According to Vedas, food is the source of prana for lesser beings. The divine beings derive their nourishment from the fire sacrifice or homa. Vedic wisdom says “mtriyorma amrutam gamaya” (may I move away from death towards immortality). So, till the time we achieve a higher existence, food is our savior. It is the base of annamaya kosha, the physical existence.
But all food does not contain the same amount of prana. The quality of prana, chi or the vital energy present in the food differs according to many factors. There are physical, mental, and spiritual factors that bestow prana to food. The cook’s mindset and level of awareness affect the energy of the food. Also, when you earn your meal through righteous means, the prana of the food is incredibly positive. These are the mental and spiritual aspects of the food. Let us look at some other factors from the ancient text.
Food is the source of prana or chi. Ayurveda lists eight important factors to ensure that you effortlessly absorb the life force from the food.
The Eight Meal Factors
Charak Samhita lists eight fascinating factors for an ideal meal. The group of these eight factors is called Ahaar Vidhi Visheshayata (ahaar – food, vidhi – method, visheshayatana – special aspects/dimensions).
तत्र खल्विमान्यष्टावाहारविधिविशेषायतनानि भवन्ति; तद्यथा- प्रकृतिकरणसंयोगराशिदेशकालोपयोगसंस्थोपयोक्त्रष्टमानि (भवन्ति)||२१||
Eight special factors constitute the ideal method for food consumption.
They are –
- Prakrati (Natural Nutritious Qualities)
- Karan (Preparation)
- Sanyog (Combination)
- Rashi (Quantity)
- Desh (Habitat)
- Kaal (Time)
- Upyogsanstha (Usage Directions)
- Upyokta (Consumer)
Prakrati (Natural Nutritious Qualities)
तत्र प्रकृतिरुच्यते स्वभावो यः, स पुनराहारौषधद्रव्याणां स्वाभाविको गुर्वादिगुणयोगः; तद्यथा माषमुद्गयोः, शूकरैणयोश्च (१) |२२|
Prakrati is the natural character of a substance; the natural qualities like heaviness etc. define the Prakrati as food and medicinal substances; for example – mash (urad dal/black gram) is heavy to digest whereas moong dal (green gram) is light; pork is heavy but deer meat is light.
Prakrati is the natural state. The word Prakrati is omnipresent in Ayurveda. We have body type (sharir Prakrati), mind type (manas Prakrati), food type (ahaar Prakrati) etc. This Prakrati is the foundation for compatibility. Ideally, you should eat food compatible with both your mind and body. However, this shloka focuses on the physical properties of the food.
Charak Samhita defines some foods that are good for everyone, for example – barley, milk, honey, rice, etc. because these foods are naturally compatible with all.
Prakrati is the natural state of the substance. The natural nutrition available in a raw fruit is due to its Prakrati.
Different foods have unique combinations of properties. For example – watermelon is cool, heavy, and helps to eliminate pitta dosha; whereas cucumber is warm and increases pitta.
Prakrati is the natural properties of a substance. These properties decide its effect on the body’s metabolism. For example – Honey is light and warm. Therefore, it helps to balance the kapha dosha.
Karan (Preparation/Food Processing)
करणं पुनः स्वाभाविकानां द्रव्याणामभिसंस्कारः| संस्कारो हि गुणान्तराधानमुच्यते| ते गुणास्तोयाग्निसन्निकर्षशौचमन्थनदेशकालवासनभावनादिभिः कालप्रकर्षभाजनादिभिश्चाधीयन्ते (२) |२२|
Karan refers to the food preparations. It is the start of culinary science, where we process the food to suit our nutritional needs. Through food processing, we can change the natural properties (Prakrati) of a food item, and induce desirable qualities in it.
Some of the important food processing methods are –
- Water (Soaking, Fermentation Etc.)
- Fire (Roasting, Frying, Boiling, Smoking Etc.)
- Purification (Washing, Sedimentation, Sieving, Etc.)
- Place (Cold/Warm Climate, Humidity, Wind Etc.)
- Time (Cooking/Processing Time Etc.)
