Choosing the Ideal Ayurveda Diet for Weight Loss

1342968_12234562_picGiven all the information on doshas and imbalances, on the six tastes, and on various food qualities, how do we ultimately decide what food is best for us? While it is true that a person with a particular mind/body balance is most likely to over-accumulate the dosha that predominates, this is not always the case.

Due to our modern lifestyle, filled with so much sensory stimulation, computers, travel, stress, multi-tasking and irregular sleep habits, a large percentage of people end up with some kind of Vata imbalance. So while it is true that a Vata dominated type will most likely develop Vata imbalances, Pitta and Kapha types can also  find themselves with Vata imbalances.

Those trying to lose weight often assume that they should avoid Kapha-type foods. But in fact it could easily be that an underlying Vata or Pitta imbalance is causing poor digestion, triggering food cravings and comfort eating, thus leading to weight gain. Eating light salads, raw vegetables and other light, cold foods (and in some cases spicy foods) would only serve to aggravate these imbalances and work against weight loss. In creating an Ayurveda weight loss program or any other kind of targeted health regime, it is recommended to see an expert in Ayurveda pulse assessment before committing to a particular diet.

It is important to defer, initially, to an intellectual understanding of recommended foods. Suppose you are craving chocolate. The taste of chocolate is both bitter and sweet. When we get cravings it usually means our body requires the nutrients naturally provided by foods with those tastes (especially the bitter taste which tends to go missing in our western diet). Rice and spinach provide sweet and bitter tastes and are probably the kinds of foods that what the body is actually looking for. But the mind turns that craving for sweet and bitter into a craving for chocolate. Bad habits can create “false” desires. Sometimes retraining the mind/body is necessary before we can trust our instincts to lead us to the proper diet. Once we develop truly natural eating habits, the body itself becomes the best Ayurvedic authority.

There are two different approaches to diet: balancing and purifying.  A balancing diet includes all six tastes but favors more of those that will help pacify the one or two doshas that are out of balance. A purifying diet targets the build-up of ama in the system. Ama is the end product of poorly digested food. It is said to be at the basis of the vast majority of illnesses and disorders. Because ama contributes to the early stages of so many diseases, reducing ama and enhancing digestion is a critical part of the Ayurvedic understanding of balanced health. Next week we’ll look at an ama-reducing diet and how we can promote ideal digestion.

To find information about Ayurveda Consultations, visit the website for The Raj, Ayurveda Health Spa and Treatment Center:

http://theraj.com/ayurveda/ayurvedic-diet.php

 

 

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Your Sugar or Your Health?

The New Year is approaching and it’s time for that commitment to better life choices: the New Year’s Resolution.  I like the “fresh start” approach to a new year. A while ago I discovered a great recipe for success. I start the year with a week of Ayurveda detoxification treatments, known as Panchakarma, and pick one New Year’s resolution. The treatments remove imbalances that trigger food cravings and the resolution resets my thinking in one manageable area. It is a winning combination. This year my resolution is to cut down on my sugar intake.

Recently a London cardiologist was in the news saying sugar is so addictive it should be considered a danger to society and should be regulated like alcohol.  The biggest surprise in reading the story was the long list of health woes connected with eating too much sugar. I expected to hear about obesity and diabetes. But reading about the link to heart disease, dementia, liver damage and cancer was a shocker. It turns out that a sugary diet messes with a number of important hormone levels, chemicals and processes in the body.  Today I’m just going to look at two studies that inspired my resolution.

Sugar makes you depressed and lethargic

Most of us know that a high sugar intake signals the pancreas to produce large amounts of the hormone insulin, often causing a huge drop in energy after the initial “sugar high”.

But did you know that sugar blocks the action of orexins — neurotransmitters that regulate appetite, energy expenditure and wakefulness? (The most common form of narcolepsy is caused by a lack of orexin in the brain.)  High levels of orexin have been linked with happiness while low levels are linked to sadness and depression. The suppression of orexin cells has been associated with obesity because that chemical has the responsibility of telling the “good fat” in our bodies to burn calories. Blocking orexins can lead to dullness, depression, lethargy and obesity.

(The good news is that amino acids, or protein, “excite” orexin cells.  So by all means reach for almonds instead of a candy bar if you need a late afternoon energy boost.)

Sugar can addle your brain

Eating too much sugar can affect the brain in other ways.  A study released in 2013 looked at 248 brain scans of people aged 60 to 64 over a period of 4 years. All participants had blood sugar levels in the normal range at the start of the program. At the end of the four years it was discovered that those with the highest blood sugar levels had higher levels of shrinkage in the areas of the brain associated with memory and cognitive function. It is already established that type-2 diabetes is linked with dementia.

As I said, there is additional research linking sugar to heart disease, liver damage and cancer, but the information about sugar’s influence on the brain was enough to inspire my New Year’s resolution.

Alternative choices

Does this mean no sugar at all?  According to Ayurveda, sugar helps to balance Vata and Pitta. So my question is, how much sugar is okay and how much is too much?

