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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eating for your Dosha

Aside from grad school, I have also been busy working on something else. I recently graduated from a Yoga Alliance 200 hour teacher training program, so that makes me an RYT-200 - a Registered Yoga Teacher! I discovered yoga after a chronic injury stopped me from doing what I loved most - running. I was a competitive runner on my high school and college cross-country and track and field teams. When I hurt my lower back during freshman year, my doctor suggested yoga or pilates to strengthen my core. I bought a pack of yoga and pilates dvds to try in my dorm room. As a runner, I was more enticed by pilates because it felt like more of a "workout." After graduating from college, I spent a year in Korea. I was still unable to run, so I bought a yoga mat and dusted off the yoga dvds that I had brought with me from the States. I was doing power yoga, which is very athletic, but places little emphasis on the spiritual or meditative quality of yoga. I enrolled in this teacher training program in hopes of learning more about traditional yoga and deepening my own practice. I learned a great deal more about yoga and about myself than I had anticipated.
          At the same time that I began studying yoga in depth, I became interested in ayurveda. Ayurveda is the Hindu system of traditional medicine that dates back over 5,000 years. It is a holistic system that promotes self-healing and overall wellness. In the ayurvedic system, yoga is used frequently as a healing tool. Ayurvedic theory is based on three mind-body types, or constitutions, called doshas. Each person is typically dominant in one of the three doshas (vatta, pitta, or kapha). Ayurveda provides lifestyle guidelines and healing methods to bring the doshas into balance. You can complete a simple questionnaire on the Chopra Center or Ayurvedic Institute websites to determine your constitution. I have taken a half dozen or so questionnaires, and each one has been consistent in determining my constitution as half vata, half pitta.
      So you know your what?? Ayurveda prescribes specific diets, yoga postures, breathing exercises, sleeping and eating patterns, and other lifestyle practices for each of the three doshas. Here are some general guidelines for eating according to your dosha: 

  • avoid raw foods
  • avoid cold foods or beverages
  • eat warm, moist, slightly oil foods
  • eat warming spices
  • keep a regular routine  
  • avoid warm foods or beverages
  • avoid excessive oil
  • limit salt intake
  • eat cooling, nonspicy foods
  • drink cool (but not iced) drinks 
  • avoid heavy foods
  • avoid dairy foods
  • avoid iced foods and drinks
  • avoid fatty or oily foods
  • eat light, dry food
  • vary your routine
By eating the right kinds of foods for your constitution, you will maintain vitality and balance. The wrong kinds of foods and lifestyle will promote disease. Ayurveda may raise some skepticism because of its stark contrast to conventional Western medicine. However, I have applied some ayurvedic methods to myself and others with great success. A system that has been developed and improved for over 5,000 years must be doing something right! A fantastic book on ayurveda is The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies, by Vasant Lad. The author founded the Ayurvedic Institute, a non-profit educational center in New Mexico.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Coconut Oil: Friend or Foe?

Sorry to keep you all waiting! I just finished my first year of graduate school! By this time next year, I will have a masters in nutrition and completed a didactic program in dietetics. Then I will have to complete a 9-month dietetic internship and pass an exam to become a Registered Dietitian (RD). In plain English: it will take about 3 years in total to become a "nutritionist" (or 4 if you count the year I spent doing pre-requisite course work). In the meantime, I'm glad to pass on some of the knowledge that I am learning in school and on my own to you :-)

I wasn't cooking as much as usual during the spring semester (and my recipes were been pretty unimaginative - salads, soups, and the occasional Trader Joe's frozen meal during a study session). I've decided to focus more of my blog posts on super foods - whole foods that offered vitality to ancient civilizations and have stood the test of time. In my last post, I blogged about chia seeds, which were used by the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incans and remain a South American staple today. I've been on a coconut kick the past few months - coconut butter, coconut water, coconut milk, coconut flakes, and of course - coconut oil. A high saturated fat content has given coconut oil a bad rap in the past. However, coconut is seeing a renaissance in the health food industry these days.

Coconut oil in its "pure" form - organic, extra-virgin, cold-pressed - has numerous health and functional benefits. Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain triglycerides, which are believed to function differently than other types of saturated fats in the body. It can be used as a cooking oil, as a butter replacement in baking, in smoothies, etc. It does have a slight coconut flavor and aroma, but this complements some Asian and sweet dishes. It has been used in clinical trials to treat Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, heart disease, IBS, thyroid conditions, etc. I keep a separate jar in my bathroom to use as a face and body moisturizer, conditioner for dry hair, or lip balm. Coconut oil is also used both internally and externally for its antimicrobial properties. This promotes immunity and healing.

I usually purchase Nutiva or Nature's Way organic extra-virgin coconut oil in bulk on Amazon. If you really want a decadent treat, try Artisana's coconut butter!

Still not sure what to do with coconut oil? Here are 122 uses for your body and home!