Food forms one of man’s basic needs apart from shelter. From the stone ages till the current era, food has played an extremely important part in our survival and our growth as the most dominant species on the surface of the earth.
The earliest form of man that walked the surface of the earth millions of years ago struggled to find food that would be nourishing for him. He was exposed to surroundings new to him, surroundings that were unexplored and territory that was unknown to him, thus putting his life at stake when he would go out to scavenge for food. By means of trial and error, they were able to distinguish food substances that were edible and nourished them from those that were inedible and had poisonous properties and would cause harm to the body if ingested.
The various climatic conditions on the earth’s surface presented them with problems regards food. Those living along the equator were exposed to large varieties of plants as well as animals to hunt and consume all through the year whereas those who lived near the poles faced extremes of cold and had to develop ways to not only hunt but also store food for long periods especially during winters.
This lead to many more challenges which helped with the invention of hunting tools using sharp rocks and stones along with branches from trees and the discovery of fire.
The discovery of fire was extremely important in human history as it threw light on totally new and different methods of survival as well as cooking which weren’t known earlier.
Fire was used to for warmth in regions that suffered from extreme cold; it was also used to cook as in the case of meat, which would otherwise have to be eaten raw which could have been rotten or infected leading to disease or complications.
Fire thus helped man learn the art of cooking meat as well as vegetables and making a combination of both to be used as food. The experimentation with fire lead to the basic concept of cooking which is now extremely essential and forms an important part in our daily routine.
As time progressed and we evolved into a much more intelligent species, we put to use our knowledge of cooking not only for benefits of food but also as medicine. Through the methods of trial and error, certain medicinal properties of plants and other animal and mineral substances were discovered, some of the same being used till date.
Cooking styles have now evolved to suite the palate of every individual as per his requirement and choice. We are now able to even measure the caloric capacity each food substance carries and how beneficial each is to the body, having both nutritional as well as medicinal effects.
The advances in chemistry have helped us induct certain chemical mixtures to enhance the flavor and taste of food, the commonest being salt. Certain chemicals in the form of preservatives are now used to keep food fresh for a longer time so that it can be used at a later date.
The understanding of agriculture and geology has helped us modify soil conditions so as to grow different plants used as foods in places where they were unable to grow earlier; this has helped in introducing new vegetables into our diet. The same has also been applied to animals especially poultry where in using the latest technologies available, the best breed of chicken, cow, pigs, sheep and goat are reared all over the world so as to avail the best quality of meat with optimum nutritional value possible.
We thus see how science has progressed and how we have evolved from a species that had to struggle to find food earlier to the modern ‘fast food’ concept where food is available at the click of a button on a computer or on a smart phone.
In this write up, we shall primarily concentrate on the Indian subcontinent which has played an immensely important role in introducing certain foods to the world, especially spices. We shall chart the history of the subcontinent, right from the Indus Valley Civilization charting how cuisines were changed and modified and how external influences such as that of the Mughal rule and British rule over India changed our outlook to food and how it has evolved to present day.
The Era of the Rishi’s and Holy Sage’s would also be shed light upon so as to understand how the medicinal properties of food substances, of spices were studied and a detailed discussion of the same would be carried out, some spices and vegetables being used for the same properties to date.
Lastly, we would glance upon the concept of a complete meal or a ‘thali’ that again unique to the subcontinent and how the same exists today, differing in contents from state to state whether north to south or east to west, depicting the dietary requirement of each particular state of India. Thus we shall shed light on all the above topics in detail as shall be seem further.
History of Indian Civilizations and their food habits.
To understand the history of the subcontinent, we have to travel back many thousands of years when the Indian civilization comprised of modern India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan all the way up to boundaries of China.
The earliest known civilization of the era was the Indus Valley Civilization where in the ruins of Mo hen-jo-daro and that of Harappa were discovered which provided immense knowledge as understanding as to the lifestyle of people of that era.
From the ruins of Harappa, clay pots and vessels were found, some of which contained remnants of certain food substances from the day. There were also traces of areas meant for cooking in each house which proved they used fire and vessels to prepare their meals.
Since the Harappan culture was based in the areas of modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan, the climate was extremely warm and humid with hot dry winds blowing in from the Saharan and Thar Desert. Thus, the dietary intake was limited to vegetables and pulses along with meat from animals that were reared for the same purpose.
The major intake of cereals and pulses included wheat, rice, millet and sorghum. These were either ground and made into a form of modern day soup or stew or they were finely ground and mixed with water to make dough which would be rolled and heated to make a form of bread or what is now known as a naan or chapati. They were extremely fond of fruits especially those which were grown locally as well as spices which were used in various proportions to add flavor and enhance taste of food preparations.
