Let's Talk Lunch: Mealtime Tips from Maharishi Ayurveda

Ask an ayurvedic physician for advice on nutrition, and you will find that the focus of his talk is your lunch. Of course, his diet tips will largely be based on his assessment of your individual body type and current imbalances. But it is not just what you eat, but also how and when you eat it that matters. And there are some ayurvedic how-and-when rules that apply to everyone, regardless of physiology.

You don't need a fire extinguisher

Ice is, no doubt, cool. And when you're feeling hot or tired, or eating spicy food, a tall glass of iced water feels very, very nice indeed. But wait! Before you dip your lips into that glass, consider this: ayurveda, arguably the world's oldest system of healing (and also one of the most evergreen), does not recommend drinking iced water — especially before lunch.

The reason is simple. The coolness of ice, say The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians, literally douses the digestive fires burning bright inside your body. It's exactly like setting up a barbecue and then, inexplicably, turning it off even before grilling can begin! Just like the veggies on that grill cannot cook without fire, your lunch will sit heavy inside you for a long time if ice has dampened the metabolic energy required for good digestion. Therefore, whatever the weather, ask for your water without ice. In fact, try ordering warm water instead! Surprising, but true: slightly warm water, taken even during summer, will help you cope better with the heat! Think about this a moment, and it will make sense: warm water works like a broom, moving accumulated toxins faster through your system. This reduces bloating and heaviness, making you feel lighter and cooler.

Go one step further and add some spices to your drinking water. Cumin is especially beneficial, for it helps digestion. Roast a teaspoon of cumin seeds on a griddle. When they release their aroma, coarsely crush them with a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder. Stir into plain water, strain and enjoy.

But you do need a cooler

The ayurvedic drink of choice for the afternoon is lassi: diluted fresh yogurt spiked with a touch of spice or sweetened with honey. It takes just a minute to make, and tastes delightful. What's more, the friendly lactobacilli in lassi aid digestion, especially if you drink the spiced version. What, you might ask, is the advantage lassi has over plain yogurt? Being a diluted form of yogurt, lassi is not only lighter, but also boosts the toxin-elimination process, while yogurt can actually clog the channels of flow. Taken before or with lunch, lassi is goodness itself.

Here's how to churn up a glass of lassi:

Sweet Lassi

Salty Digestive Lassi

Follow the rhythm of fire

Lunch, says ayurveda, should always be your main meal. Noon is when both your energy levels and your appetite are — or at least should be, if your physiology is in balance — at peak. The energy that first kindles appetite and then digests food is called agni, the Sanskrit word for fire. Eat a light but nutritious breakfast and dinner. In the morning and evening, you are mildly hungry.

If you eat large portions at these times — regardless of whether the meal is healthy or not — you will be asking a dim agni to burn a heavy load, which is like expecting a candle to cook a casserole. After using up and burning whatever it can, the agni will leave undigested wastes to ferment in the body. The result: disturbed digestion, and interrupted flow of nutrients and wastes across your body channels. It's really that simple. Follow the rhythm of the fire within.

A word of caution: making lunch your heaviest meal certainly does not mean you overload your stomach. The rule of thumb, says ayurveda, is to eat up to three-quarters of your capacity at any given meal. So leave the table feeling not quite replete, and you will discover you have defeated forever the post-lunch slump that usually hits if you are too full.

Have lunch with a bunch of daisies

When was the last time you had flowers on your dining table? Surely, you might ask, what has that really got to do with eating well? Well, everything around you affects the way you feel: the color of your clothes, the temperature of the room, the words you hear, the scent of the air. So try to make your surroundings as harmonious as you can.

Buy fresh vegetables, and revel in the pleasing sight of green broccoli, white cauliflower and bright orange carrots. Grow organic fruits and vegetables in your backyard, and herbs on your kitchen windowsill. These small pleasures will go a long way in connecting you with your food, and through it, with nature and the universe itself, of which ayurveda believes you are an intimate part.

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.