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By Nadia Marshall
This is a copy of Nadia’s Nutrition Column for Nova Magazine, published in April 2014
With the recent popularisation of the no-fructose approach, a lot of people are giving up fruit, at least for a short period of time while they “reset” their tastebuds. I've been amazed by the number of people coming to our health retreats and courses in recent years forgoing fruit because they've gone all hard-core fructose-free. This is all rather interesting from an Ayurvedic perspective because it is likely many people will feel much better for giving up fruit. I don't eat a huge amount of fruit myself but this has nothing to do with fructose and everything to do with digestion. Let me explain…
Fruit and Food Combining
From an Ayurvedic perspective, fresh fruit is considered very light and easy to digest - comparatively lighter than other foods. When it is eaten with (or after) heavier foods, it stays in the stomach for as long as the heaviest food takes to digest. As a result, it generally stays in the stomach for too long, is “overcooked” by our digestive juices and begins to ferment (think a bucket of ripe fruit sitting in the sun).
In Ayurveda, this resultant over-cooked, fermented mess is referred to as “Ama” or improperly digested food toxins (1). This damp, acidic waste accumulates in our digestive tract where it can effect our digestion - hampering the excretion of our digestive juices, the absorption of nutrients and potentially contributing to indigestion, food sensitivities and gut inflammation.
If it continues to accumulate, it can “overflow” from the gastro-intestinal tract into our subtle channels and tissues where it obstructs cellular nutrition and waste disposal. It is here, in the tissues and channels, that this Ama can precipitate the manifestation of disease, according to Ayurveda (2).
If you give up fruit for any reason, you help eliminate this cycle. As a result your digestion may feel more balanced and you'll experience fewer symptoms of indigestion (less gas, bloating, pain, heartburn or acid reflux). You'll digest and absorb your food a little better and the nutrients you do absorb will have a greater chance of nourishing your tissues and immune system so you'll have more energy and get sick less often. Your digestion and tissue metabolism will work more efficiently so you'll produce better quality tissues. This may lead to weight loss and improvements in your complexion, teeth, nails and hair. You may also experience a reduction in inflammation or other heat-related symptoms.
But you don't have to give up fruit to experience these benefits. You simply have to follow the number one Ayurvedic rule of food combining:
Eat fresh fruit separately from other foods, especially heavy foods like dairy foods and grains (1).
That is… simply eat your fresh fruit in between meals as a snack and a few hours away from eating other foods.
If you eat a relatively healthy (i.e. unprocessed, home cooked) diet already and just make this one change, you will likely notice many of the benefits mentioned above… without eliminating anything.
Of course, Ama doesn't only come from over-digested fruit. It also comes from environmental toxins and improperly digested food of any kind. But the inappropriate consumption of fruit is a pretty significant contributor in our diets. We get it wrong all the time, several meals a day, seven days a week! How wrong? We have strawberries on cereal with milk; bananas on oats porridge; raspberries and icecream on pancakes; cheese and apple snacks; fruit-filled yoghurts; banana smoothies; fruit juices with meals; fruit salads with cream after meals; and fruit platters with cheese at parties. If you think about it, when we eat fruit or fruit juice, we nearly always combine it with other foods, particularly heavier foods like dairy products and grains.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, it is taught that fruit also combines poorly with vegetables (3). Many health enthusiasts are now getting their fruit hit as part of a green smoothie - usually made from a combination of sweet fruits with green leafy veggies and a superfood or two. From an Ayurvedic perspective, these smoothies, along with fruit/veggie juice combinations, are also confusing to the digestive fire and will result in indigestion and the production of Ama.
So remember: Eat fresh fruit separately from other foods, including vegetables.
Notice this food combination rule only applies to fresh fruit. Dried fruit has very different qualities - because the moisture has been removed, it has become a heavier food that combines better with other foods, including grains and dairy. So it is okay to add a sprinkle of dried sultanas or desiccated coconut to a veggie curry, cake or milky porridge. Fruit chutneys and jams also have different qualities to fresh fruit and can be used in small amounts as a condiment with meals. But fresh fruit (and fruit juice) should always be eaten separately.
While we're on the subject of fruit juice, Ayurveda recommends it only be consumed in moderation. Juices are considered very rich, sweet and nourishing because they are a concentrate of many fruits so are more difficult to digest than whole fruit. If you do have the occasional juice fresh is best, make it small, don't add ice and add a little fresh ginger to make it more digestible.
Fruit and Body Types
If you know anything about Ayurveda it is likely you've read about body types or constitutions. Because Ayurveda is an elemental science, it recognises that each individual has a unique influence of the five elements within their body/mind - Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Some people are born with a predominance of Ether and Air (known as Vata constitutions), others a predominance of Fire and Water (known as Pitta constitutions), while others have more Water and Earth (known as Kapha constitutions). Or, you might have a dual constitution - Vata/Pitta, Pitta/Kapha or Kapha/Vata.
