With the lockdown continuing in India, people are finding creative ways of engaging themselves. There are 2 camps of them. One camp is trying out new recipes and the other is ordering food online. Both camps agree on one thing that they are looking at something healthy, tasty and different. Our food preferences depend on a number of factors including genetics, ethnicity, emotions etc. Do you know that even your mood can impact your food choices? Stress makes 65% of the people hyperphagic and 35% hypophagic. When in stress, CRH is released by the hypothalamus and it suppresses hunger. Glucocorticoids are also released which increase hunger. So depending on what impacts more, we either feel more hungry or less hungry when in stress. The food that you eat because of stress in turn creates an impact: it makes you feel good or can amplify the problem.
The Indian tradition classifies all that we eat into 4 types (sometimes 6 types). These include Bhojya: Foods that are eater Peya: Foods that are drunk Choshya: Foods that are sucked Lepya: Foods that are licked. Rice is Bhojya, juice is Peya, a juicy mango is Choshya and panchamrutam is Lepya type.
Bhagavan Shri Krishna says
अहं वैश्वानरो भूत्वा प्राणिनां देहमाश्रित: |
प्राणापानसमायुक्त: पचाम्यन्नं चतुर्विधम्
I am the one who takes the form of the fire of digestion in the stomachs of all living beings, and combine with the prana- incoming breath and apana-outgoing breath, to digest and assimilate the four kinds of foods. Bhojya: eaten, Lehya: licked, Peya: drunk , Choshya: sucking
Gunas and Aahara
We would often heard elders talk about eating Satvik aahar especially on vrata days. Yogic diet, intermittent fasting and several other “diets” find mention in social media and news articles. What is this Satvik aahar?
रस्या: स्निग्धा: स्थिरा हृद्या आहारा: सात्त्विकप्रिया: || 17.8||
rasyāḥ snigdhāḥ sthirā hṛidyā āhārāḥ sāttvika-priyāḥ
Foods that promote long-life, strength, happiness, are juicy, fat and nutrition rich, pleasant and substantial are preferred by people of satvik nature and in turn enhance satva guna.
This definition of Satvik aahar from the Bhagavad Gita provides a broad guideline to look at the food that we eat. After having certain types of foods like juices, salads, soups, millets and simple foods we feel fresh and energetic. Some of these simple foods so filling even with a handful of them. They provide energy for a sufficiently long time and feel pleasant after digestion. They do not take much time to digest as well. Such foods are satvik.
आहारा राजसस्येष्टा दु:खशोकामयप्रदा: || 17.9||
āhārā rājasasyeṣhṭā duḥkha-śhokāmaya-pradāḥ
The Gita says that foods that are bitter, sour, salty, spicy, hot, dry and pungent are preferred by those of Rajasic nature. Recollect the time when you had spicy food or coffee or a can of energy beverage. Didn’t you feel a surge of energy all of a sudden? Have you noticed that when you some foods, you feel agitated and restless? If you haven’t observed, may be its a good thing to do now. Right after food, observe your feeling. Do the same thing after 30 minutes and then again after an hour or so. If you feel distracted, agitated or restless then most likely the food you had has had a rajasic impact on your system. Rajasic foods give you a boost in energy to take up an activity but then after that surge you feel a lull and feel like taking a nap or just lying down.
Once the essence of the rajasic foods like coffee is absorbed by the bloodstream, it travels straight to the brain and then blocks the neurotransmitter that causes sleep-adenosine . We feel awake and high. Did you know that spicy foods are rich in a chemical called capsaicin? Capsaicin excites the receptors in the skin and signals the brain as if a hot substance has come close to the skin. This confuses the brain a bit because these cells are excited only through hot objects but capsaicin is a chemical that is exciting them. We fend up feeling the sensation of heat or warmth. Over exposure to capsaicin can cause pain and sensitization and sometimes can lead to desensitization. This creates a certain nervousness in the body and hence a rajasic behavior.
यातयामं गतरसं पूति पर्युषितं च यत् |
उच्छिष्टमपि चामेध्यं भोजनं तामसप्रियम् || 10||
yāta-yāmaṁ gata-rasaṁ pūti paryuṣhitaṁ cha yat
uchchhiṣhṭam api chāmedhyaṁ bhojanaṁ tāmasa-priyam
Foods that are overcooked, putrid, stale, left over and impure are had by people of tamasic nature. Modern research points that foods that are polluted with chemicals result in harmonal imbalance, problems with neurotransmitters, mood disorders, anxiety and an unhealthy life. A food that lacks vigor and vital energy leads to a dull tamasic life.
Food just is a small part of our life. At least, that is what we think. Can it have such a huge impact? Be it Ayurveda or modern nutrition, food is looked at as a significant part of our lives as it gives us the energy to pursue our activities. Nutrigenetics or nutrigenomics is an exciting field, relatively new, that looks at food from a very personalised point of view, just as Ayurveda has been looking at it for ages (through the doshas and rasas). Though we are all 99% similar genetically, the 1% can make a huge variation. For example, a person’s genetic sequence affects his or her nutrient requirements, response to food, appetite, disease vulnerability and absorption of nutrients from the food. Nutrigenomics or nutrigenetics also provides the opportunity to look at redesigning food based on culture and geography, something that we lost due to homogenisation of food choices and availability. Nutrigenomics can add modern insights into Ayurvedic insights on diet based on genetic and epigenetic factors.
The Indian tradition has paid a lot of importance to Vrata on specific days of the week, month or year. Ekadasi is one day that many Indians fast on. Many Indians observe nirjala vrata when they don’t consume even water.
Modern research on fasting provides interesting insights into why fasting can be very beneficial for rejuvenating the cells in the body. Nutrient depravation that happens during a vrata/upavasa causes autophagy. Autophagy is a process where sub-cellular organelles are destroyed and cellular rejuvenation happens. When we fast, the insulin levels in the body goes down and the glucagon levels go up. This increased glucagon boosts autophagy. Science also says that dieting or caloric restriction does not cause autophagy because even a little amount of food stops the process. Hence vratas are a very important way of kickstarting autophagy and hence a rejuvenation of the entire body.
~ A light dinner to assist in waking up early
~ Good gap between meals and facilitating yogic practices
~ Vrata : weekly or fortnightly
~ Pranayama to compensate for the energy requirements
~ Content: Satvik food that balances the doshas
~ Avoiding kapha and vata foods in the night
~ Never go hungry at the same time leave sufficient breaks in between 2 meals
~ Avoid eating to full stomach
~ Have a good blend of cooked and uncooked food
~ Enhance the vegetarian proportion of food
~ Eat foods that energise and not that agitate or make you dull
~ Consume food that is gentle on the system
~ Sit in vajrasan after your meal to avoid drowsiness and to expedite digestion