Nutrition / Recipes

What is Ayurveda? A Closer Look at This Ancient Practice

Ayurveda takes a unique view on nutrition and health. Read on to learn more.

What most people know about Ayurveda (if they know anything at all) is that it’s somehow related to yoga. Yet, there’s actually a lot more to the ancient holistic practice. Ayurveda is comprised of fitness regimens, all-natural diet plans, and lifestyle practices meant to improve mental and physical health. This simple approach to healthy living can be traced back 5,000 years to the sub-Indian continent. Sounds good, right?

You probably already practice Ayurveda.

You may not know it but you’ve likely been incorporating many age-old Ayurvedic ideals into your daily life. Ayurvedic theories have been trending in the wellness world for years. Did you know oil pulling is actually an Ayurvedic practice? So is nasal cleansing. Ancient versions of Neti Pots were used thousands of years ago to fight allergies. Dry brushing is an Ayurvedic staple for removing dead skin cells while stimulating circulation in order to cleanse and strengthen the immune system. An Ayurvedic regimen encourages at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.

Ayurvedic Eating 101

According to Ayurvedic and holistic nutritionist, Manjiri Nadkarni, “There is no one-diet-fits-all in Ayurveda. Each diet is tailored specifically considering the Prakriti (nature) of the person considering his/her Dosha status, the climate in which he/she lives, their lifestyle and health complaints.”

“It is important to eat at the same time each day to create a routine for your digestive system. Try to have three meals throughout the day with zero snacking. This gives your digestive system a chance to relax and process between eating times. When the body is balanced we desire the foods that are good for us,” states Abeynayake.

Nadkarni stresses that it is important to eat with the season, meaning only eating local foods as they become available. “You should ideally eat what grows in season and check out your local farmer’s market,” she says. In summer, she recommends eating lots of “fruits that are cooling and high in water content like cucumbers, summer squash, berries, melons, and also leafy greens. Cilantro, mint and parsley ensure that you stay cool during the summer season and hydrate well with lots of water and coconut water.”

Another Ayurvedic tip to improve your digestion is to only eat cooked veggies. “Raw veggies are more difficult for the body to metabolize,” says Abeynayake. “If you’re going to have a salad it is better to have it for lunch than dinner,” she adds. Also, Abeynayake says to “thoroughly chew each bite of food to avoid facing indigestion later.”

Will you lose weight?

Will a diet of wholesome Ayurveda foods help you drop unwanted pounds? Nadkarni makes it clear that Ayurvedic eating goes beyond weight loss with its benefits. “An Ayurvedic Diet is a highly personalized diet and if you plan a diet according to your Ayurveda, it ensures that you are relieved of the symptoms, regain your energy levels and all your body tissues are balanced, which means you will lose excess fat and not just the weight,” she explains.

This food is tasty.

Ayurveda encourages followers to cultivate all six flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent. Each is therapeutic and helps to cleanse and balance. Your key ingredients should be based on your Dosha. Pitta will enjoy sweet flavors, Kapha pungent, and Vata salty and sour tastes.

Wait, what’s a Dosha?

Doshas are the elements that make up all living matter: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. In Ayurveda, there are three key groupings that dictate bodily functions. Vata is the elements of space and air, Pitta is fire and water, and Kapha is water and earth. Test what your Dosha is with this free online test.

Your constitution is likely made up of a combination of at least two Doshas. If you’re taking medication or have any health concerns, review the Ayurveda system with your healthcare practitioner before making changes to your diet.

What to eat if you’re Vata.

Vatas thrive consuming grounding foods such as oils and grains. Clarified butter, known as ghee, is what you should use for cooking. Your ideal diet will consist of soups, cooked grains, roasted or soaked nuts, and cooked vegetables. Avoid spicy foods, carbonated drinks and cold food and drinks. Dairy is alright but you really shouldn’t eat hard cheese.

You prefer sweet, salty, and sour tastes. Sweeten dishes with raw honey or date sugar. Chamomile tea is great for you as it is warming, reduces inflammation, and reduces stress.

