The three main props (upastambha) of life are: food , sleep and sex(allr,1752): and of the three, food is the foremost for all living beings, inasmuch as it is the foundation (mula) for strength(bala), appearance(varna) and vitaliy(ojas)(SS.1.46). It is natural, therefore, that Ayurvedi texts discuss at great length the details of the food that maintains and promotes health. The also discuss the problem of food habits and the diseases that are caused by unwholesome good and wrong food habits.
The main intake of food (meal) is to be resorted to only twice in twentyfour hours; once in the day (after the expiry of first quarter of the night time) and once in the night (after the expiry of the first quarter). Eating food inbetween (antara-bhojana) is injurious to health, unless one is oppressed by hunger. Eating when the food eaten eariler is as yet not completely digested puts an extra load on the digestive mechanism. Skipping the two prescribed times for food is also injuurious as it deprives one of strength (balakshaya). These restrictions, however, apply only to healthy adults, and not to patients or children (under sixteen years of age) (RJN).
It is wise to follow the directions of the stomach: to eat only when one is hungry. Hunger is felt when the chyle (rasa) is digested, when the doshas of the body are pacified and when the waste products are eliminated from the body. Whenever one feels hungry, it should be regarded as the proper time to eat food. It is an important detail of personal hygiene that one should not eat food. It is an important detail of personal hygiene that one should not eat when one does not feel hungry (adhyasana defined as "ajirne bhujyate yat"). As man is a creature of habit, the time when one gets normally hungry more or less clearly gets fixed. Taking food before the usual time or long after it, is described as ‘untimely food’ (akala-bhojana) and is classed under ‘unbalanced or improper food’ (vishamasana, which also includes eating too little or in exess). Before the usual time (apraptakale), the food will result in various diseases, as the normal course of digestion is interfered with, long after the usual time (kale atite), the food eaten will excite the vata in the abdomen and impairs the digestive power.
Food eaten must be what one is used to (satmya), clean (suchi), wholesome (hita), lukewarm and oily (snigdhoshna). Food that has become cold, stale and dry must be avoided and it is harmful to the system if the food once hot and cooled is heated again (ushnikrtam punah). Also to be avoided are the food articles that are very hot, or those that contain must salt. Food eaten at a sitting must include different kinds of ingredients and must normally comprehend all the six tastes (sweet, sour pungent, bitter, saline and astringent), but predominantly sweet (madhura-prayam). Food must be relished and eaten in pleasant company (ishtam ishtais saha); neither too fast not too slowly (nati-druta-vilambitam) (Ahr, 1.8.35-38).
An important detail to be considered is the proper measure of food (matra) to be eaten. While the proper measure is a relative term, depending as it does upon the type of the food, the needs of the person, his depending as it does upon the type of the food, the needs of the person, his digestive power, his work, his habits, time,place, and so on, it gets more or less well-defined for each person. Ayurvedic texts insist that one must eat according to his measure (matrasi syat AS, 1.31.3), for it is the measure that will properly impel the digestive power (agneh pravartika).|
But the measure which is proper is not only much less than the point of satiety (atisauhitya) but also less than the point of gratification (sauhitya or trpti), or the full appeasement of hunger and thirst. (CS vitmana, 2) prescribes that the stomach must be figured as composed of three parts: the first part must be filled with soilds, the second with liquids, and the third with the three doshas: "one that eats thus will never come to grief caused by over or under-eating", Ahr (1.8.46), however, would divide the stomach into four parts and suggest that two parts thereof must be filled with soild food, one part with liquids, and the other part be left alone, for being the field of operation (asraya) for the doshas, viz. vata.
There are also certain well-defined indications for the proper measure of food to be eaten. The measure is proper when hunger and thirst are just appeased and the sense-organs are satisfied and invigorated. One must stop before he feels any pressure in the stomach discomfort at the sides, heaviness in the belly and choking sensation in the heart. The proper measure of food will not prevent him from sitting, standing, lying down or walking at pleasure, not from continuing pleasant conversation with people around him. Food eaten in the morning must sustain him till night, and the food eaten in the night must sustain him till the next morning. And the food eaten must nourish the body constituents, and help eliminate the waste-products from the body (AS, 1.11.5).
If the food eaten is short of the proper measure (hina-matra), it will not tend to provide strength for the body and sustain vitality; it will, on the other hand, cause diseases which are predominantly disturbances of vata. The body begins to degenerate, longevity is threatened and the mind gets gradually feeble. If the food eaten is in excess of the proper measure (atimatra), it will agitate all the three doshas at the same time, and bring about several ailments (such as indigestion, loss of appetite, tympanites and cholera) (Ahr, 1.8.304).
Another consideration while taking food is that it should not be an unwholesome combination of different kinds of food-aricles, especially ingredients that are antagonistic in character (viruddhasana). Each of the ingredients may be harmless by itself but when they are taken together or several times on the same day, the effect will be injurious to health. Examples are: milk, meat or sweets; meat with milk, oil, or fish with butter, ghee, milk, meat or sweets; meat with milk, oil, or fish; plantain fruit with buttermilk or palmyra fruit; butter and ghee with fish or oil. Meat of more than one animal should not be eaten on the same day. Honey, ghee, milk, oil and water should not be taken together. Such food operates like deadly poison (maraka-visha) secondary posion (gara, dushi-visha). Also included in the category are restrictions like not keeping butter, ghee or coconut water in the bell-metal containers, not heating agian the decoction of herbs or food once prepared, not taking honey, ghee and oil together in the same measure, not drinking rain-water even after honey and ghee are taken in unequal measures, not drinking milk after eating radish or garlic or not taking milk preparations with thin gruel (C.S., 1.26.84).
