Using Ayurvedic principles of Healthy Eating

Flavors of Health Online recently spoke with Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf, Medical Director of the Raj in Fairfield, Iowa, and co-author of A Woman's Best Medicine, about the general dietary habits of Americans today and ways to incorporate ayurvedic principles of healthy eating into one's daily dietary schedule.

Dr. Lonsdorf: Ayurveda considers lunch to be the most important meal of the day. Lunch is better called dinner. In our American culture, when we were more of an agrarian or rural culture, we had the main meal at noon. And that was called dinner. And there was a lighter meal in the evening called supper. This schedule is actually more in tune with nature and the natural rhythms of digestion in the body.

The main meal should be at noon, which means we should eat a full meal -- cooked food, a warm meal-sitting down in a relaxed environment around noon.

FOH Online: What would the ideal ayurvedic lunch include?

Dr. Lonsdorf: It should have some vegetables, some grains, and some higher-protein foods like legumes, lentils, chickpeas, tofu or paneer, which is a type of fresh cheese. Persons who are non-vegetarian should eat their chicken or fish or other meats at lunch only. Pure water is the best beverage with the meal, and it should preferably be at room temperature or warm, not ice-cold. Ice water cools down digestion and turns off enzymatic activity, which is temperature dependent and works best at body temperature, around 99 degrees.

Ayurveda also suggests that we should have lassi, which is a yogurt drink, at lunchtime -- it supplies good bacteria and extra help for digestion.

FOH Online: What about spices?

Dr. Lonsdorf: Spices are crucial to the ayurvedic diet, and unfortunately the typical American diet does not contain enough spices as a rule. Turmeric, for example, is a potent antioxidant, known to contain anti-cancer properties, and is good for detoxification of the body. It's an incredibly powerful spice. It works best if you sauté it in a little oil or ghee or you add a little bit to soups or stews. It has water-soluble and fat-soluble components like most spices.

So you should have a little bit of this spice sautéed in some olive oil or ghee in your dishes at lunch and you should have a little bit in a soup or water-based sauce poured over cooked vegetables or other foods.

FOH Online: We see some individual herbs and spices being offered in capsule form-what is your opinion on that?

Dr. Lonsdorf: Spices are really best eaten as food rather than in a capsule. Today, many people are taking capsules of turmeric or ginger or garlic in hopes of gaining their beneficial effects. However, that can sometimes be quite harmful actually because they're too concentrated. Powdered turmeric, by itself, for example, can be very hard on the liver, creating a "heating" or irritating effect that can worsen Pitta related problems.

You should sprinkle spices on your food, cook them in ghee or oils, or add them to your soups or your lentils, etc., while they are cooking.

FOH Online: Tell us a little bit about how eating properly can help health and well-being.

Dr. Lonsdorf: Just having the main meal at noon -- a very balanced meal that includes spices and lassi -- would go a long way towards counteracting the damage caused by the stress and wear and tear on the body from day-to-day life. Digestion would improve dramatically. This would help people get rid of a lot of problems associated with ama-constipation, gas, bloating, and heartburn.

Good eating habits that aid digestion will also help people sleep better at night because then they are not eating heavy at night, which disturbs sleep and often will wake people up at 2-3 in the morning.

FOH Online: What about energy levels?

Dr. Lonsdorf: If you eat a balanced diet, at the proper times each day, and are able to get a good night's sleep each night, you have the basis for a stable, balanced physiology and your mind and body will function at optimum levels. If you digest your food properly, your body can use the nutrients to build the different types of body tissue and replace worn cells and tissues quickly.

When ama is not building up in the body, energy levels are high -- you don't experience post-lunch fatigue or early-morning lethargy.

FOH Online: Food, indeed, is powerful medicine. Thank you, Dr. Lonsdorf, for speaking with us today on this important issue.

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