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Ayurvedic Comfort Foods

What do you think of when you hear the words "comfort food?" Mashed potatoes and gravy at Thanksgiving, Rocky Road ice cream in the middle of the night or cream donuts for breakfast? That may be what you crave, but these foods won't comfort you very long; in fact, they may even cause discomfort in your digestion. How about a warm soup or rice pudding? Real comfort foods are nutritious, nurturing, wholesome and satisfying. According to ayurveda, they should also be intelligent, and balance the mind and body.

Ingest nature's intelligence with your food

The food you eat should be lively. Fresh, organic, home-cooked food has the power to carry nature's intelligence to your brain and body. These foods are called triptighna, which means they are satisfying and nourishing. Preserved, frozen, processed foods and leftovers, on the other hand, are foods that leave your body unsatisfied and craving for more. Since these junk foods are void of intelligence, they cannot support the intelligence of the physiology, so you end up eating more and craving for more without ever getting nourished or fulfilled. What's more, you can easily gain weight this way.

Cooked food versus raw food

While we want to preserve the intelligence of our ingredients, we also want to make them digestible. That's where cooking comes in, which inserts agni, digestive fire, into our food so we can digest and assimilate it properly. Certain food items, such us grains, beans and dhals should always be eaten cooked. Most vegetables are also more beneficial cooked, and some of them, such as spinach, chard, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, should never be eaten raw. Milk is another item that can be hard to digest, so ayurveda recommends always boiling it with some cardamom and cinnamon. Make sure, however, not to overcook or burn anything. Add some ghee or olive oil, water and spices to protect nature's intelligence. You don't have to cook everything and skip salads entirely. Juicy vegetables, such as cucumber and lettuces, can be refreshing for lunch in the summer, but stay away from them at night and in the winter, since they can aggravate Vata. Also, if your digestive fire is weak, stay away from sprouts. Fruits are also good raw during the day. In the morning, a stewed apple is best to stimulate the digestive system. 

Use spice-power

In addition to their delicious taste, spices can greatly increase the intelligence of your meals. They also help with digestion and assimilation. To bring the most out of them, cook them with your food or sauté them in ghee and add them to your meals. For best assimilation of the benefits of therapeutic spices, eat them cooked, instead of sprinkling raw spices over foods. Ayurvedic spices such as turmericcumincoriandersaffroncinnamon and cardamom offer rich and varied aroma and flavor besides helping to balance different doshas and enhancing the metabolism. They can transform simple dishes into feasts for all your senses, providing fulfillment and contentment from meals.

Stop the cravings

The first thing you can do to avoid feelings of false hunger and cravings is to increase the intelligence in your meals by eating fresh, homemade meals, and avoiding "junk" foods. You also need to eat a variety of foods with all six tastes. Make sure to eat sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent foods to satisfy the body. Cooked food is also more nourishing than raw foods. Raw foods are harder to digest and can diminish agni. When agni is weak, the body creates ama (accumulated toxins), which clogs the channels and prevents the body from receiving nutrients from food. This, in the end, results in cravings. Ayurveda also encourages portion control. Eat enough but don't overeat. Your stomach should be two-thirds full after main meals.

Sweets for the heart

Emotional downs are the result of an imbalance in Sadhaka Pitta, the subdosha that governs the heart. The sweet taste pacifies Pitta, which explains our cravings for sweets. But before you reach for cookies or chocolate, think for a moment. Although these foods provide the sweet taste, they lack the intelligence to carry it to your brain, which won't register it and the craving won't stop. Try a piece of sweet, juicy fruit, soaked dates or raisinsrice pudding or date-milk shakes. Maharishi Ayurveda Organic Rose Petal Spread is also a great Pitta-pacifying sweet. These healthy foods will deliver to the brain and heart what they need and leave you satisfied.

Foods to pacify worries

Worries and mental imbalance are the result of aggravated Vata dosha. To calm the mind, eat easy-to-digest, nourishing meals and use spices such as black peppercumin and coriander to open the channels of the brain. In addition to the above-mentioned sweets, walnuts, almonds and coconut milk are especially supportive for the mind. The Maharishi Ayurveda Worry Free tablets and Worry Free Tea are also helpful in enhancing the connection between the mind and the body.

Realizing that junk foods will not satisfy your body is the first step in beating the cravings. With a little attention you can switch to healthier options and receive more nutrition, which will decrease your desire for unintelligent snacks. A well-nourished body is hungry for healthy food only!

Nutrition Question: Standardized Food Chart

QUESTION: Why doesn't Maharishi Ayurveda recommend a standardized food chart, which can simply tell me I need x milligrams of calcium per day or y milligrams of Vitamin C and so on?

ANSWER: Maharishi Ayurveda sees nutrition as a choice based on an individual's unique tastes and imbalances. The logic is simple. We are all made differently. Our energies, moods, emotions, actions, and reactions are unique to us. Even in the same family, one person may love to eat Chinese food, while another could have absolutely no taste for it. Similarly, one person might not be able to tolerate cold weather, while another would be happy out skiing in February.

Now this obviously means that our bodies have an innate intelligence of their own, which decides what kind of clothing they need, what kind of food is suitable for them, what kind of activities they would like to pursue. Quite simply, a healthy body is blessed with plenty of natural intelligence — you could also call it strong natural immunity — and will love what is good for it. But if there is an imbalance, then the body — or rather, the senses — will crave things that are harmful rather than healing to us. For example, a person prone to Pitta-related imbalances like skin eruptions should ideally avoid hot, spicy foods. But if that person's physiology is ridden with dosha imbalances, then he or she will not be able to resist eating spicy curries.

Therefore, The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians recommends that your diet be intuitive — based on a good understanding of your tastes and of foods that bring you both good taste and good nutrition.

In his insightful book Contemporary Ayurveda, Dr. Hari Sharma makes an interesting observation about the American diet: "The typical American diet," observes Sharma, "under-represents the pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes, and overemphasizes the sweet taste, as well as the salty and sour. These three tastes increase Kapha dosha, which is part of how Maharishi Ayurveda would explain the prevalence of obesity (a Kapha imbalance) in the West."

The best way to ensure you get a "complete" diet is to try to get all six flavors on your plate — sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent.

Add flavor and healing nutrients to your food by cooking them with Maharishi Ayurveda's Churnas. Blended in precise proportions to ensure dosha balance, these spice mixes are both delicious and versatile.

On the whole, the balance of tastes ideal for your individual constitution depends on your prakriti, or original combination of doshic energies, and vikriti — the imbalances you are trying to correct at any point in time. Consult a vaidya (ayurvedic expert) for guidance on foods that would work best for you; then browse our recipe section for hundreds of recipes and tips on what to eat and how to cook ayurvedically.

Bon Appétit!

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