The Ancient Comfort Foods, from Maharishi Ayurveda

The idea of comfort foods is an integral part of ayurveda. But in ayurveda, the comfort foods provide lasting comfort, beyond a quick sensory fix. Real comfort foods are nutritious, nurturing, wholesome and satisfying. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, they should also be intelligent, and balance the mind and body.

The list of typical Western comfort foods — mashed potatoes and gravy, ice-cream, donuts, and many others — won't comfort you very long; in fact, they may even cause discomfort in your digestion.

A central and recurring theme in Maharishi Ayurveda is this: ingest nature's intelligence with your food.

The foods you eat should be lively. That means they should be fresh, organic, home-cooked. This is food that retains its vital essence, the power to carry nature's intelligence to your brain and body. These foods are called triptighna in Sanskrit, which means they are satisfying and nourishing. Preserved, frozen, processed foods and leftovers, on the other hand, are foods that leave your body unsatisfied and craving for more. Since these junk foods are nearly void of intelligence, they cannot support the intelligence of the physiology. So, you end up eating more and craving for more without ever getting nourished or fulfilled. What's more, you can easily gain weight this way.

Cooked versus raw: the Maharishi Ayurveda view

It's important to preserve the intelligence of our ingredients, but it's also important to make them digestible. Cooking — adding heat to a food — inserts agni, digestive fire, into our food, helping us digest and assimilate it properly and fully. Certain food items, of course, such as grains, beans and dhals should always be eaten cooked. Most vegetables are also more beneficial lightly cooked. Some of them, according to ayurveda, such as spinach, chard, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, should never be eaten raw. Milk, as we mentioned in another article in this newsletter, is another item that can be hard to digest, so ayurveda recommends always boiling it with some cardamom, ginger and cinnamon. Make sure not to overcook or burn anything. Add some ghee or olive oil, water and spices to protect nature's intelligence. You don't have to cook everything and skip salads entirely. Juicy vegetables, such as cucumber and lettuces, can be refreshing for lunch in the summer, but stay away from them at night and in the winter since they can aggravate Vata. Also, if your digestive fire is weak, stay away from sprouts. Fruits are also good raw during the day. In the morning, a stewed apple is best to stimulate the digestive system.

End the Cravings

The most important thing to do to avoid feelings of false hunger and cravings is to increase the intelligence in your meals. Eat fresh, homemade meals, and avoid "junk" — processed, old foods. Eat a variety of foods with all six tastes. Make sure to eat sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent foods to satisfy the body. Cooked foods are also more nourishing than raw foods. Raw foods are harder to digest and can diminish agni. Remember, when agni is weak, the body creates ama (accumulated toxins), which clogs the channels and prevents the body from receiving nutrients from food. This hunger for more nutrition results in cravings. Ayurveda also encourages portion control. Eat enough but don't overeat. Your stomach should be two-thirds full after main meals.

Sweets for the heart

Emotional downs are the result of an imbalance in Sadhaka Pitta, the subdosha that governs the heart. The sweet taste pacifies Pitta, which explains our cravings for sweets. The next time you feel this way, try a piece of sweet, juicy fruit, soaked dates or raisins, rice pudding, Date Milk Shake or mango shakes before you reach for cookies or chocolate. Although these foods provide the sweet taste, they lack the intelligence to carry it to your brain, which won't register it and stop the craving. Maharishi Ayurveda Organic Rose Petal Spread is also a great Pitta-pacifying sweet. Healthy sweets deliver to the brain and heart what they need and leave you satisfied.

Foods to pacify worries

Worries and mental imbalance are the result of aggravated Vata dosha. To calm the mind, eat easy-to-digest, nourishing meals and use spices such as black pepper, cumin and coriander to open the channels of the brain. In addition to the above-mentioned sweets, walnuts, almonds and coconut milk are especially supportive for the mind. The Maharishi Ayurveda Worry Free tablets and Worry Free Tea are also helpful in enhancing the connection between the mind and the body.

Use spice-power

In addition to their delicious taste, spices greatly increase the intelligence of your meals. They also help with digestion and assimilation. To bring the most out of them, cook them with your food or sauté them in ghee and add them to your meals. For best assimilation of the benefits of therapeutic spices, eat them cooked, instead of sprinkling raw spices over foods. Ayurvedic spices such as turmeric, cumin, coriander, saffron, cinnamon and cardamom offer rich and varied aroma and flavor besides helping to balance different doshas and enhancing the metabolism. They can transform simple dishes into feasts for all your senses, providing fulfillment and contentment from meals.

Realizing that junk foods will not satisfy your body is the first step in beating the cravings. With a little attention you can switch to healthier options and receive more nutrition, which will decrease your desire for unintelligent snacks. A well-nourished body ends up craving more healthy food.

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.