Per the wisdom of ayurvedic sages, grains are important for building bone and muscle tissues and providing the body with strength and endurance.7 They are also an important part of any diet, especially a vegetarian diet. Grains are recommended to be consumed with every meal as a source of energy for the body. All grains are a vital source of carbohydrates, protein, iron, calcium, potassium and B vitamins2 and have been nicknamed “vegetarian powerhouses” because they are nourishing sources of energy.7
There are many varieties of grains. Dried grains have the advantage of a longer shelf life than starchy fruits (bananas, plantains, pumpkins4) and tubers (sweet potatoes, taro, jicama5). Because of this, they can be harvested in large quantities, transported long distances, stored in silos, and then milled into flour or pressed into oil. Historically, grain agriculture production and storage of excess grain may have led to the division of society into classes.2 Today, grains continue to make up a considerable portion of the global food market.2
Grains are also called cereals or caryopses1 and are small, dry, one-seeded fruits belonging to the grass family (Poaceae or Gramineae).2 Grains may or may not have a hull (outer covering of a fruit or seed3). Agricultural commerce includes seeds or fruits from other plant families as “whole grains”, such as amaranth and the three native grains of the pre-Hispanic Andean civilization, kaniwa, kiwicha and quinoa, which are derived from broad-leafed plants.2 Amaranth contains 30% greater protein than rice, four times the calcium as in wheat, and high iron, manganese and magnesium.10
Pulses, or grain legumes, belong to the pea family (Fabaceae or Leguminosae) and contain higher protein, about 20%, compared with other plant foods. Soybeans have as much as 35% protein content. Like other whole plant foods, pulses are rich in starches and fats. Finally, oilseed grains are harvested mainly for the extraction of their edible oils. These oils provide dietary energy, some essential fatty acids and are used as fuel and lubricants. See Table 1 for a summary of the grain types2.
Table 1: SUMMARY OF TYPES OF GRAINS
Warm Season Grains
Cool Season Grains
Pulses (Legume Grains)
The different types of grains affect the ayurvedic doshas of Vata, Pitta and Kapha in a different manner. Vata and Pitta types can eat larger amounts of grains than Kapha types, who tend to gain weight from excessive consumption of grains.7 Vata type people should eat wheat products including bulgur, farina, couscous, semolina, pasta and breads. The wheat provides moistening and lubricates the joints, boosts energy, enhances physical strength and balances excessive Vata. Kapha type people should eat smaller quantities of wheat avoid to weight gain and to reduce mucus in the body, especially if the person already has an underlying cough, cold or allergies.7 The best grain for Kapha is barley because it is light, easier to digest and does not produce excess mucus in the body, hence it balances excessive Kapha. Barley also balances excessive Pitta as well. Organic raw barley is more effective than white pearl barley. Barley flour is also available and can be used as a substitute to white flour for baking and making flatbreads. Finally, barley water is highly beneficial for balancing weight and for kidney balance.7
Basmati rice balances all three of the doshas. It is the best grain for Pitta types because it is cooling and a little heavy. Three to four servings per week is recommended, but not daily consumption.7 Basmati rice flour is also available, which can be used for baking. Similarly, quinoa grain is good for all doshas and is an excellent source of protein. Vata types may eat quinoa with olive oil or ghee to improve its effect. Puffed rice is light, dry and is an ideal snack, sautéed in ghee and sprinkled with spices, for balancing Kapha.7 Brown rice is heating and dry and more suited for Kapha, while less suited for Pitta and Vata types.7 Buckwheat groats# are best for Kapha and less balancing for Vata8. Oats are aggravating for Kapha individuals, but dry, baked oats in granola are fine. Millet and rye are both dry and aggravate Vata, but balance Kapha. Corn is both dry and heating and therefore good for Kapha but can increase Vata and Pitta.
For a Kapha person, a balancing breakfast would include chapati made of wheat and barley flours, topped with honey and cinnamon; half cup of granola with warm milk; or rice cakes with honey and cinnamon. Lunch grains may include barley, quinoa, corn, millet, or brown rice. Vegetable barley soup is a good Kapha balancing dinner. For a Pitta or Vata person, a balancing breakfast would include cream of wheat, couscous with warm milk and sweetener, rice pudding, tapioca or oatmeal. Lunch grains may include pasta, couscous, quinoa, rice with ghee, or chapati. And dinner would be similar to lunch in smaller portions.
In summary, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of digestion over nutrition, because only properly digested food can provide proper nutrition to the body tissues. Good nutrition is attained through the choice of food, avoiding bad food combinations and the method of cooking (kalpana).9 Ayurvedic diet also takes into consideration the individual’s doshic constitution, dhatu and agni as well as the guna (medicinal value) and rasa (taste) of the food. Ahara Kalpana, or food preparation, is concept of Ayurveda which provides the properties of dravya according to how the dravya (food) is prepared. For example, rice grain itself is heavy to digest, in the form of puffed rice, it becomes light and easily digestible.9 Thus, kalpana is a valuable tool for physicians to achieve the desired goals of treatment. Charaka Samhita has described sixty-eight ahara kalpanas for maintenance of health and for treatment of diseases. Most of these are preparations of Shooka Dhanya (grains) as the principle food item, which this paper has attempted to provide a basic overview of.
- https://www.mapi.com/ayurvedic-knowledge/plants-spices-and-oils/ayurvedic-grains-for-better-health.html. © Copyright 2019 Maharishi Ayurvedic Products International, Inc. (MAPI).
- K Gupta, H Vyas, M Vyas. Ahara Kalpana in Charaka Samhita – a Critical Review. Ayurpharm Int J Ayur Alli Sci., 2(10), 2013: 302-310.
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