A common misconception we hear at Krya is about healthy eating timings to follow and meal choices at each time. Today the Media is full of advice on nutrition and guides to healthy eating. Different theories abound on calculating protein and carbohydrate content of food, eating unpolished grains and ensuring higher nutrition by eating raw, unprocessed foods. It is no wonder that many of us are confused and seek advice on ahara and ahara niyama.
A key part of Ahara niyama in Ayurveda is the selection of proper / healthy eating timings. This influences the capacity to digest food, and our capacity to extract nutrients from food. In fact, choosing the correct time to eat each meal has a similar influence as choosing what to eat, on our health. In other words, we should spend the same amount of time planning when to eat as planning what to eat.
In this post, we will see why Ayurveda pays so much attention to good eating timings and how we can improve our health and well-being by working out a healthy eating time schedule for us and our family.
Selection of healthy eating timings: Different Doshas influence different day parts
Ayurveda tells us that each day is divided into 4 hour dayparts. Each of these dayparts is connected to the slow rise, peaking and then falling of a particular dosha in our body.
The strength of the surge in the Dosha depends upon the movement of the Sun. So, for example, if there is Sunshine during a Kapha period, the effect of Kapha is slightly reduced. Similarly, if there is good Sunshine, say during a Pitta daypart, Pitta will be much more aggravated due to the influence of the sun.
In order to take advantage of these natural surges in a particular Dosha, we are advised to do certain activities during certain day parts. Our body’s internal workings also take advantage of the dosha surges in day parts. As long as we do not tamper with our internal clock by eating at inappropriate times or sleeping at inappropriate times, we can be sure that our body is always working to ensure that we stay in good health and harmony.
An example is to wake up during a Vata day part and eat during a Pitta day part. Pitta influenced day parts are ideally suited to digest and process food. Hence a pitta day part makes perfect sense and is ideal for our heaviest / largest meal. Similarly, waking up during a Vata day part ensures we are able to utilize the creativity, enthusiasm and high energy that such a day part offers us.
This is why our Acharyas recommend waking up during Brahma Muhurtha ( 90 minutes before sunrise) – by design Brahma Muhurta occurs after during the peak surge plus gradual drop of Vata dosha. Waking up this time therefore gives us high energy, mental clarity and freshness through the day. In fact, many commentators say that waking up during this times allows for a “dosha re-balance” that is close to your natural state.
Selection of healthy eating timings: Choosing the correct Pitta day part for our heaviest meals
The process of kindling of appetite, production of salivary and gastric enzymes, digestion, absorption of nutrients and separation of food into useful and non useful by-products that eventually leave the body, are ALL governed by Pitta dosha and its various branches.
Pitta dosha is strongly influenced by the sun as “Agni” is one of the 2 Pancha mahaboothas that make up Pitta dosha. Therefore when the Sun reaches its Peak, with maximum Agni, the Pitta in our body is also at its peak, around noon.
So ideally, the correct time for our heaviest meal should be Noon. But here comes a problem.
In traditional times, we ate ONLY one / two meals a day. In fact in many ayurvedic texts, the ideal number of meals is described as two. Connected to these two meals and the water we drink, we are also advised to have 2-3 bowel movements per day and 6 urine movements.
However, in modern times this has been stretched to 3 meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner with sometimes 2 – 3 small meals / snacks between these meals. Also, little emphasis is paid on the number of bowel and urine movements we pass which is related to nutrient absorption , unblocked channels and free movement of wastes outside of the body.
Breakfast is usually around 8 am. Lunch around noon time and dinner is again around 8 pm. Many of us may also additionally snack on fruit juices, buttermilk, fruits, nuts and seeds or even cooked snacks between these 3 main meals.
Hence we may be overloading our body with food at the unhealthy eating timings – this leads to aggravation of Pitta dosha and eventually Ama build up in the body and weakening digestive fire.
Also, as many of us are stressed for time in the busy morning, we reserve our largest meal for our evening meal, i.e Dinner. Many families / friends also go out to Dinner during weekends to bond and catch up over food. This is great from the point of view of building relationships, but not so great from the point of your Digestive Agni and build up of Ama (toxins in the body).
There is a strong chance of over-eating and eating the wrong food for this day part in these occasions, leading to Ama build up in the body.
How to utilize the 2 Pitta day-parts everyday to make a healthy eating time table?
Ayurveda tells us that there are 2 Pitta strong dayparts in the day, 10 am – 2 pm in the morning and 10 pm – 2 am at night. The first Pitta daypart peaks at 12 noon approximately and the other at 12 midnight. As the Pitta peak coming at midnight is dampened by the absence of the sun, the BEST and MOST IDEALLY STRONG digestive Agni occurs at noon, in the day time.
So we should eat our heaviest meal of the day, as close to Noon time as possible . At this time, if we eat the right Ahara for our prakriti, there is the greatest chance for this food to be well digested, and properly absorbed with high nutrient retention inside the body.
