Nutrition and Ayurveda
Author: Prof Y.K.Sharma, MD (Ay) Kayachikitsa, Ph.D, Former Dean/Principal, Rajiv Gandhi Govt. Post Graduate Ayurvedic College and Hospital-Paprola-Himachal Pradesh: Pin:176115. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nutrition also called nourishment or aliment is the provision to cells and organism of the materials necessary in form of food to support life. This is not only essential to sustain life but also to prevent common health problems and repair damaged tissue. Diet is food contents which we consume. It contains Macro and Micro nutrients. Nutrition is cumulative effect of digested, absorbed, and metabolized food. Human body contains chemical compounds such as Water, Carbohydrates, Amino acids, Fatty acids, Nucleic acids made of elements Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Magnesium etc. which are integral part of body structure and function. Medical science and nutritionists believe that nutrition to every individual can be provided by a balanced food.
It is true that human beings require different food quality and quantity depending upon their age group, physical status, nature of physical and mental activity and special status during a particular phase of life. Over the millennium humans have established a specific food plan for adequate nutrition depending upon their ethnicity, geographical distribution and availability of the consumable contents available with them. By and large these foods called staple food of the region have contents to fulfill the nutritional needs of the individuals concerned. In spite of this social and economic status of the individuals in particular and communities in general have tendencies of having over nutrition or under nutrition worldwide. Natural calamities, famines, wars, mass migrations, social conflicts, etc. have detrimental effect on the nutrition of a large section of society since ancient times. Illiteracy, high population, food restrictions due to cultural and religious beliefs too has affected the nutritional status of societies as well as individuals. High rate of sickness and food fads too are playing critical role in determining the nutritional status of individuals of specific age groups in society especially in developing countries.
Ayurveda has identified diet and nutrition as very integral components of very survival of human being and there for have very widely highlighted the importance of “Aahara” – Contents of food and “Agni” the process of digestion and absorption of food in body. While Aahar is recognized as “Upstamba” the very pillar of life the “Agni” is kept in the category of “Prana’ the factor which assure viability directly. Going through Ayurveda literature, one finds description of various classifications of edible products, methodology of intake of food, essential contents of food etc. It is specifically established that mere ingestion of food does not assure nutrition. The ideal processing of eaten food by Agni at different levels of digestions and assimilations is essential for optimum nutrition of Dhatus to assure Dhatu Sarata (healthy body tissues). Ayurveda gives credit to Aahara and Agni for nourishment of body and soul together and believes that it is optimum nutrition of body and mind which shall make one capable to follow the ideals of life i.e. Dharma, Aartha, Kama and Moksha the four fold aims of life.
Identifying various contents of food, ayurveda believes that there are multiple factors which determine the qualitative and quantitative parameters of food to achieve nutrition. These include Prakariti-constitution, Vaya- specific age group, Desha- physical structure of individual concerned as well as geographical zone, Kala- particular phase of life, Ritu-particular season and Agni- capacity of individual to digest and assimilate specific food. When all these factors are taken into consideration by individual only that is “Hitahaara” or Samahaara “Ideal food”. It is also interesting to observe that Ayurveda has given one classification of life span on the basis of the food desired to be eaten at the particular age i.e. Kheerap – new born baby to be fed on milk only, Kheerannada- Toddler whose diet should be predominantly milk with added solid food and Annada- grown up child onwards for whom solid food is essential for proper growth and nutrition.
Problems of over and under-nutrition are well described by our ancient texts. Description of Medoroga, Sathualya or Obesity and Krishita/ Shosha related to nutritional wasting are vividly described in ayurveda. It is clearly mentioned that Obesity is not only bad in appearance; it is root cause of various disease states especially “Prameha” –the metabolic disorders. Similarly Shosha or state of wasting is linked to infective disorders like Rajakshama-the tuberculosis. Not only this ayurveda has planned specific nutrition of sick and convulsing individuals in form of Pathya- what to eat and Apathaya- what not to be eaten by individuals having sickness or recovering from sickness. While unwholesome food contents and contaminated food contents are linked to causative factors of disease, the vitiated Agni is considered as single most important factor responsible for all types of diseases.
