A healthy digestive system is important for our overall health: physical, mental and emotional. Yet many today are struggling with indigestion, gas, bloating, and other gastrointestinal disorders and diseases. According to Ayurveda, the root cause of these complications stems from a weak digestive system. The science’s approach to aahar (diet) can be particularly helpful since it focuses on maintaining a healthy agni (digestive fire), which strengthens immune system and eliminates waste from the body. This is done by consuming an ideal diet based on the individual’s constitution, which comprises the three doshas (vata, pitta and kapha).
What is Food Combining?While a healthy agni determines how well you digest food, Dr Trusha Abhyankar, senior lead Ayurvedic doctor at Truweight, a diet-based weight loss programs application, says that the way we combine foods also is of equal importance. In Ayurveda, each food is characterised based on its taste (rasa), heating or cooling energy (virya) and post-digestive effect (vipaka). When two or three foods with different attributes are combined together in a single meal, it puts stress on our digestive tract and may cause bloating, fermentation, gas, emotional imbalance or lead to formation, and accumulation of ama (toxins). These incompatible combinations are known as virudh aahar. Similarly, it recognises that some foods with similar attributes digest faster and ultimately strengthen the digestive system. Therefore, having knowledge about compatible and incompatible food combinations is essential.
But before we go there, you must know the eight factors affecting utility of foods that are mentioned in the Charaka Samhita, the encyclopedia of Ayurvedic science. These include:
1. Prakriti (nature of the food),
2. Karana (processing),
3. Samyoga (combination),
4. Rashi (portion),
5. Desha (place),
6. Kala (time),
7. Upayoga samstha (rules of intake) and
8. Upyokta (consumer).
Dr Amala Jyothi, co-founder, HealWithFood, explains how these eight factors impact diet, “There is no direct reference to the healthiest food pairings in Ayurveda since it is not a one-diet-fits-all approach. Hence, it is absolutely necessary to consume wholesome food combinations in the adequate amount, at a proper time, exactly in the sequence prescribed, not too fast or too slow and keeping in mind your digestive capacity and prakriti (individual characteristics).” If you get this right, it will lead to strengthened digestive fire and a healthy body and mind.
The Rules of Ayurvedic Food Combinations:1. Avoid milk or curd with banana because it can diminish agni and lead to a build up of toxins. This combination can also cause cold and cough and even aggravate an asthmatic attack.
2. Milk and melons have cooling energies but the former is laxative, while melon is diuretic. This causes milk to curdle in the stomach.
3. Fruits must be eaten as a snack, individually, and not mixed with other fruits like in fruit chaat, because together they create sour and indigestible juices in the body.
4. A mixture of milk, rock sugar and a little cow ghee is considered as the best rejuvenator for people of all age groups. But this must be avoided by those who are diabetic, obese or have high cholesterol issues.
5. The combination of milk and eggs or too much sugar with saturated fats must be avoid as it can lead to a number of immunologic disorders.
6. Deep frying potatoes can develop toxic substances such as acrylamide, which has carcinogenic tendencies.
7. Eat honey raw and never cooked because it can become highly toxic. When heated, its molecules turn into non-homogenised glue and produces toxins. Honey must be mixed in room temperature foods and drinks.
8. Never combine meat and milk since the former has heating energy while the latter, cooling. This disturbs the digestive fire and produces toxins.
9. Avoid lemon with cucumber, milk, tomatoes and curd.
10. Do not eat legumes with fruit, cheese, eggs, fish or milk instead combine them with starchy foods such as rice to create the perfect protein.
Lessening the Effect of Virudh AaharWhile it is best to avoid virudh aahar or incompatible food combinations, we understand that you may end up breaking the rules at some point of time – hello, crazy food experiments! The experts suggest you maintain a strong digestive tract or work on improving it on a regular basis, so that it can easily digest the occasional kitchen experiments and wrong food combinations. But how do you do that? Dr Jyothi recommends regular physical activity coupled with a healthy lifestyle. Dr Abhyankar has a homemade potion you can try to improve your digestion: water, dried ginger and coriander seeds, warm lime water with a few drops of ginger juice and a pinch of black pepper powder. Or chew on a small piece of ginger with salt at the beginning of a meal.
Lastly, Ayurveda suggests you keep your meals balanced by including a variety of foods and remember to take sips of warm water throughout the meal to aid digestion. This will not only ensure you gain varied nutritional benefits but also make meal time a pleasure experience for your body, mind, soul and spirit!