Omnivore, Vegetarian, Vegan–Which Is Best For You?

MORNING-GARDEN-

An Ayurvedic Perspective

According to Ayurveda, everything in the universe has one of three gunas (qualities), known as satvic, rajistic, and tamasic.  Satvic means “pure”, balanced.  Rajistic is energetic, active.  Tamasic is dark, inert. People exhibit gunas: we may be enthusiastic about an idea (satvic), but begin to obsessively strive toward the goal (rajistic), and then we may become exhausted and lethargic due to burnout (tamasic).  The gunas in foods change as well; the ripening apple is rajistic, the perfectly ripe apple is satvic, and not long after it becomes overripe (tamasic).

Balance is a dance that is always in motion, tipping out of balance one way, returning, and then tipping another way.

Satvic Foods

Satvic foods are freshly prepared, light, soothing, and easy to digest. They include fresh fruit, land and sea vegetables, pure fruit juices, nut and seed milk and cheese, legumes, nuts, seeds, sprouted seeds and grains, honey, and herb teas. Satvic foods are prepared with love.  They are full of “prana” (life energy); eating them helps us avoid disease and heal more quickly when we do get sick.

In Ayurveda, cow’s milk is considered one the most satvic foods; it is the only food that is freely given. However, this assumes that the milk comes from the backyard cow who is cared for like a family member, who grazes on untreated grasses, and whose milk is whole, organic, raw, non-pasturized, and non-homogenized.

Rajistic Foods

Rajistic foods are hot, spicy, sour, or salty. An excess of rajasic food can overstimulate both mind and body.  Rajasic foods include pungent spices, strong herbs, and salt.  They also include stimulants like coffee, tea, and chocolate.  Eating too quickly is considered rajistic and is bad for digestion (inefficient digestion = malabsorption of nutrients).

Tamasic Foods

Tamasic foods include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, mushrooms, root veggies such as onions, and alcohol/drugs. Processed foods and foods that are prepared by an angry chef are also considered tamasic, as is overeating.

These days, tamasic foods would also include foods subjected to pesticides, microwaved food, canned food, and leftovers (especially if they’re frozen).  Tamasic food has little, if any, “prana” (life energy).

Ayurveda would say that when a cow eats rancid, pesticide-laced grain and then we eat the cow, we ingest that tamasic grain in addition to the tamasic steak. By the same token, when a cow is slaughtered, the fight or flight hormones have released fully into his body by the time his throat is slit. When we in turn eat the steaks from that cow, we are taking that in, as well.

Omnivores

It may seem to be an oxymoron that Ayurveda allows meat, while at the same time considering it to be tamasic.  Ayurveda is a science of guidelines, not hard-and-fast, black-and-white dictates.  We each make the choices that work best for us, then notice how we feel and adjust accordingly.  Think of it as a ratio.  Most of the time, try to eat for your dosha with a focus on more satvic choices, and the rest of the time, eat/drink the other things you enjoy. “Most” of the time can be 51% or 91%–whatever feels comfortable for you.  If you’re uncomfortable, you’re not practicing Ayurveda.

Vegetarians

Vegetarians come in a variety of profiles.  Some don’t eat anything “with a face”.  Others eat seafood (pescetarians), or dairy (lacto: milk and/or ovo: egg) or some combination of the above. Some people practice “Meatless Mondays”.

One reason for eating a plant-based diet is the environment; CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) generate an overwhelming amount of greenhouse gases and pollute nearby waterways.  As more land is cleared of oxygen-producing trees to make way for raising beef cattle, it’s hard not to question the sustainability of this practice.

Others eat a plant-based diet because more people can be fed with an acre of plants than an acre of cattle. Raising beef cattle does not appear to be sustainable as the world population multiplies.  Check out the wonderful documentaries “Cowspiracy” and “Forks Over Knives” (available on Netflix).

Some vegetarians and most vegans take issue with the treatment of animals who are raised for meat and leather.  There is no arguing whether these animals’ lives are miserable, or that their deaths are traumatic and terrifying.  Many people are afraid to take a hard look at the origin of their food, fearing that it’s horrific and will reduce their enjoyment of eating what they want.  I would argue that it’s irresponsible not to consider the true “cost” of your dinner–including where your dinner came from, that animal’s life and death, and the effects on the planet.

My point of view:  Remove your blinders, educate yourself, and then make your own best choices, without judging others if their (educated) choices are different.

Vegans

Strict vegans (also called “ethical vegans”) eliminate all animal products, including milk and eggs and honey and silk.  In addition to their food choices, they are likely support their local animal rescue organization, and to choose fabric rather than leather seats for their cars.  They wouldn’t abuse their pets, so they don’t support animals being raised for food — even under relatively “humane” conditions (they might say that there is no such thing).

Vegans need to be very careful about their nutrition.  B12 comes only from the gut of animals.  Plants don’t need B12 so they don’t store much of it.  The plants that have B12 pair the B12 with “analogs” called “cobamides”, which actually block absorption of the B12. Vitamin B12 takes up to 7 years to show up as a depletion, which at that point can be challenging to correct.

