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March 28, 2008

Butter v Margarine

Margarine was invented in France in the late 1800's as the result of a competition sponsored by their Emperor. There was a shortage of butter so a substitute was sought, especially one that was cheap and would keep for long periods of time. It was not created to be a health food.

Margarine caught on in the rest of the world after the rationed years of the World Wars. It is interesting to note that prior to 1920 Heart Disease was rarely heard of in America. By the mid 1950's it was the leading cause of death.

Margarine is made by refining various vegetables oils and blending them together with additives such as flavours, colours and vitamins, then emulsifying and pasturising the lot. All of this processing results in a product that will never turn rancid, contains traces of toxic metals, and that bugs and rodents won't even eat.

Butter on the other hand is made by letting the cream separate from milk, then churning it until it releases it's water (buttermilk). You can make it yourself at home by whipping real cream (not thickened cream!) till it forms lumps, drain the watery bit and what you have left is butter.

Of course I am not trying to suggest that butter is some super food, just that it is a completely natural whole food, which humans have eaten safely for many, many generations. It is easier to digest than some other forms of dairy, but heavier and more mucous forming than ghee, so not ideal for Kapha.

So if you really care about your health, always choose a natural food with has withstood the test of time.

March 20, 2008


The joints are governed by the elements air and ether and belong to the Asthi Dhatu, the fifth tissue. This tissue relates to feelings of having a meaning and purpose in life, strong Asthi will remind us of our sacred nature. Problems that manifest in the joints are most likely to be Vata and sometimes Kapha. Pita aggravation in that dhatu will more likely manifest in the hair, teeth or nails.

As usual joint symptoms that are dry, cracking or degenerative in nature are caused by too much Vata. Be sure to cleanse the colon and encourage healthy, regular peristalsis. Constipation, insomnia and pain may accompany Vata in the joints. Swelling, growths or water retention in the joints will be too much Kapha. Follow a diet and lifestyle to ease whichever dosha is involved.

Massage is very important as energy can easily stagnate around the joints. Use an oil appropriate to your dosha and massage the joints in a clockwise direction to build and strengthen, and anti clockwise direction to reduce swelling and inflammation. Marma massage and any gentle yoga is excellent for reinstating the bodies natural energy flow and removing any blockages.

Sweating soothes the joints. A full body steam will ease Vata in all the joints, where localised steam will aid a sprained or injured joint.

Nutmeg is an excellent spice, especially where pain and insomnia are present. Take just a pinch with warm milk. Too much nutmeg can aggravate constipation or overstimulate the mind. Nutmeg oil or Mustard Seed oil is useful topically on arthritic joints.

March 13, 2008

Saturated Fat

I am reading an interesting non-Ayurvedic book at the moment called "Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon. Whilst I don't agree with everything she says, she's done some really interesting research into fat, one of may favourite topics.

D was once a professional sports person and as such was put on a very low fat high carbohydrate diet. As soon as he stopped playing sport and started eating more fat he lost weight. True story.

Fat, especially saturated fat, is vital to human health. Sally Fallon brings to our attention the fact that human breast milk is extremely high in saturated fat. In France the rate of heart disease is less then half that of the USA and their staple foods include butter, cream and eggs. Similarly in China, the rate of heart disease is significantly lower in regions where they drink full fat milk.

Ghee, coconut oil and whole milk are all good vegetarian sources of saturated fat. These will especially improve concentration and reduce anxiety and depression. If you are worried about the mucous forming qualities of such foods take them in moderate amounts with cardamom, ginger and bay leaves.

Eggs and garlic

You may have noticed I go pretty easy on some ingredients like eggs and garlic. This is partly because almost every vegetarian recipe on the internet is heavily laden with eggs and/or garlic. If you want to use them go right ahead, and you'll have plenty of options. But in order to try and balance up the scales, I avoid them.

I personally don't cook with them. Eggs and garlic is rajasic. Meaning they stimulate rajas, the quality associated with creativity, passion and activity. We require a little of this to maintain balance, but too much rajasic food may cause anger, restlessness and aggression.

But eggs and garlic are so unavoidable. I already feel like the fussiest person in the world at dinner parties, so when eggs and garlic are in food someone has cooked for me I will eat it. If I lived in India, where eggs are easily avoided, I would avoid them. But a satvic diet is useless without a satvic mind. If avoiding garlic means you have to be obsessive or fanatical, then consider whether just eating the garlic in the first place would have caused you so much rajas.

Ultimately the choice is yours.

March 10, 2008


D has been struggling a lot lately with the quality of older wiser leaders in his life. There are elders around him who are divorced, depressed and desperate.

The truth is we no longer know how to age gracefully. Our culture values the qualities of youth to the point where we don't prepare our people for what's to come. Ayurveda divides life into four stages. The first are the formative years, where we may be excused for hedonism and over-curiosity. Next comes the householder stage where we must sacrifice some of our own desires in order to serve and support our families. The third stage involves simplifying our needs, handing on our wealth and business and taking on the role of elder. At this age we are qualified to give spiritual and practical advice to those who ask. Finally we must prepare ourselves for death, and this stage of renunciation is given an equal quarter of our lives which demonstrates it's importance. During this time we practice yoga, meditation and observe spiritual disciplines for example.

Of course, many people are born straight into renunciation, whilst others never get past their teens. But this natural process, like the seasons in a year, gives purpose and value to stage of physical decay that naturally accompanies ageing. Contrary to modern society, where beauty, strength, wealth and sex reign supreme, Ayurveda strongly encourages us to relinquish these powers in due time in order to lead a full and satisfying life.

March 09, 2008

Peas Pesto

I really love the use of fresh herbs in Italian food. My dad grows a heap of herbs and I find it hard to bring myself to buy them now.