- Vasan – To Keep/Store (Pickling, Fermentation, Air Drying, Sun Drying Etc.)
- Infusion (Mixing Herbal Juices to Upgrade Nutritious /Medicinal Properties)
For example, Ayurveda says that green leafy vegetables like spinach are heavy, dry, and create vata vitiation in the body. However, a tempering with warm herbs like cumin and asafoetida can make them light, easy to digest. These herb-tempered vegetables do not cause any vata vitiation.
The cooking process or karan refines the natural properties of a food item to suit the nutritional needs of an individual.
संयोगः पुनर्द्वयोर्बहूनां वा द्रव्याणां संहतीभावः, स विशेषमारभते, यं पुनर्नैकैकशो द्रव्याण्यारभन्ते; तद्यथा- मधुसर्पिषोः, मधुमत्स्यपयसां च संयोगः (३) |२२|
Two substances with distinct qualities come together to create a special effect. For example – ghee cools the body and boosts immunity. It helps to balance all three doshas. Honey is warm, with great antimicrobial properties. It is the best remedy for kapha disorders. A combination of ghee and honey should be great for health. However, Ayurveda says that ghee and honey in equal proportion produce a toxic effect on the body!
On the other hand, an unequal proportion of ghee and honey has excellent health effects.
The concept of Sanyog is vital in the ayurvedic diet. It is the foundation for the science of incompatible combinations or viruddhahaar (viruddha – opposite/conflicting, ahaar – food). We will make a detailed exploration of viruddhahaar in future blogs.
A combination or sanyog of two food substances may produce a unique metabolic effect, distinct from their individual effects. Therefore, it is important to understand the health consequences of your food combinations.
राशिस्तु सर्वग्रहपरिग्रहौ मात्रामात्रफलविनिश्चयार्थः| तत्र सर्वस्याहारस्य प्रमाणग्रहणमेकपिण्डेन सर्वग्रहः, परिग्रहः पुनः प्रमाणग्रहणमेकैकश्येनाहारद्रव्याणाम्| सर्वस्य हि ग्रहः सर्वग्रहः, सर्वतश्च ग्रहः परिग्रह उच्यते (४) |२२|
Rashi or quantity is a crucial factor in Ayurvedic meals. Ayurveda says that even elixir turns to poison on excess consumption. Therefore, you must eat according to your age, health, hunger, digestive capacity, etc.
Rashi has two aspects – sarvagraha and parigraha
Sarvagraha (sarva – all; graha – intake):
This is the total amount of food you consume. It includes all types of foods – solids, fluids or fruits, grains, meat, etc. This total amount helps to decide on over-eating, under-eating, the total amount of calories, overall impact of food, digestive capacity, etc.
For ease of understanding, let us imagine that two people consume 1 kg of food; where one person eats 1 kg of mango and the other person consumes 1 kg of watermelon. The first person will get a greater number of calories compared to the other. Besides, the first person may experience the laxative impact of mango. Laxative action helps to relieve excess pitta dosha. Whereas the second person may feel an overall pitta increasing impact of watermelon. (reference – Bhav Prakash; Fhaladi Varga, )
Parigraha (pari – individual; graha – intake)
Parigraha refers to the individual ingredients of food that you consume. For example – 1 cup of dal, 1 cup rice, 1 apple, etc.
Parigraha may differ for same sarvagraha. For example, if two people consume a total of 1 kg of food,
- parigraha for one person can be – 3 cup dal, 1 roti, 1 cup rice, etc.
- for another person, it can be – 1 cup dal, 2 roti, 3 cup rice, etc.
Parigraha helps us to assess the intake of individual nutrients. For example, the protein intake of the first person in the above example is greater than the other. There are multiple other aspects of Rashi and the way it affects your body.
Rashi is the amount of food intake. This factor has two aspects – total amount of food intake and amount of individual ingredients (e.g rice, bread, soup, etc.). Information on Rashi helps you to ascertain the digestive capacity, appropriate quantity, the effect of food on the body, etc.