Other nutrients in which vegans are often deficient are folate, calcium, iron, and zinc, as well as the long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA, and vitamins A and D. These deficiencies are especially prevalent at midlife and beyond, when malabsorption can be an additional factor.

To maintain their health, vegans need to plan carefully, supplement thoroughly, and do everything possible to keep their microbiome efficiently absorbing the nutrients they take in.

Sweeping Changes

I want to reiterate that Ayurveda does not ask us for sweeping changes in any area.  It’s worth repeating: if it’s not comfortable physically/mentally/spiritually, it’s not truly in the spirit of Ayurveda. If you’re moved to make changes, make them gently.  I have a friend who wanted to make some changes, but he had a freezer full of beef and a brand new leather sofa, so he hesitated.  He felt that he must change everything at once, fearing that inconsistencies made him hypocritical.

Changes don’t have to be all-inclusive or all-at-once.  Just choose differently as you make new selections, one baby step at a time, and over time, the trajectory will change.  Need warm winter boots?  Before you automatically buy Uggs (for example), educate yourself about the newborn lambs that supply those soft skins. Consider whether there are other warm options.  Consider whether you can wear them with joy. Then follow your heart.

There is no judgement for the choices we each make, once we’ve educated ourselves.  We need to allow each other the space to follow our individual paths.  We need to be able to sit down for a meal together and celebrate being together, rather than judging what is on another person’s plate (or on their feet). As Maya Angelou says, “When we know better, we do better”.  The onus of responsibility is on each of us to learn the facts and then choose what “better” means, for us.

Next Step

Consider one change you might like to make in your diet or life (it doesn’t have to fit a “label”).  Make that change.  Try it for a phase of the moon (about a month).  Pay attention to how the change makes you feel, mind/body/spirit.  Adjust accordingly.

Willful Resolutions or Joyful Sankalpa?

Bhujangasana--Cobra Pose

Willful Resolutions Or Joyful Sankalpa?

This is the time of year when many of us review the past year and preview the coming year.  Sometimes we see habits that didn’t benefit us in the previous year, and we resolve to improve those habits in the new year. We are sure our willpower can make it happen.

Most New Year Resolutions last a month or two at most.

For many years, I was a consistent, 4-times-a-week gym member. As January approached, I always mentally geared up for the sudden crowds as the gym became swollen with new members keeping their “get fit” New Year Resolutions.  It was a minor inconvenience, really–waiting for a machine or signing up for a turn on the aerobic equipment.  The inconvenience was short-lived; by February the crowds started to thin out and by March, the gym had returned to “normal”.

Haven’t we all set resolutions, only to see them dissolve within a month or two? I think it’s because even the word “resolution” has a sort of striving, clenching, gritting-the-teeth feel to it. Read more: Willful Resolutions or Joyful Sankalpa?

Ayurvedic Strategies For Holiday Balance

MORNING-GARDEN-

Holiday Balance

“Holiday Balance”. If those two words sound like an oxymoron to you, read on.  Many of us feel tremendous pressure during this time of year.  We want to enjoy the events and our loved ones, but it can be challenging.  We try to ignore the ads and the media; our culture pushes us to be more and do more–and be and do it all perfectly.

Let it go.  Health and contentment are more important.

Stress Comes From Overload

When you’re carrying too heavy a physical load, your muscles become stressed.  When you’re carrying too heavy an emotional burden, your heart becomes stressed.  When you’re squeezing too much into your schedule, your body, mind, and spirit will feel the stress.  Stress = Overload. Read more: Ayurvedic Strategies For Holiday Balance

Antidote For Depression: Gratitude

Antidote For Depression 

MORNING-GARDEN-

Gratitude

Ayurveda says that depression is part of a kapha dosha imbalance.  Kapha dosha tends to be heavy, dull and slow-moving, so when Kapha becomes out of balance, we exhibit an overload of these qualities.

Focusing on problems, becoming discouraged, and losing hope are behaviors we present when we are depressed. These behaviors may also perpetuate and deepen the depression.  The key word is “behaviors”; if we can (unconsciously) behave our way into sadness, we can (consciously) behave our way into happiness as well.

Practicing gratitude is one strategic behavior that can counteract depressed behaviors; it can get us moving, lighten our hearts, reconnect us with others, and reignite our hope.Read more: Antidote For Depression: Gratitude

Healthy Teeth, Healthy Mouth

MORNING-GARDEN-

Healthy Teeth, Healthy Mouth

Having a healthy mouth and healthy teeth is crucial to overall health, as previously discussed in the article, Oil Pulling: Healthier Teeth, Healthier Body/Mind.  Oil Pulling is an important part of oral health, and so is daily tongue scraping, tooth brushing, and flossing. The quality of the products you use is also important.

Commercial Toothpaste

Even those of us who carefully read food labels may not have read the ingredients in personal care products.  Many commercial toothpastes contain sugar, which is known to decay teeth. Many brands have now substituted Xylitol as a sweetener, but this can distort our sense of taste so that we crave more sweetness in our foods.  Among toothpaste ingredients you may find triclosan, which is a pesticide and hormone disruptor. There may be sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which at best can cause canker sores and at worst can cause liver damage.  Artificial colorings have been linked to ADHD and hyperactivity in children. Read more: Healthy Teeth, Healthy Mouth