Episode 52: What To Eat For How You Feel
As we head into cold and flu season, on top of a worldwide pandemic, immunity is on everyone’s mind. Tragically, few media outlets are talking about the natural ways we can support immunity, but if we look to the past, there are bountiful clues about how we can eat and live to bolster our immune system -- tools that have been used for centuries with astounding success and that are now being validated by science.
Our podcast guest, Divya Alter, is on the show today talking with Andrea about Ayurveda, an ancient medicine, diet and way of life that’s been practiced and studied for over 5,000 years.
Divya is a certified nutritional consultant, educator, and chef in the Shaka Vansiya Ayurveda tradition. She is the co-owner of Divya’s Kitchen, an Ayurvedic restaurant in Manhattan and the author of “What to Eat for How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen.” She is also the co-founder of Bhagavat Life, North America’s first Ayurvedic chef certification program.
Think of this episode like a crash course in ancient wisdom (and a precursor for a very exciting guest next month!) The two discuss what Ayurveda is, the unique way it views food and how it supports the body in working optimally.
Unlike many modern diets, Ayurveda’s core beliefs rest on eating foods that are fresh (we’re looking at you, leftovers!) and paying close attention to food combining based on your body’s individualized composition.
If you’ve never heard of Ayurveda, this is an excellent starting point, but even if you’re familiar with these concepts, this episode is a great refresher and reminder that the past is supremely powerful.
To connect with Divya, head to divyaalter.com, or check out her online store, complete with Ayurvedic foods you can make at home at divyaskitchen.com. Use promo code BIOHM15 for 15% off. Eat well and support small restaurants at the same time: a win-win!
Have your own questions or resources that you’d like the team to discuss on-air? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out on Instagram @DreEats or @BIOHMHealth.
- What is Ayurveda? (3:03)
- An overarching philosophy for life (4:30)
- Some important terms to know (5:11)
- The way the body works and the role Ayurveda plays (8:07)
- Many Ayurveda philosophies being validated by science today (9:25)
- How do I know my dosha? (10:10)
- Ayurveda’s lens on food (11:10)
- The importance of your pulse (14:16)
- Food: invigorating, lackluster or depleting? (14:55)
- Importance of HOW you eat (19:52)
- Digestion and the gut in Ayurveda (20:31)
- How to eat for how you feel (26:39)
- Warming and cooling foods (28:58)
- Food combining in Ayurveda (33:25)
- Which spices Divya uses to influence digestion in different ways (36:48)
- The importance of properly using spices (40:46)
- What Divya’s day looks like (44:54)
Mentioned On This Show:
- Divya's Kitchen (Promo Code: BIOHM15)
- Divya Alter – The New Ayurvedic Kitchen
- Divya’s book: What to Eat for How You Feel
- BIOHM’s website (Promo Code: BIOHM10)
Andrea Wien: Welcome to the Microbiome Report powered by BIOHM Health. I am your host, Andrea Wien and today I'm joined by my good friend and Ayurvedic cooking teaching, Divya Alter. Divya is a certified nutritional consultant, educator and chef. She is the cofounder of Bhagavat Life, north America's first Ayurvedic chef certification program. She and her husband, Prentiss, also own Divya's Kitchen, an Ayurvedic restaurant in Manhattan. Divya is also the author of What To Eat For How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen and she has a new cookbook on the horizon.
I'm a huge fan of looking to the past for answers to the common problems that ail us, which is why I am so fascinated and always have been by the topic of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is over 5000 years old and the lessons that have been shared and practiced for all of those centuries are now starting to be proven by science, which is so exciting to see. On this episode, I talk to Divya about the concept of Ayurveda as it relates to gut health and digestion. Divya defines some important terms for us and we chat about principles such as food combining and how to use spices to increase digestion, support immunity and fight disease.
This is a great intro episode on the properties and potential of Ayurveda, so I encourage you to listen in if you're on a healing journey or if you're just curious about how to make some of this ancient wisdom work for you. Like all restaurants, Divya's Kitchen in New York City has been hit hard by this pandemic, so I'm also excited to share that she's now selling packaged goods that are easy to make at home and still retain all of the nutrients that we discuss on the show. Those are now available nation wide and she's offering podcast listeners 15% off any purchase with the code BIOHM15. If you're at all interested in these foods, please consider supporting Divya and her team. I have linked to her website on the show notes page at BIOHMhealth.com/pages/podcast and again, BIOHM is B-I-O-H-M for both that code and the website. Now, without further ado, onto the show.
Divya, welcome to the show, it's so great to have you.
Divya Alter: Thank you so much, Andrea, it's such a pleasure. I haven't seen you in a long time, but it's so nice to connect again.
Andrea Wien: Yes, I agree and I'm so excited to talk about this topic because I think it's something that people may have heard about. The word Ayurveda is very popular right now but what that actually means and how to bring it into our life in a way that make sense can be a little bit difficult to understand and comprehend and you've really dedicated your career with your restaurant and your cooking school and everything else that you have going on, your cookbook, to making it accessible to people and really helping people to do it in a way that doesn't feel overbearing and is really joyful. We're so happy to have you on to talk about this.
