By Julia Landau
DR JAIMINI RANIGA began her medical career in Australia in family medicine. For the last 16 years she has been practicing Integrated Medicine, having received formal training in the UK, Australia, India and South Africa in various complementary modalities, including Homeopathy, Unani-Tibb Medicine, and the Bowen Therapeutic Technique, which she pioneered in South Africa. She also undertook training in Acupuncture, Ayurveda, Allergy, Environmental and Nutritional Medicine. Her mission is to ‘treat the cause’ of each illness through fusion of traditional health systems with the modern scientific approach.
Proper diet has done more for health than any medicine that has ever been used
Furthermore, choosing an eating plan that suits your individual constitution or body type maintains your natural state of health and vitality.
The key to health and wellness cannot be found in drugs and special machines, but in the actors on which our life and vitality are based. People are looking for a natural system of healing that is comprehensive and complete, and that is sensitive to both nature and the Earth. This is what the traditional health systems of Ayurveda and Unani-Tibb demonstrate to us. There is also a new search for a mind-body medicine today that is spiritual in nature and addresses the role of consciousness in healing. What we do on an everyday basis is what determines whether we will be healthy or sick. Hence according to all the traditional health systems, lifestyle regulation is the key to health and wellness. Six lifestyle factors influence our wellbeing and need to be regulated, namely food and drink, breathing, sleep, exercise, mental state, and adequate elimination of wastes.
The quality of food plays a significant role in the cause of illness and disease. Today the proliferation of varied information on diet and weight loss has created much confusion. At such times, the wisdom of the traditional systems offers valuable answers. These health systems have been around for over 5 000 years, especially Ayurveda and other systems such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Unani-Tibb medicine, which followed shortly after. They all advocate that lifestyle regulation is essential in achieving wellness.
However, each individual is unique, with strengths and weaknesses that differentiate us from each other. Therefore a lifestyle programme suitable for one person may not be suitable for another. The ancient wisdom of these systems teaches that each person has the power to heal him- or herself, therefore the science of life offers everyone a way to achieve freedom in health by understanding the body and its unique needs.
The traditional systems view human life as an intricate part of nature, with the various rhythms and elements of nature also present in Man. Every living species is made up of the five elements, namely Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether. These elements of nature also produce certain qualities of coldness, moistness, heat and dryness. What differentiates us from each other is the degree of these qualities. This is what determines our individual constitution or blueprint. Understanding that these same qualities also make up the food we eat, we can choose an appropriate dietary regimen that suits our individual needs.
The right wholesome diet applied this way prevents and effectively treats disease.
Food is the best medicine and the best long-term treatment available in any system of medicine anywhere in the world. The wrong diet is responsible for 90% of physical disease. Therefore Ayurveda and Unani-Tibb place considerable importance on the correct food and the optimum ways to prepare and eat that food.
A balanced diet in Ayurveda and Unani-Tibb is considerably different from what we understand in the West. Balance is in reference to the three humours in Ayurveda (four humours in Tibb Medicine) and the digestive fire ‘agni’ (the digestive ability), and not in reference to carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals.
The six tastes of food must also be taken into account (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent) and also whether a food has the qualities of heating, cooling, drying and moistening. The seasons of the year are very important, and one’s diet should be adjusted accordingly, particularly if you are troubled by seasonal symptoms or illnesses.
In Ayurveda there are three humors, namely Bata, Pitta and Kapha. In Tibb Medicine there are four humours, the Sanguinous, Bilious, Melancholic, and Phlegmatic. We can see the similarities between the two systems – Vata is the same as the Melancholic type, which is determined by cold and dry qualities, Kapha is the same as the Phlegmatic type which is determined by cold and moist qualities, and Pitta is represented by both Sanguinous and Bilious constitutions. The former is hot and moist, and the latter is hot and dry. The various combinations of these humors make up the constitution. In Ayurveda we therefore have seven possible combinations: Vata -Pitta, Kapha-Pitta, and Pitta-Vata-Kapha. The combinations are because there is invariably one humor that dominates, and another that is sub-dominant, while in some cases there is an equal combination of all three.
Each constitution is determined by taking a careful evaluation of the physical, emotional, and mental attributes of the individual. Every person has his or her strengths and weaknesses. This is what creates individual uniqueness, and differentiates one person from another.
Once the individual’s constitution has been determined, an eating plan can be devised for them to maintain their health and vitality. If, however, the person is unhealthy then a diet plan is devised according to the imbalance initially, before placing them on a diet for their body type. As such, a trained practitioner will undertake a careful assessment to separate one’s body type from one’s imbalance.
Being a very wide subject, it is best to refer to an Ayurvedic or Unani-Tibb practitioner to determine your constitution or imbalance so that a list of helpful and harmful foods can be indicated. But on a very general level, to get some understanding, there are various texts written for the layperson. For instance, a Vata or Melancholic person, who generally dominates in cold and dry qualities, will be aggravated by foods that have cold and dry qualities, such as dried fruit, raw apples, melons, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, ice-cream, beef, ostrich, biltong, peas, and green salad. These foods should not be consumed in excess by a dominantly Vata constitution. Conversely, a Vata person can be pacified, or maintain balance by eating foods that are generally heating and/or moistening in quality such as sweet fruits, avocados, coconut, brown rice, figs, grapes, mango, cooked vegetables, sweet potato, oats, mung beans, tofu, ghee, fresh herbs and spices.
Likewise a pitta person (sanguinous or bilious) will be aggravated by the heating qualities in food if consumed in excess, such as heavily spiced foods, peanut butter, sour fruits, tomatoes, garlic, berries, grapes (green), oranges, onions, hot peppers, radishes, etc. On the other hand a pitta type is greatly helped by eating more cooling foods such as sweet fruits. apples, dark grapes, sweet pineapples, pomegranate, sweet plums, coconut, melons, asparagus, broccoli, cucumber, celery, okra, peas, zucchini, sprouts, leafy greens, lettuce, rice, sunflower seeds, barley, and cooling spices such as fennel, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander and turmeric.
A Kapha (phlegmatic) constitution is harmed by foods that increase coldness and/or moistness in the body. These are foods such as bananas, melons, coconut, dates, dairy products, ice-cream, refined carbohydrates and salt, to name a few. This constitution is helped by foods such as apples, berries, apricots, figs, pomegranate, prunes, broccoli, asparagus sprouts, corn, barley, basmati rice, leafy greens, cauliflower, garlic, and fresh spices.
Apart from choosing the right diet, it is also important to observe how and when the food is eaten. Take note of the season and age of the person, as with aging our ability to digest certain foods become more difficult. Not observing these principles will lead to increased toxins. Eating is an act that should be done with care and consciousness.
Food should be consumed in proper quantity, and the digestive system should be given adequate time to fully digest the previous meal; meals consumed within a short space of time put a greater burden on the digestive system, preventing adequate digestion.
Warm and moist foods are tastier and stimulate the enzyme secretion essential for digestion. The mind should be calm and quiet when eating. Eat foods that are grown locally in your environment and those that are in season, and avoid intake of cold drinks with your meals. These are a few of the rules that need to be observed, together with eating according to your body types, for natural wellbeing.
Bibliography and recommended reading
Frawley D, Ranada S. Ayurveda; Nature’s Medicine Delhi; Matilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2004
Vasant L. Ayurveda : The Science of Self Healing. Wilmour. Lotus Light 1990
Atreya Practical Ayurveda. Mumbai: Jaico Publishing, 1990
Bhika R. The Four Temperaments, and Six Lifestyle Factors. Johannesburg: Ibn Sina Institute, 2006