Ayurveda: Another form of Mental and Physical Awareness

Ayurveda is a common practice within South Asians communities, emphasizing a holistic approach to life

According to an article by the National Library of Medicine titled “Ayurveda: a historical perspective of the traditional healthcare system in India”, Ayurveda is one of the world’s earliest holistic medicines, dating back to more than 5,000 years of practice. Originating in India and Nepal, this form of medicine is designed to help address the root cause of many diseases. Ayurveda is based on the philosophy that any disease is caused by an underlying imbalance in a person’s body, and that natural remedies bring the body back to a balance.

The Ayurvedic diet incorporates specific spices, legumes, lentils, vegetables, roots, fruits, and nuts to maintain the balance in the body. When certain combinations of ingredients are made, the ingredients release nutrients that work to maintain a balance in the body. 

Spices such as cumin and peppercorn are incorporated in many Ayurvedic recipes to aid in digestion and immunity boosting. “Spices” by AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Academic Counselor Jill Buensuceso recalls her mom including Ayurvedic ingredients such as legumes, lentils, and cinnamon in meals. According to an article titled “Learning about Lentils in a Delicious Ayurvedic Diet” by Ayurclinic, an Ayurvedic clinic based in Australia, lentils are a source of energy that lowers cholesterol levels. Additionally, Buensuceso’s mom would include cinnamon in oatmeals- according to NetMeds, an online pharmacy based in India, cinnamon is a spice containing digestive and anti-inflammatory properties and has been incorporated in meals to aid digestion. 

Buensuceso acknowledges that she does not always follow this diet in comparison to her partner, who has a strict regime. He prepares a bowl where he includes barley, cinnamon, rye, oats, quinoa, and fenugreek-a herb with digestive properties and soothes inflammation of the digestive tract, according to the “Encyclopedia Britannica”. Additionally, he follows numerous medical podcasts and nutritional shows that explain the science behind certain food combinations. Having conversations with her partner has allowed her to understand the reason certain foods are paired together.  

“There is a specific chemical in cruciferous vegetables that gets balanced out with mustard, and this secretes a whole different chemical that aids in digestion,” Buensuceso said.

The chemical secreted is sulforaphane, which, according to an article by the medical publisher Healthline titled “Sulforaphane: Benefits, Side Effects, and Food Sources”, contains anticancer and antidiabetic effects, as well as promotes brain health, supports cardiovascular health, as well as aids in digestion and protection from UV rays. Sulforaphane is found in cruciferous vegetables such as bok choy, cabbage, and kale. 

Additionally, this diet encourages mindfulness and self awareness by minimizing distractions around mealtimes to focus on meals, as discovered by studies conducted by scientists and psychologists in 2014 and 2018,  publishing their findings in the National Library of Medicine in an article titled Mindful Eating: Connecting with the Wise Self, the Spiritual Self

Buensuceso acknowledges the various benefits mindfulness and self awareness following Ayurvedic diets has had on her. 

“When we can be fully present to the best of our abilities, then we can also bring to that moment our best selves.” Buensuceso said.

Mindful eating and being in the present reduces depression, stress, binge-eating, urges to get a midnight snack and weight loss. In another study conducted by the Complementary Therapies in Medicine in 2010, practicing mindful eating resulted in increased cognitive restraint and performance, and reduced symptoms of depression, stress, and negative thoughts, alleviating psychological distresses. 

Freshman Anish Raj follows an Ayurvedic diet two to three times a day, and enjoys the efficiency and ability to cater it to his own needs.  

“The dishes themselves contain different parts like proteins and carbs – they’re very balanced within themselves, so what that’s able to do is you don’t need to have multiple dishes for protein or carbs when it can just be combined in one dish,” Raj said.

Furthermore, he mentioned that the South Indian dish sambar, a lentil soup that is typically eaten with rice, contains many Ayurveda-friendly ingredients that has helped him maintain good health.

“Sambar contains turmeric, lots of vegetables, carbs from the rice or idli (steamed rice cake) and proteins from the lentils,” Raj said. “In one dish, you’re able to get all the benefits in the right proportions for daily consumption, leading to a balanced diet.” 

Raj stated that combining Ayurvedic spices and ingredients to create medicinal recipes have helped him cure discomforts like stomach pain or bloating, or illnesses in the winter and spring like colds or sore throats. 

“Before going to other forms of medicine, I always go back to Ayurveda to see if I can alleviate any of the discomfort on Ayurveda alone,” Raj said.

Some examples that Raj mentioned was cumin water which reduces inflammation and aids in digestion and weight loss after a hearty meal, and drinking turmeric milk to soothe an irritated throat during the flu and allergy season. 

Food pairing and meal structure in many of the meals Raj consumes have roots in Ayurveda. Typically, he includes curried vegetables such as okra, carrots, and beans, lentils in the form of dal or sambar over rice, and finishes off with a dollop of yogurt. In doing so, he gets a daily dose of fats from the yogurt, protein from the dal, carbohydrates from the rice, and numerous other benefits from the multitude of vegetables, all while not tasting bland.  

“It’s giving you all those benefits but it’s also actually tasting good, so you don’t get bored of eating it every day” Raj said. “Typically when eating “tasty” food, you feel guilty because it may not be the healthiest of choice, but with Ayurvedic recipes, you get the health benefits while tasting very nice, and you never feel guilty for eating. It has a positive impact on your mental health as well.”

Raj, a lover of spice, pairs his spicy meals with something that can balance out the heat.

“Eating spicy foods tastes great but can have negative effects on your stomach and you need something to cool it down, so I include a cup of yogurt on the side to cool it down”, Raj said.

When Raj travels and is away from home where Ayurvedic meals are not available, he notices that he tends to have a greater desire to go back to eating Ayurvedic meals. 

“When eating food outside your home, they tend to have processed and chemical ingredients leaving you hungry and causing you to feel bloated,” Raj said, “But when you’re going back home, you feel your stomach is much lighter but you feel satiated.”

Raj, who did a research project on the science behind food in seventh grade science, said that the research project made him more connected to his roots and made him more health conscious. 

“After that project, it made me truly appreciate the rich culture that has been brought to me by my parents”, Raj said, “and the way my ancestors were able to carefully craft meals so we would stay healthy and not dread mealtime.”