Merchants from the east, especially the Chinese brought in many more forms of spices as well as rice, which became an essential part of their diet.
People from the Harappan age were also non-vegetarian and consumed the meat from cows, sheep, lamb and goat which were bred and reared locally.
These were cooked extensively to make meat preparations and were mostly consumed during winters so as to keep the body warm. The fat from the animals was also used as fuel and the skin was used to make clothing and shelter as the wool from the lamb provided warmth during the winter season, thus leaving no part of the animal to waste. Teeth and bones were used as decorations or were disposed off.
The herbs and spices that were commonly used during those days included cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fennel and anise. These are still used in many Indian food preparations till date.
Indian’s have always had a sweet tooth and have been fond of all things sweet, certain evidences also point that the people from the Harappan age were also fond of sweets and would take pleasure in chewing on the stem of the sugar cane plant, which was locally grown.
Thus we understand how our ancestors were accustomed to having a variety of flavors to satiate their palate, the same having being continued till date.
We now advance to the period of around 300BC where in India was ruled by Chandragupta Maurya, who established the Mauryan rule which was a majorly Hindu regime. Hinduism believed in the concept of one’s deeds or karma and believed that the better one did, the more it would add to ones karma, which ultimately lead to ones freedom from the cycle of rebirth and reincarnation.
This lead to the concept that eating meat meant sacrificing an animal which was considered extremely bad karma, thus making people avoid meat, though not totally. The cow was considered a sacred and holy animal and its slaughter for purposes of meat was totally banned owing to the same. On the contrary, the cow was made an animal of worship and whose idols would be found at temples and offered prayers to.
The diet of the Mauryan’s thus involved intake of vegetables, pulses and fruits.
It is to be noted here that the scientists of the Mauryan age are credited for developing the orange, which was actually a fruit produced by breeding two variants of citrus fruits. They were also credited for creating a stronger and better type of sorghum called as durra sorghum which had better nutritional properties and was extremely simple to cultivate and harvest. This eventually was spread around Asia, some parts of Africa, Europe and China. Thus we see that as we progress through each civilization, there have been major contributions by each especially in helping decide the diet and improving the nutritional value of dietary components we consume today. The concept of cross breeding by Indian
Scientists of these eras also laid the foundation stones for biochemistry and botany which today play an extremely important role in cultivation of our fruits, vegetables and crops.
We now proceed to the time span of 650AD where in the rule of the Gupta Empire was prevalent.
The Gupta’s laid importance to idol worship and they introduced the concept of worship to a particular deity. In continuation with the Maurya Empire, Hinduism was the main religion preached and practiced. The Gupta’s were sterner in their implementation of Hinduism and totally stopped the use of animals for food purposes, especially cow, who was revered as has been mentioned earlier.
Majority of the diet of the people during this era was vegetarian and also included the use of grains and pulses extensively.
Scientists and scholars of this era too endowed on studies to find better and more nutritious forms of food and this particular era was responsible for converting the juice from the sugar cane plant into cubes of sugar. Thus, the sugar was now available separately and could be used to sweeten and add flavor to other foods. This also led to the discovery and preparation of the first forms of sweets and people would enjoy a variety of the same. Thus the concept of sweets and desserts was introduced into the diet of the general public.
By around the era of 900AD, many a different fruits and vegetables from Central Asia found their way into people’s diet, lemons and the purple variant of carrot was introduced during this era to the Indian people.
Till about the turn of the millennium, there were no major changes or influences in the diet apart from a few minor adjustments and mainly modernization from the discoveries attributed to the Indian palate over the past.
It should be noted that the people from the north west were more of meat eaters along with the people from the eastern regions where as those living in the Southern parts of India were primarily vegetarian.
The use of bread or wheat in the diet was more in the northern regions or what we now know was Pakistan, Punjab and Delhi.
Fish was especially eaten along the coastal areas especially the Konkan and Malabar and the regions of modern day Bengal and Bangladesh where fishing was part of life and was also used to earn a livelihood.
Rice in particular was consumed more in the South and formed an integral part of their diet, this was primarily eaten with a mixed stew of vegetables called a ‘sambar’ or a ‘rasam’ which comprised of a mixture of many vegetables made into a stew, believed to be extremely healthy, filling as well as nutritious. The same continues till date and both rice and, sambar’ are integral components of South Indian Cuisine even today.
Indians were extremely fond of milk and consumed it in large quantities. Preparations such as curd and butter milk were consumed extensively.
A large number of spices were grown which were native and were used to add flavor to food, right from spice to pungency, Indian cuisines boasted of an array of flavors so suit every palate.
Thus, as we see, till 1000 AD, majority of Indians were vegetarian and non-vegetarian food seldom or rarely formed a part of their diet or were never eaten in certain sections of the community, owing to religious beliefs.