To lay the framework for all of this, what is Ayurveda? I know that's a very big question, but when you think about Ayurveda, how do you describe it to people?
Divya Alter: Yeah, of course, historically Ayurveda originated in India as the traditional medical science of India and it originated before Chinese medicine, Greek medicine and other ancient styles of medicine, so it's very old and the goal of Ayurveda is to help us life in harmony. So ayur means life and veda means knowledge or wisdom. So it's the knowledge, the science of life. One of the definitions of Ayurveda is that it teaches us what is good and what is bad for our life. You can also say what's good and what's bad for our health in terms of diet, routine, the environment we live in. What's interesting is that it's all different for all of us. Something that's good for me might not be good for you.
So, that's what I love about it, it's very personalized approach to health. It's not just one diet or one medicine fit all.
Andrea Wien: I think too, sometimes we hear Ayurveda and people think it's only a diet or it's only a lifestyle, but it really comprises every aspect of life from diet to lifestyle to spirituality, so today we're really going to be talking about the food aspect of things and how it interacts with digestion, but I think that's important for people to understand, that it really is an overarching philosophy.
Divya Alter: Exactly, yeah, it helps us in all aspects of our life, because that's called total health. Also, what I love about Ayurveda also is that in the process of following the right diet and the routine that keeps you healthy and living in the right environment, it also elevates our consciousness. So it's not just physical, it definitely helps elevate our spirit and our consciousness.
Andrea Wien: Now, before we dive into more of the specifics around this, what are some important terms that people may have heard or are important to understand? I'm thinking specifically of doshas is a word that comes up a lot. Can you talk about some of the most important words to know?
Divya Alter: Yeah, before doshas, it's important to understand Prana. So, ama is a Sanskrit word for energy, like the universal life force. It's the flow of energy that keeps us alive and then ama manifests in our bodies in different ways. So the energy of air and space makes vata dosha. So dosha literally means weakness. It becomes a weakness when you have too much vata. So if you're too airy and you're feeling very gassy or bloated or your mind is scattered all over the place then that becomes like a weakness.
That's one energy. Vata governs circulation, it governs all movements inside and outside, like movements, internal movements, but also all our motions. It governs the intelligence of the body to heal itself and that's also a core principle of Ayurveda. Ayurveda helps our body heal itself. So it supports the body's natural intelligence for self healing.
The pitta dosha is the fiery energy of fire, combination of fire, a little bit of water. So digestive fire falls into this category. There are 12 more fires, the metabolic fires that govern the liver function, the skin, the eyes, it governs metabolism, it also governs all transformations and it also governs our ability to mentally... our ability to envision, to perceive.
So, that's pitta dosha. And then kapha. Kapha is another term. That's the energy of earth and water. And so water element are the fluids in the body, the earth element is represented by all the structural elements, like the bones, the muscle, the fat tissue. Kapha dosha governs the structure, growth, stability in the body. Like that.
Andrea Wien: Okay, that's really helpful, and I like a couple of things that you said. I mean I like everything that you said, but you mentioned Ayurveda is really to support the body's natural healing and I think when we think about modern society and the way that many of us tackle our health problems, it's going and getting something external, right? A pill or a diet or some type of external resources that's going to help us heal, but really the body wants to hear itself all the time and it has this innate wisdom to do so and so Ayurveda can really be a tool to be used that allows us to get out of our own way, if you will, and support that natural healing process, so I love that philosophical look at how the body can work.
Divya Alter: Yeah, exactly. And you know where it stems from? It stems from another core principle of Ayurveda is that when addressing an imbalance or disease, an Ayurvedic physician would always look for the cause. So, it's not just treating the symptoms. First evaluate and assess what's causing it, then assess the symptoms and then prescribe treatment protocols. So for example, 50 people can have a headache, but each one of them can have a different reason for a headache, so just giving a pain killer is not going to help. It may alleviate and give another relief, but if you're not addressing the cause, you're not curing the problem.
Andrea Wien: And what I think is so interesting about Ayurveda, it is such an ancient and old practice that now is starting to really be bolstered by science. So for a long time, it works because it works, right? And now it's like it works because and we can start to point to the mechanisms, and so I think we're starting to see this ancient wisdom that so many people around the world have already unlocked and known about really validated in the science, which is important for many people, especially in the US, I think, to have that validation.
Divya Alter: Yeah, that's really exciting. I follow a lot of scientific research in Ayurveda. A lot of it also has to go with Ayurvedic herbs. There was a new research just came out on the famous Ayurvedic herb called ashwagandha. And I'm like yes. It's nice to have this scientific validation of something that the sages of Ayurveda cognized centuries, many thousands of years ago, so it's nice to have that. And also you can gain fresher perspective as well.
Andrea Wien: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so you mentioned the three doshas, vata, pitta, kapha. How does one determine what they might be dominate in? Is this something that can change over time?
