That is what they say. It is true; Ayurveda recommends against too many vegetables in your diet. It seems crazy. Especially right now with all the fantastic end of summer produce available to us. It seems entirely counter intuitive via our modern view of nutrition. What were the Reshis thinking when they said this?!?
The explanation, as told by very learned teachers, includes several considerations. First on a practical level what is being indicated here is just that you don’t prioritize veggies over other foods. Meals should be composed first of grain and protein (meat or beans or dairy) with veggies there for a bit of flavor and texture. But why?
- When considering what should be eaten regularly the most important thing is digestibility or bio-availability. This is almost diametrically opposed the the modern science perspective that is based on chemical (vitamin, mineral) potency. There are many things with lots of vitamins and minerals in them that we do not eat. Like trees and rocks. If we want to preserve the longevity of our bodies we can’t ask them to do things that they are not capable of. Our bodies are not able to access the nutrients in trees and rocks and asking them to will not have a good long term effect. This is why when you see an Ayurveda practitioner they will often ask you to stick to simple digestible foods and avoid nutritional supplements-- at least until it is clear what you are able to digest. Most veggies are hard to digest. Green leafies for instance are best consumed by critters with 4 stomachs. Despite all their nutrients they have components which human digestive tracts can’t process. Eating a lot of them will bog down the digestion (amongst other things). Eating them cooked with good oils and spices will make them more easily assimilable. Here is how to do it (again thanks to Saveur magazine): Haak Kashmiri Collard Greens. Yum!
- Like increases like. If our main intention is to strengthen and preserve our bodies so that we can live comfortably a long time then we are working to embody the quality of sthira or stability. Things that have sthira have long lives, take a long time to mature, last a long time, and create these qualities when consumed. Foods with ample sthira quality include grains, beans, meats, ghee. Most vegetables take less long to mature and decompose much faster (except meat perhaps). Within any category of food the items that take longer to mature are better for the body than those that mature quickly, for instance rice that grows in 60 days is better than that which matures in 30 days. Beef is better than veal. Veggies like sweet potatoes, beets, squash are preferable to leafy greens and sprouts.
- Vegetables that are preferred for a long healthy life:
- Various kinds of squash and gourds, both summer and winter variety. Often you can find these in ‘ethnic’ stores: Opo, snake gourd, tinda, winter melon...
- Okra & eggplant are especially good for calming Vata.
- Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli (cook with ginger, mint, coriander, cumin, hing, onion etc to make more digestible.)
- Daikon radish -- cooked of course
- Yam-- especially one called Surasa or elephant foot yam-- tastes like a potato but even starchier.
There are specific veggies which are known to cause special issues when consumed by humans:
Tomatoes: Ubiquitous and troublesome, they are abhishandhi, which means they increase doshas and secretions and trap them in the body. This causes blockages. The blockages then damage ‘plasma’, ‘blood ‘and ‘marrow’ tissues leading to all sorts of things including swelling, skin problems, and joint pain.
Potatoes: They are guru / heavy and kshay / astringent; they create blockages in the gut that can cause bloating, constipation, ‘beer gut’ type of protruding abdomen, heartburn, restricted breathing, heart problems and other problems that arise from the proper flow of things getting blocked up.
Green Leafy veggies: Krumi (or parasites, candida, amoeba, lice, molds, fungi and lots of other mysterious symptoms) are related to eating an excess amount of these. It is very commonly seen here in the US where so many people try to live on salads and green drinks. Cooked greens are also culprits but at least are easy to digest.
Mushrooms: Live on dead stuff. They are thought to have a tamasic or dark and lethargic effect on the body and mind. They increase the doshas; vata pitta kapha. This is bad.
Sprouts ( sprouted grain etc) are foods to keep to a minimum. Partially because babies are not nutritious because they lack the quality of sthira or stability. But also because they are neither seed nor plant, the body doesn’t know what to do with them. Their use is responsible for eye problems in case you are wondering and quickly aging tissues.