Eating Right: Ayurvedic Food Combinations and Incompatible Food
By paying attention to what you eat and how you combine various foods, one can not only improve the overall quality of digestion in their body but also avoid various issues like food poisoning, bad stomach, gastritis, acidity and other GI related problems.
So how does it matter?
To many the idea of proper food combination is entirely a new concept but Ayurveda explains food combination as an essential part of one’s diet. Each food has a distinctive Rasa (Taste), Virya (potency), Vipaka (post digestion effect), Prabhava (inexplicable effect), and energy and when combined with each other it has a comparable effect on not only the digestive system but also on the entire body. Food with different dynamism when merged can devastate the digestive fire and may cause indigestion, vomiting, loose stools, bloating and formation of ama (toxins). Some long term usage of incompatible food may lead to long lasting disorders like dry skin, skin rashes, skin disease, loss of sleep, low energy level, etc.
For instance consuming banana with milk imbalances the agni (digestive fire) and leads to ama causing throat irritation, sinus congestion, cold, cough and even allergic reaction. Despite both banana and milk have sweet and cooling virya yet banana has a sour vipaka and milk is sweet after digestion. This difference in Vipaka causes confusion in the digestive fire and thus leads to an imbalance in the body. Take another example, Fish with milk is incompatible. Fish and milk both have a sweet rasa and vipaka but fish is Ushna virya (hot) and milk is sheet virya (cold). This change in potency makes the combination incompatible. If consumed it vitiates blood by blocking the channels and may cause skin related conditions like psoriasis, skin rashes or allergies.
All our senses play an important role in digestion. Seeing, smelling, touching, tasting and even thinking about food helps in generating proper signals for secretion of appropriate digestive enzymes. One has to understand that our glands respond to the foods consumed to the best of their ability. They infer the signals receive then supply the appropriate secretions they gather in order to preserve health and integrity of the individual. Due to continuous bombardment in the form of incompatible food combination a state of saturation is reached in our digestive system resulting in obliteration of the natural digestive mechanism in other words our metabolism is hampered thus leading to manifestation of disease or low energy.
As a beginner, it may be difficult to understand the concept of food incompatibility. The list below gives some commonly used incompatible food and the reason for their incompatibility:
- Eating fruits after a meal – Fruit contains simple sugars and require no digestion and hence they don’t stay for a long time in stomach. On the other hand foods, such as those rich in fats, proteins and starch, require a longer duration to get digested and thus stay for long in stomach for digestion. So eating fruits after a meal makes fruits stay longer resulting in fermentation of the fruit sugar. Always remember, if you eat slow-to-digest and fast-to-digest foods together, then faster-digesting food will have to wait for the slower one by fermenting and petrifying. Bloating, gastritis and the most common problems that we face when after this combination.
- Combining Milk with any other food is incompatible – Milk is a complete food by itself. Milk is different in its structure and has different kind of protein; it requires a full digestive power of its kind and hence never combines well with any other food. Milk gets digested in the duodenum and not in the stomach and hence when combined with other food, the stomach doesn’t respond with its secretion. Never combine milk with banana, cherry, melons, sour fruits, bread containing yeast, fish, kitchari, meat, yogurt, eggs. Fruit milkshakes are not recommended in Ayurveda. Even Yogurt combined with fruit, cheese, eggs, fish, hot drinks, meat and nightshades is not recommended.
- Honey and ghee in equal measures is a said to be poisonous. Ghee is cooling and honey is hot, in potency. When taken in equal quantity it causes aggravation of the vata dosha. In other words, honey is a complex poly-saccharide that requires special enzymes to break it down so that it could be used as simple sugars on the other hand ghee is a complex chain of fatty acid that requires emulsification along with action of lipase and lipid breaking enzymes. When these enzymes interact with each other in our digestive system it leads to indigestion and accumulation of free radicals. Ayurveda acharyas call this as formation of ama or toxins in the body. This leads to many life threatening diseases.
- Honey shouldn’t be heated alone or in combination – Heating honey or even just combining honey with any hot liquid causes negative chemical changes in it. Heating honey changes its molecules and makes it like glue. This when taken sticks to the mucosal lining of the GI tract and blocks the minute channels that produces the digestive enzymes. Ayurveda says there is no other worst poison than ingestion of heated honey. The ama that is formed leads to many diseases and allergies and acts like poison.