Divya Alter: Yeah, well each one of us is born with a unique combination of these dosha energies. So, some of us by nature are more vata predominate, some are more pitta, some or more kapha, some have all three in equal proportions. That's called tridoshic. So, we're all born with a unique combination of energies and that's actually the reference for perfect health. This is our perfect health. But from day one, we're born, we're exposed to so many things that imbalance us and make us... sickness does manifest maybe first it starts with an imbalance. Those imbalances are very important to know because that's what we need to address to get back to your perfect health. So it's not just important to know what makes you sick, it's also important to know what makes you healthy.
Andrea Wien: And how does Ayurveda look at food? How does one view food through the lens of Ayurveda?
Divya Alter: Well, Ayurveda explains food... it's very interesting how food ingredients, herbs, they're all described in great detail in the ancient Ayurvedic text and it's interesting how they're described. They're not described in terms of nutrition facts, so much protein and carbohydrates and fat and all that, but they're described in terms of their attributes, their qualities, so what is the predominate taste? What are the qualities? Is it soft, is it hard, is it liquid, is it dry? Like that.
What is the metabolic effect? Does it heat your body after you eat it or cool you down, the post digestive effect? And then what are the healing benefits? So that's how Ayurveda describes food and it's all based also in the five elements. So the five elements that make our body space, air, fire, water and earth, the whole world is made out of these five elements, okay? So, the food also, some foods are more watery, some foods are more dense and earthy. Some foods are very fiery. Based on the qualities of food, then you determine... and then when you know your own qualities, what's going on in your body and energetic balance and imbalance, then you can choose the foods that will balance you based on those qualities.
Andrea Wien: So you mentioned what's going on in your body. So I kind of glazed past a little bit of how to determine your dosha. There are a number of dosha tests online, right? You can take a quiz, is that the best way to find out where you might be dominate in something or imbalanced?
Divya Alter: Well, no, but it's a fun way, it's a good start, kind of like let me check out Ayurveda, you can take a quiz. It helps you start thinking about your body in terms of energies and imbalances like that. So it also makes you more aware. It's like, "Oh wow, my fingers are more like this, they're not like this." The dosha quiz is fun, but if you really want to get on a healing journey with Ayurveda, I highly recommend seeing an Ayurvedic doctor, practitioner who can do pulse assessment and other different types of assessments so that you can have a very clear idea of what's going on, what's causing the imbalance, and then get a very personalized recommendation for diet, for your regiment, for the environment that's best for you, et cetera.
Andrea Wien: And it's really remarkable how much can be told through the pulse. When I was in India, I went and saw an Ayurvedic practitioner there and just by... he didn't speak any English, I didn't speak any Hindi, and just by feeling my pulse, he was able to basically tell me a lot about my history and my digestion and give me some of the different herbs that he thought would be helpful and it was just mind blowing how much information he was able to glean just by putting his fingers on my wrist.
Divya Alter: Yeah, right? And it's like, "How do you know?"
Andrea Wien: Exactly, exactly, it felt like magic, it really did.
Divya Alter: Yeah, that's the thing, when you go to an Ayurvedic doctor, you don't really tell them anything. They first check your pulse and start asking you questions and telling you their findings and it's like, "Yeah, you're right on track." So that's part of the science.
Andrea Wien: Now something else that you talk about in your book and is a little bit different from a lot of the mainstream food advice is the difference in different types of food that can be invigorating, lackluster and depleting. Can you talk about those three categories and why they're important?
Divya Alter: Yeah, so I learned this from my teacher, Vaidya Mishra, he's my main Ayurvedic teacher. Really he's an incredible doctor and teacher and he used to speak about intelligent, dumb and bad food and when I had these words in my book and then my editor told me, "This is not a good sequence, we have to find other words." I now understand you're an editor, so we came up with invigorating, lackluster, and what was the other one?
Andrea Wien: Depleting.
Divya Alter: And so this is all based on the prana, the value of prana or the level of prana in the food. So again, how alive is your food? Invigorating foods are fresh, they're full of prana, they're fresh, they vibrate, you feel them. And they energize you after you eat them. Freshly cook also, you feel great after you eat them. Lackluster foods are more like left overs or they're deep fried or foods that have some energy, but they're like ah, you know.
Andrea Wien: They're weighed down.
Divya Alter: Yeah, they're weighed down and you don't get so energized, these foods are much harder to digest, so they will make you a little more tired after you eat them. And then the depleting foods are basically... that's the bad food. It's like microwaved food or canned food. Canned food is like basically taking the life, the prana out of it to extend the shelf life so it doesn't go bad quickly. So these are of course very convenient, but energetically, they're not nourishing us well, so they'll fill up your stomach, but they will not energize you.
Andrea Wien: So I can hear people saying, "Well wait a minute, I have a nutritionist or I have someone I'm working with and they tell me to make a bunch of food at the beginning of the week and then just eat it through the week and that's more convenient for me," but you're saying leftovers can be problematic.
Divya Alter: I want to ask, if you're doing that, how well do you feel on day three or four or five? Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of eating leftovers all week? I want you to notice energetically how you're feeling, how is your stomach? Are you getting more bloated like that? Because that's what leftovers do. They're very convenient of course and it's better to eat leftover food that you prepare that's healthy for you than to eat out some very unhealthy food, that's definitely there. But at the same time, especially if you're on a healing journey and you're trying to get better, trying to heal your gut or whatever, then just keep in mind that leftovers are not your friend because they're very hard to digest and then this weakens your digestive fire and then it causes all kinds of digestive reactions.