Such mutually contradictory combinations of food articles are said to cause several diseases like vititation of blood, obstructions in the channels if circulation, constipation, diseases relating to blood, toxic conditions, termor, epilepsy, diphtheria, scrofula, aggravation of doshas, diarrhoea and loss of sensory acuity (CS., 1.26,.82-84).
However, the mutually antagonisting articles of food taken together will not harm those who habitually taken physical excercise, whose body is oily, whose digestive power is good, who are youthful and strong, who are habituated to such food, and who normally eat only little food (Ahr, 1.7.47).
Drinking water while taking food is still another topic that is discussed at length in Ayurvedic texts. Drinking much water interferes with the digestive process; not drinking at all is equally harmful. Water must, therefore, be drunk in small quantities frequently while food is being eaten, but never much; this stimulate the digestive fire (vahni-vivardhanya muhurmuhur-vari piben na bhuri). If water is drunk at the commencement of eating (viz. before half the quantity of the meal is consumed), the digestive powers are weakened, and the person tends to be lean and lanky, owing to inadequate assimilation of food. If water is drunk at the end of the meal, kapha is aggravated, and the tendency to obesity is facilitated. The best period to consume water is in the middle of the meal (viz. just after half the quanity of the meal is consumed). Water will then keep the digestive power active and will assist the proper assimilation of food.
It is also a rule that one should not drink water when he is hungry(for he will then be a victimto dropsy), nor eat food when thirsty (for he will then be stricken by phantomtumour or gulma) . The hungry man should drink water only after half the quantity of the meal is consumed, the thirsty man should eat food only after the thirst is quenched.
Chewing betel leaves and areca nuts along with selected spices is recommended after the meal, for it will cleanse the mouth,encourage the flow of saliva necessary for digestion, and remove foetid odours; it will also pacify the three doshas.
After the meal, bathing, physical and physical and mental exercise, running, travel by vehicles (yana), fighting, sexual activity, singing and study are to be avoidedfor at least fortyeight minutes ( a muhurata), one should also not lie down or sleep immediately after taking food; but slow walking with with measured steps for a while ("hundred steps", satapatha) is beneficial to the digestive process.
Indigestion, which is the root -cause of many diseases is caused by drinking too much of water (atyambupana, viz. in excess of what is required to quench the thirst), eating unwholesome and untimely food (vishamasana), suppression or long delay in answering the calls of nature (sandharana), and perverted habits of sleep (swapna-viparyaya, viz sleeping in day timeand keeping awake during night). The food eaten, even when it is timely, accustomed and in moderate quantity, will not get digested, owing to these factors.
Eight factors are listed as determining the value of dood (CS, vimana,1.21): (1) inherent nature of food-articles(prakriti); the method of processing of food or preparation (karana), involving a trnsformation of the inherent qualities of the food by dilution, heating, cleansing, churning, flavouring, storing etc.; (3) combination of two or more substances (samyoga), thus producing characteristics not present in each of the ingredients; (4) quantity of food (rasi); (5) habitat (desa) of the articles of food (locality, climate etc.); (6) time(Kala), viz. day or night, seasons, condition of the individual, age of the individual etc.,(7) dietetic rules (upayoga-samstha)(such as taking food neither too hurriedly nor too slowly, masticatingproperly before swallowing, not eating until the previously eaten food has been digested,etc.), largely based on the digestive conditions; and (8) the individual who eats (upayoktr), on whom alone depends the wholesomeness of the food by the habitual intake(okasatmya). These factors are responsible for the good or bad effects of the food eaten; and they are interrelated. The wise man should understand the significance of each of these factors, and should not be under the influence of ignorance (moha) or negligence(pramada), and succumb to the temptation to eat the food which is apparantely pleasant although harmful in the long run (priyamahitam) (CS, ibid., 23).
To sum up, food that is beneficial to the system should be warm (ushnam), unctuous (snigdham), in proper measure (matravad),and free from contradictory potencies (virya-viruddham), one should take care not to eat before the food eaten earlier has been digested (jirnah). One should eat in a place that one likes best (ishte dese), and surrounded by things that he desires (isha-sarvopakaranam). He should eat neither too fast (natidrutam), nor too slowly (nati-vilambitam). One should be mindful while eating (tan-manah), concentrating on the things to be eaten and relishing the taste thereof. He should not indulge in irrelevant continuous talk (ajalpana) nor in loud laughter (ahasan) while eating. Finally, one should eat with confidence that what he eats will nourish him well (atmanam abhisamikshya) (CS. vimana, 1.25.1-9).
Abbreviations and Major References cited
RJN.......Rasa-Jala-Nidhi (Bhudev Mukhopadhyaya)