ready to delve into the Ayurvedic knowledge of what the body does with the food we eat. I guarantee you’ll be surprised and delighted.
Coming Next: Tissue Metabolism
Marc Edwards, MD