So what I recommend, on the positive side, Andrea, instead of cooking up a storm on Sunday for the whole week, what you could do is you can do all your prep, you can chop your vegetables, make your spice blends, make almond milk or fresh cheese, whatever you're making, you can do all the prep and then cooking takes very little time once you have prepped everything. So, in this way, you can have fresh meals every day and I guarantee you will feel much better just by doing that.
Andrea Wien: You know, to go back to science is really starting to shed the light on some of these things that we've known from the ancient practices for so long, we had someone on recently who was talking about histamines and really foods that are leftover have such higher levels of histamine in them. So if you're someone who struggles with allergies, even seasonal allergies, eating leftovers can really exacerbate those problems and that's something we're starting to find out. It matches up with what you're saying. We've known for a long time that maybe leftovers weren't the best option, but now we're really starting to back it up with the science on why.
Divya Alter: Yeah. We welcome a lot more science in this.
Andrea Wien: You know, something I also love about Ayurveda is listening to your body. I think that's something that we don't focus on enough. Just feeling energetically how you feel after. So you've mentioned it multiple times, but really taking that time to slow down when you're eating so you can be mindful of the process of that, and then checking in with yourself five minutes, 10 minutes, an hour, two hours after you eat and just saying like, "How do I feel in my body? Do I have indigestion? Do I feel bloated? Do I feel energized?" I think that is such an important piece and it's something I try to work with my clients on to make them understand that how you feel is more than just full or hungry.
Divya Alter: Exactly, yeah, I think this should be taught in schools. You have a beautiful son, this is something I'm sure you will teach him, but this is a very essential life skill to have, listening to our body. Also being aware of our mind and where our thoughts are at and all that, our emotions, really being connected with ourselves, so that's a life skill that should be taught in schools.
Andrea Wien: Yeah, I absolutely agree. Okay, let's move into the gut and digestion. So when we look through the lens of Ayurveda, what's the importance of digestion in the gut?
Divya Alter: Well, according to Ayurveda, this is the foundation of good health and more than 70%... some say even 90% of illness can be traced back that it started with indigestion, so yeah, it's really, really important because the food we eat affects first of all how we break down the food, how we absorb it and assimilate it and then how we eliminate the waste. So these are the three stages of digestion and some people just think, "Oh yeah, my digestion," they usually think about elimination, but it starts with breaking down in your stomach and small intestines. So it's really important to have strong digestion so that you're fully breaking down your food, the food that you eat and if you don't, that semi digestive matter, in Ayurveda it's called ama, A-M-A. That ama kind of becomes... it's a very sticky, like a sludge and it starts to sit there and can cause blockages in the physical channels, including the gut and if it just becomes stagnant and it sits there for a long time, it becomes very fermented and acidic and this is what begins to attract pathogens and begins to bred disease.
And it all starts with bad digestion, so it's really, really important to make sure that you're breaking down your foods and so favoring foods that you can digest easily and avoiding foods that you cannot.
Andrea Wien: I think too, we just spoke about it a little bit, but it's really starting with what I call eating hygiene, right? So making sure you're calm when you eat. You didn't just yell at your kids or have a fight with your spouse or have a big presentation at work that you need to give after you eat. Chewing really well, sitting at a table, not eating on the go. These are all things that we talk about that again, Ayurveda has inherently known and taught for centuries.
Divya Alter: Yes, it's not just what you eat but how you eat it. Exactly.
Andrea Wien: So you talked about ama. Can you talk about the flip side of that? What is the digestive fire that we talk about in Ayurveda?
Divya Alter: So the digestive fire, these are digestive enzymes in the stomach like the hydrochloric acid, it's a metabolic fire and it helps us break down the food, which then the food, it's called food juice or rasa, then it goes through the liver and it transforms into blood. So the liver is also a very important part of digestion because we can all eat the same meal, but we have different blood types, so how is that?
It's because that's the intelligence of the liver. It's very important to pay attention to how you feel in your stomach after you eat food because let's say if you feel very tired, and you want to take a nap, it means that either the digestive fire was too weak, imagine a real fire and you put a big log of wood on top of it. So, it will take a very long time to consume it or it will just kill the fire. So when we eat the wrong foods, if we have weak digestion, then we feel very tired. All the energy in your body goes to focusing and breaking down the food. So if you're feeling tired, you probably have weak digestion, or you overate. This can also happen. You ate too much.
Some people have very fiery digestion, so they have overly strong digestive fire and they're always hungry. They have to eat every two hours. People have friends like that.
Andrea Wien: Yeah, absolutely, or if you're breastfeeding, like me right now.
