It seems like everyone’s on a diet or about to go on one. There’s a new fad diet popping up every week endorsed by some celebrity or other, and for every new miracle reducing plan, there is an old one being discredited.
Think grapefruit, Atkins or cabbage soup. On the other hand, we have recently discovered a diet that has been going strong for more than 2,000 years. Actually, it’s more than a diet but rather a whole system for wellness, comprising diet, daily routines, yoga and meditation, breathing exercises and spirituality.
It is called Ayurveda, which means “the science of life" in Sanskrit. First described in the Vedas, the oldest written literature in the world, it is an ancient system of healing that focuses on the complete person, which includes the body, mind and spirit. Rather than focusing on specific symptoms or diseases, in Ayurveda, for wellness to occur, the mind, body and spirit must be in harmony in order to resist disease.
Our primary source of information on this complex topic is from Rob Talbert, M.S. and clinical Ayurvedic specialist practicing in Laguna Beach. This pleasant and centered man took the time to explain this very complicated system with a brief overview, fully understanding that our primary interest was in the food.
“People come to see me because they don’t trust regular doctors or they have been to see one and didn’t like what the doctor had to offer," he said.
However, Talbert emphasizes that Ayurveda is complimentary to traditional medical practice and does not replace medical diagnosis and treatment."
Talbert himself found his way to Ayurveda because he had an arrhythmia and severe allergies that Western medicine could not resolve. After three months of Ayurvedic treatment, all his symptoms disappeared. The dramatic results caused him to reexamine his life path and he left his job to become a student of the system that had changed his life.
He presented us with a diagram called “the pyramid of health" and the base, its largest segment, consists of food, food habits and herbs.
“How you eat is even more important that what you eat," Talbert said. “If we eat our food properly with awareness and respect, the food joins well with our bodies. If we do not, the food "¦ causes gas and other digestive disturbances. Eating is one of the most sacred experiences we have."
There are five major rules regarding how to eat. Briefly summarized, they are: preparing to eat by saying grace or taking a few deep breaths, eating slowly without distractions in a pleasant environment, not overeating and letting your food digest before starting another activity.
In addition to the rules, Talbert has some additional tips: The two most important are to eliminate cold drinks at meals "” in fact, drink very little with your meal "” and the other is to eat your big meal at lunch. We loved his idea that the energy of the cook is always in the food. “Eat food prepared with love."
Balance in one’s life is the key to Ayurvedic practice. Imbalance predisposes you to disease. As we gain an understanding of how to create balance according to our own individual constitution, we are able to make healthful choices.
According to this philosophy there are three constitutional types called the doshas.
They correlate to air, fire and water. Each is made up of two of these elements. Vata is space and air.
These people are thin with prominent joints, delicate, dry skin and dry voluminous hair. They tend to be quick and lively in thought, speech and action and make friends easily. They are light sleepers, gravitate toward warm environments and are characterized by creativity and enthusiasm.
The second dosha, Pitta, is fire and water. They tend to be of medium proportions, have warm skin and very fair or ruddy complexions with fine hair that tends toward premature graying or thinning. They are sharp and determined in thought and action. Self-confidence and an entrepreneurial spirit are their hallmarks.
Kapha is water and earth. These are people with larger proportions, thick smooth skin and rich, wavy hair who are stable and calm with sweet dispositions, and are easygoing and supportive in relationships.
Everyone is obviously a combination of doshas but the proportion varies in each individual. If your own optimal constitutional combination gets out of balance and you become symptomatic, dietary changes can help restore homeostasis.
The Ayurvedic system consists of six basic tastes.
Sweet: fruit, dairy products, grains, meat, nuts and sweeteners
Sour: vinegar, alcohol, cheese, citrus, tomatoes, yogurt and fermented foods
Salty: hard cheeses, seafood, olives, seaweed, miso, soy, salt
Pungent: spicy foods, chili peppers, ginger, garlic, horseradish, mustard
Bitter: coffee, unsweetened chocolate, leafy green vegetables
Astringent: tea, dry cereals, crackers, pasta, beans, mushrooms, pomegranate, cranberries, corn and cruciferous vegetables
The “sweet" category should comprise 80% of a healthy diet, and the rest should each be about 4%.
For example, if you experiencing symptoms of anxiety and insomnia you may have too much Vata. Vata balancing foods are sweet, sour and salty. Pitta balancing foods are sweet, bitter and astringent. Kapha balancing foods are pungent, bitter and astringent.
Talbert says that some foods and spices are good for every body: sweet berries, asparagus, green beans, okra, leeks, fennel, cilantro, basmati rice, sunflower and pumpkins seeds, cottage cheese, goat milk, soft cheeses, egg whites and seitan (wheat meat). Spices include: coriander seed, cumin, fennel, tumeric, spearmint and vanilla.
For those interested in health and harmony and learning how to balance the body, mind and spirit, Talbert is offering a seasonal seminar call Ayurvedic rhythms from 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 22 at his home. The cost is $35. Contact him at (949) 497-3134 or email@example.com.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ owned A La Carte for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org