Ayurveda View On Cooked Food And Raw Food
Which diet is healthier diet for an individual to consume, a raw food diet or the cooked food diet? Generally we have the notion that raw foods are rich in natural nutrients and enzymes and more beneficial for human body. Yet the Ayurvedic literatures, including the Charaka Samhita, mainly recommend a cooked food diet which is assumed to be easily digestible as well as Prana (the vital life energy) energizing.
Why Cooked Food Is Considered Healthier
According to ancient Ayurveda, cooking is believed to enhance the agni, or the digestive fire which is supremely important in the digestive process. It is critical in formation of the body tissues viz. rasa, rakta, mansa, medha, asthi, majja and shukra (juice, blood, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow and semen).
Ayurveda believes that within the environment and periphery of our bodies there are three qualities of Prana that exist in food we eat –
- Soma (the cooling lunar influence)
- Agni (the heating Solar influence)
- Maruta (the subtle vibrational influence of the Air element)
Also, there is emphasis on certain basic points before recommending diet to an individual. These include:
- state of an individual’s digestive fire,
- period of life,
- the seasonal & climatic influences,
- individual constitution (prakruti) and
- their current nature of imbalance (vikruti), occupation etc.
Considerations In Cooking Of Food
Ayurveda recommends slow cooking procedure with fire (wood or on cooking gas) which increases the assimilation of nutrients in our foods and allows the transformation of these nutrients into healthy tissue. There are a few considerations while cooking food:
- It is believed that over cooking diminishes the Soma Prana due to the high agni.
- Also, cooking in a microwave oven, where the food molecules are rapidly and violently exploding into one another, creating friction, heat and a number of damaging free radicals, and thus this needs to be avoided.
- Ayurveda also forbids incompatible foods or the Virudha Aahara, wherein the raw and uncooked foods, as well as over cooked and burnt food are forbidden.
Why Raw Food Is Discouraged
The raw juices extracted form both fruits and vegetables provide the best of what raw food has to offer. And we know that raw food is enormously rich in nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, minerals, vitamins etc. Raw juices provide increased energy, clarity of mind, radiant complexion, and weight loss etc. However, a complete raw food diet can create symptoms like:
- Lack of vitality
- Weak digestive system
- Food cravings
- Low body temperature
- Hair loss & nail problems
- Dental Issues
- Insomnia & Neurological issues
What the Ayurveda Texts Say
Reference in Charaka Samhita
Acharya Charaka has mentioned that:
- the vegetables are generally heavy, sweet, drying, obstructive, difficult to digest and cold in potency. Therefore these need to be cooked or steamed prior to intake.
- there is also indication that as the vegetables or food stuffs are naturally drying in nature, they need to be cooked in oily medium like ghee (clarified butter) and until the water is parched.
- although the foods particularly the vegetables need to be cooked, steamed, boiled and cooked in some unctuous medium, some of the green leafy seasonal vegetables can be also taken raw.
Reference in Sushruta Samhita
When talking about food intake, Acharya Sushruta mainly mentions about how different types of foods may be served. There is no citing of raw foods except he says that fruits need to be taken in the beginning.
Ayurveda Guidelines for Food Intake
- Ayurveda suggests that food should be cooked freshly just prior to consumption.
- It is further beneficial that the food is cooked with cleansing spices like fennel, turmeric, black pepper, cumin, coriander in correct ratio to suit each individual’s constitution.
- Diet must be regulated and there must be less of raw and refrigerated foods which are difficult to digest.
- Cooked food should be consumed at the same time every day as this strengthens the agni or the digestive fire.
- Certain raw food choices in the form of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices are helpful in detoxifying process. For example apple, papaya, berries, pears, pineapple, and basil etc.
- Cooking of some of the fibrous vegetables like green leafy vegetables and cabbage along with certain spices such as turmeric, ginger, coriander, fenugreek, fennel helps in the detoxification process.
- Well cooked food which is light to digest in the form of porridge, stew or soup preparation is believed to be more suitable if you have digestion issues.
- Largely, food should be freshly cooked, pleasing, tasty, and taken in agreeable ambiance.
- Intake of raw foods, spicy, fried foods, cold drinks, caffeine rich foods and alcohol should be avoided.
Cooked or Raw Food – Let us Decide
Every individual is different and hence diet must also be individualized. Some people will do best on raw, others on cooked food diets. Ayurvedic practitioners believe that the practice of yoga increases our digestive abilities to the extent that yogis can digest raw food without any problem, while normal sedentary people cannot do so easily.
When it comes to deciding what foods to eat it would be best to use common sense, eat according to your constitution, eat mostly cooked foods, especially when the weather is cold, foggy or during the evenings. Salads are best eaten at lunchtime (when the digestive fire is strongest), in summer or when the weather is hot.