The Mughals invaded India around 1100 AD, with them came a new religion, a new set of rules, new architecture and new cooking styles and new cuisines which have all left an everlasting impression on us even today.
The Mughals brought with them their religion, Islam and also introduced the teachings of their Holy Book, The Quran to people. This stated that pig meat or pork was haram and that should not be consumed, leading to the total ban of rearing pigs for food purposes and the consumption of pork in any form. A large numbers of Indians, who were earlier Hindu now converted to Islam and started following their traditions and practices. Although chicken and other forms of meat such as lamb and fish were allowed, the majority of the population preferred to stay vegetarian seldom consuming meat.
The concept of roasting meat in a pot clay oven and the use of charcoal was also introduced during this era, which eventually became very popular and is now referred to as the ‘tandoor’ style of cooking.
The trade routes also helped connect India to the many other parts of the World, while we would trade our spices with Europe for cloth and other important things, the Arabs brought to us dry fruits such as almonds, cashews, figs and dates which have become an essential part of our cooking and find an importance place in our diets today.
On the other hand, while we exported spices to Africa, they gave us the famous and precious cocoa bean from which chocolate is prepared and the coffee bean, whose coffee is now part of people’s daily dietary consumption. Thus we see how exchanges and trade routes not only connected people but also played a major role in reforming and modifying our cuisines by adding new products available for consumption as the years went by.
For the next few hundred years, the Mughals kept spreading their presence right down till Central India and kept influencing the food palate as they progressed.
The next important change which was of great importance of sorts was when India became a jewel in the crown of the British Empire which ruled over it for nearly 200 years till 1947.
The Raj was particularly impressed by the cuisines and the kind of taste that the food in India had to offer unlike the bland food available around England and Europe during those days.
Historians describe and compare the British love for Indian food as the same to as what the God in the heavens thought of in regards ‘ambrosia’ which was in literal terms, the food for the Gods, a dish which was not only heavenly but also delicate and delightful. This emphasizes the importance given to food by the Raj.
Food also got an English twist and during this era, a meal primarily comprised of an appetizer or a side dish, a main course or a main dish followed by something sweet and savory, a dessert. Each course would be accompanied by a drink, which would be either alcoholic or non-alcoholic to add on to the flavor and also help digest the food better.
The appetizer would contain bite sized portions meant to enhance and pep up ones ones appetite.
Common preparations used during the day would be mashed potatoes mixed with spices and deep fried, this was known as the ‘alu tikki’ still very commonly consumed today. The other famous preparation was that of mashed potato mixed with spices which was wrapped in a layer of rectangular dough and fried to make a ‘samosa’, India’s invention that the world gorges on even till date.
It is extremely important to note here that some of the finest chef’s from London were sent to India to learn how to cook local Indian dishes and curries.
One such instance mentions the use of ‘bhel-puri’ which was fed to the troops at war as it was extremely easy to make, nutritious and wasn’t heavy to digest. Thus the troops could continue fighting without getting tired after a meal and the contents of the ‘bhel puri’ provided them with energy, thus preventing malnutrition among them.
The main course consisted of a curry, a gravy which would usually be served with vegetables or meat, which would either be chicken, mutton or beef. The British re allowed the consumption of meat, but majority of population being Hindu did not consume the same. The British also introduced consumption of duck into the cuisine.
The main course would be served with roti or chapati, unlike the bread that was available in Europe during those days. Preparations of rice were also included as it provided the starch required by the body.
Some rice preparations were extensively made using vegetables and meat which would be a wholesome meal in itself, this was known as ‘biryani’ and has ever since spread all over the world as an Indian specialty, consumed in every corner of the earth.
Preparations of curd such as butter milk and ‘raita’ were new to the British and the same was well received by them.
The dessert was normally a preparation that involved the use of honey, jaggery or sugar and sometimes contained milk. India also had a large fruit production some of which were new to the British.
It is believed that the mango, the king of fruits was presented to Queen Victoria as a Royal gift, as she had never heard or seen of it ever before. It was extremely well received and ever since she developed a taste for Indian foods and cuisine which were specially made for her.
Thus we see how over thousands of years, our culinary culture has gone through many a modifications and how each has left an impact of its own even today.
Modern India is divided into many states, each region having its own cooking style using different ingredients. We shall in the further chapters see how each has evolved and how each in its own unique way helps the people with its nutritional properties.
Our spices are also used as medicines and have medicinal properties. Certain household vegetables, fruits and condiments also possess immense medicinal properties which have been used for centuries to treat certain conditions, some prepared and used as home remedies. The same shall be discussed in even more detail so as to understand the benefits of eating and adding certain ingredients to certain foods.