Divya Alter: Yeah, that's [inaudible 00:24:25] too. So that's also too much because when you have this... and a lot of people that I know, they eat so much, every two hours they're hungry but they're so skinny because somehow the nutrients get burned before they get assimilated properly and this also goes with the friendly bacteria as well. If you have too much acidity and heat, it can cause problem with the friendly bacteria in your gut. So if you have that digestion, then you need to have specific more cooling herbs and spices and avoid heating foods, like very pungent foods like onion and garlic and chili's and thing like that, or fermented foods.
Then there is also the digestion that sometimes is good, sometimes is not good. That's called the vata type of digestion. So sometimes you have good appetite, sometimes you don't, and it kind of fluctuates between the two and usually the symptoms of that are you get bloating and gassy more, you have more air in your stomach, in your gut in general. But then the ideal digestion is balanced digestion which is you're able to fully break down your food and you feel energized afterwords.
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So I can think about people listening to this and thinking okay, I've heard some things that sound like me. I don't really fully understand yet where I fall in all of this, but how do people start to figure out what foods are good for them, what they should be eating for how they feel on a day to day basis? They might be saying, "Oh yeah, I do suffer from a lot of gas," or, "I do have bloating sometimes when I have certain things," but when you are working with cooking clients or at the restaurant even, how do you talk to people about what foods they should start experimenting with to see where they fall in this range?
Divya Alter: I mean, first of all, if you have chronic bloating and gas issue, this could be caused by many things. It could be a symptom of so many different things. So if you have a chronic issue like that, definitely you need to see a practitioner to assess what's causing it. In general, I would recommend are you feeling very cold right now? How you are feeling? And if they say, "I'm so cold," I'm like, "Okay, no salad for you." Warm foods, have a soup instead of salad because the golden rule of Ayurveda is that like energies, like increases like, so energies that are similar or the same, they increase. So if you feel very cold and you eat cold or cooling foods, then you get colder after your meal.
So we always balance with the opposite. It's very easy to just check in with yourself. If you're cold and you're just coming in from a very windy day, a lot of vata energy in the environment, then definitely have something warm and grounding and comforting. Like the other day, I had a client came and he's like, "I have such bad acidity, I cannot tolerate anything, I can hardly eat anything," and I'm like, "Wow." So I made a special soup for him, he told me he was coming, it's not on the menu, but I made a special soup for him with hardly any spices because most spices increase heat and could aggravate his acidity and added zucchini and fennel to it because these are two very cooling vegetables, like metabolically cooling, it helps with acidity. He really enjoyed it. I used coconut oil because coconut oil is cooling as well and he had absolutely no reactions. You should have seen his face because he was just so happy, like, "Finally I could enjoy one meal."
Andrea Wien: That's awesome. I think you make an important point, it's not only... warming foods don't have to be hot, right? It's not a temperature thing, and cooling foods aren't necessarily cold foods. So you mentioned salad and soup, but now you're talking about soup being actually cooling for his digestion. So can you talk about... how do we know what foods are warming and what foods are cooling?
Divya Alter: Yeah, warming and cooling, we're talking about the metabolic effect and the level of the liver. So after the food goes through initial stages of digestion, does it heat up your body or does it cool it down? And that's something that modern nutrition doesn't address yet. But, you feel it. You eat something that's very spicy, it could be a tomato salsa that's cold and it has tons of chili's in the tomatoes and maybe some lemon juice or whatever and these are all pungent and sour things that increase heat in the body, so then it's cold in temperature but you feel so heated afterwords.
How to understand really which foods are cooling and heating, it's always best to just learn from Ayurvedic books because this is something that is listed and you just have to learn it because there is no... oh, you can do it the slow way by trial and error, but the faster way is just the tables where you can download. In my book I also explain this as well, so just learn that yes, zucchini is cooling.
Andrea Wien: And I think that your book, What To Eat For How You Feel pretty much says it all. Your book is really great because it's broken up into seasons because as you mentioned, these energies can also be in the environment, not only within us, so we obviously feel different. You know, I think about in the fall, it suddenly gets to 55 degrees and everyone's bundled up and wearing their scarves and things and then that same exact temperature in the spring, people are like stripping off their clothes and going swimming. So you have this inherent sense of there's different energies at different times of the year, so it's really, again, listening to your body and just tapping into that as much as possible.
Divya Alter: Exactly and you bring up a very important point about seasonal eating because that's part of balance with the environment. So just like we change our clothes, as you mentioned, then we also have to adjust our diets. In the winter, we need to have more fat and protein in our diet. In the cold season, it helps us withstand the cold temperatures. We need to have more grounding, heavier foods, and we probably crave more baked goods and higher protein dishes. And then in spring, when we kind of went through winter and we feel heavy and sluggish, then you need to have lighter foods, a lot more fiber, more bitter foods to help us kind of clear the sluggishness, the winter sluggishness. And then in summer we need to have more cooling foods that don't overheat us so that we can enjoy summer fully.
Andrea Wien: How does this work in climates that don't change? So I'm thinking near the equator or somewhere like Los Angeles where it's pretty temperate and mild all year round.
Divya Alter: Well you can also just day to day... I used to live in Los Angeles, so I mean some of the winter days were really cold, so you can also adjust day to day, and in this case, you always determine also the balancing foods according to taste. The six tastes of food according to Ayurveda, there's sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and stringent. So in different seasons, we increase tastes, depending on... like in spring, we need more bitter taste. Bitter foods are very cleansing. We need pungent taste because it kind of clears sluggishness, opens the channels in the body.
