Ayurveda vs Western Nutrition

By Sandra Corder Ayurveda Counselor Student

I like to think of these two schools of thought in pretty simplistic terms. It seems Ayurveda’s nutrition is based on the philosophical notion that NATURE knows best. That souls are in temporary vessels on loan from the universe and they should be taken care of with things that are as close to the base elements in their natural states as possible. Western nutrition, on the other hand, is based on the philosophical concept that MAN knows best. That nature is inconvenient, contrary, and unfathomable and that we can manufacture things that are better for us than those that are found in nature.

While Ayurveda stresses that prana, life’s vital force, in food is critical, so eating fresh from the earth and unadulterated foods is preferable. Western nutritionists add manufactured substances to replace valuable nutrients lost in the process of preserving foods for longer than nature intended. The Western mindset that “man knows best” has led to stellar inventions like yellow dyes to mimic cheese’s color, protein powders to replace meal components, and genetically modified foods that contain non-food DNA.

Ayurveda’s holistic concept that food nourishes more than the body is another way it is different from the West’s take on nutrition. Ayurveda teaches that food has impact on our thinking, our emotions, and our body. Food may not have a measurable adverse impact physically, but it may have a major impact on your mind or emotions.

Western nutrition, though, is focused on dissection, just like Western medicine. Added to this is the idea that “testing” is the end-all and be all way of verifying whether something is true, false, or of value. The bigger (holistic) picture is totally ignored in many cases.

Food combining, for example, is a place where the differences in Ayurveda and Western nutrition become evident. Western nutritionists will tell you to eat fruit and they give guidelines as to how much fruit to eat in a “one size fits all” amount for a given day. Fruits are all grouped loosely together and very little guidance is given as to how to eat them. Under a microscope or other measurement device, the basic components of fruit sugars may be close to the same as Western nutritionists. Ayurveda, though, has very clear instructions for fruits – they need to be in season, some are better or worse depending on your dosha or imbalance, fresh fruits need to be eaten alone and not combined with other foods, etc. These instructions were developed with an understanding two different fruits can impact us holistically in different manners even if they are similar.

Western nutrition, like Western medicine, can be useful. It isn’t, though, a viable path of preventative maintenance like Ayurveda. Ayurveda’s adherence to natural laws is much more sustainable long term than the West’s narrow and somewhat egocentric view that man knows best for mankind.

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