The holistic approach of Ayurveda may be considered one of the world’s oldest healing systems, but that hasn’t stopped current interest rising faster than you can say "Where’s my tongue scraper?". That’s why we jumped at the chance to chat to Indian chef Anjum Anand about the Ayurvedic approach to food – and turns out, there’s heaps we can take away into our everyday eating habits.
“The most important philosophy that Ayurveda has when it comes to food is that it’s all about digestion,” explains Anand, also a cookbook author and the force behind Indian cuisine range The Spice Tailor. “Eating the right food and digesting it properly are the main tenets of health. Ayurveda believes a diet full of freshly cooked vegetables, beans and lentils, simple carbohydrates and fruit and nuts is the key to health and longevity.”
Help your digestion out by not overdoing portions or rushing a meal – no shovelling at your desk here. Anand also advocates “not eating too many different ingredients at one time and also sipping hot water with your meals, as opposed to drinking cold water.” Then get into specifics by working out your body type, or dosha, using an online questionnaire. There’s vata (the air body type), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth).
“A dosha basically tells you what element dominates your body, and then you try not to eat in a way that exaggerates this imbalance,” shares Anand, who adds that while it’s obviously crucial to listen to your body and individual needs, there are a few guiding foodie principles for each dosha.
“Pitta, the fire element, tends to need cooling foods; kapha is both earth and a little water, which are cool, moist and dense elements, so these people need warm, drier and lighter foods; while vata is air, a cool and dry element, so ideally needs warming, moistening and grounding foods.”
Need some inspiration? Check out Anand’s example of an Ayurvedic day on a plate…
“Porridge is really good, especially for vata types who do better with warm bowls of sloppy, comfort food. Avo toast would be really good for pitta types as avocados are cooling. A favourite Ayurveda breakfast? Warm fruit (apple and pear) compote with cinnamon – ideal for kapha types, as it’s light but warm.”
“[Ayurveda believes] our digestion is strongest in the middle of the day, so lunch can be the biggest meal. Salads are best eaten in the summer and only at lunchtime, while mixing more than one protein at a meal is discouraged. In fact, it’s thought eating too many different ingredients at one sitting can further burden a weak digestive system. Too much snacking isn’t encouraged to give your digestion a break between meals.”
“With vata types doing well on comfort food, anything naturally served in a bowl works – think pasta, risotto, lentils and so on. Pitta types can eat most things, but should avoid too many acidic or ‘heating’ foods (eg, chillies). Other examples of ‘cooling’ foods? Certain fresh vegetables, grains, lentils as well as coconut milk and water. Red meats are heating so should be eaten in moderation. Kapha? Go for warming foods that aren’t too saucy, such as lightly spiced veggies and grilled fish.
Ayurveda believes that all-natural ingredients will help the body in some way, either by healing or building. Many spices fall in this category, such as turmeric, carom seeds and fenugreek seeds. Ghee is another prized ingredient, because it’s seen as cooling, and recommended over oil for cooking. Yellow mung lentils are prescribed for healthy living – a rice and lentil porridge, simply flavoured with cumin seeds and ghee is one of Ayurveda’s go-to dishes. It’s light, easy to digest and nourishing.”