But in areas like that, I call them the tridoshic areas. It's usually around the same temperatures, then you can just focus on having all six tastes of food in balance, but also checking in with yourself, how you're feeling today no matter what the weather is outside.
Andrea Wien: And I think something else that doesn't get talked about much in modern nutrition is the concept of food combining. I think people are vaguely aware of something like kosher where there's certain rules where things can't be put together. But I think most people think that that is a religious choice and it has not a lot to do with how those foods interact in the body, but in Ayurveda, we really talk about the concept of food combining in a different way as it relates to health. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Divya Alter: Yeah, exactly, and that's what sets Ayurveda apart from modern nutrition and other holistic modalities. It's not just how much protein, the percentage of nutrients. It's actually combining foods so that you can digest them fully. You can take two very good ingredients, like wholesome, fresh, intelligent, invigorating ingredients and they're good for you, but they aren't disgustful together. So when you eat them together, you experience indigestion and sometimes it can even lead to almost like food poisoning reaction.
Andrea Wien: Can you give an example of some of the combinations that are not good together?
Divya Alter: Yeah, for example, milk, like dairy milk is one ingredient that doesn't combine well with a lot of things, like milk and also heavy cream. For example, milk and citrus, or anything sour. So making a milkshake with strawberries, not a good idea. It will curdle in your stomach. Or the typical unhealthy American breakfast is you take a cereal and you pour some cold milk from the fridge and then you add some berries to make it more nutritious and then you have a glass of orange juice on the side. So that's really bad food combining because the sourness of the oranges and the berries will really cause indigestion with the milk.
Unfortunately, most school meals include flavored milk with all the other food and I think that's one reason why so many children have allergies, because they eat incompatible food at school every day.
Andrea Wien: Well and I think too, something that's different than a lot of the information that is out there now is Ayurveda doesn't shy away from dairy. So it's not that milk in and of itself is bad, although we can talk about the different types of milk that are more health supportive and the different yogurts and cheeses and things like that, but that's something in and of itself, it's not that the dairy is problematic, it's that when we combine it with other things, people start to have issues.
Divya Alter: Yeah, exactly. It's the combination, it's also if we consume it in the wrong way, like cold milk will definitely congest you, or you just take Greek yogurt out of the fridge and you eat it very cold, it will cause congestion even for the healthiest person. So how you take it is important and also the quality of the dairy is also important and so not all dairy is the same. But being a lot more mindful about what ingredients you select, how you combine them and then how you eat them.
Andrea Wien: So I want to get in in a minute to some of the things that you're eating as the season changes, but I want to talk first, I think the other piece that's very important in Ayurveda that isn't such a focus except kind of ancillary for oh yeah, you can use it to flavor your food is the use of spices and specifically how spices can be helpful for digestion. Can you talk about the ways that you use and which spices you use to influence digestion in different ways?
Divya Alter: Yeah, spices play really a central role in Ayurvedic cooking. Not just to flavor, flavor is definitely there. Spices add a lot of flavor, but we use spices to balance different doshas, to balance different energies, and also seasonally. So right now it's getting cold, I'm in New York, it's a very warm day today, but it will get cold, so we need more warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, cloves are very warming, cumin, turmeric, like that. And then there are also cooling spices, for example, colander and fennel in smaller quantities. I like to use curry leaves. I love curry leaves. I have a curry plant and I have fresh curry leaves. They're also very cooling and very aromatic. So there are spices that help you also digest certain nutrients. For example, cardamom helps digest protein. So I like to add cardamom, either black cardamom or green cardamom to protein rich dishes, like with lentils. I don't eat meat, but like lentils or even whole grains, like that.
There are spices that support natural detox, for example, coriander is very diuretic. It helps eliminate toxins through the urinary tracts. So if I'm cooking with bitter foods like leafy greens or bitter melon or myringa, I would always add, or asparagus also, I would always add coriander because it helps eliminate the toxins faster.
Andrea Wien: It's so interesting and we know this about cilantro and parsley, for example, also being great chelators for heavy metals. So when we start to look at the power of spices I think they are so overlooked and that's another reason that I just love Ayurveda. You get to unlock a whole new world of health support in these very flavorful things, which is so exciting for me.
You made a couple of points, so you said I don't eat meat. Is it possible to eat meat and have an Ayurvedic diet?
Divya Alter: Yes it is. The Ayurvedic text describe different types of meat that... and again the meat is described to be used as medicine. So the Ayurvedic text describe the medicinal benefits of meat. The sages of Ayurveda never encourage slaughter houses and unnecessary killing of animals, but one of the principles of Ayurveda is that everything in nature can be used as medicine. So whether it's good or bad for you, that's a different thing, but everything can be used as medicine.
So, there's also... you can also talk about two different categories of Ayurveda. One is the more spiritual practitioners of Ayurveda who avoid eating meat and they practice Ayurveda, also the spiritual aspect of Ayurveda as well. The more, I don't want to say materialistic Ayurveda, but people who are not interested in spiritual life, then usually those people would eat meat. Ayurveda's not against anything, but also, I want to make sure our listeners understanding that Ayurvedic lifestyle never encourages unnecessary killing of animals.
Andrea Wien: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. Then, we talked about the spices and I think something that was so interesting to me when I first started learning about cooking Ayurvedic food was you have to cook the spices in a certain way too. So it's not enough to just sprinkle something on top of what you're already eating or even to mix it into a large vat of soup or something like that, but really releasing some of those properties by cooking it in oil, I'm speaking specifically of turmeric, for example. Can you talk about the importance of making sure you're properly using the spice?
Divya Alter: Yeah, exactly. Most spices don't work with just sprinkling them because you need to activate them. So usually heat and fat activates the spices and it's the different methods of cooking with spices. I explain this, I have a whole chapter about... actually two chapters about spices in my cook book. So the different methods are very important, also you should never burn your spices as well, but you can toast them in oil or you can dry toast them and grind them and then add them at the end of cooking or you can grind the spices and simply add them to soups or you can make a paste, the different methods of cooking. It also depends on the season, what dosha you're trying to balance.
But turmeric is such a popular spice and was well known to the sages of Ayurveda way before modern science. And one thing that people, and after all this research, recent research in turmeric, people are like, "Yeah, let's put turmeric in everything, in my smoothie, in my tea, let's make turmeric drinks and this and that." But actually turmeric requires heat and fat to properly activate and to properly be absorbed.
There was actually a study by a university a couple years ago and they proved that turmeric is best absorbed when it's being cooked. Again, as my teacher Vaidya Mishra would always say, when you take something from a tradition, you also have to apply and use it according to the tradition. Don't try to come up with your own ways because it may have a negative effect.
Andrea Wien: Yeah, cultural spice appropriation.
Divya Alter: Yes.
Andrea Wien: I think the other thing that is important to mention when we're talking about spices is we've spoken about prana, which is the life force that everything has and spices would fall into that category as well, and when we look at the majority of spices that are sold in a typical grocery store, many of them have been irradiated, which means they've been hit with radiation to kill off any pathogens that might be present there, any bacteria, things like that so they can have a longer shelf life, but in that process of irradiation, they're also killing the prana. So it's important when you're buying spices, and always try to look for organic spices because they haven't been subject to that process.
Divya Alter: Yeah, it's unfortunate and you can never know exactly. I always recommend buying organic spices for many reasons. Also buying whole spices and grinding them yourself fresh. But I recently received a spice delivery from India and there are so many more regulations now around the pandemic and I'm like, okay, I hope I'm getting the right thing. I mean, the quality is fantastic, but we had to, by law, the US government requires this for all raw ingredients. It's not irradiation, there was another process that they had to have a certificate that they've been treated that way before it enters the country. So it's difficult sometimes to get the highest quality ingredients, so I always pray, I always pray for the best and hope for the best.
Andrea Wien: Yeah, and at the end of the day, you can only do what you can do.
Divya Alter: Exactly.
Andrea Wien: So you shouldn't be stressed out about this, you're still going to get the benefits of different things if you don't have the very best quality of something, but just something to keep in mind in the back of people's heads, to aim for the best.
Divya Alter: Yeah.
Andrea Wien: So what other dietary habits can we start to incorporate into our daily life? And maybe this is where you can talk about what you're eating now in terms of how do you start your morning and then what does your day look like? Because I think Ayurveda also talks about dinner not being the largest meal of the day, which is something that most people wouldn't even think about.
Divya Alter: Yeah, well again, the meal quantity of food, it goes with the strength of your digestion. Again, digestion is at the center. So, digestive fire goes up and down with the movements of the sun. That's the source of fiery energy for us. So when the sun is at the highest point in the sky, at noon, or around noon, then our digestive fire is strongest. That's why Ayurveda recommends to eat lunch your biggest meal. And then in the morning is good to have just enough breakfast, it definitely don't skip breakfast, but have enough breakfast that can keep you satiated until lunch.
And then, if you need dinner, then eat light dinner, not too late. Eating late at night and then going to bed soon after, it's a recipe for gaining weight because during the night, instead of resting, your body has to work really hard to digest the food you just ate and you wake up sluggish and you build more amas having digested toxic matter that way.
So, in the morning is good to have... don't drink too much water in the morning. You can have a glass of warm water, or a cup of warm water or tea that you like. But don't drink too much water in the morning because it can also weaken your digestive fire and then Vaidya Mishra always recommended having for most people, having a cooked apple. There is a cooked apple pre breakfast recipe in my book is the easiest recipe you can make. You just take an apple, peel it, cut it into pieces and cook it with a little bit of water with a couple of cloves. You can add a small cinnamon stick if you want as well.
When you eat this first thing in the morning, as soon as you wake up, as soon as possible, it really helps set your digestion. It will ignite your fire, digestive fire if it's kind of still slumbering or if you have very acidic digestion, it will pacify the acidity and it also really supports good elimination, it strengthens your immune system, and it's just so pleasant. It's very nice to have it. You feel like everything is right in your stomach. And then later you can have your breakfast. I usually have... or a pear, you can also use an apple or a pear. I usually have the apple in the morning, especially in this season.
