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Introduction to Ayurvedic Nutrition

You are what you digest

Let's discuss the overarching principles of Ayurvedic nutrition. For context, Ayurveda is a thousands-of-years old medical from India, which focuses on how humans are nature, and how we interact with nature. A core belief, is that you are the universe, and the universe is you - so we can expect the external world to be reflected internally. And by slowing down and noticing the rhythms of nature, and tuning in to our own rhythms, we can understand how we will react to the world around us, and make confident, intuitive decisions for our own health and well-being.

Ayurveda teaches that food keeps the environment of your body in balance, so that you can flourish and grow. How do we define an optimal environment? It is one that promotes the most diverse gut microbiome. The gut microbiome plays such an important role in our health - it influences the conversion of food into usable nutrients, immune system regulation, hormonal signaling, and many other physiologic processes. It's important to have a diverse amount of bacteria to support these different functions. If we look to nature to identify the environment with the most diversity of organisms, we think of the rainforest. A rainforest is a warm, moist, and humid environment which allows a variety of organisms to thrive. And similarly, we want to create a warm, moist, and humid environment within ourselves to allow an optimal environment for our gut bacteria.

So, when looking at food, we first ask - how will this food affect the environment of my body? Will it keep things warm, moist, and humid? Next, we ask how will this food provide me with the nutrients I need? Because only if the environment is optimal can the food transform into the nutrients we need. If we think about our gut bacteria like an oven - even if we put top quality ingredients into the oven, the food won't bake correctly (or transform) unless the temperature settings are correct. This concept of transformation is known as agni, in Ayurveda. Agni translates literally to "fire", but it really describes the quality of transformation, represented by the fire element. Agni is your ability to metabolize foods effectively, and is dependent on the environment of your gut.

Ayurveda says, "you are what you digest." Not, you are what you eat. You can eat all of the "right" things, but if you can't transform them into nutrients you can use, then it won't really matter. The cornerstone of Ayurvedic nutrition revolves around keeping your agni strong and balanced, by first eating foods that will help you keep a warm, moist, and humid environment.

cinnamon star anise turmeric red pepper and colorful spices used in Ayurvedic nutrition

Up Next...

In Part 2, we will discuss the five elements and doshas

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