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Incompatible Foods - Viruddha Ahara

A person who practices regularly a wholesome lifestyle, eats wholesome food, is deliberate in all his actions, not involved into the objects of mind, who is generous, is just truthful, forgiving in nature, who is service-minded and helpful to his own kin – will remain unaffected by a disease. – Charaka Samhita

Generally speaking, it is said ‘You are what you eat’ however in Ayurveda it is consciously quoted that ‘You are what you can digest’. So, the role of appropriate ahara/diet has been given a major emphasis in maintaining the state of our good health. Anything we take in, to nourish our body and mind is specified as Ahara, which not only includes food and water but also breath, emotions and information through our sensory organs.

According to Ayurveda food is one of the important factors for health as well as source for the diseases i.e., wholesome and unwholesome Ahara is responsible for happiness and unhappiness respectively. It plays an important role in establishing the phenomenon of wear & tear, contiguous process of growth, development and gives protection to body from decay and disease etc.

Talking about the wholesomeness of our meals, let us review the Ayurvedic concept of ‘Six tastes in a food’:

Ayurveda identifies six “tastes” of foods, Instead of looking at the individual components of foods such as, carbohydrates, protein, fats, and calories . Each taste has specific effects on three doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha). By including all six tastes in each meal we satisfy our nutritional and dietary needs without the need to count calories or consult a manual. So, what are those six tastes:

The Sweet Taste: Nuts, grains, oils, meats, and most dairy.

The Sour Taste: Pickles and fermented foods such as yogurt.

The Salty Taste: Sea salt, sea vegetables, and seafood.

The Pungent Taste: Chili peppers, ginger, and black pepper.

The Astringent Taste: Most beans, cranberries, and pomegranates.

The Bitter Taste: Leafy greens and herbs such as bitter melon, dandelion leaves, and turmeric

According to Ayurveda, every food has its own taste (rasa), a heating or cooling energy (virya), and a post-digestive effect (vipaka). Some food also has a special effect beyond these tastes, called prabhava, an unexplained effect.

When two or more foods with different taste, energy and post-digestive effect are combined, agni (digestive fire) can become overloaded, inhibiting the enzyme system and resulting in production of toxins.

Poor combining can produce indigestion, fermentation, putrefaction and gas formation, and if prolonged, can lead to toxemia and a disease. Yet these same foods, if eaten separately, might well stimulate agni, be digested more quickly and even help in in burning ama (undigested food )

Food Combining Examples:

Eating bananas with milk can diminish agni, change the intestinal flora, produce toxins and may cause congestion, cold , cough and allergies; Although both of these foods have a sweet taste and a cooling energy, their post digestive effect is very different i.e. bananas are sour and milk is sweet. This may cause confusion in our digestive system and result in toxins, allergies and imbalances.

Similarly, milk and melons should not be eaten together. Both are cooling but milk is laxative and melon a diuretic. Milk needs more time for digestion. Moreover, the stomach acid required to digest the melon causes milk to curdle, so Ayurveda advises against taking milk and sour foods together.

Another such example of Virudhha Ahara is mixing equal quantities of ghee and honey by weight. Ghee is cooling and honey is heating (exception- 2:1 ratio is not toxic).

Considerations to lessen bad food combinations:

A). Having a strong agni/digestive fire can be the most powerful tool of all to deal with “bad” food combination.

B.) Spices and herbs to be added in ayurvedic cooking to help make food compatible or to ease a powerful effect e.g. cooling cilantro in a very spicy food.

C). Antidotes like cardamom in coffee, or ghee and black pepper with potatoes often can help alleviate some of the negative effects – to reduce stimulation/depression and reducing gas formation respectively.

D). Foods with different and possibly aggravating qualities, such as mixture of vegetables cooked together in the same pot using appropriate spices are agreeable ( foods tend to learn how to get along and be healthful).

Some useful tips to aid and enhance digestion:

1.) Eat ½ teaspoon fresh grated ginger with a pinch of rock salt before each meal to stimulate agni.

2.) Salt also aids digestion, and helps to retain water.

3.) Alkalis help digestion and regulates gastric fire.

4.) Ghee stimulates agni and improves digestion.

5.) Small sip of warm water during a meal will aid digestion and absorption of food. Do not drink iced water as it slows agni and digestion. In fact, iced water should not be taken in most circumstances, as it is too shocking to the system.

6.) A cup of lassi/home made fresh yogurt buttermilk at the end of the meal, especially after lunch also aids digestive process (ginger and cumin powder should also be added.)

Contact Om Prakash Sanduja, an experienced Ayurvedic Wellness Counsellor at Vedic Health to learn the ways in enhancing your digestive fire/Agni, as it applies to your particular body constitution. Have a strong digestion and a glowing health. Thank you.


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