And then you can have a light breakfast. I personally like to have something warm. I like making... and something that's quick to make because there's so many things I want to do in the morning. So I love having savory breakfast. My husband Prentiss and I, we love having more salty dishes than sweet. So, I would make something like with barley flakes or [inaudible 00:48:00] flakes and add a vegetable it or sometimes I will just make a lentil soup. We like to have high protein breakfasts. We're very active at work. So I love soups. I usually have a soup with a grain and vegetables. The soup could be lentils or... I have different sources of vegetarian and vegan protein. Sometimes I'll make fresh paneer cheese.
And then for dinner, sometimes I would use an Instant Pot, not necessarily pressurizing it, but I would cook in the Instant Pot and then I will keep the food, my lunch, I will also make it enough for dinner and the Instant Pot can keep it warm. It's not really a terrible leftover if you keep the food warm, above 140 degrees, so then I would have dinner the same thing, or I often eat dinner at the restaurant, at Divya's Kitchen because I am there.
Andrea Wien: There all the time.
Divya Alter: Yes, so I would have lunch or dinner at Divya's Kitchen, but when I cook at home, sometimes just to save time because I started writing a new book now and I have so many things to do. If I'm not testing the recipes, I'm writing and I would just have what I cooked for lunch for dinner. So that can be practical also and that's why I love the Instant Pot because it can keep your food hot.
Andrea Wien: Divya, that's amazing advice. Thank you so much for sharing and giving us a little peek on your day. And you mentioned you have a new book coming out, can you tell people what to expect in that? Your other book obviously has been out for a couple of years. It's a great resources to get people learning a little bit more about where they fall in this digestive spectrum and then how to cook based on the seasons for how people are feeling. What's the next book all about?
Divya Alter: Well first of all, my first book, What To Eat For How You Feel, you were an instrumental part of it from the very beginning. Do you remember when we were sitting in my little room, we were sitting on my bed and we were just brainstorming about the title of the book.
Andrea Wien: Yes and I love how the title turned out. It's fantastic, it's so perfect for what it is.
Divya Alter: You were one of the first people who started helping me with this book and just talking about the concept and all that. So my next book will be about Ayurvedic cooking by ingredient and it will be organized according to ingredients. It's all based on an Ayurvedic text that described ingredients in detail. So I will give you the Ayurvedic description of the ingredient and then one or two recipes of how to cook with it.
Andrea Wien: Beautiful.
Divya Alter: Yeah, and it will have all the guidelines to adjust the recipes for digestion and seasoning and all that.
Andrea Wien: So if people want to keep in touch with you and know when that book is coming out, where can they follow you and where is the restaurant if people want to come and eat your beautiful food?
Divya Alter: Well, our restaurant is in Manhattan, in New York City, First Avenue and First Street, Divya's Kitchen. We also recently started at Divya's Kitchen, we started our online shop, so if you're not in New York City, you can always order, we have four types of khichari products. It's like a one meal package, khichari is like a stew, really delicious with lentils and grains. One for each dosha. We have a soothing mung soup, which is in a packet as well and the sauce and we make our special cultured Ayurveda ghee that we actually churn the butter in our kitchen.
We make fresh, cultured butter and then we cook it into ghee, so this is a traditional way. So we invite you to check out our store, divyaskitchen.com/shop and before I forget, we're offering a special 15% off your order promotion and the code is BIOHM15. So feel free to use it. We'd love to have you on our shop. And then in person I have a blog that's a little stagnant. I just don't have much time to post there but I post once in a while, but divyaalter.com and you can also email me from there as well.
Andrea Wien: And we'll of course link to all of that in the show notes at BIOHMhealth.com/pages/podcasts so all of that information will be there and I really urge you if you are in New York to definitely go to Divya's, it's like a little oasis. It feels almost like a spa walking in, it's so beautiful and then of course you leave feeling so energized by the food and taken care of. So definitely go if you are in person and if not, the online shop. That ghee is... I dream about it. It is really, really special. So if you use ghee or if you've never used ghee, it's something you should definitely try and pick up. I can't say enough good things about Divya and her work and obviously as she mentioned, I was involved in the first cookbook and will be first in line to buy the second one. So Divya, thank you so much for coming on. It's always a pleasure to talk to you and we hope to talk to you soon.
Divya Alter: Oh thank you, Andrea, it is such a pleasure speaking with you. You're an excellent host and I really enjoyed this interview, thank you.
Andrea Wien: Thank you, bye.
Divya Alter: Bye.
Andrea Wien: Thanks so much for listening. As always, I am Andrea Wien and I cannot thank you enough for tuning in. If you haven't already, please leave us a rating and review. It really helps us keep these wheels turning. And don't forget, you can also use BIOHM10 on the BIOHM website for 10% off any purchase at BIOHMhealth.com. And again, the code for Divya's website is BIOHM15. Until next time, stay safe.
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