Ritucharya: Seasonal Eating According To Ayurveda (Part Two)
Image Credit: Ritucharya

These are the months of the Uttarayan, or the Northern Solstice, the one we have just entered. Dakshinayan, the Southern Solstice, has three ritus. They are Varsha (the rainy season or monsoon), Sharat (autumn), and Hemanta (late autumn or early winter). The dietary advice according to Ayurveda for these seasons is as follows:

1.    Varsha (monsoon)

Mid-July to mid-September (approximately) is considered Varsha Ritu. Foods having Amla (sour), and Lavana (salty), and of Sneha (unctuous) qualities are to be taken. Among cereals, old barley, rice, wheat, etc. are advised. Yusha (soup), etc. are to be included in the diet in addition to meat soup. It is mentioned that one should drink medicated water or boiled water. According to the texts, intake of river water, churned preparations having more water, excessive liquids, and wine are to be avoided. Foods that are heavy and difficult to digest, such as meat, are forbidden.

2.    Sharat (autumn)

The period between mid-September and mid-November is called Sharat Ritu (autumn). Ayurveda recommends that people consume foods having Madhura (sweet) and Tikta (bitter) tastes and of Laghu (light to digest) and cold properties. Foods with pitta-balancing properties are recommended. Wheat, green gram, sugar candy, honey, Patola (Trichosanthes diocia), and the flesh of animals of dry land (Jangala Mamsa) are to be included in the diet. Hot, bitter, sweet, and astringent foods are to be avoided. The food items such as fat, oils, the meat of aquatic animals, curds, etc. are also to be avoided in the diet during this season.

3.    Hemanta (late autumn)

Mid-November to mid-January is considered as Hemanta (late autumn) Ritu.The recommendations are that one should use unctuous, sweet, sour, and salty foods. Among cereals and pulses, new rice, flour preparations, green gram, Masha, etc., are mentioned as being used. Various meats, fats, milk and milk products, sugarcane products, Shidhu (fermented preparations), Tila (sesame), and so on are also to be included in the diet. Vata aggravating foods, such as Laghu (light), cold, and dry foods, are to be avoided. Cold drinks are also not recommended.

Numerous medical disciplines have noticed the effect of seasonal variability on physical and psychological well-being. Hippocrates famously asserted that, "Whoever wishes to investigate medicine properly should proceed thus in the first place to consider the seasons of the year and what affect each of them produces." Even in Tibetan medicine, seasons are regarded as a major cause of ailments and a powerful tool in preventing diseases.

There was a significant shift in the eating habits of the people in the latter part of the 20th century. People started to consume more meat and dairy products, vegetable oils, fruit juices, and alcoholic beverages and reduced their intake of staple food items like bread, potatoes, rice, and maize flour. This phenomenon indicates that food habits and lifestyle can influence the rate of cancer and other such health conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. In the year 1900, the most frequent causes of death in the US were pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea, which constituted 60% of the total mortality rate. During the same period, heart disease and cancer were the 4th and 8th leading causes of death, respectively. By the 1940s, most of the deaths in the US were due to heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative diseases. By the end of the 1990s, degenerative illnesses were responsible for more than 60% of all fatalities.

Incidences of diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia are already at incredibly high levels in India. As of 2002, it was estimated that 220 million people suffered from hypertension, and an estimated 80 million Indians had diabetes. In addition to the genetic predisposition, we South Asians have to these lifestyle disorders, we are contributing to the disease burden as well as long-term morbidity and mortality by way of unhealthy eating practices. Perhaps the answer lies in age-old wisdom. After all, eating seasonal vegetables and fruits is good from a climate change perspective as well, especially when these goods are sourced locally. If there is an added ayurvedic "benefit," who are we to say no?