10 Simple, Healthy Food Swaps for Your Ayurvedic Diet
For most people, the worst temptation is diet. When trying to lose weight or gain muscle, many of us become a little fanatical about what foods are “good” or “bad” for us. With any prescription, the only difference between a medicine and a poison is dosage. The same holds true for food. Digestion and nutrition are the cornerstones of Ayurveda.
If you find yourself getting lost in the rules and rigidity when following an Ayurvedic diet, you are missing the point. Through experimentation, discover and explore what is “right” and “wrong” for your body at any given time. Avoid chasing after perfect balance which can never be attained because the body is always in flux. With the practice of Ayurveda, you begin to identify healthy cravings that sustain and nourish the body and unhealthy cravings which temporarily pacify a particular desire.
Ayurveda gives great insight into the importance or proper food combinations. Some foods when eaten together can inhibit enzyme production and create for difficult digestion, leaving you sluggish, overweight, anxious, constipated, smelly, and sad.
Experiment with these commonly seen nutrition combinations and try swapping for foods that will be more supportive to your metabolism.
Eat this, not that! Here are 10 Simple Food Swaps for Your Ayurvedic Diet.
1. Morning coffee: black coffee vs. coffee with whole fat milk and cardamom
Coffee is a stimulant dominated by the astringent taste. The qualities of coffee are hot, sharp, light and mobile. We can balance these qualities and lessen the acidity and dryness by adding whole milk and cardamom to neutralize the ultimately depressing effects of coffee. You can also try adding 1 tsp of ghee or coconut oil to your morning cup to add additional balance with moist, stable and cool properties of oil. Such a sweet treat!
2. Breakfast: low-fat flavored yogurt vs. plain whole fat yogurt with maple syrup and a pinch of cinnamon
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled, Packaged Foods’ New Selling Point: Fewer Ingredients explains how big companies are tirelessly working to simplify product labels. This is great news! Food eaten fresh and close to its source is always more easily recognized by the body and thus more easily digested and transformed into the best version of YOU. Opt for plain yogurt and add your own sweetener. Whole milk yogurt keeps you satisfied and avoids mid-morning snack attacks. High fat dairy foods and cinnamon work to improve the body’s insulin response, keeping your blood sugar and energy levels stable throughout the morning.
3. Breakfast option # 2: smoothie with mix of frozen fruit, nuts, seeds, yogurt, greens, and protein powder vs. smoothie with almond milk, dates, vanilla, coconut, and spices
Smoothies are quick and give you the idea that you’re getting great “bang for your buck” as they hide the bitter taste of kale and spinach. Unfortunately, they are heavy on digestion and confusing for the stomach. Taste plays a huge role in Ayurvedic digestion so it’s best to avoid complex mixtures that combine and pulverize macronutrients into a homogenous mixture. Cold smoothies should be avoided because they hinder digestive enzymes, dampen digestive fire. Also, when fruits and vegetables are frozen, water molecules become ice molecules and because ice has a larger volume than water, the ice breaks the bonds between food molecules and decreases the nutritional value of the food.
Recipe (best served warm but room-temperature is okay, no ice):
6 pitted dates
1 ½ cups of almond milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
½ tsp cinnamon, ginger
4. Protein bar vs. banana
When you’re on the way to work and you’re hungry and you want to grab something quick, a banana is the best most brilliantly packaged food by Mother Nature herself. Stick to whole foods whenever possible. As a society we have become a little obsessed with the idea of “getting enough protein”. If you’re lifting weights, rapidly building muscle or training for a marathon, sure… you’ll need some extra sustenance; but if you’re just headed to work, a banana should do the trick.
5. Bagel with cream cheese and salmon locks vs. bagel with butter, honey, and cinnamon
Keep it simple. Combining fish and dairy produces toxins in the gut and causes fermentation in the colon resulting in gas, bloating and constipation. Fish is heating and dairy is cooling on digestion which confuses the intelligence of our cellular function. Swap for a butter, honey and some sweet spices. If you’re craving something savory, season your bagel with butter, turmeric, salt and black pepper.