Thus we see how important our culinary science is and how it has evolved over so many years.
Food as Medicine and Medicine as Food
This forms an extremely important statement because the distinction between food as medicine and vice versa is a concept which has been been derived over years. The reason we take this into consideration is because food apart from being a source of energy and nourishment also helps treat and prevent certain disorders.
Right from the ancient times where in the Greeks and Chinese spoke of the benefits of food in treating certain disorders to introducing the concept of tea enriched with herbs beneficial to health up to the age of Ayurveda which also enhanced on the importance of diet and propagated the consumption of certain foods to benefit health, we see how the link between food and medicine has been formed.
Modern day naturopathy and the teachings of Ayurveda have also emphasized on the beneficial
properties of certain foods and how each helps specifically act and prevent certain medical conditions, the same being used till date.
As time progressed, modern day biochemistry has now enabled us to identify and pinpoint exact ingredients and nutrient value of foods. This has allowed us to understand the concepts of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals and how the deficiency of each leads to certain medical conditions and how the same can be corrected by consuming certain foods.
We shall now understand in detail how each system, right from the ancient Ayurveda to the current biochemical understanding of food has evolved.
Importance of food and diet in Ayurveda
The concept of diet or dietetics as was known played an important part in the science and practice of Ayurveda.
The body grows from the very moment we take birth and tends to gain strength and mature as time passes. The important factors responsible for the same are namely Kala Yoga or the precise time, Swabhava Samsiddhi or how ones behavior and nature develops, Ahara Sausthava or the important factors associated with foods we ingest and lastly the Avighata or the lack or complete absence of certain factors which may inhibit growth and maturation.
We shall now discuss the concept of the Ahara or the food that we intake in detail.
The concept of having a basic healthy and nutritious diet has been emphasized upon which comprises of a mixture and variety of foods offering an overall balance to the dietary intake. This will also help maintain an optimum and a balanced weight of the individual which will allow him to carry out his day to day activities without any obstruction. Diet also forms an important pillar to sustaining life and is part of the Traya-Upastambha. The specifications are extremely detailed especially with regards the age, amount of food to be taken, what can be taken and its nutritional value, as the intake and needs of a person tend to change as age progresses.
A deviation from consuming a proper diet tends to cause illness and leads to formation of Ama or toxins in the body, leading to conditions such as Amavata or Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Similarly, if one consumes too much sugar or sweet, the end outcome would be Madhurarasa or diabetes. On similar lines, an unhealthy diet may lead to lifestyle disorders such as cancer or arbuda, obesity of sthoulya and asthma or tamaka swasa to name a few.
Based on the tridosha and the panchamabhoota theories and principles of Ayurveda, even foods and flavors of the same have been based into certain categories, depending on their individual properties.
- Sweet foods or Madhura constitute Prithvi and Aap.
- The sour foods of Amla constitute the Agni and Prithvi.
- Foods that are salty or Lavana constitute Agni and Aap.
- Pungent foods or Katu have Vayu and Agni in dominance.
- The bitter foods or Thikta have Akash and Vayu as major components.
- Lastly, the foods that are astringent to taste or Kashaya constitute Vayu and Prithvi as major elements.
This explains how detailed the understanding of the era was since they were able to understand how flavors of foods affected and caused disturbances in the functioning of the human body.
In taking forward the above, they were able to exactly identify what element was deficient in each individual and prescribe a diet which would accordingly be beneficial as per the individual constitution.
Another approach to understanding and treating disorders was studying the Prakriti or ones psychosomatic constitution. Thus the prakriti would be vata dominant, kapha dominant, pitta dominant, pitta-kapha dominant, pitta-vata dominant, vata-kapha dominant and lastly sama dominant.
Hence, as mentioned above, a specific diet was prescribed to a specific prakriti type.
Importance has also been given to the kitchen and how the cooking surroundings should be also finds place in Ayurvedic literature. It is mentioned that the cooking area should be large, extremely spacious, clean, well ventilated, free of any dust and there must be no pests or insects where the food is being prepared.
There are eight major attributes that have been mentioned in regards food, namely
- Prakriti or the characteristics of the quality of the food
- Karana of the method in which food is processed
- Samyoga or the act of mixing
- Rashi or the physical amount or quantity
- Desha or the surroundings or living environment of the person
- Kala or the variations in time and the season
- Upayoga Sanstha or the digestive power of various foods by the body
- Lastly, the Upayokta or the individual who consumes the food.
Based on the above classifications, they were able to derive the types of diets that were consumed at the time and what each led to, in regards any disease process in the body.
Three types of diets mentioned are:
- Satvik or a diet considered ideal which comprised of vegetable food devoid of meat and foods which were not very oily or spicy.