देशः पुनः स्थानं; स द्रव्याणामुत्पत्तिप्रचारौ देशसात्म्यं चाचष्टे (५) |२२|
CharakSamhita says that the native or natural habitat of a person is healthiest for him. The food, fruits, vegetables, etc. that naturally grows in the native place are more compatible with an individual than food from other places.
Desh or the native is the foundation for a rainbow of cuisines across the world. And each cuisine brings out the best of naturally available local ingredients. These local cuisines are the healthiest for the native population. For example – South Indian people are more comfortable with fermented food like idli, dosa, etc. The warm South Indian climate supports fermentation. Besides, such food items are easier to digest in a hot climate.
कालो हि नित्यगश्चावस्थिकश्च; तत्रावस्थिको विकारमपेक्षते, नित्यगस्तु ऋतुसात्म्यापेक्षः (६) |२२|
Kaal or time is crucial for great digestion. Timely meals are the basis for an ideal Ayurvedic lifestyle. Kaal has two major aspects – nityag and awasthik
Nityag Kaal (General Impact of Time)
Nityag Kaal defines the general impact of time, which is the same for all individuals. For example, the diurnal and seasonal impact is the same for everyone.
In a day, different parts of the day have different dosha dominance. For example, the kapha dosha is dominant during the first part of the day. Similarly, dosha also exhibits seasonal vitiation. For example, the rainy season is the time for vata vitiation.
Information about Nityag kaal helps us to frame the best food choices, preparation, combinations, quantities, etc. For example,
- Ayurveda says that lunch should be the heaviest meal of the day, as our metabolism and digestive capacity reach their zenith at noontime.
- Also, you should not consume yogurt at night as it may increase susceptibility to kapha disorders.
- Intake of Sattu diluted with water is prohibited during the cold climate, as this preparation produces a cooling effect on the body.
As obvious from the above examples, Ayurvedic dietary recommendations are replete with usage direction with regards to the time of consumption.
Avasthik Kaal (Conditional Impact of Time)
Avasthik kaal refers to the situational or conditional impact of time. This factor is especially applicable to disorders. For example –
Ayurveda recommends no treatment on the first day of fever.
Similarly, milk is not a healthy option during the first phase of fever. But it is a great food for people recuperating from fever.
The bottom line is that there is the best time for everything.
Desh (place) and Kaal (time) are crucial factors that define food compatibility, natural biorhythm, ideal mealtime, etc.
Upyogsanstha (Usage Directions)
उपयोगसंस्था तूपयोगनियमः; स जीर्णलक्षणापेक्षः (७) |२२|
Upyogsantha is the method to consume food. Suppose that you have the most nutritious food, cooked properly, and with a great combination. The time and place are also favorable. But if you do not use this food properly, then you may gain no benefit from all the favorable factors.
For example, Accharya Charak says that you should not consume the food before digesting the earlier meal.
Usage direction is applicable even if you eat raw fruits! How? Ayurveda says that whether you lick, suck or eat a mango makes a difference in its nutritional benefits!
Ayurveda advises licking Chavanprash slowly, instead of immediately gulping it down. Gradual licking helps in better digestion and absorption of Chavanprash. Besides, it also activates the taste buds and enhances the level of satisfaction through the feeding process.
The use of yogurt is another example. According to all ancient texts, you must not consume yogurt during nighttime. Why? The overall rate of metabolism decreases after sunset. Besides, kapha dosha dominates the first phase of the night. According to Ayurveda, yogurt is heavy to digest and may make you susceptible to kapha related disorders.
However, Bhav Prakash Nighantu suggests some special directions for yogurt consumption at night. These directions can help you to prevent the negative effects of night-time yogurt consumption.
Ayurveda recommends consuming it along with honey, ghee, and sugar, moong dal, or awla. These combinations help to reduce the kapha increasing impact of yogurt.
Also, Ayurveda recommends consuming yogurt during the cold climate as it naturally warms the body. On the other hand, you should refrain from excess yogurt or buttermilk consumption during warm climates.
Upyogsanstha or the usage directions help to make the best use of food substances. They help to ensure the best bioavailability and perfect digestion of the food.
