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Agni - the digestive fire.
Ama or Aama - undigested food waste, toxins.
Ojas- the foundation of our immune system and longevity.
Dhatus - the tissues of the body.
Srotas - the channels of the body.
Vata - the air/ether
intelligence in the body.
Pitta- the fire/water
intelligence in the body.
Kapha- the water/earth intelligence in the body.
Sattva- the quality of purity, intelligence, peace and love.
Rajas- the quality of
turbulence and activity.
Tamas- the quality of
dullness, darkness and inertia.
Rasa - the taste of a food (Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, Astringent)
Virya - second level of digestion (either Heating or Cooling)
Vipaka - third level of digestion, the deep taste of a food (can be Sweet, Sour or Pungent)
Prabhav - the 'special effect' of a food or herb/spice
Rasa - also the name for plasma tissue
Rakta - blood tissue
Mamsa - muscle tissue
Meda - fat tissue
Asthi - bone tissue
Majja - nerve & bone marrow tissue
Shukra - sexual reproductive tissue
Eight Ayurvedic Superfoods
By Nadia Marshall
This is a copy of Nadia’s Nutrition Column for Nova Magazine, published in July 2014
There is a lot of talk these days about “superfoods”. They’ve even found their way into a Masterchef mystery box! But what is a superfood anyway? According to Wikipedia it is a marketing term used to promote foods with health benefits that are usually high in nutrients and low in calories. Not particularly inspiring really… so I thought I might redefine the word from an Ayurvedic perspective. For a food to be “super” on my list, it needs to do two things:
1) Promote ‘Sattva’ in the Mind
2) Directly nourish ‘Ojas’
These two terms probably don’t mean anything to you so let me explain…
What is Sattva?
A very important concept in Ayurveda is the understanding that our food has a direct effect on the quality of our minds. This is explained through the idea of the three Universal Qualities known as Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
Tamas is the quality of dullness and inertia. It is heavy and obstructive and when it becomes excessive in the mind, creates laziness, ignorance and depression. Rajas is the quality of agitation and activity. A mind predominant in Rajas is over stimulated and desirous, constantly seeking gratification outside itself. Any satisfaction it may find tends to be fleeting so the search continues…. eventually a Rajasic mind will exhaust itself and fall into a Tamasic heap.
Sattva is the opposite of Tamas. It is the quality of clarity and stillness and is associated with peace, contentment, love, compassion and kindness. It is that elusive, sustained kind of happiness we are all looking for and, according to Ayurveda, can be cultivated skillfully, with ease.
Everything in the universe contains a predominance of one or more of these qualities, including our food. Drawing on the Ayurvedic law of LIKE INCREASES LIKE we can infuse our minds with greater clarity, peace and contentment by eating predominantly Sattvic food. Unprocessed, unrefined, seasonal wholefoods are generally more Sattvic but there are also specific foods that are super Sattvic! Simultaneously, we can decrease our level of over stimulation and agitation by avoiding excessively Rajasic substances (especially fast food, refined sugar, chilli, coffee and alcohol) and our propensity for dullness and depression by avoiding Tamasic substances (especially heavily refined and processed food, canned food and other drugs).
What is Ojas?
Another very important concept in Ayurveda is the understanding of Ojas, the subtle essence of water in the body. There isn’t a direct Western translation for Ojas but Dr Robert Svoboda refers to it as “a pattern of secretions in the body” made up of various hormones, neurotransmitters and immune factors. The interplay between these factors relates to the function of Ojas described by Ayurveda.
Ojas is a subtle golden liquid said to have the color of ghee, the taste of honey and the smell of toasted rice. Although it is pervasive throughout the whole body/mind, it is found in greatest concentration in the heart and adrenal glands. In fact, Ayurveda teaches we have just eight drops of Ojas in our heart which sustain our life - when these run out, we die.
Ojas is considered to be our potential source of strength, power and the foundation of our immune system, protecting us from both internal and external causes of disease. It also supports us mentally. Ojas is responsible for integrating our body/mind and is the source of our creativity, patience, faith and mental resilience. If we are prone to fatigue, regular illnesses and generally feel a lack of confidence in ourselves, it is simply a sign that our Ojas is depleted.