6. Mid-day pick me up: caffeinated beverage vs. ginger tea
Try to finish all caffeine consumption by 11am. When you’re feeling sluggish around 2pm, try making a cup of ginger tea. Ginger is dubbed the “universal medicine”. It works on all the 7 tissues of the body (lymph, blood, muscle, fat, bone, nerve, reproductive fluid) and helps to clear blocked bodily channels. It kindles metabolism and energizes the mind. The caffeine may be a quick fix at 2pm but is likely to affect your sleep schedule and even if you don’t have difficulty falling asleep, you’ll likely wake up the following day more exhausted, creating a vicious cycle of chronic fatigue. The caffeine fix is borrowed energy, and borrowed energy must always be repaid.
7. Gatorade vs. water + pink mineral salt + lime + maple syrup
Electrolytes are needed during physical activity because pure water is a very poor conductor of electricity. Our body carries out a tremendous amount of electrical signals during muscle contraction and nerve function. By dissolving salt in water you are creating a solution with much better electrical conductivity than plain water. The chemistry of a salt (NaCl) creates a solution that contains ions (charged particles) to carry out electrical impulses. The added maple syrup (or coconut sugar or cane sugar) provides the body with the most basic and simple form of energy (glucose) that every cell needs to carry out activities. There is nothing fancy about Gatorade so make it yourself and avoid preservatives, chemicals and artificial flavoring.
8. Dinner: pasta with meatballs vs. pasta with olive oil, parmesan, basil, & black pepper
Red meat at night is best avoided since it is heavy on digestion. It takes a longer time for meat to move through the GI tract, and by the time you’re ready for bed, your steak dinner most likely is not. When meat stays too long in the GI tract it can become putrid. Your greatest digestive power is in the afternoon, when the sun is at its peak. Meat is best taken during lunch. When the body wants to settle down, it’s not a good idea to pack it full with fuel. So, when pasta is on the menu season with oil, spices and parmesan cheese for added flavor.
9. Dessert: fruit tart vs. chocolate cake
Fruits are easily digested within an hour, while grains require up to six hours. When we eat fruit and grains together many stomach enzymes are washed away with the fruit, so there is not enough digestive fire to metabolize ingested grains. This can produce toxins in the gut. So choose the chocolate cake! Who likes fruit tart anyway? Chocolate is praised for its antioxidant benefits but it does contain caffeine, so remember that a little goes a long way!
10. Post dinner: Ice cream vs. spiced milk
Ice cream is cold, heavy, and dull; it increases mucus production. When eaten after dinner, it inhibits the body’s ability to properly digest. If you’re looking for something sweet to enjoy as you wind down, try making spiced milk which has the opposite effect, it clears mucous and nourishes the body while creating a calming effect on the nervous system. **Wait at least an hour after dinner before drinking milk.
1 cup organic non-homogenized milk
2 pitted dates
½ tsp turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger
1 tsp poppy seeds
*if experiencing constipation, dryness, pain, fear or anxiety add 1tsp of ghee
**Heat the milk for 10 minutes and add 1 tsp of honey after milk has cooled
Your body is the ultimate machine, it is a state-of-the-art gadget and it never lies. When you know how to properly read your body, you become boundless, capable of anything. With every meal, every movement and every action, create awareness; read your body like a barometer. Try these swaps and see how much better you feel. Notice signs of well digested food; feeling energized, feeling light and observing a clean pink tongue and clean elimination.
Lad, V. (2002). Textbook of Ayurveda. Albuquerque, NM: Ayurvedic Press.
Park, A. (2016, April 04). The Case Against Low-Fat Milk Is Stronger Than Ever. Retrieved October 11, 2016, from http://time.com/4279538/low-fat-milk-vs-whole-milk/
Vasudev, J. (2016). Inner engineering: A Yogi’s guide to joy.
Meet the author, Melanie Dolan