I also love fresh peas, but they not always easy to find in the market because only 95% of peas are sold frozen. Shell your peas just before you use them. Peas are a legume and suit Kapha and Pita, but in this recipe the almonds and olive oil should make them suitable for Vata too.

I have been experimenting with wholemeal pasta-which I don't love. It takes hours to cook and even then it takes a bit too much jaw work to get through. But I'm keen on avoiding white flour so I'm working on making my own wholemeal pasta using atta flour, much finer and less fibrous. In the meantime here's the sauce. It takes some forethought to prepare the ingredients.

Ingredients (for about six people)

1 cup almonds
1/2 kg peas in the pod
1 cup mint leaves
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
Salt and pepper
Olive oil


Soak the almond over night or for a good few hours, the longer the easier to peel. Get comfy, you can sit in the garden or play some music or do it with a good friend or with a cup of tea... and start peeling your almonds and shelling your peas. This takes some time but is a wonderful sadhana.

Dry roast the almonds in a pan or in the oven on a low heat. Steam the peas for 7 or 8 minutes till just tender. Roast the cumin seeds for just a moment. Put all ingredients in the blender and whiz to desired consistency. Some like it crunchy, some like it smooth.

Stir through fresh hot pasta and serve. I like it with a vegie that is not green, like roasted carrots.

Add more olive oil for Vata and less for Kapha. Kapha may also appreciate less almonds, a pinch of chili and some extra black pepper

March 07, 2008


I have been asked to write a little about headaches, and I love requests, so here it is. Let me know if there is anything else you'd like to know about, cause I am always happy for a reason to learn something more.

Ayurveda recognises 11 types of headaches, as well as acknowledging headaches that are just a symptom of other diseases. So there are many different treatments for headaches, depending on which kind you have. Headaches are often related to the nervous system and blood pressure. Vata is usually indicated with headaches, due to the presence of pain, but any dosha may be involved. Follow a diet and lifestyle to reduce the dosha involved.

Vata type headaches are extremely painful, with insomnia, constipation, anxiety and stress. Routine is important to balance Vata, simple food and work on cleansing the colon

Pita type headaches cause pain in the eyes, burning sensations, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. The pain is often restricted to half the head and can bring about angry, irritable or violent thoughts. The Liver and blood will need cleansing and avoid heat.

Where Kapha is involved there will be a dull aching, with feelings of cold, heaviness and lethargy. Try to exercise more, avoid overeating and mucous forming foods.

Ayurvedic treatments including shirodhara, masthiskya, nasya, virechana and various sweating therapies will help alleviate headaches. Find a good Ayurvedic doctor for such treatment.

One treatment you can do at home, with a friend or family member, which will alleviate all dosha is oiling the ears. Pour a few teaspoons of sesame oil into a ceramic bowl. Place the bowl in a saucepan of water and warm it up a little, not too much. Spread an old towel on the floor and lie on your left side. Let the oil cool to body temperature, you can test it by holding your finger in the oil, it should be like a baby's bath. Ask your helper to use a teaspoon to pour the warm oil into your right ear. Tug your ear lobe gently and lie quietly for a few minutes. Turn onto you right side allowing the oil to run onto the towel and repeat for the left ear. Do not expose you head to wind or cold for a few hours after this treatment.

Good herbs for headaches include nutmeg, ginger and holy basil (or just basil). You can apply these in a paste or essential oil to your temples and third eye. Take in your food or drink as a tea.

March 06, 2008

Diseases of the Kidneys

The kidneys are responsible for metabolising water. They are related to the reproductive system, urinary tract, blood, skin and nervous system. The kidneys are weakened by lots of fun things like alcohol, sex and travel, and also antibiotics, ignoring the urge to wee and drinking too much or too little water.

Most important is water. Chlorinated or distilled water won't help. Spring water or rain water is much better. But perhaps one of the biggest problems is cold water, drink water at room temperature or even warm. Cold drinks actually heat up the body in the long term cause the body starts to produce heat to counter the cold. Warm water on the other hand makes you sweat which cools you down and releases some toxins too.

Water which is very high in calcium can cause kidney stones, and avoid too much acidic food (spinach, tomatoes, radish) because this will inhibit the bodies ability to absorb calcium, leaving it to clog up your digestive system

But the 'water' that the human body is primarily composed of is not just water, it is an oily solution. So take plenty of good quality fats like olive oil, coconut oil and ghee to strengthen and rejuvenate your body. This will help to rebuild good blood, and therefore help your skin too.

To regulate your metabolism take cooling digestive spices like turmeric, cumin and coriander every day. All three are very mild and can be added to almost anything in small amounts without hugely changing the taste. Coriander (fresh or dry) is especially good for as it a gentle diuretic and so will cleanse the kidney. Steep coriander seeds in hot water and sip all day.

Kidney infections, urinary tract infections and kidney stones are all closely related, and can be very very painful. A weakness in the kidneys is often hereditary. Special thanks to Dr David Frawley, he's a real good 'un.

March 04, 2008

Fad Diets

Another interesting side effect of this modern, fast paced, extreme world we live in is fad diets. Two such diets are in direct opposition, the Atkins diet and the Pritikin diet.

Urban legend has it that Dr Atkins, after years of advocating a high protein diet, was in fact overweight and suffered a heart attack. Nathan Pritikin on the other hand, on a diet very low in fat, suffered from anemia and leukemia and took his own life.

The moral of the story is simply moderation. Every human needs moderate amounts of every food group. Even rajasic and tamasic foods are requires in small doses. This is because humans, like all of nature, are made up of all elements, and therefore require all elements in order to live a full and healthy life. There is no one diet for all people, and if it feels bad to you, it probably is.