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Applying The Knowledge of Ayurveda to Appraise the US Nutritional Paradigm (By Mrunalini R. Patel, BSc.)

Acknowledgments

My obeisance to The Divine for leading me through life and bestowing me the opportunity to follow my life’s interest for the knowledge of Ayurveda. 
 
This paper would not be possible without the founder of CCA, Dr. Marc Halpern and the staff that are supporting the work. I thank Dr. Halpern for bringing the opportunity of learning Ayurveda in America with such clarity. He has been a part in helping me choose an appropriate title for this research paper, and is always ready to be of assistance. I thank my mentor teacher, Marisa Lauren for her guidance in the course work for the AHE and AHP programs, her encouragement has meant much. 
 
I would like to thank my unforeseen early teachers in helping me discover many Ayurvedic principles in cooking and the fine art of living. I am grateful for the occasions of being able to observe and experience life’s learning moments. I thank them for their continuous guidance: my parents, Kapurchand Shah, my academic teachers, friends and family members. 
 
Thanks also to The Aryavaida Chikitsalayam and Research Institute, Coimbatore, India for two months of wonderful insights and treatment. 
 
My deep appreciation to my husband, Sanjay, and daughter, Ravenna, for their continuous support, sense of humor and critiquing that has benefited me along the way. 
 
Finally a heart felt gratitude to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram friends in Pondicherry, India for their warmness and support. My mentor and guru Vishwajit.da Talukdar, has persevered in guiding and loving me through the most difficult of times. This paper is dedicated to The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. 
 
Om Shanti

Abstract

Eating habits in affluent Westernized countries have changed rapidly with lifestyle change and the Eastern countries are following. A diet high in saturated fats, refined sugar, meat, and commercially processed foods has overtaken the use of fresh fruits and vegetables. With the rich, heavy, sweet foods that satiate the majority of stomachs, there is very little nutrient value, leading to nutritional deficiencies and health problems. To overcome the nutritional aspects, a ruinous diet and chemical supplements have become the solution. 
 
Food value goes beyond calorie and biochemical content. The subtle aspects contained within fresh naturally grown foods that provide all living beings with a powerful life force, is lost in a fast paced commercially driven mode of living. Diet means “a way of eating”, stemming from the Greek word diaita meaning “a way of life”. 
 
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” - Hippocrates, the father of Greek medicine. How true these words are, yet society has forgotten to live by them. 
 
In the USDA food guidelines, all calorie intake is based on body mass index, gender, stage of life, and whether one is sedentary or active. (See Fig. 5.6 in the MyPyramid section). Active means at least 30mins of exercise on most days of the week and 60-90mins per day to sustain weight loss. The amount of portions for each individual, from the same food group is in proportion to the amount of calories calculated for a particular group; therefore, the ratios of portions are the same e.g. a female requires less calories than a male, so the quantity is lower, however, the ratio of portions for each food group is the same as is shown for all individuals on the “MyPyramid”. The same applies for a 2-year-old vs. a 12-year-old; quantity is increased, however, the ratio of each food group to be consumed remains the same. The only factor that varies is the amount or quantity of portions. The guidelines provide a complete list of foods containing potassium, sodium, vitamin E, iron, non-dairy calcium food, calcium, vitamin A, magnesium, dietary fiber, and vitamin C, which have been shown to be of concern amongst various population groups. The amount of these substances required for each group of calories is also provided. Each section addresses the importance of getting the required amounts of nutrients for particular age groups, groups of concern (i.e., those with health issues), and pregnant women. The guidelines do not specify the reason for the substance and its utilization within the body. In some cases the guidelines do mention the cause of some diseases through excess intake, such as sodium causing high blood pressure. 
 
There is no discretion or consideration given to what type of vegetable, fruit, oil etc. to be consumed for each individual person; the choice is left upon preference. Food groups are shown to provide the necessary fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and sugars, which are all required for proper function of the body. There are no precautions provided on livestock meat and dairy, which may contain antibiotics and hormones, which are unnaturally fed, and the harm it may cause to individuals. Some hygiene and cooking procedures are outlined so that meats are well cooked and cross contamination is reduced. 
 
Since the current state within the US (and most western fast paced countries) faces the challenge of high obesity and related diseases, the USDA report and dietary guidelines have mainly focused attention on concern areas. For this reason, the current version of the Food Pyramid includes and emphasizes exercise and moderation of intake of fats and sugars. 
 
In Ayurvedic philosophy, the food groupings are similar to those of USDA. However, unlike the USDA, Ayurveda gives consideration to cooking preparation, storage, times, seasons, prakrīti, vikruti, stage of life, environment, lifestyle, food habits e.g. sequence of eating and pleasant eating atmosphere, where food is grown, and energetics (rasa, virya, vipaka) of food are additional factors, that govern an individual’s diet. Ideally there are factors such as when to pick fruits and vegetables, how and where to best grow them, amongst other factors, which do not require the need to delve into in this paper. Many inter-layered factors are given due consideration for a diet plan to be derived at for a particular individual. All of this may sound complex, however, there is a science behind the system that renders a commonsense approach. Food charts that list each food item for the basic prakrītis/constitutions are available, and with additional factors the charts can easily be modified by an Ayurvedic practitioner. To follow the diet prescribed by Ayurveda involves some discipline and self-control however, it involves a lifestyle change that leads to optimal health and longevity. 
 
“The four aims of life, dharma/to fulfill ones duty in life, artha/to attain wealth or livelihood, kāma/to attain ones desires, and moksha/liberation, are to be reached through health only” [1] “Good health stands at the very root of attaining aims in life, so it is only desirable for all” [2] 
 
There are seven types of prakrīti that can have infinite combinations based on the percentage of each dosha’s presence. Any, vikruti factors will also be taken into account, this establishes an individualistic and thorough diet plan. Each person is seen as a unique entity that has his/her own body constitution, whether that may be in the varying levels of hormones, agni/metabolism, or even neurotransmitters. This means each individual has an exclusive biochemical world that influences how it functions, thinks reacts, senses, talks, lives etc. The living biochemical bodies require a safe and nurturing environment and top grade ‘fuel’ that maintains harmony and equilibrium. What may be nurturing and advantageous to one may not be to another, if we consider the various factors that account for an individual’s diet plan, based on Ayurvedic principles. This would literally mean an individual Food Pyramid for each person. Within the subgroups of food lists, there would be preference provided according to the fresh seasonal foods available. Quantity is not based on calories but on the power of digestion and fullness of the stomach, being able to gauge what 75% full means or stopping at the first burp with the second being past the red light signal. Bringing awareness to the body whilst eating has endless benefits of increasing one’s consciousness for a harmonious life. Being aware of all the senses as we eat brings joy and increases intuitive perception, as well as showing respect, for the food and the action of taking in Earth’s bounty.  
 
Lastly, in Ayurveda, ahara/diet is not separated from lifestyle. Lifestyle that balances each individual constitution is important in maintaining balance of the subtle energies within. By subtle, it is meant to be the health that leads us to purity and sattva/equilibrium for a transformational consciousness. Only when there is balance in the mind, can the right choices be made, and when the physical body is at its optimal working level, the mind is also predisposed to attaining the best possible limits. Ayurveda looks at health as the whole body in terms of physical, mental and subtle aspects.
 

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About the Student Research Papers

The papers published on our website have been written by students of the California College of Ayurveda as a part of their required work toward graduation. After reviewing each paper, Dr. Halpern selects those papers that he feels are appropriate to publish. The information in each paper should not be construed as the final word on any subject nor should it be assumed that errors do not exist.