Remember when eating fat free was all the craze, just to learn decades later that your brain and body do need (good) fats to function properly? Building healthy habits has never been more confusing than these days. There’s a plethora of information out there about what to eat, not to eat. What to do, not to do. Keeping up with diet fads and new nutrition advice can be daunting.
That’s why I like ayurveda. Our ancestors had so much wisdom and I love seeing modern science prove them right over and over again. So, when it comes to my food and lifestyle habits, I choose to stick with recommendations that have stood the test of time.
Here are 5 food and lifestyle habits that we often think are healthy but ayurveda has a different take on them. Take a look, you’ll be surprised!
1. The more is better
You often hear me say that we live in a culture where we believe that if a little of something is good, then the more is better. This belief often comes from the desire for instant gratification. We don’t want to wait (or work) for the results so we look for ways to accelerate them. But too much of a good thing can backfire.
Take turmeric for example. I blogged about the daily consumption of 500mg turmeric twice a day for 2-3 months to help keep your immune system strong, assuming you have no underlying conditions. This is a short-term recommendation for a specific action, but how about using turmeric long term? In general, the WHO has determined 1.4mg per pound of body weight as the acceptable daily dosage until there’s more research to support the long-term safety of turmeric. Of course, if you notice any irritation, such as upset stomach or skin irritation, lower your dosage or stop altogether.
Knowing how much to use is just as important as knowing when to stop or slow down. More may not mean faster and better results. It may actually create the opposite effect.
2. Oh, coconut oil
The oil of du jour is coconut. It seems like it’s in everything and everywhere. Coconut oil has its time and place, but there are other oils that may be better for certain things. Let’s take oil pulling as an example.
Oil pulling is a daily ayurvedic practice that involves swishing or holding oil in your mouth for as long as it takes for it to change its consistency to frothy white. The more often you do it, the faster it will work. You do it in the morning before brushing your teeth.
The traditional oil of choice is sesame. It’s because the qualities of sesame oil are the opposite of the qualities of your mouth, and you need ingredients with opposite qualities to be effective. Think about it this way. When you’re hot, you’ll want to take of your jacket, not put on another layer. It’s the same idea here.
Sesame oil is sharp, bitter, astringent and warming. In Western terms, it’s also antibacterial and said to strengthen your gums and teeth. Your mouth is a kapha organ with cool and moist qualities. Coconut oil is too much like the qualities of your mouth so if you want to improve oral health; untoasted, cold-pressed sesame oil is the better way to go.
3. The thing about single herb supplements
Turmeric. Ashwagandha. And the list goes on. We’re popping single herbs like M&Ms. Sometimes not even whole-form herbs, but active components extracted from herbs, like curcumin from turmeric. Nature created whole-form herbs to give us full nutrition and counterbalance any potential negative effects. So, stick with whole-form foods whenever possible.
There’s also an art (and science) to combining herbs. To get most out of herbs, or any food really, you need to be able to properly digest and assimilate them. What good does taking an herb do if you can’t get the benefits?
Adding pippali (long pepper) to turmeric, for example, will help ensure proper delivery to your tissues and support absorption. No wonder pippali is dubbed the “Fedex of Ayurveda”. If you don’t have access to pippali, black pepper is a wonderful herb to enhance curcumin absorption by up to 2,000% according to research.
Here’s another example. Ashwagandha requires strong digestive power to work. Taking it alone will do you no good if your body can’t process it. Ayurvedic practitioners often combine herbs with other synergistic herbs to help with delivery, absorption and create a greater effect than if you were just taking it alone. For example, combining ashwagandha with shatavari supports the reproductive system and sexual health.
4. The truth about salads
What if I told you that there’s a way to eat salad (and how we eat it is not the right way)? According to ayurveda, salads increase vata dosha in the body. Salads are dry, light and cold (and often raw). These are the qualities of vata dosha—the “airy” element—, too. And because like increases like, eating salads will increase the light, airy, dry, cold qualities in your body. How do you know if you have too much of air-like elements in your body? You may experience constipation, painful elimination, gas, bloating or deer pellet-like feces, amongst many other things.
Sure, you may just pour a generous amount of your favorite sauce on your salad but that opens a whole other can of worms, let’s skip that for now. So, if you’re craving a salad, eat it as a side dish at the end of your meal rather than as your main course, and add (sesame or maybe olive) oil to it to counterbalance vata.
5. Ice, ice, baby
Ice is light, cold and dry. You guessed it right: it’s also vata vitiating. From the salad example you can see how the accumulation of vata dosha can create imbalances in your body. The same principles apply here, too.
Now, imagine that you have a salad every day for lunch with icy water. Each day you add more and more vata to your body. It adds up over time. In most cases, health imbalances and issues develop over a longer period of time. To avoid that, ayurveda recommends managing wellness with a diet and lifestyle that help lower the air-like elements in your body.
Do you have any particular diet or lifestyle habits you’d like to know ayurveda’s take on? Let us know in the comments.
Image by Laker, Pexels
Disclaimer: this blog is here to give you a different perspective on health and wellness. Consult a qualified health practitioner to get personalized recommendations based on your body-mind constitution and imbalances.