- Rajasik diet which comprised of food articles that had excessive flavor specifically salt and spice and were too hot to consume, these foods lead to excitation of the mind.
- Tamasik diet or one that has food which is excessively fatty and oily, leading to a slowness or sluggishness in the mind.
So as to avoid the above from occurring and also to extract maximum properties from the contents of food available, the food forms based on their mode of preparation were described as follows:
- Ashitam or that food which could be eaten and consumed.
- Khaditam or those foods which could be chewed and consumed.
- Peetam which included liquids that could be ingested in the form of drinks or beverages.
- Leedham or those foods which could be licked and consumed.
We thus see how detailed the understanding of the era was in regards maintaining a healthy diet and how foods that weren’t suitable could be avoided.
The diet to be taken was also in a measured quantity, a Satvik diet could be taken in larger quantities than a Tamasik diet as it was easier to digest compared to the fat and oil content in the Tamasik diet which took longer and needed more energy to digest.
Thus it was suggested that those foods which were heavy or a heavy meal be taken to three-fourth capacity of the stomach so as to avoid any complications and the same be digested through properly.
Improper diet can lead to complications and a slowdown in the body processing as well as functioning.
This thus hampers our growth and our day to day affairs. A few foods when combined together would lead to certain harmful effects and slowing of body function. A detailed note of foods that were incompatible and shouldn’t be taken together was also made, this included the following:
- Milk and fish or a soup of fish.
- Alcohol with milk.
- Milk combined with radish.
- Honey and lotus stem taken together
- Ghee and honey mixed together in similar quantities.
All the above were cautioned against as they would react adversely with each other.
In keeping with the concept of Kala or the seasons and its variations, Ayurvedic texts listed in detail foods beneficial during particular seasons. These can be enlisted as follows:
- Spring: foods which are astringent and bitter are allowed while sweet and salty foods should be avoided. Fruits like jack-fruit and mango were allowed. Intake of meat was advised.
- Summer: During this season there is activation of Pitta, hence all things cold and sweet are allowed to calm the same down. Foods that are highly spicy or hot were prohibited. Milk and meat were allowed.
- Monsoon: Here there is a surge of Vata owing to the cold, thus drinks, salty and sour foods are allowed.
- Winter: A surge of Vata occurs in this season and foods that cool the body down and are not heavy to digest such as rice, oils and milk are advised.
- Autumn: A surge in Pitta occurs and ideally a light diet is advised comprising of pungent, sweet and bitter foods. In this season, it is best suited to ingest ghee infused with medicinal drugs that are bitter.
Certain rules were laid down in regards to consuming food. The Do’s and Don’ts, these can be enlisted as follows:
The foods ingested should be freshly prepared and should contain all the basic flavors in them. Food should be chewed and then swallowed neither too slowly nor too fast. One should only eat a meal after digesting the earlier one and would only eat when hungry. A comfortable posture must be attained while eating food and the surroundings should be pleasant or as per the individual choice.
The foods should not be contradicting to each other as has been mentioned in the list above. One should eat slowly and not in a hurry. If the person is emotionally unstable or upset, he should avoid eating till the mood alleviates. The food should have a mixture and balance of flavors and no particular flavor should be overpowering to the senses.
This finally concludes the vast knowledge and importance that Ayurveda gave to food and diet giving one of a most detailed explanations not only to the content of food, but also the methods of preparation, the surroundings, foods suited to various seasons as well as how the food needs to be ingested so as to derive optimum benefit from the same.
Role of Diet in Ancient Chinese Medicine
The Chinese had developed their own detailed system of medicine and its understanding over the years. This included the use of many natural substances to be used in foods and drinks to enhance health and avoid any occurrence of any disease. The Chinese were more spiritually inclined and also believed that the mind had an important role in maintaining a harmony at the physical body level.
The Chinese propagated the concept of a bodily balance using the theory of Yin and Yang. The Yin component was the milder part which helped cool the body and slow down its functioning. The Yang on the other hand was the warmer part meant to accelerate body functioning. A balance in both was essential for maintaining health and any excess of one lead to a derangement in body functioning leading to complications.
Taking the same concept into consideration, the Chinese classified foods from hot to cold based on temperature and ranging from sour to spicy to sweet to pungent to salty, based on the flavor the food possessed.
Foods of different flavors and different temperatures had different impacts on the body and it was essential that a balance of all these components was kept while preparing a meal as an excess of any one of the components would lead to an imbalance in the harmonious functioning of the organism. Apart from the contents of the food, the Chinese also laid down certain guidelines while consuming food, so as to obtain maximum benefits from the nutrient value of the same.
This thus stated that:
- One should sit down in a calm and composed manner while eating food.
- The food should be chewed well.
