Eat Local, Eat Seasonal, Eat Healthy
According to the ancient science of Maharishi Ayurveda, local foods are simply more healthy. In fact, they can actually build your immunity. Here are six ayurvedic reasons to incorporate more local, seasonal foods into your diet.
Aids digestion and immunity
If you eat asparagus that is just picked from your garden or from your local farmer's asparagus patch, you are eating food that is exceptionally fresh. This is easier to digest — it contains more prana or "life force." In fact, the older the food, the less prana and the more strain it places on your digestion.
"We are able to get food from all over the world these days, and often imported food is canned, frozen or packaged," notes Sankari Wegman, the ayurvedic expert at The Raj, a Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center and spa. "Eating old food, or food that is left over, canned, frozen or packaged, can make your digestion sluggish. It often creates ama, the sticky by-product of incomplete digestion."
Ama blocks the tiny passages that channel nutrition to the body's cells — and stops up other passages that carry waste away. When the cells are deprived of nutrition or are flooded with toxic waste, this affects immunity. In fact, according to Maharishi Ayurveda, good digestion equals good immunity.
"It's always wise to eat the freshest food available, which is locally-grown food," says Sankari.
Helps prevent allergies
Beyond improving digestive strength, centering your diet on foods grown in the soil and climate where you live can actually help prevent allergies and other problems.
"Eating too many foods grown in completely different climates around the world can disrupt digestion and cause constipation or even food allergies," says Sankari.
Balances the doshas (mind-body operators)
When you eat locally-grown food, you are actually eating in-season foods. The vegetables and fruits that are ripe in spring are not the same vegetables and fruits that are ripe in the fall.
Eating according to the seasons is a central tenet of Maharishi Ayurveda.
"Being in tune with the seasons and eating local foods can help balance your mind and body," says Sankari. "If you have accumulated too much of one dosha during a particular season, you can bring your body back into balance by eating the local foods of the season."
During the spring Kapha Season, for example, you may accumulate too much of the heavy, dull, sluggish Kapha dosha. The antidote is to eat lighter foods, with more bitter, astringent or pungent tastes.
"Spring greens, which are bitter and light, are perfect for bringing your body back into balance during Kapha Season," she says.
In the same way, during the hot, humid summer months, known as "Pitta season" in Maharishi Ayurveda, you might accumulate too much heat in your body. Eating sweet, cooling foods that ripen during summer, such as melons and summer squashes, brings a cooling and balancing effect.
Strengthens your connection to the cycles of nature
There's a great value in living in tune with the cycles of nature, eating what's in tune with the seasons, and harvesting food in season.
"We are intimately connected with the environment around us," says Sankari. "According to the ayurvedic texts, when we eat foods grown on the soil of our area, it strengthens our connection to the land, to the local laws of nature. It makes us stronger — in our immunity, our digestion and our ability to fight infection."
Sankari also notes that when you are eating what is available locally, you add more variety to your diet. "It's actually kind of exciting, as it gives us freshness at every cycle. Everything changes with every new season."
Supplies More Nutrition
According to Maharishi Ayurveda, food should be picked when it is ripe and eaten soon afterwards. Picking at peak ripeness not only enhances flavor, but it also ensures peak nutritional value. When food is shipped across the country or the world, it has to be picked green in order to avoid bruising and to avoid becoming over-ripe in the weeks it takes to reach the shelves. Only local fruits and vegetables can be picked when ripe and still reach the consumer in time.
Ensures Food Safety
When you buy food from a farmer face-to-face, you can ask questions and choose not to buy food grown with chemical fertilizers, pesticides or the use of genetically modified seeds. You can feel safer that organic food really is organic. When food is shipped across the globe, it's not always clear what the "organic" label means and whether it has been strictly enforced.
Also, many pesticides (such as DDT) that have been banned in the U.S. are unfortunately still exported to Mexico, South America, and other countries, so the food you buy at the market could actually contain high levels of DDT. And health experts agree that buying locally is the best way to avoid food safety issues, such as salmonella poisoning, that have recently occurred in commercial food products and are difficult to trace to their origin.
Going Beyond Local and Organic: A Vision of the Future
Now there is a way to grow food that is even more health-giving than ordinary organic local food. According to the ancient knowledge of Maharishi Vedic Organic Agriculture (MVOA), an aspect of the Vedic tradition of knowledge, seeds are planted according to cycles of the sun, moon and stars to support healthy growth. Traditional Vedic melodies are played to the plants, ensuring the full development of the crops at every stage from seed to flowering. Because the inner intelligence of the plants is enlivened while they are growing, the crops in turn awaken the intelligence of nature within the person who eats them.
For more information, see www.mvoai.org.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.