Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Incompatible Food Combinations (Virudha-ahar)

The importance that Ayurvedic science lays on the maintenance of good health and prevention of physical and mental maladies, particularly through diet control, is more pronounced than perhaps any other form of medicine, alternative or otherwise. Practically all other forms of medicine bring diet to the fore only after an ailment manifests. Over the years a plethora of conflicting theories on what constitutes a balanced diet have emerged, creating considerable confusion in the minds of a population that is showing increasing interest in the subject.

Ayurveda dictates that each individual’s constitution or Prakruti is as unique as his fingerprint or genetic code, and is a permutation of the three principal elements or doshas viz. Vatta, Kapha and Pitta. Each dosha in itself is a combination of the five principal elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether. It is, therefore, against the principal of this science to prescribe the same diet, the same medicines during illness and the same exercises to persons with differing constitutions. A balanced diet is the first tenet of good health, and constitutes the first chapter in Ayurveda’s programme of managing the Lifestyle and Culture of the patient.

Ayurveda makes a major departure from the conventional theory of a balanced diet consisting of the basic food groups - meat, dairy, fruit, grains and vegetables. According this science, such a scheme is insufficient to lead us to the path of good health. Ayurvedic texts mention five types of nutritional disorders:

1. Under-nutrition due to insufficient food, including starvation.
2. Incorrect food combinations that results in malnutrition, toxicity and lack of essential nutrients.
3. Over-indulgence, including emotional over-eating that causes obesity and high cholesterol, giving rise to hypertension, heart attacks and other maladies.
4. The presence of Toxic substances that leads to various digestive disorders.
5. Food not suitable to one's constitution may affect natural resistance and cause disease.

These five factors are closely connected to the strength of agni (the gastric fire). There are four types of agni:

1. VISHAMA AGNI. Due to vata dosha, the gastric fire becomes vitiated, causing irregular appetite, indigestion and gases, and a series of neurological disorders.
2. TIKSHNA AGNI. Brought about by the Pitta dosha, it results in hyper-metabolism, acidity and hypoglycemia leading to inflammatory diseases.
3. MANDA AGNI. An excess of kapha dosha leads to slow metabolism, obesity, allergies and congestive diseases.
4. SAMA AGNI. Characterised by the balance of the three doshas, this type allows the person to eat almost any type of food without difficulty. Digestion, absorption and elimination are all normal.

The nutritionist should consider these types of agni while prescribing the appropriate diet.

According to Ayurveda, every food has its own taste (rasa), a heating or cooling energy (virya) and post-digestive effect (vipak). When two or more food substances of different taste, energy and post-digestive effect are combined together agni can become overloaded, inhibiting the enzyme system and resulting in production of toxins in the system. While it is true that an individual's agni largely determines how well or poorly food is digested, food combinations are also of great importance. When foods, (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) having different attributes, tastes, heating or cooling properties, and post-digestive effects are eaten together, agni will be slowed down. The foods can then remain in the stomach for seven to eight hours.

These same foods, if eaten separately might stimulate agni, be digested more quickly and even help to burn ama. Thus one should eat according to one's constitution and take fruits, starches, proteins and fats separately at different times of the day. Combining foods improperly can produce indigestion, fermentation, putrefaction and gas formation. This condition, if prolonged, can lead to toxemia and disease complex. E.g. eating bananas with milk can diminish agni, change the intestinal flora producing toxins and may cause sinus congestion, cold, cough and allergies.

Some basic concepts of an Ayurvedic Food Combining program include the following:
• Avoid taking milk or yogurt with sour or citrus fruits.
• Avoid eating fruits together with potatoes or other starchy foods. Fructose (and other sugars) is digested quickly, whereas starch takes quite some time. In this case the sugar would not be properly digested.
• Avoid eating melons with grains. Melons digest quickly while grains take time. This combination will upset the stomach. Melons should be eaten alone or left alone.
• Honey should never be cooked as it digests slowly when cooked and the molecules become a non-homogenized glue that adheres to mucous membranes and clogs subtle channels, producing toxins. Uncooked honey is nectar. Cooked honey is poison.
• Do not eat meat protein and milk protein together. Meat is heating and milk is cooling so they counteract one another, disturb agni and produce ama.
• Milk and melons should not be eaten together. Both are cooling, but milk is laxative and melon is diuretic, and milk requires more time for digestion. Besides, the action of hydrochloric acid in the stomach causes the milk to curdle. Therefore, Ayurveda advises against taking milk with sour fruits, yogurt, sour cream, cheese, and fish.

There is a beautiful passage in the Sanskrit literature describing all types of foods and their actions. Among the digestive aids referred to there are:

• Water, which imparts a liquid quality and helps in digestion and absorption of food.
• Salt also aids digestion, and helps to retain water.
• Alkalis help digestion and regulate gastric fire (HCL).
• Ghee stimulates agni and improves digestion. Milk invigorates.
• Meat gives energy.

Also in this literature are descriptions on influence of foods on the tri-dosha: Pitta is increased by foods that are sour and pungent. Kapha is aggravated by milk products. Vata is over-stimulated by beans, dry fruits, astringent and bitter substances. The daily diet should contain: 40 - 50% well-cooked basmati rice, barley, corn or wheat depending upon one's constitution. 15 - 30% well cooked legumes. 2 - 5% vegetable soups. ½ teaspoon pickles. In order to stimulate appetite one can chew and eat ½ teaspoon fresh grated ginger with a pinch of rock salt before each meal.

Ayurveda insists that iced water should not be drunk during or after a meal as it slows agni and digestion. Small sips of warm water taken during the meal serves to aid digestion. While eating one should properly masticate the food in order to soften it and ensure that it is thoroughly mixed with saliva. If desired, one can finish a meal by drinking a cup of lassi (or takram). This can be made by blending four teaspoons of yogurt with two pinches of ginger and cumin powder in one cup of water.

When eating, only one third of the capacity of the stomach should be filled with food, one-third with liquid and one third should be left empty. This will aid in proper digestion and also promotes mental clarity.

INCOMPATIBLE FOOD COMBINATIONS

Milk Is Incompatible With: Bananas, Fish, Meat, Melons, Curd, Sour Fruits, Kitchari, Bread Containing Yeast, Cherries
Melons Are Incompatible With: Grains, Starch, Fried foods, Cheese
Starches Are Incompatible With: Eggs, Chai, Milk, Bananas, Dates, Persimmons
Honey Is Incompatible With: Ghee (in equal proportions), Heating or cooking with.
Radishes Are Incompatible With: Milk, Bananas, Raisins
Nightshades (Potato, Tomato, Eggplant, Chillies) Are Incompatible With: Yogurt, Milk, Melon, Cucumber
Yogurt Is Incompatible With: Milk, Sour Fruits, Melons, Hot drinks, Meat, Fish, Mangos, Starch, Cheese
Eggs Are Incompatible With: Milk, Meat, Yogurt, Melons, Cheese, Fish, Bananas
Mangos Are Incompatible With: Yogurt, Cheese, Cucumbers
Corn Is Incompatible With: Dates, Raisins, Bananas
Lemon Is Incompatible With: Yogurt, Milk, Cucumbers, Tomatoes

The above guidelines are by no means an exhaustive list. It must also be remembered that a proper Ayurvedic diet should consider nutritional value, constitution, seasons, age and any disease condition.

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