The market today is flooded with digestive and dietary aids for the stomach, along with pills for gas, acidity, and other abdominal diseases. But, in this plethora of information and aids, one tends to get lost and confused about which advice to follow and which to ignore.
Unlike other popular approaches, the concept of diet in Ayurveda and Naturopathy has a broader view beyond the ingestion of food. The method of taking a diet including dietary guidelines is widely known as Ahara Vidhi. It is not restricted merely to the concept of calorie consumption but also recommends methods of taking food, its quality and quantity based upon an individual’s capacity to digest.
According to Ayurveda, every food has its own taste (rasa), a heating or cooling energy (virya), and a post-digestive effect (vipaka). An individual’s digestive fire known as jaṬharāgni largely determines how well or poorly food is digested. But, food combinations also play a major role in it. When two or more foods having different tastes, energy, and post-digestive effects are combined, the digestive fire can become overloaded, inhibiting the enzyme system and resulting in the production of toxins. Yet these same foods, if eaten separately, might well stimulate the fire and be digested more quickly. Poor combining can produce indigestion, fermentation, putrefaction, and gas formation and, if prolonged, can lead to toxemia and disease.
Classification of Food
According to Charak Samhita- one of the two foundational texts of Ayurveda, food is classified as follows:
1. Fundamental Composition of Food
Digestion of food depends upon the innate properties of food. There are mainly two categories of food according to their effect on digestion:
- Light to digest or quickly digestible food items (laghu)
- Heavy to digest or slowly digestible food items (guru)
The light-to-digest substances have a predominance of the qualities of Vāyu and Agni Mahābhūta. Therefore, light food articles are stimulants of digestive fire and are said to be less harmful even if they are eaten in excess.
The heavy-to-digest substances have the predominant qualities of Prithvi and Jala Mahābhūta. They do not stimulate digestive fire thus, they can cause harm if taken in excess quantity.
Examples of light-to-digest foods:
Mung daal, aduki beans (lāl phaliya), tofu, Basmati rice, couscous, barley, quinoa, ripe sweet fruit, and fresh vegetable juices
Examples of heavy-to-digest foods:
Black gram, raw vegetables, sprouts, milk products, sesame
2. According to sources of food
All the food and beverages are categorized under twelve classes according to their source and form. These classes are:
- Corn (shuka dhānya)
- Pulses (shami dhānya)
- Meat (mamsa varga)
- Vegetable (shāka varga)
- Fruits (phala varga)
- Greens (harita varga)
- Wines(madya varga)
- Water (jala varga)
- Milk and its products (dugdha varga)
- Sugarcane and its products (ikshu varga )
- Cooked food (kritanna varga)
- Adjuvant of foods (āhāra yogi varga).
3. According to the Forms of Food
Different types of wholesome foods are categorized into four categories:
- Eatables (ashita)
- Drinkables (pīta)
- Lickables (līdha)
- Masticables (khadita)
These stimulate the digestion and metabolic process.
4. According to the Effects of Food
Food can be divided into two categories according to its naturally beneficial and harmful effects on human beings:
- Wholesome (pathyatama)
- Unwholesome (apathyatama)
यदाहारजातमग्निवेश! समांश्चैव शरीरधातून् प्रकृतौ स्थापयति विषमांश्च समीकरोतीत्येतद्धितंविद्धि, विपरीतं त्वहितमिति; इत्येतद्धिताहितलक्षणमनपवादं भवति
Those food articles that maintain an equilibrium state in body elements and help in eliminating abnormalities or disturbances in the path to equilibrium can be considered as wholesome food articles, while those that act in the opposite manner are considered unwholesome. This would be the most accurate description of wholesome and unwholesome food articles.
Further, Sage Atreya listed some of the wholesome and unwholesome diets as follows:
Wholesome foods (pathyatama)
- Red rice is the best among all cereal crops having bristles
- Green gram among pulses
- Rainwater (collected directly before falling on the ground) among various types of drinking water
- Rock salt among salts,
- Jivanti (Leptadenia reticulate) among pot herbs
- Cow ghee among ghee,
- Cow milk among milk
- Tila (sesame) oil among fats of vegetable sources
- Ginger among rhizomes and roots
- Grapes among fruits
Unwholesome Foods (apathyatama)
- Yavak (wild barley) is the most unwholesome among cereal crops with bristles,
- Māśa among pulses
- River water in the rainy season among types of drinking water
- Ushara (saline soil salt) among salts
- Mustard leaf among pot herbs
- Ghee made of sheep’s milk among ghee,
- Sheep milk among milk
- Oil of kusumbha, safflower among vegetable fats
- Likucha- Barhar in Hindi among fruits
- Alukha, popularly known as ratalu among the bulbs
Source: Charak Samhita