by Leah Barr, Clinical Ayurvedic Practitioner
Ayurveda is a comprehensive discipline that encompasses nutrition and offers life-long principles of healthy eating practices
Our bodies are perfectly evolved to reap the abundant offerings of nature. The six tastes found in food — sweet, sour, salty, astringent, bitter, and pungent — reflect the broad spectrum of what nature is offering, and taste itself reflects the intrinsic intelligence in the body’s capacity to gravitate to the food it needs.
A sound Ayurvedic diet based on a proper balance of the six tastes ensures the proper ratio of protein, fat, fiber, carbohydrates, and micro-nutrients. For example: Astringents and bitters include most members of the vegetable family; sour foods include many fruits as well as fermented and cultured foods; the sweet taste encompasses high quality grains, meats, nuts, healthy fats and oils, and some of the heavier fruits. Poor eating habits and stress can dim our ability to appreciate all six tastes (particularly astringents and bitters), but as we come into greater balance through Ayurvedic practices our capacity to enjoy all six tastes is refined. Our nutritional needs are naturally met as we intuitively perceive, or crave, a balance of these tastes. Food is one of the great pleasures of life and need not be fraught with calorie counting, measuring, or treated like a chemistry experiment!
Bio Availability: It’s not what we ingest it’s what we digest!
Healthy digestion is the cornerstone of Ayurvedic practices whereas impaired digestion is understood to lead to any number of ailments. We only receive nutrition from food that we are properly digesting. Our digestion must be strong in order to absorb vitamins, minerals, and micro-nutrients. Digestion is strengthened through a constitutionally appropriate diet, eating at ideal times of day, stress reduction practices, and herbal support.
The Role of Herbal Medicine in Ayurvedic Nutrition
Herbs play many different roles in Ayurveda from supporting general health to the treatment of disease conditions. Herbs can be thought of as extremely concentrated, potent food sources. Because long-term exposure to the typical American diet or eating foods that aggravate one’s constitution can weaken digestion over time, many individuals will benefit from herbal digestive formulas at the beginning of their Ayurvedic journey to help restore and regulate digestion, as well as specifically target an area of concern or imbalance.
The Place of Vitamins and Supplements in Ayurveda
While vitamins and supplements are not the most prominent feature of Ayurveda they can play an important role in health maintenance. Soil quality has slowly been degraded through industrial farming and food industry practices and it is widely believed that nutrient concentrations in food have been affected for the worse by this. Recent studies, including a 2013 meta study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, have called into question the efficacy and safety of many commonly used vitamin supplements. For this reason, it is advisable to work with your practitioner to choose wisely from a choice selection of high quality supplements to ensure that they are appropriately used to maximize their efficacy and bio availability. Like all things in Ayurveda, different constitutional types and specific health circumstances require personally-tailored approaches to the use of supplements. And just as with food, the degree of supplement absorption will be determined by the quality of one’s digestion as well the quality of the supplement itself.