The best vegetables for you are artichoke, asparagus, beets, bok choy, carrot, celery, cucumber, okra, radish, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and zucchini. Eat lots of juicy fruits such as apricots, avocados, banana, berry, cherry, grape, grapefruit, kiwi, lemon, melon, mango, orange, papaya, peach, plum, and pomegranate. Avoid broccoli, corn, cauliflower, cabbage, onion, peas, and potatoes.

What to eat if you’re Pitta.

Pittas benefit from cooling foods like salads and sweet fruits. Ice cold foods should be avoided. It stalls digestion-even for Pittas who have the strongest digestion and can eat almost anything without upsetting their stomachs. Lemongrass, cilantro, and mint all have cooling properties and should be used when preparing Pitta cuisine. Sip on lots of chilled rose tea- it will energize you and support circulation. Oh, and it’s also an aphrodisiac.

Stay away from fats, oils, and salt. Most Ayurvedic curries do not need much oil for preparation-they use coconut milk. Spicy food is not for you.

Eat foods with high water content such as lots of cold vegetables. Your go-to veggies are asparagus, artichoke, bell peppers, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard, cucumbers, kale, green beans, okra, peas, potatoes, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, and zucchini. Spinach and seaweed don’t sit well with you so focus on other leafy greens. Favor sweet fruits such as avocado, banana, coconut, grapes, kiwi, mango, melon, oranges, plums, pineapple, and pomegranate. Acidic foods like citrus fruit and tomatoes should be avoided.

What to eat if you’re Kapha

Kaphas should eat a diet consisting of heating and invigorating foods such as spicy cayenne pepper. Sage is a great spice for a Kapha to add to their spice rack as it is detoxifying and aids the respiratory system. Thyme should be used often as it gives energy and manages bacteria. Use as many spices as your heart desires as well as lots of onion and garlic. Drink Holy Basil tea to stimulate both body and mind.

Eat loads of high fiber vegetables and legumes such as asparagus, artichoke, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, peas, peppers, potatoes, sprouts, tomatoes, and zucchini. For fruits eat apples, cranberries, dates, grapes, figs, papaya, peaches, and pomegranate.

Fats, oils, sweets, and salt should be kept to a minimum. Avoid avocados, coconuts, bananas, mango, nuts, pineapples, sweet potatoes, and tofu. Your top grains are barley and buckwheat. They can be mixed with dry apples, cranberries, pumpkin and sunflower seeds for a yummy snack.

Your spice cabinet is ready for Ayurvedic cooking.

The spices used in Ayurvedic cooking are already staples on your spice rack. Do you have cumin, black pepper, cilantro, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and turmeric? Then you’re already well on your way to embracing an Ayurvedic diet and improving your health through your eating habits. Each of those spices is said to improve digestion and aid your body in the process of getting rid of toxins.

We spoke with Lakmali Abeynayake, the founder of Mahagedara Wellness Retreat who told us that the three most important herbs for all bodies are ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon. She suggests drinking half a liter of water infused with these spices throughout the day and alternating with lime water.

“If your body is facing a certain ailment then add the appropriate healing herb to your infused water,” advises Abeynayake. Cumin is said to improve nutrient absorption, black pepper may promote circulation, cilantro is said to reduce inflammation, ginger is often used to stimulate digestion, garlic is lauded for its antibacterial properties, and turmeric is often used as an antiseptic and and to boost immunity.

It’s no secret that all good health begins with smooth digestion. There is an ancient Ayurvedic text which states that food is medicine when consumed properly.

Try this Ayurvedic meal plan

Abeynayake created an exclusive daily meal plan for Aaptiv that embodies Ayurvedic healing foods complete with recipes that feature ingredients that will be easy to find outside of Asia. The balancing breakfast and lunch are dishes that serve all Doshas, while for dinner, there are three customized options for Vata, Kapha, and Pitta.

Breakfast: Kola Kenda Porridge

This typical Sri Lankan Ayurvedic breakfast is usually eaten with rice which gives it the consistency of a rice pudding, without which it’s more like an herbal soup. This is a great replacement for sugary oatmeal or a pressed green juice. It is packed with powerful green, leafy vegetables that are full of nutrients and purifying. “The bitter flavor stimulates the liver, helps balance blood sugar, and aids skin conditions,” says Abeynayake. Any type of edible, dark green leaves can be used. We suggest spinach, kale, arugula, mint, and basil. Play around with a few leaves each morning until you find a combo you love.

