Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Food of the Gods

“Let your food be your medicine and your medicine, your food,” -- Hippocrates

It is generally recognized by most systems of natural medicine throughout the world, that the majority of all diseases begin in the stomach, with symptoms such as faulty digestion emerging first. In areas of the world where food is scarce, it would be unthinkable to treat diseases caused by inadequate nutrition with raw foods, liquid fasts, or vegetable and fruit juice as these would not supply the adequate amount of protein and complex carbohydrates and would only cause more degenerative wasting.

In the West, where food is abundant and excess is more likely to be the underlying cause of disease, raw foods and juice fasting may be more appropriate as an initial treatment to eliminate and detoxify excess waste clogging the circulatory vessels and organs of the body, however as a long-term diet it often leads to deficiency and weakness.

Few of us are sufficiently in touch with how food affects our mental states, emotions, and overall state of health. However most people understand the hyped feeling that comes from consuming too much sugar, the heavy, dull feeling from an excess of dairy, fats and red meat or the ungrounded, spacey and unfocused effects from too much chocolate or caffeine.

Kichari and weight loss
Indian Dal, also called Kichari is a mainstay of East Indian cuisine and consists of split yellow mung beans or lentils, and white basmati rice cooked together with ghee (clarified butter) and mild spices. According to Ayurvedic medicine, Kichari detoxifies the entire system, and helps to kindle the body’s digestive fires called ‘agni.’ Unlike other fasts or restricted diets, following an exclusive diet of kichari with the addition of some steamed seasonal vegetables and fresh fruits and perhaps a few tablespoons of yogurt mid-day, supplies all the bodies’ nutritional needs and will cause no nutritional deficiencies.

An exclusive diet of kichari for at least one to several weeks is the safest and best way to lose unwanted pounds.

In Ayurveda the human constitution is evaluated according to the three basic body types, Vata - sensitive, and nerve oriented; Pitta – fire oriented; and Kapha – water oriented. This is called Tridosha and is the cornerstone for all Ayurvedic treatment.

Ayurveda teaches that each individual is naturally born with a predominance of any one or a combination of these three basic types and that this dominance is reflected in one’s overall constitution, personality, and their day to day climatic and dietary preferences and aversions. Thus the term ‘dosha’ means ‘fault’ because an imbalance of any of the Tridoshas is deemed the cause of disease. Ayurvedic treatment then goes on to prescribe dietary, herbal, activity, and lifestyle changes that are specifically intended to restore balance to an individual.

This ancient medical theory has its modern scientific counterpart with the more contemporary theory of somatypes developed in the 1940’s by American psychologist, William Sheldon. This is a respected scientific principle of physiological and psychological medicine probably and shares similarities with the Ayurveda tridosha system. Sheldon corroborated three body types, endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph with human temperament types. These are described below with their Ayurvedic tridosha counterparts.

The endomorph corresponds to Ayurvedic Kapha type and has a more phlegmatic, naturally rounder shaped body with a greater tendency towards stockiness along with congestive and digestive disorders. They are more prone to conditions and diseases exhibiting an excess of fat, fluids and mucus. Their complexion and hair is lustrous and more oily. Temperamentally they are slower responders but with a tendency towards greater tolerance and pleasurable self-indulgence. Negatively they may succumb to greater rigidity and ‘stuck’ manners of being. The stereotype is “the fat, jolly person.”

The mesomorph corresponds to the Pitta type is tends to be musclular and have a fiery energy. They tend to be of a more medium build with a tendency to be impetuous, quick, courageous, active, dynamic, assertive and competitive. In contrast, while the kapha individual has greater stamina and endurance for the long haul, pitta types tend towards more dynamic bold initiation and risk taking. The stereotype is: “type A personality,” “jock” or “Super Hero.”

The ecotomorph corresponds to the Vata type and tends to be thinner, more hypersensitive, introverted and moody. Thus they are metaphorically compared to air with less focus on the physical act of doing and more on the mental process of creating ideas. The vata type is more likely to be the ‘seer,’ or visionary or negatively the one tending towards deranged mental states. The stereotype is the “hypersensitive individual,” “airhead,” and “thin skinned.”

An Ayurvedic doctor will prescribe diet, herbs, and lifestyle changes according to one’s dosha imbalance. It is possible to further fine tune the basic Dahl or Kichari recipe according to ingredients, proportions, consistency and spices based on one’s dosha propensity. The result is the same, which is the ability of kichari to restore metabolic balance while eliminating toxins called ‘ama’ and kindling ‘agni’ which is digestive or metabolic life fire.

Basic kichari:
1 cup split mung dal (yellow)
2 cups of white basmati rice
2 tsp of ghee (clarified butter)
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp of coriander powder
½ tsp of cumin powder
½ tsp of whole cumin seeds
¼ tsp of rock salt
8 cups of water (6 cups when using a pressure cooker)

This is suitable for all body types. However for those who may be more of a kapha or vata type, one may want to make a more heating version of kichari by adding:

1 inch of fresh minced ginger root
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
1 scant pinch of asafetida and either red chilli or black pepper omitting or limiting the inclusion of dairy or yogurt.

Why White Rice?
Rice is universally regarded as one of the most perfectly balanced foods. The difference between naturally brown and white rice is that brown rice has all of the out skin or bran intact while white rice has been mechanically polished to remove part or all of the bran depending on one’s digestive capability. Japanese Macrobiotics favors the use of brown rice but they also advocate chewing each mouthful of food 80 to 100 times. For most this is extremely impractical and overly rigid especially since many older people may not even retain all of their teeth for proper chewing. White rice has less of the whole food nutritional elements of brown rice but it is better assimilated. Further, by adding beans or other protein-rich foods to white rice what is lost nutritionally is mostly replaced.

How to make Ghee.
Ghee or clarified butter has had the majority of the saturated fats removed from butter. It is said to restore vitality, mental clarity, clear the skin and enhance digestion. All of these attributes along with its delicious buttery flavor, make it a desirable cooking oil. It is easily made in the kitchen. Simply obtain a pound or two of unsalted butter. Place it in a skillet atop a low flame. The butter will melt to a liquid and eventually the fat solids will congeal and settle to the bottom. Be careful to not burn it. After a period of time, carefully decant the clear golden butter oil (ghee) into a wide mouthed jar to which one should place a metal spoon to absorb some of the heat and prevent the jar from cracking. Discard the white fat solids.

Ghee does not need to be refrigerated and will keep unrefrigerated virtually indefinitely.

The Spices of Kichari
The three spices turmeric, cumin and coriander are the basis of Indian curry mixes. Besides adding wonderful exotic flavors to foods, these also have potent medicinal properties, which I may expand upon later.

With thanks to Michael Tierra.


Jimbo said...

Thank you for this post, particularly in light of what I was moved to post on the BTNO today.

One question: Can I substitute Cap'n Crunch for split mung dal in your recipes? I sure hope so.

Nice to see you're back at it, Chrysanthemama.

Chrysanthemama said...

Thanks for the inspiration for my own post--albeit long.

I'm still working on the care and maintenance of a Blog, and trying to maintain a theme that works and is useful!

Now, regarding the Cap'n Crunch...

If you like your breakfast sweet and crunchy, I suggest not cooking the dal, and pouring lots of honey over the top. What it'll do to your intestines is another matter...but perhaps rapid elimination is a goal?