Getting the Most Out of Our Food—Helpful Tips from Ayurveda and Modern Science

With the fullness of summer comes bustling farmers’ markets and overflowing shelves in the fruit and vegetable sections of our grocery stores. It is the time of the year when the availability of local produce is at its peak. Indulge! Studies have shown that eating seven or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day can extend life expectancy a staggering 42%.

To cook vegetables or to eat them raw is the question of the season. According to Ayurveda, this decision is best made with an understanding of your body type, your state of balance or imbalance, and the quality of your digestion.

Ayurveda’s main text, the Charak Samhita, recommends primarily cooked foods because cooking increases the element of agni that is essential for the assimilation of nutrients and their transformation into the bodily tissues. The higher proportion of nutrients available in raw food doesn’t count if you can’t digest, absorb and assimilate them. Let’s look first at body types and who can eat what. Then we’ll move on to specific foods and how to best make their nutrients available to us.

In order to choose the best option for your physiology, not only do you need to evaluate your individual physiology, it also helps take into account seasonal influences. In the summer, for instance, our body reacts to the high external heat by turning down our metabolism. This means that for many the ability to digest food is severely diminished.

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Raw Food vs Body Type

In general, those with Pitta, or Pitta/Kapha body types who do not have significant Vata imbalances can handle raw foods in their diet, especially in the late spring and summer seasons. This is because the element of “fire” or “agni” is very lively in their constitutions and they benefit from a cooling diet.

The overly cold, dry, light qualities of raw foods, however, may create problems for anyone with a severe Vata imbalance. They may find an increase in symptoms of abdominal gas, bloating, constipation, worry and anxiety, and dryness. Those wishing to balance or counter Vata imbalances do better with a diet that is warm, moist and easily digestible.

Those with Kapha imbalances may find that the cold nature of raw foods leads to allergies, sinus problems or asthma.

One solution for those who prefer raw foods but lack a strong Pitta component is to enjoy raw juices. Juicing or blending with “super blenders” that basically pulverize foods allows you to break down the cellulose the surrounds the outer layer of fruit and vegetable molecules, thus allowing you to derive optimum nutritional benefits.

Nutrient Availability in Foods 

It turns out that many vegetables only offer their full nutritional value when they have been cooked. Let’s look at how to get the most out of this summer’s fresh, organic vegetables.

It is important to note that when I refer to cooking vegetables, I am usually referring to steaming for 4 or 5 minutes or baking in the oven with a slight drizzle of oil. Obviously, mushy, over-cooked vegetables are not going to provide many healthful nutrients. Boiling vegetables removes many important minerals and nutrients.

Cooking vegetables reduces the mass of the vegetable, concentrating more nutrients with less bulk. Bitter greens like spinach and kale are generally more edible when cooked because cooking also eliminates the oxalic acid, which interferes with calcium absorption.

Cooking significantly improves the digestibility and bioavailability of starchy foods such as potatoes and yams, squashes. This is also true with grains and legumes.

(One note about whole grains: the phosphorus in bran is tied up in a substance called phytic acid. According to the book, Nourishing Traditions, phytic acid combines with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc in the intestinal tract, blocking their absorption. This is why many traditional ways of cooking grains include presoaking or fermenting grains before eating them. These processes neutralize the phytates, essentially predigesting the food so that their nutrients are more available. Phytic acid is also present in nuts, which also should be soaked before eating.)

Green beans always need to be cooked until soft otherwise, they are actually toxic. Raw beans are poisonous because they contain prussic acid, which is deactivated only by cooking.

Cooked carrots, spinach, asparagus, cabbage, and peppers supply more antioxidants such as carotenoids and ferulic acid to the body than they do when raw,

Mild heating, such as steaming, appears to improve the extractability of beta-carotene from vegetables, along with increasing betacarotene’s bioavailability. Beta-carotene absorption can be as low as 1-2% from raw vegetables such as carrots.

Lycopene in tomatoes is thought to be responsible for reducing the risk of some cancers and heart disease. Studies have shown that the absorption of lycopene is greater from cooked tomatoes. However cooking tomatoes can destroy other vitamins, so it is good to include raw tomatoes in one’s diet as well as cooked tomatoes.

Steaming asparagus ignites its cancer-fighting potential.

If you have any questions about which form of vegetables is best for you, check with an Ayurveda expert in your area. Ayurveda pulse assessment will reveal what kinds and forms of vegetables will be most helpful in creating a healthy balance for your mind/body system. Ayurveda recognizes the unique differences of each individual. In order to correctly determine your optimal requirements, it is important to understand your level of balance and imbalance. For information on Ayurvedic consultations, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa website:

http://www.theraj.com

Ayurveda Consultations: Know Yourself to Heal Yourself

Ayurveda differs from conventional western medicine in that it acknowledges each individual as a unique being in nature and takes into consideration the ongoing imbalances that accumulate from day to day, season to season, year to year. It does this by starting from a unique point of reference.

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Ayurveda Pulse Assessment

According to Ayurveda, the material level of our body, including the cells, tissues and organs, is organized and directed from a deeper, more fundamental level of biological intelligence. Ayurveda pulse assessment is the tool that allows a trained expert to evaluate the state of balance and activity at this fundamental level. The focus is not on the structural state of our cells, tissues and organs, because that level is only symptomatic, controlled by an underlying level of intelligence.

Ayurveda identifies the three main agencies of biological intelligence as the three “Doshas”: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These doshas govern, respectively, movement, metabolism and structure. These three organizing principles control all bodily functions and are responsible for maintaining health.

Disease and disorders occur when the free flow of these three principles is blocked or become imbalanced in some way. The body’s natural healing mechanisms are most effective when Vata, Pitta and Kapha are functioning normally and the channels of communication and circulation in the body are unobstructed.

How Knowing Your Body Type Affects You

Ayurvedic pulse assessment evaluates the inherent balance of Vata, Pitta, Kapha that we have by nature, and also identifies any imbalance present in their functioning.

Body Type

Each Individual has unique qualities of digestion, metabolism, elimination, body mass, bone structure, temperament, etc. This is because the levels of activity of Vata, Pitta and Kapha vary from individual to individual. The relative level of activity of the doshas in an individual creates his or her body type.

Body type is important because it determines the proper diet, exercise, and daily routine for an individual. Body type also helps predict what health disorders a person is prone to and is a powerful aid in structuring a health prevention program.

Imbalances

Health disorders are ultimately due to imbalances on the level of biological intelligence, which are disruptions in the proper functioning of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. On the basis of a person’s pulse assessment, an Ayurveda expert can determine whether there is an imbalance in Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and can recommend the proper approach, using Ayurvedic modalities. Ayurvedic modalities recommended at The Raj include diet, herbs, lifestyle changes, Panchakarma, the Transcendental Meditation technique, yoga, and Vedic technologies such as Maharishi Light Therapy with Gems, Maharishi Vedic Vibration — all designed to restore balance to the body and mind.

For more information on Ayurveda consultations at The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa visit:

 www.theraj.com