Ayurveda teaches that after eating a meal, the digested and assimilated nutrients from that meal go on to nourish each of our bodily tissues. After each of our tissues has been fed, the remaining (and most potent) nutrients go on to nourish Ojas. This process is enabled by a strong, balanced digestive fire (known as “Agni” in Sanskrit). So we look after our Ojas by looking after our Agni. In turn, strong Ojas helps to preserve and strengthen our Agni further. However, there are a handful of very special foods that actually nourish Ojas directly.
The Super Eight!
So the eight Ayurvedic superfoods I have chosen are genuinely super. They don’t just provide a low calorie, dense hit of nutrients; they actually help to promote strength, resilience, peace and contentment in the body/mind. And the best thing is, they are readily available to absolutely everyone! Here they are…
Ghee is clarified butter, with all of the milk solids and buttermilk removed (so it is actually lactose-free and can be consumed by lactose intolerant folk). Unlike most of the other superfoods on this list, ghee is actually easy to digest and it, in addition to being Sattvic and nourishing to Ojas, has the special quality of enkindling Agni, according to Ayurveda.
2) Cow milk
Cows are considered sacred animals in India and cow milk is highly revered in Ayurveda as one of the most Sattvic of foods. Buy unhomogenised, organic or biodynamic milk and only consume it warm, preferably with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black pepper or ginger to improve its digestibility and Ojas nourishing properties. If you have difficulty with cow’s milk don't worry, there are seven other superfoods on the list to choose from!
3) Basmati Rice
Basmati rice is Sattvic, nourishes Ojas and is also light and easy to digest so even if your Agni is weak, you should be able to digest it with ease. It is a long grain rice with a distinctive fragrance and delicate flavour... quick and easy to cook and absolutely delicious!
Dates are Sattvic and very nourishing to Ojas but are also quite rich, heavy and difficult to digest. Just because they are “super” doesn't mean you should eat them by the handful! Stick to two dates a day. Anything more and you may put a strain on your digestive fire.
Almonds are also Sattvic and help to maintain our Ojas. But they are also quite rich and heavy so don't overdo them either. Two to four almonds a day is enough. To make them lighter and easier to digest, soak them in boiling water overnight, blanch them (remove their skins), then dry roast them. A great way to have your daily dose is as dry roasted slivers on top of porridge. Yummo!
Honey is super Sattvic and directly nourishes our own life-nectar, Ojas. The main thing to remember with honey is to choose the non heat-treated kind. Ayurveda teaches that when honey is heated to high temperatures its chemical composition is altered making it difficult to digest, with a tendency towards clogging the channels. So always purchase good quality honey that has undergone minimal processing and don't cook with it (adding a teaspoon to hot tea is fine). Honey is another rich food so again, moderation is key.
Ginger is an amazing spice!! It is Sattvic and although it doesn't nourish Ojas directly, it promotes a strong, balanced digestive fire. If our Agni is balanced, our Ojas will be nourished as the end result of tissue metabolism. And eating ginger with all of the other foods on this list will make them easier to digest too!
Our final superfood, Saffron, is one of the most revered of all exotic spices. It has a strong medicinal action on the blood, heart and reproductive system, is super Sattvic and also potentiates the action of any substance it is taken with, including the actions of the superfoods on this list! One to five strands per day is enough to impart its benefits and it is best eaten after soaking in warm milk.
Be careful not to boil Saffron as it contains precious volatile oils that will be lost and do not use if you are pregnant as it stimulates the flow of blood in the uterus.
So there you have it - my Ayurvedic Super Eight!
The good news is that all of these foods are also super delicious! But you may have noticed that many of them are quite rich, heavy and difficult to digest, which is another reason why it is so important to bring your attention to building a strong digestive fire - so you can digest and assimilate them properly.
If you are in any doubt about your health please be sure to consult an Ayurvedic Practitioner or your local health physician.