Updated: Dec 16, 2020
In the last three decades, the number of diets that have come into vogue (repeatedly) has been mind-boggling. It's no wonder we're confused when it comes to our food.
My studies of Ayurveda are introducing me to tastes I never recognised before and combinations I never thought much about. As I munched my way through a yummy 6-tastes veggie dish, my partner rolled his eyes and unhelpfully pointed out that Ayurveda is one of many different perspectives. He's not wrong and that begs the question - who is right?
At any given time, I believe the right diet is the one that leaves you feeling satisfied, healthy, and happy, with all the energy you need to do the things you want to do.
Ayurveda's multi-faceted approach to food considers dietary needs from an individual perspective, whereas our western nutritional advice is rather limited, considering a narrower set of factors that ignore individual differences. Is it any wonder there's so many supplements available to help us with our 'digestion'?
According to Yoga Veda Institute, "every food has its own taste which we call Rasa, a heating or cooling energy which we call Virya, and post-digestive effect which we call as Vipaka. Also, some substances may possess Prabhava meaning unexplainable special effects.
When two or more foods having the same or different tastes (rasa), energy (virya) and post-digestive effects (vipaka) are combined wrongly, the fire in the stomach can become overburdened, disturbing the process of digestion which results in the production of Ama (improperly digested food particles or toxic substances)."
In short - combining the wrong foods according to your own digestive capabilities leads to toxic build-up.
If you've been following my explorations so far you'll know that it all starts with your Ayurvedic Constitution and your Doshas and there are plenty of food lists to help you work out which foods work for which Dosha, but today we're going to take the helicopter up a level and explore a common food combination and why it doesn't work. This comes with a warning, though - it may just ruin your breakfast...
Fruit & Milk
I've read a lot of reports and Ayurvedic websites, which state that fruits should be eaten alone and that they shouldn't be combined with other foods. The most common example is Milk and Bananas, but very few go into enough detail to help you understand why.
Through this relatively common breakfast combination, we can gain a deeper insight into why we might choose to take a deeper exploration into the causes of our indigestion, rather than reaching for the antacids after the fact.
Bananas and Milk are both classified as 'sweet' according to their taste (rasa) which is a good start for compatibility.
Elementally they are both earth and water which means that they pacify Vata and Pitta but aggravate Kapha dosha, and I think we can agree that they are cool, oily, dull and heavy. So far so good.
It's when we start to explore the energy potential (virya) and the digestive effect (vipaka) that the differences start to arise. According to Joyful Belly, "Virya comes from the same base words as virile, meaning it is the "power" of the food. Food either heats up your metabolism, or cools it down, an effect you can notice if you pay attention. Virya also describes how food affects your digestive fire (agni). Does it rev up your digestion or cool it? Virya especially affects the stomach and small intestine."
In the case of our Milk and Banana, the fact they are both sweet means that they are also both cooling as shown by this table from Vibrational Ayurveda:
I also discovered that as ripe banana begins to break down it turns sour and Soul Guru recommends that milk should not be mixed with sour foods as it curdles. Sour is actually heating, so this could be the missing link I've been searching for in their digestive effects or vipaka.
Taking a slight helicopter view on how these two foods interact in our body gives us a clearer view of their incompatibility:
Most fruit is easy for the body to digest, but banana is quite dense, and the body stores food in the gut until all the nutrients are extracted.
Milk is also quite heavy and it has that dull quality about it, and it slows down the digestive fire according to Joyful Belly.
Mixing Milk and Banana adds a heavy burden to the digestive fire.
Since the gut is going to hold onto ALL food until it's digested, putting Milk and Banana is like throwing a fire blanket into your digestive system. The banana is going to sit in there like a fruit tray in the sunshine until the last piece has been eaten - and no one wants the last piece of banana after it's been there for an hour.
If all this sounds a little complicated, there are some simple guidelines to help you eat better food combinations:
Reduce the digestive load
Every item you put in your mouth demands a different set of enzymes to break it down and process it in your gut. Simpler food combinations can help our body to do it's better. Try these guidelines:
Eat only up to three main ingredients in a meal.
Avoid mixing animal with vegetable proteins such as beans.
Eat proteins with leafy greens or rice only.
Avoid eating fruits within two hours of a meal. They form a sour wine in the stomach.
Avoid eating dairy, including cheese, within two hours of a meal. Milk curdles in the stomach if mixed with other foods.
Priortise based on first in, first out
Identify the foods that are easy to digest and eat those first to avoid fermented food piling up in your gut. Our gut microbiome is full of bacteria and like any other organism on the planet, they love the path of least resistance so help them out by eating the easy stuff first and leaving more complex foods until last, for example:
vegetables before meats
vegetables before seeds and nuts
fruit by itself and first if possible
milk and cheese separately if possible
easy grains like rice before heavy grains like lentils
Cooking and chewing reduce the impacts
When you are forced to eat out or find yourself in a friend's version of come dine with me, choose the foods that are cooked together and/or slow things right down through proper chewing. When foods are cooked together, they blend together. Favour a steak and vegetables over steak and salad to minimise the different qualities of cooked and raw foods.
If in doubt, this wonderful chart from Tara Adler makes it very simple!
Tim is a certified RYS200 hours Yoga Teacher. He certified as an Advanced Breathwork Instructor and currently studies Ayurveda with Yoga Veda Institute.
When combined with his experience as a life and leadership coach, Tim can help people make dramatic changes in their overall wellbeing.
To learn more, book a call with Tim at http://book.timsnell.co