With all the information, education and changes in our diet, many of us still do not feel energetic. Could it be that we are not only what we eat, but also how we eat? At breakfast, the newspaper we read, reports 300 point drop in the share market; lunch consists dashing into a fast food joint, grabbing a bite to eat or perhaps piles of work compel us to take a quick mini-lunch on the desk itself or ‘cuppas’ of tea replace our food.
Can we possibly enjoy, digest and assimilate food when our minds are engaged and disturbed? With our busy lives, we are eating large quantities irregularly and with much too little consciousness.
Looking at our diets (not a diet, but the way we eat), we need to ask: Are we being nourished on the physical, mental and emotional levels? Where does digestion begin — is it the mouth or the stomach ? Most digestion actually begins in the mind.
Let us look at the effect of diet on mind. According to our ancient scientists, the sages — food reflects a general predominance of one of three attributes called the gunas: satva — balance rajas — over activity, and tamas — inertia.
Balanced or Satvik food
Food that is wholesome, fresh and natural is balanced or satvik in nature. Such food gives the body lightness, alertness and energy. It gives strength from within as it is said to nourish the consciousness.
Examples of satvik food are fresh and dry fruits, fresh fruit juice, freshly cooked home food which is mild in spices, neither overcooked nor undercooked, salads, sprouts, buttermilk, whole grain items, seeds (sesame, flaxseeds ) and beans.
Satvik food brings vitality and health to the body and peace and joy to the mind. It is not only simple but tasty too, and is as close to their natural form. When food is natural, we eat less of it, our bodies are nurtured and satisfied, and our minds are in harmony.
Balanced food satisfies our need and not our greed. When food is whole and unprocessed, we chew more thoroughly, releasing digestive juices to aid digestion. This liquifies the food and the work of digestion is half done. Nutrients are extracted and used and the remainder is easily and efficiently eliminated.
Overstimulating or Rajsik food
Rajsik food is over stimulating and causes restlessness, disease and agitation in the body and the mind. It energises the body but not in the sense of yielding a clear balanced energy.
It tends to stimulate and pushes us to increase the speed and indulge more in activity, sensual pleasures and comforts. In excess, it can encourage ourpassions to rise and the mind to become very restless.
Rajsik food is rich and tasty and was actually meant for kings (Rajas). In present times, it is appropriate for the military forces or those involved in the field of sports doing heavy physical activity to utilise it.
As most of us are leading an automated life with remote controls, elevators, gadgets in kitchen, washing machines and comfortable vehicles to ease our life, such food does more harm than good.
Meat and alcohol have a stimulating effect at first and then cause us to become lethargic and dull. Too much coffee can set our heart racing! Spiced and cooked with lots of rich sauces and gravies, it tempts one to eat more and diverts the attention to the taste of the food, but away from the internal signals.
Fried delicacies, aerated drinks, fast food, cheese-based recipes — they all keep us restlessly striving to fulfil uncontrolled passions and desires, ultimately leading to pain, grief and disease.
Inertia giving or Tamasik food
Tamasik food takes away energy from the body and mind. Food that is old or cold, overly fermented, moldy, has lost its essence, has been processed and preserved, is overcooked is considered tamasic as it has no spark of life in it.
Meat and alcoholic drinks fall in this category. Think about reheated foods lacking energy when you see burgers piled up under hot lights or frozen potatoes being fried to serve your palate! Such food may add matter to the body but then creates a feeling of heaviness and lethargy.
One oscillates between an irritating restlessness and a tendency to fall asleep. Such food may lead to toxic accumulation of unwanted chemicals and substances in the body — lactic acid, uric acid or overabundance of fats and sugars which manifest as general aches and pains and ultimately disease.
Our bodies also have closets — places where we store what we eat which the body can’t use. The arteries are nice open pipes where we store unusable fats and cholesterol. Our joints have crevices that are perfect for storing toxins.
As time passes, arteries clog and joints ache and swell. When eating lighter and more wholesome foods which the body can digest and assimilate, there is no need to store the excesses in the body’s ‘closets’.
(Dr Renu Mahtani is a physician)
The art of ‘Mindful Eating’
Choose foods that compel chewing: We are often in the habit of eating soft, messy, pasty and watery foods. This leads to fast eating, over eating, hungerless eating and consumption of excess salt and spices.
Chew thoroughly: You will notice that when you chew food thoroughly, you enjoy every morsel of the meal. Digestion of starches is facilitated with thorough chewing, as food remains in the mouth for a longer time.
Reduce intake of foods that cause constipation: Certain foods take longer to digest like meat, eggs, commercially available fried items and maida containing items (burgers, pizzas, samosas), which are usually made in hydrogenated oils.
They take a longer time to get digested, putting a great deal of strain on the digestive apparatus. The waste products tend to stagnate and clog the bowels causing constipation.
Fasting is good: Periodic fasting (fruits only once a week) is one of the best methods of guarding our health, cleansing the body of toxins, and increasing longevity and mental stability.
Pray before you eat: Praying before meals actually helps us with our digestion. The production of amylase in the saliva increases by 22 per cent with five minutes of meditation.