Ayurveda's Keys to Joyful Eating
As is the food, so are the emotions
As are the emotions, so are the thoughts
As are the thoughts, so are the deeds
As are the deeds, so are the results
- Ayurveda Saying
In Ayurveda, there is a saying that happiness comes from having a healthy body and a healthy mind. We are not only what we eat, but also how, when and how much we eat. However, these days, it seems we have stopped paying attention to our eating habits. We have lost our understanding of the mind-body relationship to food; instead, we find our diet motivated by our vanity – our eating habits are becoming increasingly influenced by our idea of how we should look, as opposed to how we should feel. To make matters worse, we are eating on the run – a leisurely lunch or dinner with loved ones has become rare, and so have the dinner table conversations. Rather, blaming our busy schedules, we prefer processed, frozen, and stale food. While this might help us follow the latest dietary plan that’s in vogue, it does not provide enough nutrition for our bodily needs, nor does it provide the joy of eating that our mind needs.
There is discipline and logic around the cultivation, preparation and consumption of food in Ayurveda, which is designed to provide us with maximum mental and physical benefits from eating. Ayurveda introduces the idea of purity of food – emphasizing various factors that go into achieving this. Essentially, the quality of food we eat does not depend on one factor, such as buying good quality food from a grocery store, but rather on a composite of different factors that are equally important. Ayurveda defines 5 main factors to take into account when trying to achieve purity and joy in eating:
1. Kshetra Shuddhi (Purity of the Environment): When preparing a meal, the place of cooking and the surrounding areas have to be clean, well lit, and should have positive energy about it. It is important to have the place clean to prevent contaminating food; lighting a candle before making dinner, along with having some fresh flowers or a green plant in the kitchen area generally increase the positive energy of the kitchen.
2. Dravya Shuddhi (Purity of Ingredients): The food we are cooking should not be adulterated. The best way to ensure the purity of ingredients is to see if one can determine the source of the food- buying food from local farmers and local butchers is always a very good idea. Eating organic and fresh food guarantees the level of purity of ingredients that is not available in food whose source is not known.
3. Kaala Shuddhi (Purity of Time): Here, time means both the season, as well as the time of the day. Citrus food and fruits provide heat in our body – that’s why, in winter, citrus fruits are really good for us. Enjoy Oranges and Bhogates in winter. On the other hand, sweeter fruits are good for summer, and naturally, fruits such as mangoes should be had in the summer. Besides eating seasonal fruits and vegetables, it is also important to eat at the appropriate time of the day; e.g., dinner should be eaten a few hours before going to bed so that the body has enough time to metabolize the food.
4. Bhaava Shuddhi (Purity of Emotion): There is a deep relationship between food we cook and eat, and our emotional state when we are cooking the food. Food has to be prepared with lots of love and positive energy. On the other hand, preparing meals when we are angry, down, or otherwise not in a good state of mind leads to meals that are not enjoyable.
5. Kriya Shuddhi (Purity of Labor): Last but not least, one has to obtain meals via purity of labor. This means that one earns their livelihood in an honest manner. Ill-gotten wealth leads to feelings of regret and guilt, whereas a meal begotten from a hard day’s labor is a healthy meal.
Besides these 5 ways of purifying what we eat, Ayurveda prescribes others that, if followed, lead to a healthy meal and joyful eating experience:
1. Our everyday food has to be pure, simple and seasonal.
2. Food has to be properly oiled (neither deep fried, nor completely fat-free food is recommended by Ayurveda), properly cooked and properly spiced (spices such as cumin, coriander, turmeric and ginger help digestion).
3. We should not eat when we are feeling extremely angry, unhappy or tired. It is always better to let one’s self cool down and get to a balanced state of mind before enjoying one’s meals.
4. Meals have to be eaten at the right time everyday.
5. We have to like what we eat. Food has to be tasty and appealing to the eyes.
In today’s world, it is not possible to eat at home everyday. We should definitely enjoy and occasional dinner or lunch in a restaurant or at a fast food outlet. But our everyday discipline should be towards eating healthy and pure food, with respect to the food, and certainly with joy.