Have you noticed that when you eat certain foods, your skin breaks out? Do certain foods make you feel more bloated or sluggish? Common symptoms such as under active thyroid, insomnia, headaches, bloating, weight gain, acne and skin conditions respond differently to different types of food. Whether you notice it or not, the kind of food you eat impacts how your body works.
Food and lifestyle play a significant role in laying the foundation for your health. If you do not have a solid foundation in a diet and lifestyle regime suited to your constitution, treatments such as supplements, herbs, acupuncture and massage can only take you so far in treating and preventing disease. Below are examples of how you can customize your diet to reduce your symptoms, along a perspective from Ayurveda and the 5 elements.
Dry skin is often caused by a diet that is dehydrating; a diet lacking fluids and healthy oils, or a diet with too much dry food. If you eat right and have a healthy skin routine, your skin should be naturally soft, supple and moist, even as you age.
- Nutrition for dry skin, involves reducing dry food (nuts, chips, fried food etc)
- Address dehydration with increased fluids (water, electrolytes, herbal teas, soups).
- Increase healthy oils internally such as avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, fish oils, ghee etc.
- According to Ayurveda, when air element is elevated, such as in a person with a vata constitution, skin tends to be more dry and rough. Eating foods that are vata pacifying can help moisturize and rejuvenate your skin from the inside out, along with topical applications such as oil massage.
If you are not settled or grounded at the end of the day, you will have trouble falling asleep. Have you ever noticed that you can't sleep if you eat too light a dinner? Or if you eat heavy food before bed? What kind of food you eat, when you eat and how you eat will make a big difference in your sleep quality. So many people struggle with sleeping and seek relief through sleeping pills and other medication - without making any changes in their diet. If you want to improve your sleep quality, try making some dietary changes and see how you feel.
- Eating foods that are more 'yang' are more energizing and are less supportive for relaxation. Examples of 'yang' foods to avoid are caffeine, sugar, spicy foods and stimulants.
- Ensure you finish your dinner by 8:00 pm at the latest (ideally by sunset) and avoid skipping dinner. Aim to have a regular set dinner time.
- To help you feel settled at night, a diet rich in grounding foods can help you sleep better: warm, nourishing soups and stews, healthy oils, steamed or boiled food, and root vegetables.
- According to Ayurveda, an excess of air and fire elements and a deficiency in earth element are commonly associated with poor sleep and manifest as: restlessness, overactive nervous system, and racing mind. Your diet should be customized to correct these imbalances.
Though headaches and migraines are common, they are not normal and indicate an imbalance; a blockage in energy and circulation in the some part of the body. Headaches have many causes such as structural issues, dehydration, blood deficiency, food sensitivities and stress. Once structural causes are identified and addressed with treatments such as stretching, massage, cupping and acupuncture, you need to address your diet.
- Ensure that you drink at least 6-8 glasses of water a day, have enough electrolytes, and have some portion of your food that is hydrating such as soups, stews and foods with high water content.
- Food sensitivities can trigger headaches. Common food sensitivities are dairy, wheat, eggs and soy, though testing can reveal less common sensitivities such as nuts, certain fruits and veggies or grains. Eating foods that you are sensitive to creates inflammation in your digestive tract over time and can lead to other serious health issues.
- Anemia and blood deficiency (according to TCM) is a major cause of headaches, especially in women. Including foods rich in iron such as nettle tea and beets can help. Iron is just one of the minerals needed to build blood and tissues. Other minerals such as copper, zinc, calcium, magnesium may be needed from food, supplements or tissue salts.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, if you struggle with overthinking, doing too much activity, or are stimulated by electronics for long periods of time, you may accumulate excess air and fire elements, often determined as a vata or pitta imbalance. In this case, it is very beneficial to have a vata or pitta pacifying diet depending on which dosha is out of balance, under guidance of your Ayurvedic practitioner.
Do you or a loved one struggle with snoring and poor sleep as a result? Have you noticed how the food you eat affects snoring? There may be structural reasons why you snore, so you first need to rule out any injuries or obstructions. Once that has been ruled that out, the next factor contributing to snoring is the health of your mucous membranes - from your gut to your sinuses. Foods that you are sensitive to will cause inflammation in mucous membranes so if you haven't been tested, check with your ND about testing for food sensitivities (which can range from dairy, gluten to grains and fruits/vegetables).
- One of the primary foods that contributes to snoring is yeast, commonly found found in beer or bread, and thrives in a person with high sugar intake. If you struggle with snoring, examine your diet for food sensitivities, yeast and sugar and aim to eliminate them for several weeks or months under guidance of your ND.
- Individuals with a kapha constitution are more prone to blockages in the respiratory track and more prone to yeast proliferation so they may need to have a stricter diet to improve their snoring.
- In addition to dietary changes, treatments such as nasya, acupuncture, steam inhalation, nasal rinses and breathing techniques can improve snoring.
What Next?While some aspects of diet are straightforward and apply to the general public (such as eating more healthy oils, less refined sugar, more vegetables etc.) there are many more aspects to diet that are complex and need to be customized. Here is what you can do:
- Try cooking more at home. If cooking intimidates you, join a cooking class or just start experimenting. It is much easier to customize food for your own body when you make it yourself.
- Track your diet for at least 5 days and bring it into your appointment with your ND who can go over it with you and identify which foods are beneficial for your constitution and your health concerns.
- Work with your practitioner to identify your constitution and which of the 5 elements need balancing. Food can be a wonderful and tasty medicine if you know how to use it for your body type and health concerns. Your Ayurvedic practitioner can identify your constitution through questionnaires, tongue & pulse diagnosis and other intake questions.
Depending on your constitution, activity level, age and health concerns, different foods can be tailored to your needs. If you would like to know more about how your diet might be impacting your health issues, speak with your naturopathic doctor. Food can be a wonderful and delicious medicine if you know how to use it for your body type and health concerns.
Dr. Leena Athparia is a naturopathic doctor & Ayurvedic practitioner at Naturopathic Foundations with a focus in joint health, pain and chronic disease. She has a special interest in Ayurvedic nutrition. If you are healthy and looking into preventing disease or learning more about your constitution, Dr. Athparia can help you. Please call the clinic at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment.