Summertime and bathing suit season is almost here. You know what that means? Consumption of leafy greens is now in overdrive as those love handles from the winter months are slowly coaxed into remission.
Ayurvedically-speaking, there is elemental science behind the trend of
consuming greens to lose weight. Most leafy greens are bitter and sometimes astringent in taste. The bitter taste is comprised of air and ether. Both elements are light, dry and mobile, delivering a lightening and energizing effect to the body. The astringent taste is comprised of air and earth, which are very drying and astringing to the body. Together, the bitter and astringent tastes tend to create tissue deficiencies over time.
Sounds good, right? Sure, if you are overweight and have an excess of water and earth in your body, a strong digestive fire and a stress-free existence. For the average person, however, the bitter taste can often be depleting and ungrounding if overconsumed. Ayurveda does not recommend a regular diet of salads, particularly cold ones like they serve in some of the better restaurants.
The bitter taste can challenge your digestive fire, making it difficult to properly absorb the nutrition you are consuming. For people who have trouble keeping enough weight on, the typical cold salad can be unhealthy and even dangerous. In Ayurveda, salads are typically relegated to a minor role in most meals and are generally only consumed during summer, the hottest time of year, or during lunch, the hottest time of day. In fact, eating too many salads at the wrong time of day or year or making a salad the entire meal can lead to toxic impurities (ama) building up in your system. Ama is created by poorly undigested food particles in the gastrointestinal tract; the particles tend to feed bacteria, which can result in numerous digestive issues, such as indigestion, nausea and excessive gas, bloating and belching.
Bitter foods in excess can make a person feel bitter towards others and ungrounded, likely as a result of malnourishment and excess gas. People with a lot of Vata in their constitution or a major Vata imbalance should minimize the amount of cold salads they consume. It is best for Vatas to consume salads as side dishes or condiments only. Larger salads are best eaten with warming, spices and vinegar bases to strengthen digestion and best consumed during the hottest part of the day between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm during the hot summer months. Salads should never be served cold as that only dampens digestive enzymes. Vatas benefit from the addition of potatoes, beets or other heavier root vegetables, as well as unctuous, oil-based or creamy salad dressings. Making salads too light and drying can be quite debilitating for Vatas over time.
Pittas can handle raw vegetables and salads the best of the three doshas when their digestive fire is strong. This is because the bitter taste is also cooling, which can be supportive for Pittas at the right time of year and day. Kaphas may benefit from the tissue-reducing aspects of the bitter vegetables, but if their digestive fire is not strong enough or if the dressing is too creamy, reducing the digestive fire even more, Kaphas will have more tendency to build up toxins in the body. Cool foods are always more difficult for the body to digest, which is why raw foods are always more challenging for both Kaphas and Vatas since both tend to run cooler anyway.
Cooking the salad ingredients in advance and serving the salad room temperature or warmer are two ways to improve the digestibility of this great American fare.
Click here for tips on preparing salads for the three dosha types.
Another great way to reduce the bitterness over having to eat salad is to ensure that you include all six of the tastes in your salad. Ayurveda teaches that including six different tastes in each meal improves digestion and therefore satiation. Modern research suggests that a diversified diet incorporating different tastes will help provide the variety of minerals, vitamins and enzymes needed. Click here for a list of suggested ingredients to ensure that your salad includes a buffet of all six tastes.
While salad may not be as prevalent in Ayurvedic diet plans as it is on American tables , with a little creativity, you can benefit from the best of both worlds—reaping the fabulous variety and nutrition that fresh vegetables provide in conjunction with digestive aids that will ensure you reap all of the nutrients you are consuming.
So mix up a batch of the bitter greens Ayurveda-style and enjoy! Namaste.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concerns, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained Ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for an appointment. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.