You may be familiar with the term ‘are you vegan?’ and it may be one of the first things you ask people but it is not the same as ‘Ayurvegan’!
This is the totally plant-based form of Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of health and wellbeing. It dates back 6,000 years to the time of the Vedas. Ayurveda combines food, herbs, yoga, therapies and lifestyle for health.
Like veganism, Ayurveda is based on the concept of ahimsa or ‘non-harming’. When Ayurveda started all cows were revered and lived a natural lifespan. So a Lacto-vegetarian diet using milk, ghee and other dairy products was consistent with the principle of ahimsa. Amazingly this is still the case in parts of India. In Gujarat state, for example, there is a no-slaughter policy on all cows and bulls. It’s also illegal to transport livestock into other states where slaughter is permitted.
However, in many other states, cows are legally slaughtered as of course, they are in the West. So ‘Ayurvegan’ is Ayurveda for the modern world. In Ayurveda and yoga, ahimsa is not just about not harming other people and animals. It is based on a loving mindset towards all living things which starts with ourselves.
The first and most important step is to love and accept yourself. It is called ‘prema’ in Sanskrit and is considered the most healing emotion. It starts with kindness to yourself as you take the time to eat the right foods. It relates to the way we cook and eats too. Food that is prepared and eaten in a loving and mindful way is thought to be much more nourishing than food made in a rush or in an emotional way.
Ayurveda is also about health and luckily this fits together perfectly with ahimsa. A vegan plant-based diet is not only non harming to animals but with ayurvedic principles is also the most healthy one. A wider meaning of ahimsa is to protect the environment as this is the home for all living things. Again this is a perfect fit as a lot fewer resources are required to produce food from plants than from animals.
So ayurveganism really doesn’t cost the earth! This sentiment applies to our own pockets too! Luckily it is the simple rustic style foods that are most healthy. Lots of vegetables, healthy grains and plant-based proteins. These foods are cheap to buy. Then the grains and pulses swell up when you cook them in a rice cooker so you don’t even need to use that much.
The only thing to splash out on and over your food, are healthy oils. These fats are as important as protein and some are ‘essential’ meaning they must be in the diet. Most of the Ayurvegan cooking is done with coconut oil as this is heat stable and easy to digest. Raw omega 3 rich oils are served as a dressing.
The diet that most reflects Ayurvegan cooking is from India. The sub-continent is the home of Ayurveda and the food is based on its principles. Without knowing it Indian cooking has a lot of ayurvedic knowledge woven into it. For a start, it is plant-based and vegetarian in style.
The cooking methods and spices are not just for taste. They are also used in the right combination to enhance digestion. Some foods get on together and others don’t. A meal should be like a good marriage, where the ingredients complement each other. For instance, rice and lentils cooked together to form a nourishing dish called kitcheri. This is more nutritious together than served separately.
The Thali is an Indian meal with lots of small dishes served together. It looks and tastes delicious. But this traditional meal has a lot of Ayurveda in it. Each dish is dominated by one of the six ayurvedic tastes. There is a sweet one with rice, a sour one which may be pickle made from green mango. A spinach dish with fenugreek which is bitter. Then another vegetable dish which may be spiced (pungent) and salty. Finally, a dal made from beans which are astringent.
The idea is to fully savour each dish and appreciate the flavours. They are eaten in a specific order which stimulates digestion. The meal is supposed to start and end with the sweet taste. So it begins with the carbohydrate-rich rice or chapatti. As you chew it well the starch breaks down and the sweetness is released. The meal ends by munching a few fennel seeds which also taste sweet. They also help digestion and reduce wind. This is useful where the main protein comes from beans!
Ayurveganism also takes into account that we are different with our own appetite, taste and metabolism. This is based on the Ayurvedic constitution types. These are classified as kapha which is quite earthy or grounded. Pitta which is fiery and determined and vata which is airy and creative. Each person has a unique blend of these qualities which define their constitution.
Although an ayurvedic diet will vary from person to person a lot of the guidelines are the same for everyone. A healthy plant-based diet using pulses and seeds instead of animal products for protein. Also lots of fresh seasonal vegetables.
By Keith Squires