Food is the input of life force to sustain life, and it is only with awareness and love that we can we bring about an ecological balance in our bodies
The principles for good digestion have been worked out by the Navadarshanam team, based on the teachings of the late Swami Sahajananda, who in turn learnt them from the famous naturopath, the late Laxman Sharma of Pudukottai. Our body is intelligent, and works hard to restore ecological balance within. But when we keep eating things that require excessive energy to digest, it is unable to cope with the task of removing previously accumulated toxins. This often results in foreign (undigested) matter embedding itself in our body. That, in turn, results in ecological imbalance and hence `absence of ease’, i.e. disease. To stay healthy, it is best to select food items that are easier to digest (hence healthy), and yet prepare them in such a way that they are also tasty.Our body is intelligent, and works hard to restore ecological balance within.
There is no universal order, way, chart or method to classify or cook food. You are your best judge and what is shared here is based on our beliefs. We do not claim absolute authority in these matters - and we are still learning! Please experiment for yourself and if you feel there is value in what is written, make use of it accordingly.
Order of Digestability
Tender coconut water (ellaneer) is, without exaggeration, the best thing our bodies could get. It constitutes a full meal in itself, for it supplies all the essential nutrients required by our body.
Next in order of digestibility:
Next: Pulpy fruits.
Next: Leafy vegetables.
Next: Creeper vegetables (like bottle gourd, ash gourd).
Next: Other vegetables grown above ground.
Next: Vegetables grown below ground.
Next: Cereals and pulses without removing their bran or outer covering (e.g., unpolished rice). It is worth noting that rice mills provide farmers free service of processing, for they take away the ‘polish’ (outer covering or inner husk) which are high in nutrients and sell these to the drug companies at high prices. We then purchase the discarded inner husk (which was removed when polishing) in the form of costly food supplements!
Next: Jaggery, preferably from date palms or made from organically grown sugarcane. Even diabetics can take this in limited quantities without adversely affecting their condition.
Next: Buttermilk, which is more easily digestible than milk or curds.
Next: Milk. This is very good for growing children, but adults need it only when they do lots of physical exercise and their cells need replenishment. It is better for adults doing sedentary work to take curds, which is milk that has already gone through a portion of the digestive process that takes place within the body; even better to stick to buttermilk, which is very easily digestible.
Next: Oil seeds such as cashewnuts, peanuts. While not that easy to digest, it is nevertheless far healthier to eat the nuts than consume their oil extract.
Next: Cereals and pulses in polished form.
Next: Oils. Better to take in the form of nuts instead of their oil. Or, if oil has to be taken, better to put oil (or ghee) on the food after it has been cooked, rather than cook the food in them. If oil does have to be used, better to opt for the unrefined variety. At least, the ill-effects of processing are avoided.
Next: Refined oil.
Next: White sugar. All kinds of harmful ingredients, including bones and detergent-type materials, are used to make white sugar.
Last: Meat, fish and eggs. These are really the most difficult to digest. Hence, there is a health basis that justifies sticking to vegetarian food.
Cooking for Nutrients
Best: Fireless cooking. So many wonderful items can be made without using the chula. For instance, salads can be made using snake gourd and curd, with tomato, carrot or onions in raw form. Similarly, wonderful dishes can be made using sprouted wheat.
Baking: Even though baking is not commonly used in India, it is possible to make excellent dishes this way, and this is healthier than other forms of cooking especially if butter, soda, etc. are avoided or minimized.
Steaming: Among cooking methods already prevalent in India, this is the healthiest of all. It is possible to make the items even more healthful by simple innovations – e.g., idlis made with urad dal whose chilka has not been removed along with rice that is unpolished results in a very healthy form of idly, which also tastes very good.
Boiling: Vegetables tend to lose their nutritional value when boiled for too long. It is best to cut the vegetables as big as possible, so that least amount of water is lost, and then boil them for the least amount of time.
Roasting on the fire: When this has to be done, it is best to use the least amount of oil or ghee – which is healthier than oil. It is better to take ghee separately with the dosai than making it with lots of oil: this is better for taste as well as health. Cow’s ghee is better than other forms of fat, and it is best if these cows are of the native variety which have been allowed to graze freely, rather than those which have been fed on chemicals or artificial feeds.
Last: Frying. It is okay to enjoy fried foods once in a while especially for the young, but if indulged in too much, you need to compensate for it through fasting!
Power of ‘Raw’
Raw salads are the ideal snack/breakfast/dinner as the body derives maximum benefits in the form of nutrients and energy from them. They can be made using the gourd vegetables or any of the leafy vegetables. Or alternatively, using certain vegetables grown below the ground such as carrots, beetroot, etc. These vegetables have already been cooked by the sun! So, it is better to think of raw salads as preparations through ‘fireless cooking’ or ‘sun-cooked food’ rather than ‘uncooked’ food.
Select only fresh vegetables: if possible, grown in your own backyard.
Cut the vegetables as thin as possible. Clean and wash the vegetables before cutting, but do not repeat the washing process after cutting.
Do not keep the sliced vegetables for long after cutting – convert into salad as quickly as possible. In particular, do not put it back into the refrigerator for storage.
For converting fresh vegetables into salads, use onion, curry leaf, coriander leaf, carrot or tomato – choose one or more of these according to your taste. Whatever is chosen should also be cut into thin slices and added to the vegetables.
In addition to the above, either of the following two combinations can be used to add taste: (i) curd and coconut scrapings (ii) lime juice and chilies.
Finally, add a little salt and pepper to taste: but minimize the quantity of salt. The preparation resulting from this process is surprisingly very tasty – one normally does not imagine that bottle gourd, ash gourd or ridge gourd can ever be so tasty!
Always, eat the salads before the main meals, as they are easier to digest: eating them afterwards creates a traffic jam in the intestines!
Eat the salad slowly, chewing it well. Try to enjoy the taste of each ingredient.
Food is Love
We would do well to remember that food is not just molecules going into our body – it is the input of life force to sustain life; and love is the foundation of all life.
Life force is more potent in food that is grown organically, and made naturally, rather than those processed with chemicals and pesticides.We would do well to remember that food is not just molecules going iinto our body.
Cook with love, with pleasure. If you are feeling upset or irritable, postpone cooking, or ask someone else to do it, even order from a restaurant once in a while. Enjoy the break from cooking, but also use it as an opportunity to bring back the lost love so that the next meal can be healthy as well as tasty.
T.S. Ananthu is a scientist and eminent Gandhian worker who has written extensively on various aspects of Gandhi’s approach to society and life, particularly ecology and farming. He is a trustee of Navadarshanam, living an earth reverent life at the Navadarshanam integrated settlement in Bangalore.