Ingredients:
1 cup coconut water or milk
½ cup of brown rice
Two handfuls of leafy greens
Pinch of salt
1 cup water

Instructions:

1. Select the type of leaves you wish to use

2. Boil rice and pour in coconut milk  or water

3. Add salt to your liking.

4. Blend leaves with water in a blender.

5. Filter the leaf liquid through a fine strainer.

6. Mix the liquid leaves into the rice mixture.

7. Bring ingredients to a boil for about 5 minutes.

Lunch: Ayurvedic Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients:
250g pumpkin, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ white onion, chopped finely
10 curry leaves
¼ tsp mustard seed
1 inch of pandan leaf
¼ tsp turmeric powder
¼ tsp curry powder
Pinch of cinnamon powder
¼ tsp chili powder
3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
2 cups of water
¼ cup of coconut milk
1 tbsp of lime juice
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp coconut oil

Instructions:
1. In a large pot, add the oil and let it heat for a few minutes.

2. Add curry leaves, pandan leaves, mustard seeds, onion and stir fry till the onions are tender.  

3. Add remaining spices and stir fry for another minute until the spices are sauteed. Be careful not to burn the spices, if needed add another tsp of oil.

4. Add the pumpkin, salt, and water. Cover and let simmer until the pumpkin is very tender.  

5. Add in coconut milk and bring to a boil while continuously stirring the soup.  

6. Simmer for five minutes then remove from stove.  

7. Once the soup has cooled down, blend to your preferred consistency.  Add lime juice.


Kapha Dinner: Garlic Curry

Ingredients:
3 bulbs of garlic, whole cloves, not chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ onion, chopped
1 green chili, diced
5 curry leaves
¼ tbsp turmeric
¼ tsp red chili powder
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of salt
½ tsp unroasted curry powder
½ tsp mustard seed
1 tbs coconut oil
¼ cup of coconut milk

Instructions:
1.Heat a pan with coconut oil and add the chopped onions. Cook on high heat, uncovered until the onions are golden brown.
2. Add curry leaves, chopped green chili, red chili powder, curry powder, mustard seed, turmeric, and stir well.
3. Add whole garlic cloves, salt, and mix in coconut milk.
4. Cook on high heat, uncovered, for around 10 minutes, until the garlic is tender, stirring occasionally.
5. Eat on its own or with brown rice.

Vata Dinner: Sweet Potato Curry

Ingredients:
200g of sweet potatoes, cut into chunks
½ onion chopped
2 garlic chopped
¼ tsp mustard seeds
10 curry leaves
1-inch pandan leaf
1-inch lemon grass
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp curry powder
1 green chili chopped (if desired)
¼ tsp salt
Pinch of cinnamon
¼ tsp fennel seeds
1 cup coconut cream
2 cups coconut milk
1 tbsp of lime juice

Instructions:
1. Add all ingredients in a pan apart from the coconut cream and lime juice. 

2. Cover and heat on a medium fire and simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender.

3. Add thick coconut cream and stir constantly to avoid curdling.  

4. Bring to boil and reduce the heat to a simmer for 5 minutes.  

5. Remove from heat and add lime juice.

6. Eat on its own or with brown rice.


Pitta Dinner: Cauliflower Stir Fry

Ingredients:

150g cauliflower, cut into chunks
1 large white onion, sliced lengthways
¼ tsp mustard seed
1 tbsp  lime juice
¼ tsp of crushed red chilis (or if not available cayenne pepper)
¼ tsp turmeric¼ tsp salt
10 curry leaves
1-inch pandan leaf
4 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
2 tbsp of coconut oil
¼ cup of water

Instructions:
1. In a wok or a deep sauce pan heat the oil for a few minutes.

2. Add mustard seed, curry leaves, garlic, pandan leaf, turmeric, onions, and crushed chili. Sauté for three minutes.

3. Add cauliflower chunks, and salt. Stir for three minutes.

4. Add water and simmer until all the water has evaporated and the cauliflower is tender.  Add lime juice to season.

5. Eat on its own or with brown rice.

Nutrition Recipes

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