Overall, understanding and using your food as medicine helps you make better decisions about what (and how) to eat in order to make the best decisions for your own well-being. There are many reasons why we should pay attention to what we eat. The processed, low-variety foods many of us consume regularly may be convenient and tasty, but they compromise our health. Instead of just paying attention to what we eat when we are sick so we can give our bodies the nutrients it needs to heal, we can instead be more deliberate in improving and maintaining our health. A mindful approach to eating based on Ayurveda can help you prevent disease and maintain health and happiness.
Mindful eating isn’t simply paying attention to what goes in your mouth, it takes the “farm to fork” movement to an entirely new level. It considers every moment from the cultivation of seeds to what you are thinking when you eat to your state of mind when you eat.
Consider the Source
According to Ayurveda, all things in the universe are connected and share consciousness. Consider then, where your food comes from. If it is produce, is it from a local source so it is freshly picked and free of pesticides? If it is meat, is it ethically raised and processed? Have you ever noticed how amazing food grown in your own backyard tastes? Make a conscious choice to choose food that is good for your mind, body and spirit.
Have you ever really been mindful of your food preparation or do you usually have the TV going in the background? We all tend to fill empty space with noise. Perhaps try being mindful when preparing your next meal. Enjoy the colors, textures, and flavors of your food. Cultivate gratitude that you are able to have such fresh, wholesome ingredients to prepare for yourself, family and friends. This is an exceptionally wonderful exercise to do with your children or partner. You’ll find that your meals taste even better when you are mindful when you are preparing the ingredients.
So often we eat on the run, in our car, or watching television, not mindful of what – or how much – we are putting in our mouths. If you’re eating alone or with others, consider eating with no distractions. Enjoy each bite fully, placing your fork back on the plate in between each one. Be mindful of the tastes and textures of your food. You can certainly still have conversations during your meal, just don’t do it with the television or music blasting or cell phones in the room. You’ll find that you will enjoy the flavor of your food more and you’ll eat less when eating mindfully.
Take a few moments after you eat to sit quietly and be grateful for what the earth just provided to you. Then get up and take a gentle walk for 10 to 15 minutes to aid with digestion. Remember also that everything in your life – your relationships, what you hear and see, etc. – is digested by your body.
Cultivate Good Digestion
Ayurveda states that with strong agni (digestion), the result will be ojas (the purest form of your metabolism expressed as nourishment), but with weak agni, you will create ama (toxic residue) that can lead to disease.
If your agni is strong, you can turn poison into nectar. If your agni is weak, you can turn nectar into poison.
– ayurvedic saying
Nutrition isn’t limited to what we put in our mouths. It involves being conscious of all steps involved in nourishing ourselves. It is influenced in part by our emotional state, the environment, and the manner in which our food was prepared. Consider that who you are eating with, what you are listening to or watching, and what you are thinking about while eating will affect how well your food is used as medicine.
Tips on How to Cultivate Food as Medicine
Eat Pranic Foods
The more food closest to its original form that we take into our body, the more we can access nature’s intelligence and turn it into the medicine we need for healthful living. According to Ayurveda, foods that are raw, fresh, locally sourced, and organic contain high amounts of prana, or vital life force, which animates all living beings. When you eat high pranic foods, you take in some of the natural healing intelligence of that food. The more you explore plant-based nutrition and eating healthy, the more you will discover the thread always leads back to eating a diet that is full of whole foods or foods that look close to how they grow in nature.
Eat According to Your Dosha
The heart of Ayurveda is the concept of three dynamic principles governing the body, mind, and consciousness. These principles are called doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), and you have a combination of these doshas in your makeup. Understanding your expression of the doshas is the clue or map to discovering foods and a lifestyle of balance. While Ayurveda recommends every meal contain all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent), different doshas favor some flavors over others. Don’t know your dosha? You can take a quiz on the Banyan Botanicals website to determine your dosha today.
Enhance Digestion & Reduce Inflammation
By becoming mindful of what produce you purchase and consume, you are very likely to encounter what today we call “superfoods.” A good rule of thumb is to “Eat the Rainbow” or a wide variety of colorful produce, from bright oranges and purples to dark greens. By doing this you will naturally be eating foods with phytochemicals which are non-nutritive plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventative qualities. Flavenoids, for example, are antioxidents, anticarcinogens, and help protect against heart disease. They are found in onions, broccoli, red grapes, apples, cherries, citrus fruit, berries and tomatoes (sweet, sour and pungent tastes in Ayurveda). There is surely something in that list that you love to eat!
Listen to Your Body
Your body has a big job, sometimes even making a little human! Give it what it needs. Never force your body and always listen to it because it knows what it does and doesn’t need. The key to health and happiness is for us to listen to it. This is an important lesson that food helps teach. Using food as medicine helps you experience the full expression of life. It’s all there, just waiting to be discovered and used. Remember to keep it simple (or not, depending on how much you like to cook) and let your body do the rest. Happy eating!
About the Author
Rochelle Barcellona is an animal-loving, family-and-friends-embracing, yoga-nidra-meditation-and-ayurveda-teaching, happy red-headed yogi who owns Nourish Mind Body & Spirit in Northern California. You may learn more about Rochelle here. Rochelle may be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and 916-353-5200.