Ayurvedic Food Combining
The link between Food Combinations and Healthy Digestion
Food has never before been such an expression of creativity! With social media shares, food photography, farm to table presentations and international chefs being able to influence meals worldwide we have a lot to choose from! Making meals look beautiful is indeed delightful, not only adding to the visual experience but actually stimulating salivation and supporting the kick start of our digestive fire. The question lies in examining the combinations. From an Ayurvedic perspective food should indeed look and taste lovely, the texts offer us further insight however to details on what to consume, how much to consume and what not to put together. Like a science experiment some things can mix together quite well while others create a reaction that we might not want happening inside our bodies.
The importance of proper food combining lies in the proper digestion of food. Digestion is the single most important long-term determinant of health. Good digestion assures that all of the vitamins and minerals that you take in through your food will be absorbed from the intestines into the blood. Poor digestion not only inhibits nutrient absorption it also leads to the formation of toxins in your digestive tract which then get absorbed and cause disease. Indigestion, gas, heartburn, constipation, and diarrhea are all signs of poor digestion.
Food combining comes last in overall importance as compared to the general food habits and choosing the proper foods. Ninety five percent of all digestive difficulties should respond to the proper food choices and the general food habits. However, stubborn digestive difficulty that does not respond to those practices will usually respond to proper food combining.
8 Factors to be Considered in Food Selection (from the Charak Samhita)
1. Nature of a Substance (Prakriti)
Considerations of the properties (gunas), land of cultivation and the season and time of harvest. This is most important for those with weak digestive strength or overall sensitivities to food.
2. Ritual (Sansara)
This includes the processing of food with considerations to how it was cleansed, heated, churned, stored, flavored, diluted and applied to meals. If we consider that each food has its own unique set of properties than the way we process the food can create various effects. An example of this can be found in takra. The more water we apply the lighter the takra gets and the easier it is to digest.
3. Food Combining (Samyoga)
This explains how certain substances can create a poisonous effect in the body.
- Do not combine meat and dairy
- Do not drink milk after pungent substances like radish, garlic or tulsi
- Do not combine sour fruits with dairy
4. Food Quantity
This depends on the state of the digestive fire (agni) and the properties of the food itself, but a general rule of thumb is to eat a moderate amount where you feel no longer hungry, have satiation but do not feel full. This is filling the stomach with 50% food, 25% liquid and leaving 25% air as processing space.
5. Habitat of Substances (Desha)
Considering the habitat in which food is grown should be considered in finding balance for an individual and in observation of the qualities of food. Taste, potency and post digestive effect can change depending on the region of the world food is grown in. This points out the importance of fresh, local seasonal meals being ideal for each of us as we are a product of our local environment so the food grown locally generally reflects the needs we may have to find balance. Watch our short slide presentation for more on types of habitat described in Ayurveda.
6. Time (Kala)
Food outlines should be designed to support the different phases of life with considerations of the doshic influence during our aging process. From birth- 30 years of age Kapha dominates, from 30-60 years Pitta dominates and from 60- end of life Vata dominates. This is useful in considerations of tendencies for food choices and tuning into deeper layers of balance. Time can also be considered during the day where ideally we consume lunch during high noon and dinner by 6:00pm.
7. Healthy Eating Guidelines or Rules of Consumption (Upayoga)
See our full recommendation for the Healthy Eating with tips on implementation.
8. Habitat and State of the Individual (Desha/ Prakriti/ Vikruti)
Similar to understanding the habitat and qualities of the food itself, determining what will bring about balance is based on the habitat a person resides in and their unique constitution or vitiated state they may be trying to balance.
Simple Tips to Remember
- Do not combine meat, fish, or eggs with milk, potatoes, nuts, or bread/rice/grain.
- Do not combine dairy products with sour or acidic fruit, meat or fish, or bread/rice/grain.
- Do not eat sweets or drink fruit juice with salty foods or high-protein food (meat, fish, nuts).
- Melons should be eaten alone
- Salads are cold and bitter. They tend to weaken digestion and so are best eaten at the end of the meal.
- Sweets should be limited in general, but if you eat them, do so before a meal or as a between-meals snack, not as a dessert. Sweets are always digested first (the kids love this). Therefore, if any other food is in your system, the body will stop digesting it in favor of the sweet. The undigested food will then putrefy.
- Drinking astringent teas during or before a meal will weaken digestion. This includes black tea and green tea, raspberry leaf and other astringent herbs.
- During times of digestive difficulty avoid hard to digest foods such as beans, raw onion, fried food, cabbage family plants, and heavy sweets.
The Main Point in Food Combinations
Ayurveda stresses that we should include all 6 tastes in our diet. Check out our full description of the Six Tastes of Ayurveda.
However the strength of our digestive fire is always important to consider as it should be stronger than the heaviness of the food itself. This is a good gauge to consider when planning a meal. When digestion is kicking and you feel hungry it is a better time to eat more complex meals than if you feel less hungry or are suffering from any digestive upset.
In the Ashtanga Hridayam it is stated that those you habitually engage in strong physical activity, have strong digestive agni, are of adult age can consume foods that are incompatible with less upset to the system. This signifies the importance of hunger, strength and the catabolic nature needed to combat foods with incompatible variations. Modern meals often showcase a variety of beautiful eye catching presentations and combinations, however it is important to consider how we we are digesting what we are intaking on a daily basis.
The Ayurvedic classics go on explaining to us what to do if we have been consuming unhealthy foods, drinks or activities. Satmikarana krama or the method of accustomization is recommended to gradually discontinue that which is unhealthy while gradually replacing it with choice options to support healthy digestion and balance within the body.
Looking for support? Join us for an Ayurvedic Consultation to uncover what may best support you and your constitution. If you are looking for further studies on the practices and knowledge of Ayurveda registration is open for our 500 Hour Professional Ayurveda Program with Dr Amruta Athale. Let us know your success stories with the knowledge of food combinations! We look forward to hearing from you!