Our constitution or genetic elemental code if you like, provides us with a unique balance of elements and qualities. These can be kept in balance or drawn out of balance by the sensory inputs we expose ourselves to throughout our lives. Sounds complicated, but the formula is simple: “Like Increases Like”. So, for example, if you have a lot of water in your constitution and eat a lot of watery fruits like melons, your water element will become imbalanced. This is a vast, complex subject so let me tackle it very briefly from the perspective of fruits…ull É.
Vata (Ether/Air) people are light and ethereal, naturally slim, a bit spacy and/or racy, and prone to dryness, poor circulation and feeling the cold. They have variable appetites and sensitive, variable digestion with a tendency towards gas and bloating.
Each of the six tastes also has a predominance of two elements so can increase or decrease the elements in our body. Vata is balanced by sweet, sour and salty tastes and imbalanced by pungent, bitter and astringent tastes. Therefore, Vata people should favour sweet and sour fruits and avoid astringent fruits (unless cooked) or dried fruits (unless soaked)(4). If prepared in the right way, Vata people can benefit from a large variety of fruits.
Fruits that are more balancing for Vata people include cooked apples, avocadoes, apricots, sweet berries, ripe banana, cherries, coconut, dates, figs, grapes, grapefruit, kiwi, lime, ripe mango, melons, oranges, papaya, pineapple, plums, soaked prunes, soaked raisins, rockmelon, rhubarb, and tamarind (5).
Pitta (Fire/Water) people are naturally moderate in weight and build, angular, intense, and prone to conditions of excess heat. They have strong appetites and strong digestion with a tendency towards heartburn and reflux.
Pitta is balanced by sweet, bitter and astringent tastes and imbalanced by sour, salty and pungent tastes. Therefore, Pitta people should favour sweet and astringent fruits and avoid sour fruits (4). It is particularly important for Pitta people to ensure their fruit is ripe because most unripe fruit is sour.
Fruits that are more balancing for Pitta people include sweet apples, apricots, avocadoes, sweet berries, coconut, dates, figs, grapes, melons, pears, pomegranate, soaked prunes, raisins, rockmelon and watermelon (5).
Kapha (Earth/Water) people are naturally more robust and curvaceous but easily gain weight and are prone to fluid retention, excess mucous and feeling the cold. They generally have low appetites and dull digestion with a tendency towards heaviness and lethargy after meals.
Kapha is balanced by astringent, bitter and pungent tastes and imbalanced by sweet, sour and salty tastes. Therefore, Kapha people should avoid most fruits, except astringent fruits or dried fruit and should only eat them in small quantities (4). The sweet, sour and moist qualities of most fruits increase these already prevalent qualities in Kapha people.
Fruits that are more balancing for Kapha people include ripe apples, dried apricots, cherries, cranberries, dried figs, lemons, pears, persimmon, pomegranate, soaked prunes, raisins and raspberries (5).
If you have a dual constitution you should favour the tastes that balance both constitutions. For example, sweet balances both Vata and Pitta and astringent balances Pitta and Kapha. Kapha/Vatas should favour warming fruits because their mutual quality is coldness.
Despite these seemingly complicated lists, the secret to healthy fruit eating is to keep it simple. Favour fruits that are local and in-season. Eat fruits whole, one at a time instead of complex, extravagant salads, juices or smoothies. This will ensure you don't eat too much. It will also help you to get to know your fruit better. When you eat fruit on its own you can genuinely distinguish how each fruit tastes and feels in your belly, unadulterated. And, as you gently feel into the tastes and their effect on you, you can prepare fruits in different ways to make them more appropriate for your constitution - sprinkling desiccated coconut and cardamom over a banana, stewing apples and pears with cloves and cinnamon, squeezing a little lime over papaya etc.
But really, the most important thing is to enjoy your fruit eating - treat fruit as a treat! Savour each delicious morsel with mindfulness and gratitude, enjoying the sheer beauty of the experience. No fructose-guilt allowed!
(1)”Textbook of Ayurveda, Vol 3” by Dr Vasant Lad, pp 72-72 (2) “Textbook of Ayurveda, Vol 1” by Dr Vasant Lad, pp 90 (3) “Perfect Health for Kids” by Dr John Douillard pp 189 (4) “Ayurveda for Women” by Dr Robert Svoboda pp 146 (5) “Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing” by Dr Vasant and Ushna Lad, pp 232
If you are in any doubt about your health please be sure to consult an Ayurvedic Practitioner or your local health physician.
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