उपयोक्ता पुनर्यस्तमाहारमुपयुङ्क्ते, यदायत्तमोकसात्म्यम्| इत्यष्टावाहारविधिविशेषायतनानि व्याख्यातानि भवन्ति||२२||
The consumer is the king, no doubts about that. The ultimate effect of the food depends on the body type, current health status, age, digestion, and the overall metabolism of the consumer.
For example, people with different body types have different health requirements. Buttermilk is great for vata and kapha as it warms the body, whereas sweetened milk is better for the pitta dominant body type.
Pitta dominant people need heavy and cooling food, whereas kapha dominant people fare better with dry, light, and warm food.
Fruits and light food are the best dietary options for the Sick, recuperating, and the old. But a young wrestler with a pitta dominant constitution needs heavy food to quench his strong digestive fire.
Upyokta means the consumer. This factor defines the usage of food according to individual factors like body type, health status, age, digestive capacity, etc.
The Mango Example
Let us try to understand all eight factors with the example of mango
The ripe mango is naturally sweet, moisturizing, heavy, and cool.
- Karan (Preparation)
Aamavat is a traditional mango preparation. It is a naturally sweet mango bar, prepared from sun-dried mango juice. Due to the sun-drying process, Aamavat becomes lighter compared to mango fruit. It is a natural appetizer. With its natural sweetness, Aamavat helps to balance vata dosha. It is also beneficial for excessive thirst, nausea, etc. Aamavat is also a natural laxative. Therefore, it helps to balance pitta.
- Sanyog (Combination)
According to Bhav Prakash Nighantu, a combination of mango and milk is sweet, heavy, and cool. It is a tonic, appetizer, energizer that also helps to enhance skin tone!
- Rashi (Quantity)
Excessive intake of a sweet ripe mango is normally harmless. It may cause slight loose motions. However, excessive intake of raw mango can cause severe problems. It can lead to indigestion, intermittent fever, blood disorders, constipation, and eye disorders. Therefore, quantity makes a huge difference in the metabolic impact of a food item.
- Desh (Habitat)
There are more than 1000 varieties of mango found across India. However, Ayurveda says that the local variety is the best for the natives. Therefore, if you stay in south India, Baganpalli is a healthier option for you compared to Dashahari mango from the north.
- Kaal (Time)
Natural mango is the seasonal fruit for summer. But genetically modified varieties of mango are available throughout the year. These unnatural fruits may bring more harm to the body than nutrition.
- Upyogsanstha (Usage Directions)
Bhav Prakash Nighantu talks about the special benefits of sucking a mango. If you suck a juicy mango rather than chewing it, the process of sucking enhances the beneficial impact of mango. It is a better appetizer and lighter to digest compared to chewed mango.
- Upyokta (Consumer)
Ripe mango is excellent for esp. for vata prakrati people as it helps to balance vata dosha. It is great for people suffering from debility, malnutrition, low weight, blood disorders, etc.
Ayurveda describes eight vital factors that govern the impact of food on our bodies. These factors together are called Ahaar Vidhi Visheshayatana (special aspects of food consumption). They are Prakrati (Natural Nutritious Qualities), Karan (Preparation), Sanyog (Combination), Rashi (Quantity), Desh (Habitat), Kaal (Time), Upyogsanstha (Usage Directions), and Upyokta (Consumer).
Information about these factors can help you to choose the ideal food according to your body type, and health conditions. Besides, these factors can also help you to consume good food in the right manner. The bottom line is – with the help of these eight factors, you can get the best of your food and avoid food-related negative consequences.
Mother Nature always strikes the perfect balance of required nutrition, regardless of the place and time. Therefore, the food that grows closest to you naturally is the best. No need to run after exotic imported food items. Besides, every season comes with its natural food production. This seasonal food helps the natives to adjust to the seasonal changes. Besides, Ayurveda prescribes usage guidelines and ways to choose the ideal food based on body types.
The bottom line is – choose seasonal, organic, and local food. Use it in an Ayurvedic manner according to your body type.
I hope that this information brings you the best of health and prosperity.
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