The modern Western diet has evolved from a mixture of many different cultures. This has resulted in an array of different types of cooking and combining of foods, some which can be detrimental to physical and mental health.
According to Ayurveda, every food has its own rasa, virya and vipaka. When a food is put in the mouth, the first experience is its taste, or rasa. Straight after or a short time after that you feel its heating or cooling energy which is its virya. The final post-digestive effect of taste on the mind, body and consciousness is called vipaka.
As well as the agni or digestive fire of an individual, food combining strongly influences how well food is digested. When two or more foods that have different rasa, virya or vipaka are eaten together, the agni can become overloaded and the enzyme system inhibited producing toxins, digestive difficulties and over time even serious illness.
Just one important example is bananas and milk. Although they both have a sweet taste and cooling energy, their post-digestive effect is very different. Bananas are sour and milk is sweet, and this combination can diminish digestive fire and change the intestinal flora, leading to toxins, sinus congestion, cough, allergies, hives and rash.
Here are a few basic tips for food combining that can make a big difference to your health:
- Try to eat fruit alone and not mixed with any other food. Fruit becomes acidic when predigested and can effect digestive enzymes. There are some exceptions such as dates and milk cooked together are ok, but as a general rule try to eat fruit as a snack by itself.
- Milk shouldn’t be taken with other foods as it is a complex, complete food. It may be cooked with certain other foods such as grains but avoid cooking it with salty, sour or savoury dishes. Milk and meat should NEVER be cooked together.
- It is best to eat raw food together and cooked food together rather than both combined. Ayurveda doesn’t recommend raw food in general unless the digestive fire is very strong eg. Pitta body-types. Raw food is heavy and cooling on the body.
In general, try to cook foods of the same tastes and qualities together. When cooking vegetables, it is better for digestion to cook them all together. Too many different vegetables or foods in one meal is also an overload on digestion so simplify your meals with just one or two different items on the plate.
Here are some food antidotes that can also assist in digestion:
- Often spices and herbs are added in Ayurvedic cooking to neutralise the virya of the food. For example, coriander can be used in hot spicy dishes as it has a cooling virya. Ghee and black pepper can be added to potatoes to assist digestion.
- Yellow cheese is highly processed and has a heavy quality so should be avoided where possible. If you do find yourself eating it (eg. the occasional pizza!) it helps to sprinkle turmeric, cayenne pepper and/or black pepper on first to help your body digest the heaviness.
- Cardamom can be added to coffee or cocoa to counteract the effects of the caffeine.
- Add good quality cold-pressed oil and lemon juice to salads and other raw foods.
It may seem like food combining complicates things and makes cooking sound difficult. It is just a matter of changing habits and you may find in the long run it will actually make cooking easier! As you learn more about it you can apply what you know and you will probably notice a big improvement in your digestion and overall health. Incompatible food combinations not only disturb the digestion but over time can affect our cells and cause disease.