What happens during the second Pitta day part at night?
In normal circumstances, the Pitta peak at midnight is utilized by the body to “tune up” Pitta organs like the Liver ,Spleen, etc. This repair and maintenance activity is ONLY done if Digestion is fully complete.
It takes the body upto 3 – 4 hours to digest a single meal fully. This timing slows down if the meal is extremely heavy, improper for our prakriti, improper for the Ritu, or contains a high amount of Guru foods (curd, sweets, red meat, etc), Or if Agni is weak / impaired due to Wrong Ahara and Wrong Ahara Niyama.
If the body is engaged in Digestion at the second Pitta time, the maintenance of Liver , spleen and Other Pitta organs DOES NOT TAKE Place. Habitually eating late means that these organs are under a severe strain without the time or space given to do their maintenance. This puts the body’s health under duress.
The ability of the body to digest is weakened severely post Sunset. So we are advised to have the lightest meal of the day as Dinner, and NOT the heaviest as is ritually the case with many of us. It is also wise not to go out to eat for Dinner, experiment with new cuisines which may be heavy / difficult to digest or eat socially (as we often end up over eating in these situations). Instead we can reserve these activities for Noon, when our Digestive Fire + the sun can help us digest such experimental meals.
Choosing healthy eating timings: Effect on Agni + Ama when Kapha is aggravated
In the normal course of events, we have only one Pitta rich day part to eat and digest a meal properly. Our other 2 commonly eaten meals of breakfast and dinner are BOTH in Kapha dominant dayparts of 6 am to 10 am, and 6 pm – 10 pm, respectively.
Kapha aggravation can produce “Mandagni” (reduced digestive fire), tamasic thoughts especially when food is tamasic, sloth, laziness and weight gain when ahara is improper.
In cases of Mandagni, the Agni is in a doused and weak condition. Its ability to digest food and absorb nutrients is extremely poor. So even if we feed the healthiest and best food to our body when it is in a state of Mandagni, it will be of little use to us. The body will generate Ama instead of digesting the food as the Agni is unable to handle the digestion process.
Instead of being fully digested, Food may be only partially digested. The undigested food will putrefy inside the system producing bloating, inflammation, and reducing the appetite and increasing heaviness in the body.
This is why the combination of improper ahara and eating during a peak Kapha period is the precursor to an Ama disaster in the body. The evening Kapha period when we have dinner is far worse than the morning Kapha period when we have breakfast. The morning Kapha period, is weaker in the kapha surge. This is due to the presence of the Sun and increased activity on our part . This is why we have less trouble digesting our breakfast compared to digesting our dinner.
In the evening time, as the sun sets, Kapha dominance becomes extremely strong and our activity levels are on the wane . The later we eat, the worse our digestive capacity / food absorption is going to be.
Ahara Niyama (Eating guidelines) as per Ayurveda:
Here is an Ayurvedic recommendation for meals:
Breakfast moderately, lunch well, and eat dinner very sparingly.
To repeat: Eat a moderate breakfast, a good lunch and a sparing dinner.
Any fruits, or in-between meal snacks should ONLY be eaten if there is good hunger and appetite. Do NOT eat because you have read that eating 6 small meals is healthy or that it is good for you “to graze”. Grazing animals have a completely different digestive system – we cannot follow their method of eating through the day.
Ideally all meals should be freshly made and hot as per Ayurveda. However, because both our breakfast and dinner is eaten during a Kapha surge, please eat food that is freshly cooked and hot. At these meals, the body’s ability to digest stale meals is impaired. Stale meals are higher in “gurutva” as per Ayurveda, so they are more difficult to breakdown and can quickly aggravate Kapha.
During breakfast and dinner, Kapha rich foods like sweets, cakes, desserts, sweet fruits, meats and foods like curd should be avoided. Any manner of cold / refrigerated food , cold drinks should also be reduced / avoided. If leftover rice is being used from the morning, we advise that you re-wash and re-steam the rice to remove some of its “gurutva” (heaviness).
Avoid difficult to digest food like raw food, highly complex cereals, and heavy lentils like Rajma, Channa, etc, for Dinner. They can be eaten in very small quantities occasionally at Breakfast, only if Digestive fire is good and activity level is high.
Choosing healthy eating timings: Recommendations by Prakriti
Aggravated Kapha / Kapha leaning prakriti – healthy eating timings:
For those with Kapha leaning prakriti or Kapha aggravation (weight issues, poor hair growth) we suggest eating Dinner as early as possible within the evening Kapha cycle.
For example, eating at 7 pm means that only 1 hour has passed in the Kapha cycle of 4 hours. But eating at 9, means that the body has had 3 hours to accumulate Kapha – so digestive fire needs to be more intense to combat the coldness wetness and heaviness produced by the natural Kapha upsurge in the body.
