Why Calorie Counting Doesn’t Make Sense in Ayurveda
It’s so attractive to think that consuming of a certain amount of calories per day could keep us fit and healthy. Unfortunately this mechanical approach is wrong. It is based on the assumption that everything we ingest is nourishing us. In reality that is usually not the case. We only absorb some of what we ingest. This percentage varies greatly according to many factors.
Ayurveda points out several reasons why the calorie approach doesn’t work, especially in the long term.
- First of all, the main concern is not WHAT we eat but how strong is our power to digest what we consumed. What use is something, if our body lacks the ability to get nutrition from it? That’s why Ayurveda stresses the need to keep our agni (digestive fire) strong by choosing foods according to our metabolic constitution (dosha), the season of the year and our current condition (vikruti). Seasonal purification of the body to get rid of excessive doshas and ama (toxins) are also recommended. This practice is called Pancha karma (The five actions).
- The capacity to digest involves not only the gastrointestinal tract but all the bodily functions: the nervous system, the hormone system, blood circulation, proper respiration for the oxidation, proper elimination, etc. The system that creates most digestive problems is the nervous system, which is controlled by Vata. Being positive in general and eating in a quiet, friendly atmosphere will calm down Vata and promote proper digestion. Eating while in a bad mood, discussing unpleasant topics, or watching violent or stressful TV programs during the meal – all of these actions turn the food poisonous (See A-dic diet and eating habits).
- The combination of food is very important as well. Even healthy foods can turn unhealthy when poorly combined. Melons, for example, are not compatible with most foods and should be eaten separately from meals. An especially bad combination is melons and dairy products, eggs, fried food, or grains (See: Incompatible food combinations).
- The order in which we eat foods greatly impacts our health as well. If we begin by eating an item that takes a long time to be digested and then follow with one that is easy to digest, the first item will block the path of the other foods. So all foods that are ingested later will ferment and putrefy. Red meats take the longest to pass through the digestive system – 36 – 72 hours (if your diet is mainly based on plants the time will be shorter, if you are on mostly animal protein diet it can last up to 72 hours). Fish and poultry require 24 – 48 hours; dairy 24 – 36; beans 20 – 30; nuts and seeds 20 – 26; grains 18 – 24; root vegetables 18 – 24; leafy vegetables 12 – 18; and fruits 6 – 18. Eating light food first will aid the metabolism. Lighter food is not necessarily better because the body needs to have some food in to support proper absorption of nutrients. It is not recommended to eat foods that digest more than twenty four hours.
- Remember that the quality of food greatly depends on whether it is fresh and organic or not. It is wrong to assume that a frozen or canned apple has the same nutritive properties as a fresh, organic one. Fresh or freshly cooked foods provide us with prana (life force), while processed food causes the state of sluggishness, dullness, and heaviness in the body and mind.
TODAY’S TIP: Obviously, the art of eating healthy requires more creativity than just calorie counting. The reward though is as high as health, happiness, and harmony.