Why we must adopt these ancient food practices

Published by eleday on

Food habits have played a major role even in the rise and fall of civilizations. Aryans would not have migrated to India in 1500 BC had their lands in Central Asia not fallen short of pastures for their cattle. The simple ‘Mediterranean’ foods that dieticians are tardily recommending us today must have played a great part in the remarkable achievements of the Greeks. Even the small habits that we have grown up hearing like, “don’t go out on an empty stomach, do not talk while eating, do not share glasses, do not chomp…are much more than good manners. In fact going back to some of these habits can magically impact our health.

Sitting on the floor while eating: In an age when there were no dining tables, everyone sat on floor while having food and very few suffered from lifestyle diseases that have become so rampant in our times. According to experts, sitting on the floor cross legged while having food as practiced in India is typically a yogic posture called Sukhasan which is said to massage the abdominal muscles, boost circulation in lower part of the body and increase flexibility. So ditching the dining table or couch while having food is not a bad idea!

E arly morning breakfast: The roots of having an early morning breakfast go long back in history. The legendary Roman breakfast called “jentaculum” was taken immediately after the sun rise. It must have been considered healthy to indulge in nourishing food early in the morning. Celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar recommends, “Eat within 15 minutes of waking up, if you want to lose weight.” Postponing or skipping your breakfast not only makes you ravenous during lunch time, but also reduces your metabolism.

Food contamination with saliva: Sharing drinks from common glass, food from the same plate and taking bite from the same pizza slice appears to be quite a normal practice for many of us and rather impolite to refuse if a friend is offering it. But it was a taboo in ancient India and is still held in abeyance and considered forbidden in a number of traditional Indian families. The concept of contamination with saliva called uchchishtam (sanskrit), “engili” (Telugu), “jutha” (in North India) is considered unholy and extremely unhygienic and washing hands after eating or putting them in the mouth is considered a must lest the food/person/thing touched would be contaminated.

While it has time and again been given religious connotations, it should actually be looked upon as a practice of hygiene and a wise way to prevent spreading of diseases. Don’t we live in an age of paradoxes when at one hand we use sanitizers and medicated hand-washes and on the other do not mind liking into someone else’s ice-cream with traces of the other person’s saliva?

Not talking while eating: Most of us have grown up hearing that talking while eating is a bad manner. In older days, it was considered a taboo to converse while eating. The main reason behind it probably was the fear of choking on food or hurriedly gulping it down without chewing. Nutrition scientists and doctors say that chewing food well enables in better digestion.

Cooking in earthen utensils: Our ancestors must have cooked food in earthenware because they did not know about plastic, steel and aluminium. But that was not the only reason for it. Cooking in clay pots adds calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, sulphur and several other minerals to food. Clay pots are also alkaline in nature so they mix well with acidic food and balance its PH level. Remember, deadly diseases like cancer do not develop in an alkaline atmosphere.

Not stocking up prepared meal for the whole day:Celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar in her bestseller, “Don’t lose your mind, lose your weight” recommends that if possible one should consume meal within four hours of preparing it, to get the maximum benefits. In ancient times when there were no ready to eat and frozen foods, there were fewer lifestyle diseases. Food starts losing its nourishment as soon as it is prepared. So it is advisable to eat it fresh. While in most busy households today the concept of preparing meals three times a day has given way to bulk preparation once, it is an unhealthy practice that should be given up.

Early Dinner: In ancient Rome, dinner was called “cena” and was the main meal of the day. It was taken late in the afternoon or when the sun started going down. Are not nutritionists asking use today to have dinner before 7 pm? The simple reason behind this healthy practice is that the earlier you have your food, the more time the body has to digest it before it goes to rest during sleep. This practice prevents body from piling weight. Eating late also negatively impacts sleep.

Eating food with hands: Even as a number of people proudly claim that they are not able to eat unless they have a spoon, the ancient shastras recommended eating with hands “which had to be cleaned thoroughly before and after the meal”. Eating with hands is neither uncouth nor tacky, but is extremely healthy. According to Ayurveda when we put food in our mouth through our hand, the five fingers together form a mudra (a yogic position) which activates the sensory organs that keep prana in balance. It also improves digestion because when the hand touches the food, the brain sends signals to the body releasing digestive juices. This is probably the reason why food tastes better when eaten with hands.

According to Luke Coutinho, Holistic Nutritionist, author and Exercise Physiologist, “Eating with your fingers helps your mind connect with your food better and you tend to eat less and more mindfully. Food tastes better when eaten with the fingers in a hygienic way. I spoke to many people across rural and urban India when I noticed so many of them eat with there hands and they said it is ancient Indian tradition and makes food more enjoyable..and to me, enjoying food is very important for digestion, and even absorption of nutrients.”
So, chill! You are not a culinary barbarian if you are using your hands to consume food. You are wise!