Apart from eating as early as possible, food must be light, well cooked, warm and devoid of kapha aggravating foods. Foods that are rich in oils, nuts and seeds, sweet foods, etc must not be eaten at Dinner.
Deepana & Pachana herbs that are recommended for Vata prakriti can also be used. In addition, mildly sour foods help kindle appetite and reduce Mandagni for this prakriti. So food can be flavoured with local tomatoes, lemon, small amount of ripe tamarind, etc. Well churned, well diluted buttermilk can also be taken at night.
Aggravated Vata / Vata leaning prakriti – healthy eating timings:
Vata leaning and Vata aggravated individuals have “Vishama agni” (Inconsistent Agni). So they will find that their appetite, ability to digest food, etc greatly varies from day to day. So here, apart from ensuring Dinner is eaten early and Kapha aggravating foods are avoided, the Agni needs to be trained and brought under control.
Vata leaning and vata aggravated individuals often have weak and dry hair, poor skin texture, suffers from bone and joint aches and disorders, abnormal skin darkening, gas, bloating, etc.
For such individuals, it is especially important to eat Deepana (appetite kindling) and Pachana (digestive) spices along with their evening meal and eat freshly cooked, hot, light , appetizing food. This food must be eaten at the same time every day as a habit. Training the body with regular meal timings and proving deepana and pachana herbs along with tasty food brings Vishama Agni under control.
Deepana and Pachana herbs that help Vishama Agni are Maricha (black pepper), Pippali (long pepper), Sunthi (dry ginger), Jeera (cumin), Curry leaf, hingu (asafetida), Black salt (small doses) and Saindhava Lavana (rock salt). Changing your meal timings, getting in consistency and eating the right kind of food can greatly help with vata based hair loss also.
Aggravated Pitta / Pitta leaning prakriti – healthy eating timings:
Pitta aggravated / Pita leaning individuals are very sensitive to changes in eating timings and are most affected by improper dinner timings. Such individuals suffer from premature greying, hair thinning, gastritis, acidity, anger management issues, Blood pressure, acne, skin sensitivity, sun burn, etc.
Why is late dinner so problematic for Pitta aggravated/ Pitta leaning individuals?
We often find that Pitta dominant people never have a problem with appetite, but when they eat late, they develop gastric, acidity, sour belching etc. This is because of 2 reasons:
The later we eat in the Kapha cycle, we need to utilize more Pitta energy to combat Kapha upsurge. This is already high in Pitta leaning people – so they will extract MORE Pitta energy simply to digest their food.
The second reason is that after the Kapha cycle, we are in the beginning of the second Pitta cycle which starts at 10 pm. If we eat at say 9:30, instead of Pitta energy being used up and subdued after digestion if we had eaten at 7 pm, we will experience a second wind in Pitta at 10 pm. This will excite Pitta further. This also keeps us awake, gives us poor sleep as the body is engaged in energy intensive digestion at this time, instead of repair and regeneration of important pitta organs like liver, spleen, etc which is usually the case.
Pitta aggravated / leaning individuals do very well when they have a fresh, warm meal around 8 pm without any Pitta aggravating dravyas. Such people should avoid eating fried / oily food, sour food, salty food and other Pitta aggravating foods at night. Here is a longer post on Pitta balancing rasas and foods to consider in Pitta prakriti.
Suggestions for Pitta-Kapha aggravated individuals:
For many people with high Pitta-Kapha imbalance (Acne, PCOD / PCOS, pre-diabetes, etc), we advise completing dinner before 8 pm, and then drinking a glass of hot water about 30 minutes before sleep around 9:45 pm – 10 pm.
This has a stomach clearing effect, and aids elimination of toxins out of the body. This should not be done very late and strongly into the Pitta night period as it could the re-stimulate Pitta dosha. This is why we suggest doing this at the beginning of the Pitta day part or earlier, depending upon your eating timing.
To sum up: healthy eating timings for all based on ayurveda
We hope you found this post on choosing the healthy eating timings as per Ayurveda useful. We also hope this post gave you easy to implement modifications in both your selection of food and also when and how to eat your meals depending upon your prakriti. Food is key to all health and well being in Ayurveda – eating the right food can nourish and support you.
An ideal suggestion as per Ayurveda is to eat by 7 pm, and go to sleep BEFORE the second Pitta surge starts at 10 pm. This is most ideal for rest, recuperation, good sleep and energy the next morning. If this is not possible, we must atleast avoid eating close to 10 pm and try and complete dinner around the half mark of the Kapha period, which is 8 pm.
Apart from when to eat, and what to eat, another important part of eating is “how to eat” – this will be covered in an upcoming post. Do watch out for this.
We often say that Ayurveda is a holistic , health giving science. As we can see in this post, the acharyas have thought through every aspect of human existence and have given painstakingly accurate, logical and holistic suggestions to maintain health and well being.
We hope you too found the suggestions given in this post useful for your and your family. If you have any questions on this, please email us.