What we eat has a direct impact on our health and happiness, says Ayurveda institute chief

‘We must remember that less is always more, and we must eat only when we are hungry,’ says Tanuja Manoj Nesari

Published - June 10, 2022 08:08 pm IST

All India Institute of Ayurveda (AIIA) director Tanuja Manoj Nesari.

All India Institute of Ayurveda (AIIA) director Tanuja Manoj Nesari.

All India Institute of Ayurveda (AIIA), the apex institute of Ayurveda in India, is working towards ensuring that we eat right and is currently working on ‘Ready to eat’ products under Ayurveda Aahaar. In this interview, AIIA director Tanuja Manoj Nesari busts some common food myths and says excess consumption, ignorance on what is good and what to avoid, going only by popular fads and not respecting local traditions are rushing us towards a sharp rise in lifestyle diseases.

Unhealthy food habits, according to experts, have a direct relation to India’s battle with rising cases of hypertension, morbid obesity, heart disease, rising cases of stroke and diabetes. These diseases together contribute to rising mortality, compromised quality of life and productivity.

Edited excerpts:

What are the most common myths surrounding the food we eat?

Today, whatever is marketed in the media is considered healthy, for example: western foods like oats. That is the biggest myth. We must understand the logic behind healthy food; Ayurveda considers healthy food as wholesome and balanced. Ayurveda, with its roots in the Vedas, is over thousands of years old. Being an intrinsic part of our culture, it has shaped our diets for the longest time, and even today, most of our traditional food is nothing but Ayurvedic food. Our grandparents depended on Ayurveda when there were no medicines available. Whatever we eat has a direct impact on our health and happiness. Food should not only nourish the body, but also nourish mental ability and capacity to work, besides creating happiness.

Food items like curd should be avoided at night but eaten in the morning. Such rules for consuming food, which we call Ahar Vidhi Visheshayatana, should be followed. This knowledge needs to be shared with everyone in India and the world, and only then we can create a healthy future generation.

Is there any research on how these foods are harming us, more importantly our younger generation?

Food, even when it is considered wholesome with all the six rasas, can be harmful if the quantity and percentage of each rasa is not optimal. Food that contains a lot of artificial substances and preservatives can harm the body by causing acidity and inflammation.

Our younger generation is more drawn to junk food, but sugar and spices they contain are very harmful. In Ayurveda, it is not just food but also the combination of food that is important. There is also the concept of incompatible foods. For example, milk and fruit are incompatible combinations, but nowadays, the younger generation is opting for milkshakes, which cause inflammation and skin disorders. It also weakens eyesight.

What are the three biggest mistakes urban dwellers make when it comes to food?

The first mistake we make is indulge in excess consumption. We must remember that less is always more, and we must eat only when we are hungry. Fixing a proper time for lunch, breakfast and dinner is important. Secondly, we are not aware of what to take and what to avoid. Early morning breakfast should not include fruits and eating heavy at night also leads to toxins. The third mistake would be the fact that we have become prey to the media and advertising agencies. We are living in a marketing-driven world. Some people say oats are good and healthy, but I don’t think it is true for everyone. You should eat local food — the food that grows and is made in your locality. For example, in north India, mustard oil is used, while in south and central India, coconut oil and groundnut oil are used respectively. Therefore, respecting local traditions is important.

How can we replace easily accessible and cheap fast food in a country struggling with malnutrition with healthier homemade food that can be prepared super quick?

It is quite easy; just follow the way your grandparents lived. Earlier, people used to put sattu in milk to make a healthy treat fast. I don’t think anything can be made faster than that and it alone helps in meeting a lot of our needs. Foods like parathas and daliya are other healthy options. One may add spices to make these foods tasty. Traditional food, supported with food technology, can be a great alternative to fast food.

Are there any national level programmes for the revival of traditional Indian foods?

The Ministry of Ayush, as well as the Ministry of Food Technology among others have poshan maha programmes. Here, Ayurvedic and traditional foods have been integrated to make these foods accessible to each and every community. Ayush healthy foods have also been added under the FSSAI’s new regulations that make it mandatory for all food prepared following ingredients and processes described in authoritative ayurveda texts to be considered as Ayurveda Aahaar.

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