"A good meal is like the chord of an orchestra".

Ayurvedic diet in Europe

Interview with Prof. Dr. Martin Mittwede, Head of Studies Ayurveda Medicine at the European Academy of Ayurveda

Prof. Dr. Mittwede, as an Indologist you have been dealing with Ayurveda for decades. One of your special fields is Ayurvedic nutrition. Can the nutritional rules of Ayurveda, which originated in India, be meaningfully transferred to our western culture?

In principle, yes, if we consider that it is really a matter of transferring Ayurvedic principles and not of copying Indian habits. Unfortunately, quite often Indian recipes are presented as "Ayurveda", although they actually only suit the hot climate in India.

Even the classic Indian dish "rice and dal", i.e. rice combined with pulses, is not directly ayurvedic for us; because rice does not grow here, and the lentils common in India are largely unknown in our country. But indirectly it is already Ayurvedic, for the following reasons: Rice with lentils is a warm, nourishing food that combines carbohydrates (rice) with vegetable protein, resulting in a very good nutritional profile. Many ancient cultures developed such recipes as couscous (wheat with peas) or corn patties with beans in Central and South America. So what is important is what is our native equivalent of such a dish. We can think of grain soups with peas or beans in them. Or we can go with the classic lentil stew.

We should always keep in mind that Ayurveda is about good digestibility of food. And digestibility also has something to do with habit and regionality. Of course, the ancient Ayurvedic teachers only knew the foods that were available in India 2500 years ago. Our work in the next years will be to develop a truly European form of Ayurvedic nutrition based on the Ayurvedic description of food (properties, taste, effect). From my point of view this does not exist yet or only in rudiments.

The consumption of animal proteins is a hotly debated topic in the nutrition world. What is Ayurveda's position on this? Does it always have to be vegetarian or is it also allowed to have some meat on the table?

As a holistic health teaching, Ayurveda is not dogmatic. In the classics, all foods are described and sorted into groups. The types of meat are also described in terms of their Dosha effects. The doctors of that time, who were also health advisors, dealt with different patients, including non-vegetarians. Each was given appropriate Ayurvedic support within the framework of their lifestyle to find a path to greater balance and well-being. In this respect, there is no clear-cut answer to the question. The vegetarian can improve his diet with Ayurveda and so can the non-vegetarian.

If we look at the holistic nature of Ayurveda, it becomes clear that it is very much in line with modern scientific ecology. It is about always looking at the interrelationships as a whole. From this point of view, the high consumption of meat by mankind is an ecological disaster; because it is the most ineffective way of producing food. Ayurvedically, the average meat consumption in rich countries should be reduced by 80-90%. Even from the point of view of modern nutritional science, this amount of animal protein would be quite sufficient if enough vegetable protein is consumed.

And of course, there are also ethical and health aspects that speak against a lot of meat consumption, both from a modern medical as well as an Ayurvedic point of view. If you get to know the tasty variety of Ayurvedic cuisine with its many spices and herbs, you can easily do without meat.

Especially for losing weight many local diets recommend a predominantly protein diet. Does this also correspond to the Ayurvedic principles for weight reduction? Which protein sources are most compatible according to Ayurveda?

Almost all diets are one-sided and lead to malnutrition in the long run. Modern diets have broken away from the ancient concept of a balanced diet, even though this idea is inherent in the ancient word "diaita".

So a single nutrient cannot lead to the solution of the weight problem. What is important is the balance of all nutrients and from the Ayurvedic point of view, limiting the total amount, which is something everyone always wants to forget. If you eat moderately and exercise at the same time, you are starting to get on the right track.

Everyone needs all the nutrients, so it makes no sense to emphasize one in particular and condemn the others. In ancient India, of course, there was no analysis into carbohydrates, proteins and fats, but there is deep wisdom in the concept of a complete meal that should include all flavors. Nourishing foods combined with spices and bitters ensure that people are well supplied with everything they need.

From the Ayurvedic point of view, the whole daily routine is also important, for example, eating the main meal at noon and eating light in the evening. In this light evening meal, carbohydrates and fats can then be reduced and protein somewhat emphasized during the weight loss phase. Some protein causes a good feeling of satiety at a relatively early evening meal (6pm) and ensures that you manage to avoid snacks until the next morning. However, too much protein would make the meal heavy. Basically, protein is a building material and not the primary energy source. Plant protein (legumes, whole grains, ...) is preferable to animal protein. Cooked protein foods are easier to digest than fried ones.

What effect does daily nutrition have on our mental balance?

Nutrition is an essential factor in our lives, and sometimes depression is located in the gut. Nutrition helps us maintain and strengthen our physical and mental balance. Too many heavy foods also make us mentally heavy and slow in the long run. And sometimes all those sweet things (Kapha strengthening) are supposed to fill our own mental emptiness, but they don't.

We can do a lot with a balanced Ayurvedic diet to relieve ourselves and create lightness and strength on the physical level. This is helpful in making powerful right choices in life and thereby creating a foundation for mental balance.

So the connection is not so direct and simple. "Eat yourself happy" probably leads to obesity more often than to real well-being. Everything has an effect from the point of view of Ayurveda, and this effect can of course also be described and analysed on the mental level. The only problem is that today there are quite a few people who want to do everything right and become cramped in the desire to eat right. This then tends to lead to the opposite of mental balance.

My recommendation: Create a good balance in your life through nutrition, exercise and a daily routine adapted to your lifestyle. In addition, ensure regular deep relaxation and look at your current life issues. If the basis created in this way is stable, then you may also forget all the rules now and then and simply enjoy yourself. If you can no longer do this, you are quite far away from mental balance.

Are there any nutritional recommendations or foods with which we can particularly increase our emotional well-being?

Even if I repeat myself: the light evening meal is important. With a full stomach, dreams are difficult, the entire regeneration of the body and the processing of the day is disturbed. The sleep becomes worse, and so the next morning already begins without real ease and joy. The day then cannot get much better.

Generally speaking, warming and nourishing foods also provide emotional satisfaction. Seasoned with something fiery and slightly bitter, a basis for mental stimulation and creativity is also created. A good meal is like the chord of an orchestra, there are the low notes and the high notes, all together a harmonious whole. In this way, even just cooking can make you happy as the different scents spread through the house and the anticipation of the delicious meal grows.

For our emotional well-being, it is also good to indulge in one of our favorite dishes every now and then. While doing so, we should use the best dishes; because when we are dead, it is too late for that. Ayurveda says yes to life and promotes balanced indulgence. With Ayurveda, we can embark on a journey of discovery that opens up many new taste experiences. Yes, partly we even learn to taste properly again, to enjoy the fresh and the natural. In this perspective, every food can ultimately make us a little happier.