As per Ayurveda, home-cooked and fresh food allows optimal assimilation of the essential nutrients. One should avoid tamasic or stale/leftover food that is highly toxic.
Detrimental Effects of Stored Foods
In our everyday busy lives, lack of time and non-availability of food at the desired moment causes people to willingly or unwillingly resort to stored or preserved foods. Such habits definitely impact the food itself as well as our body and mind.
In the ancient times, Aacharyas were aware of the methods for procuring, storing, processing and cooking of foods. They were wise enough to be able to discriminate between various sanitation methods, preservatives and food preparation methods that are good for health and those that lead to hazardous effects.
Well-cooked and warm food is light and easily digestive whereas cold or stored food is heavy due to increased kapha. Warm foods stimulate the digestive fire or agni and secretion of digestive enzymes. All types of cooked foods after storage become heavy and aggravate kapha and tamasik doshas. If food is stored for long duration, it sometimes gets sour in taste and may also start some physical and chemical changes leading to some degree of fermentation which finally results into dominance of pitta and vata in it. Studies have proved that preserved food also has less calorie value in comparison to fresh food.
Moderate Temperature of Foods is Optimal
As per Ayurveda, hunger and smell of food are closely related. Taste, chewing, salivation and swallowing affect hunger and satiety and are helpful in digestion. The feeding centre is regulated by nutritional requirements, like, low blood glucose level. Conversely, empty stomach incites the feeling of hunger with the stimulation of the Vagus nerve that causes stomach to contract. This is regulated by blood glucose level, fatty acid metabolism and amino acids. Digestive issues can arise if one neglects any of these problems. Therefore, Ayurveda strongly asserts eating only when one feels hungry and not to the full of stomach’s capacity for optimal digestion to take place.
Feeding, body temperature and emotions are all regulated by the limbic system (hypothalamus) such that there exists a close relationship among the three physiological functions. With increase in food intake, the metabolic rate gets swifter and so is the production of heat intensified. For sustenance of physiological harmony, Ayurveda recommends consumption of neither too hot nor too cold edibles. The limbic system also processes emotions so that we should eat only with a calm mind and never eat while feeling anxious, angry, worried or grievous to allow for adequate digestion.
What defines as the proper quantity of food?
Food should be consumed in the right amount and it depends on the power of digestion or agni, particularly, jatharagni. Whatever quantity of food taken gets digested in time without disturbing the normalcy of our body is said to be the proper quantity. It is also said that one should not eat to the point of filling one’s stomach fully. Half of our stomach should be filled with solid food, one fourth with liquid and the rest one fourth should be left for air to ease the digestion process.
When to take Meals?
The general thumb rule to be used commonly regarding the right time to eat is when one is really hungry. If the earlier consumed food gets digested completely and we start feeling hungry again, we should eat immediately. Leaving huge gaps between meals can lead to headache, acidity, increase in stress hormone production, high BP, muscle & body pain, dryness of skin, hair-fall and weakening of the thyroid gland & its metabolic functions like digestion. It is advisable, in general, that we follow the natural indications signaled by our body for eating, exercising, sleeping, excreting etc. as that only can be considered as the right time for each of these processes, felt intimately by the body.
Our body gets habituated to intake of food at a particular time of the day if we eat our meals regularly at that time. In addition, biological processes in the body onset around the same time as these are attuned with the body’s habits. Accordingly, we feel hungry at the same time every day or want to sleep, excrete or exercise at the same time. In contrast, people who eat their meals haphazardly without adherence to a set time do not habituate their bodies to any set pattern – be it eating or the processes related to eating. Rather, biological processes also start taking place irregularly which gives rise to problems, such as, indigestion and constipation. The Ayurvedic recommendation, therefore, is to eat the right food in the right quantity regularly, at a given time every day, which in the long run helps prevent metabolic disorders and other diseases. This will check weight-gain and food eaten in the right amount and at the right time gets converted into energy and not fat.
Further, contrary to the general belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and must be the heaviest, Ayurveda considers lunch as the most important meal of a day. Lunch must be taken between 12 to 2 pm as the Sun is at its peak during this time and so is pitta in body that is responsible for digestion.
Body type also determines the ideal timing for meals. Vs should eat during dusk and dawn, consume food in smaller amounts but frequently. Ps should take their heaviest meal at noon whereas Ks should skip breakfast and take lunch as their heaviest meal.