Further food and some nutritional contents of eaten food sometimes become the very foundation of some acute and chronic ailments. Ayurveda describes this phenomenon as Ama or mid metabolic toxic products generated by specific foods. The genesis of disease may be at the level of gut such as milk induced diarrheas which are linked to ‘Asatamaya” of individuals to milk. This phenomenon is well recognized today by medical science as lactase deficiency induced diarrhea. On the other hand diseases like Madhumeha (Diabetes mellitus) Vatarakta ( Hyperuricaemia) too have nutritional factors behind their genesis and control. The very concept of Ama genesis links Aahar (Food) with Agni (Metabolism) as an important factor behind genesis of various ailments, where correction at the level of Aahar or Agni – the nutritional factors is of prime importance along with drug therapy for management.
Deficiency of few minerals in a large section of society is another nutritional challenge these days. Iron deficiency related anemia and calcium deficiency related osteomalacia/osteoporosis is another problem. Ayurveda can provide a very natural replacement of these minerals. For iron deficiency the traditionally used “Loha and Mandoor” preparations can provide effective replacement of iron in body. Similarly natural organic calcium and phosphorous found in ayurvedic preparations like “Shanka, Kapardika and Praval Bhasams” can be used to fight calcium deficiencies effectively. Deficiency of other trace elements in body can also be compensated by use of natural ayurvedic preparations.
In modern science nutrition experts lay more stress on contents of food and consistency of their availability for prevention of nutrition related diseases. It is equally important to consider one’s life style, metabolic capacities, physical and mental engagements as well as financial status and health awareness of individuals a before any discussion on nutrition is engaged. Mere talking the ratio of Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, Vitamins, and Minerals in diet ideal for particular individuals shall not be justified. This need to be person oriented than generalized. Ayurveda have explained all the essential food ingredients essential for nutrition in classics. This includes Shookdhanya / Cereals – Rich in Carbohydrates, Shamidhanya / Pulses – Rich in Proteins, Mams / Meat – Rich in Proteins, Minerals, Fat, Shaak-varga / Green Leafy vegetables rich in roughage, anti-oxidants, Vitamins, Minerals, Electrolytes, Phal-varga / Fruits– Rich in Carbohydrates, Anti-oxidants, Vitamins, Minerals, Electrolytes, Harit-varga / Salads– Rich in Roughage, Vitamins, Minerals, Electrolytes, Madhya-varga / Fermented drinks – Rich in Carbohydrates, , Anti-oxidants , Ambu-varga / Water, Goras-varga / Milk and Milk products – Rich in Fat, Proteins, Carbohydrates , Ikshu-varga / Sugars– Carbohydrates, Kritan-varga /Preprocessed ready to eat food — like Pickles, Sauces, Sweets, Aaharyoni-varga /- like Salt, Pepper, Oil, Cinnamom Food adjuants , etc. Thus Ayurveda has clearly explained and believed that as far as nutritional contents of food for consumption is concerned it shall have to be understood beyond carbohydrates, proteins and fats by including other components of food which are as important for nutritional outcome of the food eaten as are the three primary contents.
It also needs to be understood that while Ayurveda fundamentally believes that for Dhatu Poshan or tissue nutrition of individual Aahar and Agni are important, the patency of Sarotas or body channels is equally important for transportation of nutritional fluid for growth and maintenance of the body. Above that it believes that there can be need based improvement of nutrition of body with the use of Rasayana and Vajikaranas by individuals. Similarly it believes that to maintain healthy body structure and physiology one should strictly follow the dietetic regimes of specific Ritucharya or seasons and also undergo desired seasonal purifications or Shodhans as described in Ayurveda.
In modern life style diet and nutritional status of people of all age groups and different geographical distribution and economic capacities is becoming causality. Food scarcity is being met by so far considered inedible food contents. Staple food is giving way to Junk and Fast Food . In pursuit of converting time into money, physical activity is being sacrificed. Stress is more on treating the diseases including the nutritional disorders than making people aware for adopting healthy lifestyle and food habits. Medical science has been by and large successful in control of infective diseases but a new challenge of epidemic of Non- Communicable Disorders has arrived. Needless to say unhealthy diet and nutrition is important factor behind this new phenomenon. Strategy to become health conscious through being diet conscious is the need of the hour to keep individuals and society nutritionally fit and healthy.