Ayurveda is an ancient medical system used alongside yoga to create health and wellbeing. So naturally I use a lot of Ayurvedic principles in my cooking. Some of these principles are quite simple and just plain common sense. For years, whenever I visited India, I would see an Ayurvedic doctor called Dr Gupta. He told me most of the western people who come to him want complicated herbal remedies, diet lists, or in-depth therapies when most of the health problems he encounters are caused by people simply staying up too late, eating at the wrong time, or eating in a hurry.
With Ayurveda, you can benefit a lot by just getting the basics right.
These are my main Ayurvedic principles.
- Cook with love. It's important how the food is cooked and served. When I first started cooking, I quickly realised that my emotional state determined how the food turned out. If I was agitated no one liked my cooking. But when I was happy everybody loved it. Spending a few minutes relaxing or focusing on your breathing really helps to put you in the right mood to create a wonderful meal.
- Eat at a regular time. Have three meals a day, breakfast, lunch and supper, without snacking (too much). Traditionally, it's important to eat lunch around midday when our digestive fire is strongest. However, if you don't have time for a large lunch, try eating a bigger breakfast. The rule of thumb is to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince (or the other way around) and supper like a pauper.
- Eat slowly and savour your food. Eat slowly, and with awareness. It can be a real meditation to enjoy all the flavours. By eating more slowly and with awareness, I find I eat less. This is because the ‘full reflex’ seems to take a while to kick in. So it's easy to eat too much before your body is ready to tell you to stop. I savour every mouthful and deliberately eat a bit less than I think I want.
- Be relaxed as you eat. If you are stressed, you just can't digest or absorb the food properly. Stress means adrenaline, which keeps your body at a sustained level of fight or flight. This is bad news as it pulls the blood away from your digestive system. In the short term It can lead to poor absorption and indigestion and in the long term to more serious digestive problems.
- Eat quietly or enjoy a pleasant conversation. The worst thing you can do is to have a big argument as you eat. It will give you indigestion. Best to reschedule an argument to an hour or so after your meal to give your food time to be digested properly! Better still, find a way to resolve your conflict without resorting to an argument!
- Eat adequately. Just as important as what you eat is how much you eat. In traditional Ayurveda, they say you should fill your stomach with 1/3 food, 1/3 liquid, and leave 1/3 empty for air. In practice, try not to overeat and stop just before you feel full. Your stomach is a bit like your washing machine. If you cram it too full, it can't work properly.
Happy eating, and watch this space for more tips on healthy nutrition in the coming weeks.