“In the Ayurvedic tradition it is said: ‘If you have a good diet, of what use is a doctor? And, if you don’t have a good diet, of what use is a doctor?'” – quoted by Dr. Ballantine in ‘Radical Healing’, page 217
Many of us eat on the run or simply eat what is convenient. Others try various diet plans with varying results only to go back to our old habits. Or perhaps we consider food as a tedious chore to be gotten over with as quickly as possible. So how do we move towards a balanced diet? And exactly what is a balanced diet?
In this article we will attempt to answer these questions according to the time-tested advice of Ayurveda, the science of healthy living.
First understand that the diet plan that is right for you is unique to you. And as you change, your diet will also change.
Secondly, it is not necessarily helpful in the long run to follow a diet plan from a book or piece of paper. You could use such a plan as a guideline or a starting point, but it should not be followed blindly. The key is to slow down just enough to practice a little self-awareness. Simply watch what and how you eat, and how you feel from eating. Then introduce positive changes gradually. It is rarely helpful to change your diet all at once.
Moderation is the key to a healthy balanced diet. Not too much, not too little. Not too hot, not too cold. Avoid extremes like too much sugar or too much salt. Instead try to eat a variety of foods from all the traditional food groups.
And finally, to insure good nutrition, quality counts over quantity. So, choose fresh, wholesome and pure foods whenever possible. Avoid junk foods.
Here is the step-by-step process:
Before analyzing your diet or attempting to make any changes, simply keep a food journal for a week or two. Record everything you eat and how you feel day by day. You may be surprised. For example, you may realize that you’re eating more sugar than you thought.
Reduce snacking. Too much snacking between meals disrupts the normal process of digestion and prevents us from noticing how individual foods are affecting us. It is better to let one meal digest, noticing its full effects, before eating the next meal.
Regulate your meal times. Your physiology works on circadian rhythms. Eating at regular mealtimes helps to reset your natural rhythms and strengthen your digestion.
Simplify your meals. Eating too many foods at once also confuses the picture. The goal is to be able to notice which foods are best for you.
Don’t overeat. Too much food overwhelms the digestion and the mind. It is best to stop a few bites short of being full. Chewing your food well also helps prevent overeating.
Notice the effects. How do you feel? Then put two and two together. For example, if you feel sluggish and headachy after a meal, think back. Next time, eat something different. Gradually you will discover which foods are best for you. This process has been called ‘bio-food back’.
Make changes gradually. It is no use to make wholesale changes in your diet, they rarely last. Besides, if you change many things at once, there is no way to separate the effects.
In this manner you will begin moving towards a healthy balanced diet. Slowly discover which foods have negative effects and reduce them. Notice which foods leave you feeling well and accentuate them. Ultimately, you can learn to choose your foods intuitively on a day-by-day basis. What do I need today to feel more balanced?
Now that you understand this process, we can take a look at the six traditional food groups that are recommended for a balanced diet. If you find one is noticeably lacking, you can slowly introduce foods from that group into your diet.
Whole grains. There are many nutritional advantages to whole grains over refined grains. However, some people have trouble digesting whole grains. So be sure to try different preparations until you find a few dishes you enjoy. Start with one serving a week, and move towards at least one serving per day.
Beans & legumes have many health protective benefits and combine well with whole grains to form complete proteins. As they can also be hard to digest, cook them well, try different preparations, and remember that the smaller the bean, the easier to digest. Split or ground beans are also easier to digest. Keep the portions small. Try for two to four servings per week.
Fresh cooked vegetables are essential for a healthy balanced diet. Try for at least one cooked green or yellow vegetable every day. Also, try to find a cooked leafy green vegetable, which are nutritional power-houses, to enjoy from one to four times a week.
Raw food is also important. Ayurveda recommends primarily cooked foods, but raw foods are essential for their vitality and their enzymes. Fruit digests quickly so it is best eaten alone. Salads and fresh juices are other excellent choices. Try for one serving per day.
Animal foods are considered as supplemental protein. Vegetarian protein requirement is split between vegetable sourced proteins (mainly whole grain and bean combos) and animal sourced proteins, such as dairy. Small portions are best. Vegans, who choose not to eat any animal foods, must find a reliable source of vitamin B-12 as a substitute.
Essential fats. Many people are deficient in this category. Traditionally, this category is filled by eating a variety of nuts and seeds and the oils derived from them. One of the best vegetable sources of essential fats is flax seed.
In summary, remember to go slow, notice the effects, and make only gradual changes. Enjoy the process. Take an interest in your food, but don’t become obsessed. Simply try little experiments by adding foods or taking foods out of your diet. Remember the goal is not to eat a prescribed diet from the outside, but to develop a diet that is personal, flexible, and intuitive.
Gary Gran, (CYT, DAy), is a a long-time initiate in the Himalayan Tradition and has been trained by Swami Rama and Swami Veda Bharati. Gary and his wife Cynthia are both certified yoga teachers and Ayurvedic educators, and have taught at the North American TTP retreats over the years.