The Maharishi Ayurveda Approach to a Light Diet

According to ayurveda, it is important to know how to eat properly when the digestive fire, or agni, is low. A lighter diet is recommended when one has a fever, flu, cold or diarrhea, when one is recuperating from an illness, and during panchakarma — the ayurvedic rejuvenation program. Women should eat a lighter diet during menstruation and menopause. Children often need light yet nutritious diets. If you are under the care of a physician, or before making changes to your existing diet, it is recommended that you check with your physician.

During those periods when internal systems are functioning at less than optimal levels, agni, the fire of digestion, becomes weak and one has to gradually increase the strength of the digestive fire to regain energy and health. Neither a heavy diet nor fasting is recommended during these times. When the digestive fires are low, consuming heavy foods and meals can overtax the digestion. Any existing imbalance in body and mind is then further aggravated by the accumulation of ama — toxic residue from undigested food.

A light diet consists of food that quickly tranforms into rasa, or bodily tissue, creating new healthy cells. These foods are lighter and therefore digest quickly and easily. The single most important food in the light diet from the ayurvedic perspective is split mung dahl. Split mung beans may be purchased in an Asian grocery store. They are green mung beans that have been split and skinned. They cook quickly and balance all three doshas. Kichari, a nutritious combination of rice, mung beans, vegetables, spices and ghee, is an excellent one-dish meal for people on lighter diets.

If one is ill and has little or no appetite, then a special warm drink called Kanji water may be made from either split mung beans or organic brown rice. One to two liters of warm Kanji water can be drunk through the day in between light meals. Kanji water delivers instant nutrition to the body. It provides carbohydrates, giving the body energy, and helps build more strength in the body in general. Kanji water is an excellent source of energy whenever the body is dehydrated or depleted from an illness. If you are trying to lose weight, it is also good as a satisfying snack during the day. Kanji water balances Vata because it is warm; it balances Pitta due to its liquid and watery texture; and it balances Kapha because it produces perspiration which releases toxins through the skin. It therefore balances all three doshas and brings agni into balance.

How to make Kanji water

A light diet for breakfast may consist of stewed apples and pears or hot cereal. Lunch may consist of soupy split mung dahl, basmati rice, couscous or quinoa, two types of vegetables sauteed in ghee and spices, flat bread such as chapati, and a yogurt drink called lassi. Dinner is lighter, such as Kichari; vegetable barley soup; or hot cereal such as cream of wheat. When on a light diet, one may eat more frequently, since a light meal should take only about 3½ hours to digest.

Foods to favor: mung dahl, aduki beans, basmati rice, couscous, barley, quinoa, tofu, cooked vegetables with ghee, and spices such as turmeric, cumin, ginger, fennel, black pepper and coriander, hot milk with ginger, stewed fruit, fruit and fresh vegetable juices, ripe sweet fruit, chapati, lassi, dates, and ghee and olive oil.

Heavy foods to avoid or reduce: hard cheeses, eggs, fish, meat, chicken. If meat is on your diet, then ayurveda recommends having it during the daytime in the form of soup that has cooked for a long period of time. Also avoid peanut butter, sprouts, raw vegetables, bananas, cold milk, yogurt (lassi is okay), and cold foods and drinks.

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.