How many times have you heard the cliché “You are what you eat”? I think that when it comes to staying healthy, most clichés originated from Ayurveda. According to this ancient healing science, everything that you eat, and the way you eat it, has a strong effect on your mind and body. So not only the food and herbs that you eat, but the amount you eat, the timing of your meals and snacks, and the combinations of flavors all influence your well being. Ayurvedically speaking, food and cuisine can have a medicinal effect. When you eat well, you maximize your vitality or ojas. Ayurveda recommends whole, nutritious foods and eating patterns that are tailored to balance your mind-body constitution or prakruti (primary dosha).

There are no “bad” foods in Ayurveda—there is only the idea of balance. A harmonious diet balances not only nutritional qualities, but tastes and even the heating or cooling energetic effects of a food after it is digested. It takes into account single raw materials such as fruits, meats and vegetables as well as they meals that they combine into once they are cooked. While there is an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, and many Indians are vegetarian, Ayurveda in itself does not prescribe vegetarianism. In fact, a whole array of meats and fish are emphasized in the ancient texts.

But Ayurvedic doctors do recommend a diet that is pure and close to nature with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish and lean meats, combined with herbs and spices that will purify and balance the mind and body. Moreover, if you are to truly benefit from these foods then it is important that each meal reflect the natural colors and flavors of the ingredients. Poor digestion, stemming from an unbalanced diet, is one of the first signs of ill health. When your diet is out of balance, not only are food nutrients are not easily absorbed, but they can also accumulate as toxins.

Since your digestive tract is the origin for imbalances, ahar or diet is always considered to be the first order of medicine. And since preventative medicine is the only surefire way to ward off disease, eating Ayurvedically as often as you can, will help you to stay healthy for the long term. Although this healing science originated in India, Ayurvedic cooking encompasses so much more than merely Indian food. As long as it is prepared per Ayurvedic principles, it can draw from just about any cuisine. You can have fun mixing and matching your favorite foods with Ayurvedic herbs, ingredients and cooking techniques to yield flavorful cuisine. It is simple to prepare, yet easy for the body to assimilate into the raw building blocks for health and vitality.