- Nightshade-Vegetable combination – Nightshades such as potato, tomatoes, chilly, eggplant, etc. doesn’t combine well with cucumber, melons, lemon and dairy products. Nightshades are difficult to digest by itself and when combined with vegetables like cucumber, it hampers digestion and affects the individual.
Well there are many more such combinations that are incompatible but Charaka Acharya has explained incompatibility in much simpler way as Viruddha Ahara that means contraindication of food.
- Desha Viruddha – Contradictory diet habits related to place. Example intake of dry, rough and strong diet such as very strong wine in desert leads to increase of vata and pitta as Deserts are hot and dry land. Similarly intake of oily and cold food in marshy land leads to increase in kapha dosha.
- Kala Viruddha – Kala means time/ season and one should always adjust his diet according to the change of climate. For instance intake of cold and dry substances in winter leads to kapha vata aggravation and causes throat irritation, cold, rhinitis, etc. Hence intake of warm and hot food will helps in winter.
- Agni Viruddha – Agni is digestive fire and contradictory of agni means not eating according to ones’ capacity. An individual should always respect his digestive fire if he consumes heavy to digest food when the power of agni is low/ intake of less food when his agni is strong both leads acidity, gastritis and other GI problems. Irregular food habits also falls in this category.
- Matra Viruddha – Dose specific diet contradiction – As mentioned earlier intake of honey and ghee in equal quantities.
- Satmya Viruddha – When you do something for long it becomes your habit and satmya means habit or nature. Contradiction to the same is for example when an individual who is habituated for eating pungent and hot substances and when he consumes sweet and cold substance he may feel uncomfortable in digestion or health.
- Dosha Viruddha – Use of diet, herbs and treatment similar in qualities to that of the predominant dosha present in a person is said to be contraindicated.
- Samskara Viruddha – Incompatible with respect to mode of preparation. Eg: Use of cooked or heated honey.
- Veerya Viruddha – Potency specific diet contradiction. Eg: Fish and milk
- Koshta Viruddha – Incompatibility with respect to alimentary canal.
- Administration of a mild purgative in a small dose for a person of with hard bowel (Krura Koshta) and administration of strong purgatives food for a person with soft bowel (Mrudu Koshta).
- Avastha Viruddha – Stage specific contradiction, for instance indulgence in Vata aggravating diet after physical stress, sexual intercourse, exercise. Intake of kapha aggravating diet by a lethargic and sleepy person.
- Krama Viruddha – Contradiction with reference to sequence, example intake of curd at night or consuming food without attending the natural urges.
- Parihara Viruddha – Contraindicated incompatibility – Intake of hot things after taking pork, drinking cold water after hot tea.
- Upachara Viruddha – Treatment specific contradiction, taking cold items after taking ghee.
- Paka Viruddha – Cooking contradiction is preparation of food with bad or rotten fuel, under-cooking, over-cooking or burning food during the process of preparation.
- Samyoga Viruddha – Combination incompatibility – Intake of sour substance, banana or fruits with milk.
- Hrudaya Viruddha – Incompatible with respect to palatability is consuming unpleasant food.
- Sampat Viruddha – Incompatible with respect to quality of food. Example: Intake of substances that are not mature, over-mature or purified.
- Vidhi Viruddha – Not following rules of eating is also said be incompatible:- Taking meals in public, talking and laughing while eating food, eating without concentration, etc.
Some helpful aids to improve digestion:
- Chew your food properly, let it mix well with saliva as the food gets well digested.
- Adding ghee to hot food stimulates your agni and improves digestion.
- Small sips of warm water between food helps in digestion and absorption of food but avoid drinking too much water or even avoid cold water.
- Eat ½ inch grated ginger with rock salt before meal to stimulate agni.
- While consuming food remember not to eat full stomach ideally one should fill stomach with 1/3rd food, 1/3rd liquid and rest 1/3rd should be empty for digestion.
Ayurveda does have treatment for disorders of incompatible food and diet habits. Detoxification or Panchakarma treatment such as Vamana and Virechana will help in expelling out the undigested food particles and the toxins from the body. This also helps in balancing the aggravated doshas. Once the toxins are removed specific treatment is adopted and good diet pattern can be followed.
Shifting from weak to healthy eating habit have to be gradual and not sudden. A good healthy diet restores lost energy and provides health and thus having knowledge of combining food and incompatible food can aid you with insights of healing and improving health.