When I was younger and would watch my grandmother make besan laddoos, I would cringe at the amount of ghee she poured into the sweet. After all, we’ve been told for several decades now about the need to restrict fat consumption in our diets.
It’s not just the use of ghee. There are several aspects of traditional Indian cooking that may seem unusual or unnecessary to us nowadays. But this is because we’ve lost touch with the knowledge of what makes these customary food combinations healthful and understand how to boost immunity.
Lost connections to traditional knowledge
Studies find that Indians are unhealthy, plagued with a host of health conditions that can all be prevented with healthier eating habits. While we turn to fad diets to reverse these problems, simpler solutions are available in the form of traditional foods that our parents and grandparents ate. These recipes are based on sound principles of Ayurveda, available to us in classical texts.
The holistic palate of Ayurveda
While modern nutrition focuses on the chemical make-up of individual foods, Ayurveda takes a more holistic picture. Ayurveda focuses on eight guidelines – upayoktha (characteristics of the individual eating), prakruti (nature of food), karana (how food is processed), samyoga (different combinations of foods), desha (the habitat one lives in), kaala (seasonal variations), rashi (the quantity of food), and upayoga samstha (rules for partaking food).
These eight principles help balance vata, pitta and kapha, the doshas that have specific physiological functions in our bodies. Ayurveda tells us that the doshas are distributed differently in each of us, and an increase or decrease in their balance in a person leads to ill health.
While this might sound exceedingly complex, the simplest way to eat healthy is to focus on variety. Foods containing all six types of tastes – madhura or sweet, amla or sour, lavana or salty, katu or pungent, tikta or bitter, and kashaya or astringent – help balance out the doshas and keep us in good health.
Traditional foods for balanced nutrition
Here are six food combinations that provide sound nutrition and help balance out the doshas:
Moong dal khichdi (moong dal and rice): In general, when moong dal and rice are cooked, they are calorie-dense and heavy on digestion. However, khichdi is a highly versatile recipe that can be modified for different body types. Dry roasting the dal and rice makes it lighter on digestion and suitable for vata-related conditions, adding ghee for pitta, and adding spices like ginger and pepper for kapha.
Besan laddoo (sweets with ghee and spices): We all have a sweet tooth now and then, but sweets can be a major cause of ill health. Besan laddoo is an excellent choice for a sweet treat because of its balance. Besan increases vata and reduces pitta and kapha. Higher amounts of ghee and cardamom provide balance for people with an excess of vata, while the besan and ghee suit pitta, and cardamom suits kapha.
Gajar methi: This might sound like an unusual combination but is especially healthy. Both carrots and methi reduce kapha and vata and increase pitta. And the coriander powder that forms a primary spice in this dish acts with the vegetables to balance out all three doshas.
Millets with ghee or oil: We all know about the health benefits of millets. Millets increase vata and pitta, while reducing kapha. Hence, cooking them in ghee or oil brings these power-packed grains into perfect balance.
Karela/ Bitter gourd vaththal kozhambu: When it comes to the variety advocated by Ayurveda, few dishes compare with the genius of a bitter gourd ‘vaththal kozhambu’. The bitter gourd supplies tikta, the chilly provides katu, salt gives lavana, tamarind gives amla, and jaggery madhura. And since the kozhambu is traditionally followed by buttermilk, this provides kashaya.
Rasam (tamarind with dal): Rasam is another great preparation that balances out the doshas by bringing together a variety of ingredients. While tamarind increases pitta and reduces vata and kapha, tur dal increases vata and pitta. Adding coriander powder, jaggery and ghee makes this dish ideal for pitta conditions, a tadka of ghee and mustard along with coriander seed powder for vata, and a tadka of mustard, jeera with coriander seed powder for kapha.
While these foods can help you balance your doshas, it is important to use pure spices with natural oils and unadulterated ingredients to get the benefits from these dishes and figure out how to boost immunity.
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