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 a day for men. 1 teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams. There are about 10 teaspoons of sugar in a can of Coke Classic. There are about 5 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving of Cherry Garcia ice cream and almost 7 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving of Haagen-Das raspberry sorbet. If a pie requires 1 cup of sugar, divided by eight that means about 12 teaspoons per slice.  In other words, 6 teaspoons doesn’t get you very far if you are in the habit of snacking on sugary foods.

Thankfully there are a few options for those of us with a sweet tooth. Stevia has zero calories and won’t cause a jump in your blood sugar. I have friends who are great fans of Xylitol, which is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in beets, corn and berries. Because it is only partially absorbed by the body, it has a lower glycemic index and only around 9 calories per teaspoon. Honey has a lower glycemic index than white or brown sugar. However, honey should never be used in baking as it ferments when heated and creates a sticky toxin that blocks the body’s channels.

Ultimately the best course of action is simply to get out of the habit of needing sweets. Ayurveda recommends hot milk to counter the urge for sweets. Milk is considered a “sweet taste” but also provides amino acids (exciting the orexin cells!) and classical texts say milk has the ability to nourish all the tissues in the body within 24 hours. Of course always boil your milk first to make it easier to digest.

Later on I will share additional research detailing more ways that an overload of sugar can take a toll on our health. There is certainly a growing pile of evidence out there! In the meantime I look forward to enjoying increasing energy and alertness as I transition into a healthier new year.

Visit The Raj to learn more about Ayurveda

www.theraj.com



An Apple a Day….Seven Dietary Recommendations to Reduce the Risk of Cancer

AppleIt is estimated that 60-70% of cancers can be prevented by the implementation of simple changes in one’s diet and lifestyle. Below are a few recommendations that have been shown to help prevent cancer and also promote overall health and wellbeing.

1. Increase amounts of fruits and vegetables (organic when possible.) Most of the fruits and vegetables you buy at the grocery store are laced with hazardous chemicals. However, fruits and vegetables also contain bioflvinoids, which are known to have anti-oxidant and anti-cancer properties. Because plants create oxygen as a by-product of harnessing the suns’ energy through photosynthesis, they have to develop powerful anti-oxidant defenses to combat the lethal combination of sunlight and oxygen (a recipe for free radicals.) The anti-oxidant substances used by plants to control free radicals work exactly equally in the human body.

2. Enjoy vegetable fats (such as those found in nuts and olive oil) and reduce intake of saturated and trans fats often found in meat and processed foods. Head researchers on a new study on prostate cancer published in JAMA, June 2013, concluded,” If you eat the right kind of fat, you are less likely to die of not only prostate cancer, but really, of any cause.”

3. Avoid excess weight gain. Those who are 40% overweight have a much higher risk of developing cancer.

4. Increase fiber intake. A high fiber diet helps remove toxins from the body. Low fiber and high animal fat diets have been implicated in cancer of the colon. This is another reason to increase the amount of fresh vegetables and fruit in our diet.

5. Favor fresh foods. Avoid processed foods and artificial sweeteners.

6 Add turmeric to your diet. Turmeric has been shown to protect the DNA of the cells and to stimulate detoxifying enzymes. Turmeric also has anti-inflammatory properties and increases the anti-cancer properties of other phyto-chemicals (plant chemicals). This is just a sampling of the many beneficial properties of this wonderful spice.

7. Avoid eating meat (this includes lean meats and chicken.) Every cell in a piece of meat and chicken contains a membrane that controls what goes in and out of the cell. This membrane is made up mostly of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Not only are polyunsaturated fats easily oxidized (creating free radicals), they are also storehouses for fat-soluble carcinogens and chemicals, such as many pesticides and herbicides. When you eat meat, ingesting these chemical-concentrated fats, the chemicals then become stored in your body fat, attaching to the DNA structure.

If you read my blog on a regular basis, you have already heard about the research that Robert Herron, Ph.D. conducted on the Ayurveda purification therapies (panchakarma) offered at Raj, Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center in Fairfield, IA.

The study, published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in 2002, showed that levels of fat-soluble toxins could be reduced by about 50% through a 5-day treatment program. The reason I keep bringing up this study is that there exists no other proven method of removing these kinds of fat-soluble chemicals from the body.  Western medicine offers no solution beyond letting nature take its course.  These toxins are know to have a half-life of anywhere from 7 to 30 years. This means it takes 7 to 30 years for the quantity to fall to half its value — to achieve a 50% reduction. The results of this study came after only five days of treatment.

There are a wide variety of detox programs available today that can remove water-soluble toxins and even heavy metals. Panchakarma, however, is the only proven means of removing fat-soluble toxins.

Whatever foods you may have eaten in the past, it is reassuring to know that you can undo many of the negative effects of those foods and start fresh on a new path of good health.

To learn more about Panchakarma visit

www.theraj.com

 

(Photo of Fruits and Vegetables Basket. Source: National Cancer Insitute, an agency part of the National Institutes of Health via Wikimedia Commons. The image is used under the terms of Wikimedia Commons rules: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Licensing. This photograph and credit do not constitute an endorsement of this blog or products mentioned.)