the author of Charaka Samhita,
states that complexion, clarity, good voice, long life, understanding,
happiness, satisfaction, growth, strength and intelligence are all
established in food. Food when taken in excess, as an addiction
or careless manner destroys life, while poison, which is destructive
to life, if taken in the right manner acts as an elixir.
The entire philosophy of food in the Ayurvedic system is based on
the three doshas, vata, pitta and
kapha. The three doshas are invisible
forces that can be demonstrated in the body only by inference. The
doshas are the ghosts which are created by nature in order to permit
embodied life to exist. The proper intake of food is determined
only when the doshas are properly balanced which cause the body
to cohere and function together; when unbalanced, they create chaos
among the entire constituent organism.
The various qualities of the three doshas are as follows,
Vata is dry, cold, light, mobile, clear, rough and subtle.
Pitta is slightly oily, hot, intense, light, fluid, sour or malodorous,
mobile and liquid.
Kapha is oily, cold, heavy, stable, viscid, smooth and soft.
The various permutations and combinations of food are impacted by
Both vata and pitta are light, and only kapha is heavy, both vata
and kapha are cold, and only pitta is hot; both pitta and kapha
are oily, and only vata is dry. Anything dry increases vata, anything
hot increases pitta, and anything heavy, kapha.
The increase in desirable qualities, reduction in negative qualities
and the introduction of previously absent qualities into a substance
is the process of samskara.
The qualities of the food can be altered by samskara. Rice, which
is naturally light, is made even lighter when puffed by roasting
The negative side effects of food are prevented by the practice
of appropriate samskaras. Fish is cooked with fennel or with coconut
milk to reduce the effects of pitta. Legumes are often cooked with
oil, with something sour like tamarind, and with spices like ginger,
garlic and asafoetida to prevent vata disturbances.
The doshas are disturbed by certain combinations of food. Raw and
cooked food should not be mixed at the same time nor should fresh
food and left-overs be consumed together.
Some of the specific qualities of different foods in the Ayurvedic
system are evaluated here.
Rice is India's principal food grain. It is a primary diet in illnesses
like fevers and intestinal inflammations and in convalescence. Rice
cures pitta and may be vata stimulating.
Wheat is sweet, cool and heavy. It is vitalizing, aphrodisiac and
Mung bean is the best of all legumes. It is sweet, cool and pungent
in post digestive effect. Mung strengthens the eyes and being dry,
light and purifying, it cures kapha and pitta.
Meat is prescribed by Charaka to the weak and emaciated and those
who are deficient in semen. The meat of the rooster is regarded
as the most strengthening.
Beef calms the intense digestive fire. It neutralizes the atrophy
of the flesh. It cures the diseases caused by vata.
Fish is sweet, heavy, oily and strengthening. Fish cures vata.
Goat meat is not heavy and greasy and it is good for rebuilding
Pork is heavy, aphrodisiac and strengthening. It builds the body
and promotes fat. It cures vata.
Some of the fruits have the following features.
Apple cures constipation. The pulp or juice controls diarrhea. Raw
apples can increase vata.
Banana is reputed to increase fertility. The fruit treats either
diarrhea or constipation.
The coconut strengthens and builds up the body. Coconut water flushes
out the kidneys and cools the system. Coconut is used to treat tuberculosis
and yeast infections.
Dates are sweet, heavy, aphrodisiac and builds the body. Dates are
used for diseases of vata and pitta.
Milk is regarded in the Shatapatha Brahmana as the 'semen of the
god of fire'.
Milk is good for infants, for the emaciated, the old, the sexually
active and the insomniacs.
Yoghurt is a digestive stimulant. It increases strength and is an
aphrodisiac. Being sweet and sour; and hot after digestion it cures
vata and increases pitta and kapha.
The spices have the following Ayurvedic
Black pepper decrease kapha and vata, and increase pitta only slightly.
Black pepper is sprinkled on cold foods like cucumbers, melons and
bananas to neutralize their coldness.
Cardamom reduces all three doshas and being sweet after digestion,
it rejuvenates the system. People in the Middle East add it to their
coffee as it relieves acidity.
Cinnamon means bark in Sanskrit. It is pungent, sweet and bitter
in taste. It controls both vata and kapha, without aggravating pitta
unless it is consumed in excess.
Cumin is known as the Digester
in Sanskrit. It is pungent, slightly hot and pungent after digestion.
Fenugreek makes the body repel insects. It improves the digestive,
respiratory and nervous systems, regulates the menses, purifies
the skin and tones the whole organism.
Turmeric is bitter, astringent and pungent, hot and pungent after
digestion. Turmeric is used externally and internally to purify
both blood and mind. Turmeric has anti septic action, and when applied
to wounds it slows bleeding. Turmeric paste is used in bruises,
bites, stings, open wounds, boils and breast disorders.
Apart from the quality each
food possesses and the benefits it gives us, all food should be
alive so that it can give life to its eater. Overcooked, undercooked,
burnt, bad tasting, unripe or overripe, putrefied, stale or otherwise
revolting food should never be consumed for the preservation of
good health and strength.
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