- Attention should only be given to the food while eating and all other activities or work related matters should be avoided or stopped while eating.
- One should eat produce that is fresh and grown locally.
- A meal should not be skipped.
- A seasonal diet should be maintained with its contents being changed or modified as per the season.
- The Chinese believed that the seat of digestion lay in the stomach and the spleen. They broke down the food we ingested and the good part of the food was sent across to the spleen to be divided and given to the rest of the body while the remaining was expelled from the body in the form of urine and fecal matter.
The fire of the digestive tract, as it was known was essential for body functioning and thus the ingestion of too many cold foods was avoided as that would lead to the same being weakened. It has already been mentioned above that certain foods lead to dampness in the body, thus leading to slowness in the functioning of the body functions.
The symptoms of this dampness are primarily a general feeling of tiredness or fatigue, increase in weight, formation of tumors in the body, digestion problems especially accumulation of gas, a lack of thinking and discharges that are offensive smelling, especially stools to a name a few.
In regards with the above, certain foods are known to lead to dampness in the body and should thus be avoided.
These foods include milk and milk products, foods that contain wheat, cold foods and drinks, foods that are excessively fatty or fried and stimulants such as alcohol and coffee.
Similarly, there are certain foods that contradict the dampness in the body and can be consumed to decrease the effects of the same.
These foods primarily include fresh vegetables which are cooked such as corn, celery, mushroom and pumpkin, oats and rice, legumes such as kidney beans, teas infused with extracts of raspberry and jasmine and lastly certain lean meat which include fish and poultry.
Yang and its correlation to food
Yang is responsible for an increase in the heat of the body causing initiation of the body functions and excessive warming.
Symptoms of Yang deficiency are:
- A general sense of cold or chilliness in the body
- Decrease in sexual desire
- Decline in body temperature
- Pain in the joints, especially the lower back
- Abnormal menstrual discharges
The foods that can be avoided are:
- All foods which are cold, as well as liquids
- Foods those are raw, especially in winters and fall
Foods that enhance the Ying factor are:
- Fruits such as cherries, peach and strawberry
- Dry fruits which include pistachios, walnuts and chestnuts
- Meat of venison and lamb
- Spices such as pepper, turmeric, ginger and garlic
- Tea, especially jasmine
Yin and its correlation to food
The function of the Yin aspect is to moisten and cool the body. When the Yin depletes, the body tends to show signs of heating up.
Symptoms of Yin deficiency are:
- Profuse sweat, especially at night.
- Flushes of heat in parts of the body.
- Hair turns gray prematurely.
- Affections of the spine, especially lumbar.
- Irregularities of the menstrual cycle
The foods that can be avoided are:
- Spicy and hot foods
- All foods that stimulate the senses, such as alcohol, tobacco in all forms, drugs and sugar.
Foods that enhance the Yin factor are:
- Protein rich foods especially eggs.
- Pulses, meat, especially beef, pork and fish and fruits such as banana, watermelon, apple and pear to name a few.
This thus gives an outlook as to how detailed the Chinese understanding was in regards diet and how they were able to manage illnesses using food. A lot of these have had great influence on the Indian concept of food and diet which are being used till date forming an important component of our present day diet.
Importance of food and diet in Naturopathy
Naturopathy involves a science that believes in making the use of certain substances as medicines that are sourced from nature, are non-invasive in nature and enhance the self-healing property of the body.
Its practice has reached many a countries and it is officially recognized as an alternative form of medicine and treatment.
There has been given an immense amount of importance to diet in regards naturopathy where in it is understood that certain foods help benefit the body while certain foods are harmful and have deleterious effects on the body.
The three main types of diet discussed as per naturopathy are:
- Eliminative Diet: here the importance is given to particular food substances which help eliminate of remove certain toxins from the body, thus leading to a form of cleansing mechanism of the body. The food substances included or to be taken in such a diet are those which are mainly liquids or have rich water content. Citrus fruit juices, soups made out of fresh vegetables, butter milk and coconut water are some of the components this diet comprises of.
- Soothing Diet: As suggestive by the name, this diet mainly deals with soothing the body and nourishing one’s mind and spirit. This diet mainly consists of those substances and components which are available fresh and are abundant in resources. All kinds of vegetables that are boiled, salads, sprouts and fruits are given to the person when he on this kind of diet.
- Constructive Diet: A constructive diet in primarily one where in the nutrients are extracted so as to build up body tissue and body mass. These are more rich in the basic ingredients such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats and the various minerals and vitamins required for body functioning. The use of wheat, flour, pulses, rice and milk products such as curd is seen in case of this kind of diet.
Thus in short we see how naturopathy has classified diets into various types and included ingredients depending on the needs of the body and how each can help benefit the body, both mentally and physically depending on the individuals needs.
