The great debate between raw versus cooked food wages on in modern, holistic circles. And with so much information available on the internet, it can be so hard to find a clear answer. So we look to Ayurveda, the oldest surviving medical system in existence, to discover its perspective.
Ayurveda considers that we eat, in fact, to take in Prana. We don't eat just to satisfy our appetite, or to please the senses, or to dull boredom, or even just to meet our nutritional needs. We are taking in the energy of the Panca Mahabhutas (the 5 great elements), which then become the building blocks of our Dhatus (tissues), nourishing the body, mind and also the soul. We are also engaging in a form of sacred ritual by connecting in presence to the very act of eating itself, and to our appreciation for the
But our ability to take in and use the Prana that comes from Ahara (food), always comes down to the functioning of our JatharAgni (digestive fire). If Agni is functioning as Sama Agni (balanced, even digestion), then we can easily digest a wide range of foods. We are also able to more easefully process and digest all types of emotions and all the sensory perceptions that are taken in throughout the day. With Sama Agni, we can digest foods that are harder to process, we can digest meals containing improper food combinations and we can also digest more efficiently, emotions and sensory impressions that feel challenging.
Strength, energy, mental clarity, radiance, immunity and sharpness of the senses all depend on the level of health and balance of our Agni.
However, if Agni is compromised by a lifetime of poor food choices and eating habits, by chemical and environmental pollutants, and by prolonged stress or traumatic experiences, our digestive fire will be either weak, inconsistent or extremely hot, and this will cause us to digest inefficiently, leading to the creation of more Ama (waste) coupled with improper elimination, meaning that we will be re-intoxicating ourselves over and over again. This can go on for years, or our entire lives, if Agni is not brought back into its natural state of balance. And the end result of this cycle is inevitably, dis-ease and finally, manifested disease. In fact, we can say that almost all disease is a result of dysfunctional Agni!
According to Ayurveda, digestion is a process of cooking food down through heat, or Teja Mahabhuta (fire). Raw food, specifically raw vegetables, are foods that have not been cooked down before entering the digestive system. If you can imagine that your internal oven, your Agni, is broken and the flame inside is burning at a fraction of its natural capacity, and then you throw raw vegetables onto it, your oven will struggle to break down the thick, fibrous matter. In the end, the food will come out only partially cooked. However, if your Agni is strong and stable, the flame will burn well and will have no trouble cooking down that big, raw rainbow salad that you so love!
On top of this, raw vegetables are typically astringent in taste (Rasa) as well as light, dry and cold in quality (Gunas), making them very imbalancing for Vata dosha. And the problem with modern natural health education, is that the messaging is usually that more is better, when in fact, for someone with a Vata constitution or Vata imbalance, more raw foods will actually be incredibly unhealthy for them! Even though these raw foods could be organic, locally-grown and even GMO-free, the very fact that a person’s Vata-influenced Agni cannot handle these qualities will make them poisonous for this particular individual.
Now, if your digestion is compromised and you introduce well-cooked, whole foods into its struggling fire, your Agni will be better able to process it because half of the work was already done for it, in your cooking of the food before you put it onto your plate.
Other ways that you can support struggling Agni?
-Eat at the same times every day
-Cook with Agni-supportive, and Dosha-appropriate spices such as cumin, fennel, coriander, ginger, turmeric, etc.
-Eat your largest meal at lunch time (between 10am-2pm)
-Eat your smallest meal at dinner time (before Sunset)
-Sip on warm water during your meal, don’t gulp or drink a lot while eating
-Eat in a calm, positive environment
-Eat slowly and with presence
-Avoid distractions while you eat (i.e. phones, tablets, computers, television etc.)
-Talk only about positive topics while eating, avoid eating when emotionally triggered
-Eat with love (one of our Ayurvedic teachers recently remarked that some people actually struggle to gain weight simply because they do not eat their food with love)
-Sit for a few minutes after finishing your meal
-Favour raw foods in the summer time, but only if your Agni allows for this
If the oven is broken, it doesn't matter how healthy and nutritious the food is. It will be turned into waste, simply because your internal oven cannot handle it. SO, the question is not whether you should eat raw or cooked foods. Rather, choosing the right foods according to the state of health that your Agni is currently at is actually the healthiest and most aligned strategy. This could mean that you can include a wide array of uncooked vegetables and fruits, or it might mean that you entirely avoid them for a time, and feed your Agni only well-cooked, very easy -to-digest meals until your Agni comes back on track.
To learn how you can reset your Agni with a simple, yet delicious Ayurvedic cleanse, click here.
So in the fight of Raw Vs Cooked, the winner is actually, AGNI! When Agni is healthy, so will you be!
Heal your Agni, heal your life!