Of course, like anything, how much you throw yourself into a healthy life can be a matter of degrees. It’s often the case that when come away from a health retreat, seminar or a book you’re all fired up to make positive changes. We approach the pantry and the fridge with evangelical zeal throwing out the bad food, restocking with new ingredients you’ve never used before. You then announce to the family the new regime only to find they are resentful, the change is confronting and ultimately you retreat feeling like a bit of a failure.
Lessons Learnt from Ayurveda
Ayurveda is a science of life (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge)
While I was a little familiar with the philosophy of Ayurveda when I studied ancient Indian literature but I had no idea, until I discovered Ayurvedic food many years ago, how richly it encompassed a whole-life perspective and how easy (and common sense) it was to incorporate some of these health and wellness tips into my everyday life. Especially the Ayurvedic strategy to make (and keep) positive changes in your life.
My first experience of tasting Ayurvedic food came when I was a guest at an amazing dinner cooked by Joseph and Jennifer from the Great Goona Catering Company many years ago. Back then it was hard enough to pronounce the name let alone explain what it was. This quote from the author of The Ayurvedic Cookbook is actually pretty close to my own reaction to the tastes in that first meal.
The Ayurvedic preparation of recipes is most exquisite in its exotic tastes, aroma, textures and colours. When people raised on a traditional diet … as practised in the West, try Ayurvedic recipes, they discover a deep sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. Their whole system responds to the nourishment that comes from the subtle tastes and aromas of the special blend of spices. These subtle spices and aromas play a vital role in bringing us to deeper level of health and well-being
So what makes it so satisfying?
One of the principles of Ayurvedic cooking (it also covers 3 body types) is the six tastes: If you incorporate these tastes into a meal either by specific food or condiments then your meal with be more nourishing, satisfying and nutritionally balanced. The concept of balance is always present in this ancient Indian life philosophy.
“Ayurveda teaches that all six tastes should be eaten at every meal for us to feel satisfied and to ensure that all major food groups and nutrients are represented.” the Chopra Center
The Six Tastes are
- salty: table salt, soy sauce, salted meats, seaweed
- sweet: grains, pasta, rice, bread, starchy vegetables, dairy, meat, chicken, fish, sugar, honey, molasses
- pungent: peppers, chilies, onions, garlic, cayenne, black pepper, cloves, ginger, mustard, salsa
- sour: lemons, sour fruit and citrus, sours grapes, vinegar and picked foods
- bitter: green leafy vegetables, green and yellow vegetables, kale, celery, broccoli, sprouts, beets
- astringent: lentils, dried beans, green apples, grape skins, cauliflower, pomegranates, tea.
You may not have an immediate idea of what tastes these words refer to and its not just about indian food. The principal of the 6 tastes can be applied to any cultures’ food. You may have even found you are intuitively balancing the tastes in your meals in a similar way. There are warming and cooling aspects to how spices impact your body and it’s not just overt heat like chillies. Understanding the 6 tastes and how they each impact your digestion (even on a basic level) provide you with an opportunity to cook on another level of mindfulness. Adapting this basic knowledge to the seasons can bring another level of comfort with food that supports your health appropriately for the seasons … for winter warming spices like ginger, black pepper, and cardamom and for summer cooling spices like coriander or fennel.
You can even go deeper and study the medicinal as well as culinary benefits of spices in order to fine tune this idea of balance and the idea that food can be truly”healing”.
The 25% Rule…. Make Change Slowly … that’s the secret
I was introduced to the 25% rule (the secret to making changes in your lifestyle that stick) over a weekend workshop with Dr Robert Svoboda one of the first westerners to be traditionally taught as an Ayurvedic Doctor.
This is how it works
In Ayurvedic tradition there is the belief that our cells have memory and we need to reset the memory gradually. It’s a slower, more sustainable change and much less stressful for you and everyone around you because it enables your body to re-balance in stages as you make the change.
Whatever the food or drink or habit you want to remove you (whether it is sugar, diary, alcohol, smoking etc.) just begin by reducing it by 25% only. (That means do it 25% less) Then establish this as your new normal. When this new 25% less baseline has become habit and your comfortable with how the change has been incorporated into your life then reduce it down another 25 % until this becomes your new normal. Continue on until it has been almost, if not completely, reduced or eliminated from your life.
A Simple Ayurvedic Recipe to try
Yellow Rice (How Cook the Perfect Rice)
Tumeric is regarded as a blood purifier and anti inflammatory and healing to the liver. It gives this rices its distinctive yellow colour
You will need
- 2-3 tablespoon coconut oil or olive oil or ghee
- 2 whole cloves
- 3 cardamom pods (lightly bash them a bit so they crack open)
- 3 cm (1 inch) piece of cinnamon back
- 1/2 tsp powdered turmeric or fresh turmeric root finely grated
- 1/2 onion
- 1 cup basmati rice (use the same cup to measure rice and chicken stock)
- 2 cups boiling chicken or vegetable stock or water
Heat the oil medium-high heat but not smoking
Add the onion and spices to the oil (except the tumeric) and fry for 2-5 minutes till the onions are soft.
Add the basmati rice and turmeric and fry for 1 minute then add the chicken stock. When it begins to boil put the lid on the saucepan and reduce the heat to very low.
Do not lift the lid for 18 minutes, remove from heat and leave the lid on for a couple of minutes to firm up the grains. The Cinnamon bark, cloves and cardamom pods will have floated to the top as the rice was cooking so they can easily be removed with a fork before you transfer the rice to a serving bowl.