Modern nutrition and a thriving diet culture has reduced our understanding of food and nourishment to measurements of calories, carbs, fat, or specific ingredients or components of food. This mentality often leads us to limit some aspect of our diet with the hope of feeling energized and reaching/maintaining a healthy weight. Many of the fad diets are restriction-based and suggest that we will finally feel fit and healthy if we simply remove an ingredient or macronutrient from our diets. The problem is that most restriction-based diets don’t work and nutrition fads seem to change each year. And, most importantly, we miss out on what Wendell Berry refers to as “the pleasure of eating.”
A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes. The pleasure of eating, then, may be the best available standard of our health. And this pleasure, I think, is pretty fully available to the urban consumer who will make the necessary effort.
We have many incredible leaders in health and nutrition who are responding to fad diets by offering a balanced perspective, recommending farm-fresh, organic food and healthy portion sizes. But even a healthy, balanced approach in the West focuses on macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs, vitamins, minerals, water) and often overemphasizes the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals found in different foods or supplements).
While understanding the basics of nutrition can support a healthy approach to nutrition, ancient cuisine and Aurvedic nutrition helps us to go deeper.
International food cultures remind us fast-paced, “eat lunch at the desk” Americans to slow down, cook, enjoy mealtimes in community, and to relish in the experience of eating. These long-lasting cuisines assume that we will be cooking from raw ingredients opposed to packaged foods, because they emerged before the industrial revolution, which made processed foods readily available. For thousands of years, the only option was fresh and local produce, wild-caught fish/poultry, grass-fed meat, and whole grains. Modern science backs up ancient wisdom, with many well-credentialed dietitians and physicians recommending that we simply slow down and chew our food! Not to mention, it is far more enjoyable to actually taste the flavors in one bite — to savor them in fact — before jumping ahead to the next.
Ayurvedic nutrition takes a slightly different angle on the pleasure of eating by suggesting that food is medicine. Ayurvedic nutrition suggests that the flavors (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, astringent) and qualities (heavy, moist, cooling, hot, light, dry) of the food and drink we consume provide us with all of the information we need to maintain balance in our bodies. This article from Eat Taste Heal covers the flavors and qualities of food from an Ayurvedic perspective: The Six Tastes: Our Guidemap to Optimal Nutrition.
As I mentioned in my recent article, Four Ayurvedic Practices to Boost Your Immune System This Fall, Ayurvedic nutrition also encourages us to see vegetables as vehicles for healing herbs. Although fresh produce boasts a long list of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber that supports health and vitality, adding healing spices such as turmeric or ginger provides the additional wellness boost by reducing inflammation, optimizing brain function, and preventing/treating cancer.
Often the pleasure of eating can originate in the pleasure of creating — putting together ingredients that balance flavor, color and texture, for a mosaic of nutritional delight. If you haven’t already included these superfoods in your culinary palette, the excerpts below might inspire you.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a culinary spice that spans cultures – it is a major ingredient in Indian curries, and makes American mustard yellow. But evidence is accumulating that this brightly colored relative of ginger is a promising disease-preventive agent as well, probably due largely to its anti-inflammatory action.
One of the most comprehensive summaries of turmeric benefits studies to date was published by the respected ethnobotanist James A. Duke, Phd., in the October, 2007 issue of Alternative & Complementary Therapies, and summarized in the July, 2008, issue of the American Botanical Council publication HerbClip.
Reviewing some 700 studies, Duke concluded that turmeric appears to outperform many pharmaceuticals in its effects against several chronic, debilitating diseases, and does so with virtually no adverse side effects.
Selection taken from Dr. Weil’s article on the super-spice turmeric: Three Reasons to Eat Turmeric.
As the world’s most widely cultivated spice, ginger may also be the world’s most versatile, evidence-based natural health remedy. Numerous studies have been conducted on the medicinal benefits of this wonder spice for over 100 health conditions. It has a long history of use, and as a testimony to its numerous benefits, it remains a component of more than 50% of all traditional herbal remedies.
In India, Ayurvedic texts consider ginger to be one of the most important herbs available, to the extent of describing it as an entire medicine chest in itself. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe ginger as a powerful digestive aid since it fuels digestive fire, whets the appetite, and clears the body’s micro-circulatory channels. This helps to improve the assimilation and transportation of nutrients to targeted body tissues. Ginger is also used in Ayurveda as a remedy for joint pain, nausea and motion sickness.
With such staggering benefits, it’s no wonder the spice has been a staple in kitchens and medicine cabinets for over five thousand years. Moreover, it continues to prove to be an effective natural remedy for many modern diseases.
Selection taken from www.ishafoundation.org. Check out the full article on the health benefits of ginger: 10 Health Benefits of Ginger Root: The Wonder Spice.