Biochemistry, a modern perspective:
Over the last century, as the medical science has progressed and the study of food and food products has widened and deepened with every passing year, we are now able to identify the exact content of each product available to us in the market.
All deficiencies can be managed by infusing contents externally into our diet so as to balance the same.
The understanding of the three basic requirements, namely carbohydrates, proteins and fats has also helped immensely in deciding how to modify dietary requirements as per each individuals needs.
These are molecules whose biological structure consists of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen as part of their structure. The usual structure involves the ratio of hydrogen to that of oxygen as two to one, thus similarly seen in the case of the molecule of water.
The carbohydrates are also referred to as the saccharide group as it includes the biological components known as sugars, cellulose as well as starch. The word saccharide is a derivation from the Greek dictionary or vocabulary for the word sakkharon which also means sugar. Based on their molecular structure, they are divided primarily into monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides.
Monosaccharides as well as the disaccharides are also known as the sugars since the molecules possess a low weight.
The other two, namely oligo and polysaccharides possess a heavier molecular weight, hence their classification is different.
Carbohydrates are extremely essential to the body as they help perform and carry out many functions essential for its functioning and survival.
Monosaccharides are the basic forms of carbohydrates; these cannot be broken down further. The major components of this group include fructose, glucose and galactose to name a few. Disaccharides are slightly more complex and constitute lactose, sucrose and maltose as important components. Oligosaccharides are further sub-listed into two types, namely malto-oligosaccharides and other-oligosaccharides. Malto-oligosaccharides contain maltose as component and are sub-classified into a group called maltodextrins containing extremely complex structures. Other-oligosaccharides usually are more complex and are devoid of the maltose ring, these further include stachyose, raffinose and fructo-oligosaccharides.
Polysaccharides contain multiple mixed chains of various components and further constitute groups that contain starch, hence starchy and those that don’t contain starch or non-starchy polysaccharides.
Starch containing groups comprise of modified starches and amylose. Non-starch polysaccharides involve cellulose, pectins and hemi-cellulose as components.
Carbohydrates help in obtaining energy for carrying out basic body functions as we have seen above with its complex classification. Each group has its own separate involvement in various processes governing the body at different levels, thus possessing its own importance.
Processed foods are known to have a higher percentage of carbohydrate content as compared to those that are unrefined.
Higher carbohydrate content is found in foods like sugar, aerated drinks, bread, honey, cereal and fruits. Lower carbohydrate content can be found in foods such as meat, eggs, legumes, beans and milk to certain extent. Foods that are obtained from animals are especially known to have the lowest carbohydrate content.
Thus we see in brief how we are now able to identify and classify carbohydrates as per their structure and how the content of the same can be identified in the food, thus helping us monitor our carbohydrate intake as per each individual requirement.
These are the building blocks of the body which constitute the source of the human organism, the DNA till the basic constitution of the muscles of the body. They are primarily made up of amino acids and may contain a simple chain of the same of a complex formation.
The functions of proteins varies within the human body, right from playing part in important reactions helpful for body metabolism to helping in the multiplication and replication of DNA to determining our reactions and responses to a particular stimulus and finally they also help in the transportation of certain molecules in the body.
Proteins are further classified based on the arrangement or the sequence of the amino acids contained in them. Thus, a polypeptide would be one in which presents with amino acids in a linear chain. On the other hand, oligopeptides or peptides are those that contain fewer or lesser than twenty to thirty amino acid chain sequences.
The sequence of the amino acid chains is guided and determined by a gene whose encoding lies in something known as a genetic code. The genetic code comprises mainly of about twenty amino acids whose sequencing varies so as to form various protein types.
Proteins are abundant in the cells of all organisms varying from a few hundred found in the most ancient organisms on earth to a few billion per cell as in the case of the human body. Almost all plants as well as microorganisms can themselves synthesize proteins for their own needs. Animals, including humans are unable to do the same and hence need to obtain proteins through external sources. Those amino acids which the body is unable to obtain or produce on its own are known as the essential amino acids. These are thus obtained through food intake which includes plants and by the process of digestion; we are able to obtain the required nutrients. These amino acids are thus put to various uses all over the body to help the body function.
Proteins also form an important role in case the body is derived of food for long and symptoms of starvation begin to occur. In such cases, the body derives proteins by using and breaking down those found in the muscles.
Eggs form an extremely rich source of protein, especially egg white whose content is totally that of protein. Dry fruits, especially almonds also form an important source. Non-vegetarian especially chicken meat, beef and fish are extremely rich sources of proteins. Oats, milk and milk products especially cottage cheese are useful sources. Lentils especially peanuts and broccoli are sources that are also worth a mention.
