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Ayurveda - Breaking the Rules Without Breaking the Principles

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Time to stop eating raw food?

“Ayurveda favors minimal intake of raw food, like raw vegetables or uncooked oats.
Salads and Fruit should be eaten seasonally”

Early in my career, I got into a debate with an audience member at an event where I was a featured speaker. This person was unhappy when I shared the principle on raw foods, as they viewed raw food as an integral part of their health-conscious diet. They insisted that cooking food causes it to lose nutrients. And while it is true that water-soluble nutrients (vitamin C and the B vitamins, like folate) can leach out of vegetables cooked in water, there are many ways to cook vegetables that preserve these vitamins. 

At its core, Ayurveda prioritizes digestion over all other factors. Raw food asks your digestion to do the hard part of breaking food down. Cooked food is already partially broken down, making it easier to process. In her essay Being Human: Biological Anthropological Views on Food and Diet, anthropologist Abby Smith shares how the discovery of fire (and, therefore, cooking) played a huge role in the evolution of the human diet. In short, cooked food requires less energy to digest, so the body is able to use the glucose acquired from food more efficiently. 

Ayurveda does not specifically prohibit the consumption of raw vegetables, especially if you have a strong digestion. The body needs different types of fiber, and raw vegetables can help move the bowels and promote healthy digestion. I suggest learning what foods are grown in your area and embracing whole foods based on their seasonality (time and place). In the late spring and summer, watery vegetables like tender greens, arugula, snap peas, and radishes are abundant. These vegetables are typically enjoyed raw, and this is the time of the year when the body can break them down. Smoothies are also fantastic when farmers market stalls are filled to the brim with ripe fruit. However, in the middle of winter, cooling foods perpetuate coldness in the body. If you do not have a strong enough digestion, you will only digest some of the nutrients from raw foods at this time. 

My grandmother would often say that nature only provides us with a food that was intended to be eaten. So this time of year, please consider the following:

1. Ditch the smoothies. Cold drinks can douse the naturally burning fire in the digestion. It can also perpetuate coldness in the body and push heat deeper into the tissues resulting in systemic inflammation

2. Stop eating Salads. Unless you live in a climate where this is a prolific growing season, salads are not suitable for the upcoming cold weather. Ayurveda encourages eating warm, cooked foods with healthy fats during the Vata season.

3. Only eat seasonal fruit. This obviously depends on where you live but as a general rule, berries, apples, pears, pomegranates and citric fruit grow in colder climates.

I encourage you to eat intuitively — warm foods in cold times and cooling foods when it is hot outside. You can still eat hot or spicy foods in the summer, and there are plenty of options that stimulate the digestion during the hottest time of the year, including nightshade vegetables (tomatoes and chile peppers) and naturally spicy foods like mustard greens.  The easiest way to know what to eat is to defer to nature. When a given food is growing, this is nature’s way of telling us that our bodies need that food during this season.

It sounds complicated, but once you start paying attention to the foods that grow in your area and what your body desires, you will find a place where the two meet. It will become clear what you need and what is best for you. 

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