This explains the importance of proteins, especially in the functioning of the body and their sources.
These are known to be good reserves of energy and also help in carious processes of the body. They are put to use when the body is in need of excess energy to carry out a certain activity and are thus broken down then. Fats are also referred to as triglycerides. They need to be differentiated from the terms oils and lipids which are many a times confused with the term fat. Oil is type of fat that contains an unsaturated fatty acid chain and is liquid at room temperature.
Lipid is a term which is used in general and may not exactly denote a triglyceride.
Based on their structure and their functional requirement in the body fats are further classified into the following types:
Unsaturated fats which usually consist of maybe one or two carbon atom chains and are further classified into Monosaturated fat, Polysaturated fat and Trans fat. These fats typically exist in the liquid state at room temperature.
Saturated fat which is also referred to as interesterified fat which exists in a semi-solid or solid state
Fats form the basic source of the essential fatty acids which are extremely important for our diet requirement. They also play an important role in the utilization and synthesis of vitamins which are fat soluble, such as A, D, E and K. They help in keeping the body temperature stable as well as keep hair and skin healthy. Fat also helps prevent a lot of diseases and also provides the body with insulation.
Important dietary sources of fat are meat especially pork, poultry, beef and fish, milk and milk products especially butter and blubber from certain animals.
Sources of oil are majorly castor oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil and mustard oil to name a few. This thus shows the importance of oils and fats to the body and how the same are essential for maintaining its harmonious functioning.
By understanding the above, we were able to decipher the functions of each and the foods that contained each respectively, thus supplementing the same in the respective diets. A detailed understanding of the mineral requirements of the body helped identify deficiencies and thus manage the same.
Minerals like sodium, potassium and calcium form the elixir of life and are extremely important for survival, as we now know that sodium and potassium control the water balance of the body while potassium also controls the hearts action and any deficiency in the same is extremely dangerous while calcium on the other hand is essential for muscular functioning as well as for the formation and the maintenance of the bones.
We shall now understand in detail, the requirement of various minerals to the body and how each helps in the functioning of the same. Sodium, as already mentioned above is extremely essential for maintaining the body’s fluid balance and also helps with the nerve and muscle functioning. Table salt normally takes care of our daily sodium requirement.
Chloride build up the acid in the stomach needed for digestion and is usually taken into the body in combination with sodium mainly through salt, chemically known as sodium chloride.
Potassium is required by the body to maintain fluid balance and well as maintain nerve functioning. Rich sources include meat, coconut water, vegetables, grains and legumes.
Calcium helps maintain the vitality and the structure of the bones and also plays an important part in the clotting mechanism of the blood. It also helps maintain the blood pressure. Milk and milk products, fish, broccoli and tofu are extremely rich sources.
Phosphorus helps maintain structure and health of the teeth and the bones. It is found abundantly in meat, milk and milk products and eggs.
Magnesium is also needed for maintaining healthy bones and it also helps maintain the immune system of the body. Magnesium is found in seafood, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables and drinking water that is hard in nature.
Sulphur is an important component of the molecules of proteins. It is found in those foods rich in proteins such as milk, eggs, fish and meat. These in general were the major minerals required for the body functioning. Apart from these, there are also certain minerals required in much smaller quantities, but are essential to the body. These are referred to as trace elements or trace minerals.
Iron which comprises a structural part of haemoglobin and helps in the oxygen carrying mechanism of the body is found in liver meat as well as green leafy vegetables, especially spinach.
Zinc is essential for sexual maturity aids sperm production in men. It also forms an essential part of enzymes and is required for protein production. It is found in meat, grains and vegetables
Selenium acts as an antioxidant in the body and is found in grains, fish and meat.
Copper aids in the metabolism of iron and is found in seeds, nuts, legumes and water.
Manganese is an essential element in many enzymes and is found abundantly in vegetables.
Fluorine of fluoride helps form and maintains teeth and bones and avoids decay of the same. Water, which naturally contains fluoride, tea and fish are rich sources of the same.
Chromium is essential in regulating blood sugar as it functions with insulin and is naturally found in cheese, nuts and liver.
Molybdenum also helps in the formation of some enzymes and naturally occurs in milk, green leafy vegetables and legumes.
Thus, we see that the understanding of the major and minor minerals and their requirement has been one of the finest achievements of biochemistry as we can now identify every minute deficiency and correct the same.
Another aspect that was understood in detail with the advent of biochemistry was that of Vitamins, whose role was extensively studied in the case of body functioning and development.
The role of the vitamins and their sources can be listed as follows:
Vitamin A, also known as retinol is essential for maintaining a proper and healthy vision, deficiency of which may lead to night blindness Vegetables that possess a yellow color such as carrot and lemon to name a few are rich sources of the same.