Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Incorporating fenugreek into your diet

In our last post we talked about the health benefits of fenugreek. Fenugreek has a strong taste, which takes some getting used to. However, it has numerous health benefits which make it worthwhile.

Here are some ideas for using fenugreek seeds:

Add one teaspoon of roasted, whole seeds into breads or puddings to take advantage of the sweet flavor and increase the fiber content of your dish.

The seeds can also be steeped and made into a tea (our Ayurvedic drinks incorporate fenugreek).

Make a simple marinade with turmeric, curry powder, and garam masala in olive oil and add fenugreek seeds for seasoning meats or vegetables.

Grind the roasted seeds into a fine powder. This can be done in an herb grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Having the powder will carry the flavor further through the dish in a way that seeds can't, and is recommended if using in sauces.

Use the powder to create Indian-themed spice blends or add straight into a curry sauce. Fenugreek is a strong herb and when combined with other spices, half of a teaspoon will be plenty. If it is used as the sole spice, go up to one teaspoon, but add the extra half teaspoon slowly and taste often so you don't overpower the dish.

Try it out in different ways. The bottom line is, it is quite versatile and can be incorporated into your diet in a variety of ways -- as long as it gets into your body, that is all that matters!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fenugreek Health Benefits

Ever heard about fenugreek?

Fenugreek seeds are small, slightly irregular shaped, yellow-beige in color, and have a strong, bitter taste. The pungent taste makes fenugreek well suited to its traditional in curries and other spice mixes. Fenugreek has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine.

Fenugreek traditionally has been used to treat arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, improve digestion, maintain a healthy metabolism, and to reduce menstrual pain. Recent studies have shown that Fenugreek may help lower blood glucose and cholestrol levels, and may be an effective treatment for both type 1 and 2 diabetes. Fenugreek is also being studied for its cardiovascular benefits.

Fenugreek seeds have been found to contain protein, vitamin C, niacin, potassium, and diosgenin (which is a compound that has properties similar to estrogen). Other active constituents in fenugreek are alkaloids, lysine and L-tryptophan, as well as steroidal saponins.

Fenugreek is often available in health food stores, and in Indian/Pakistani grocery stores.

It is one of the herbs incorporated in our Ayurvedic beverages. Next week -- how to use fenugreek at home.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Benefits of Ghee

In Ayurvedic medicine, Ghee (clarified butter) has a special place. It is considered a grounding, calming food that is good for people from all 3 doshas. It is also beneficial and gradually stimulating Agni, the digestive fire that is essential for good health.

With that said, Ayurveda also emphasizes moderation. So I would not say that Ghee is a panacea and that more is always better. For example people with Kapha body types are recommended to use Ghee in moderation only, and in a meal which also has heating spices. It is best for people with Vata Constitution(body type).

A half teaspoon of Ghee added to warm basmati rice gives it a really tasty flavor and also helps with digestion of the rice. You can also use Ghee for cooking, as it is good for sautéing and even cooking at high temperatures because it has a high smoke point (in this instance it's better than olive oil as I described in my previous post).

One reader asked about where to order ghee online. I recommend Ancient Organics which makes an excellent Ghee from organic butter. It is one of the freshest and best tasting ghees I have tried. Plus they are aware of the spiritual properties of Ghee as well. You can order online at:


Have a wonderful day and remember, everything in moderation including Ghee!

Monday, October 18, 2010

More Research on Ashwagandha

You may know that I am developing a line of Ayurvedic healing beverages called Ayu Drinks. The formulas are based on Ayurvedic clinical practice but one thing we are short on is basic science research. It looks like this is starting to change:

One of the primary herbs used in our formulas is Ashwagandha. Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center have found that extracts of the shrub had activity that was similar to the neurotransmitter GABA, which could explain why the plant is effective in reducing anxiety.

Scholars at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India, conducted research which demonstrates that many of the elements of Ashwagandha are antioxidants. The researchers found that Ashwagandha led to larger amounts of three different natural antioxidants: superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. The antioxidant effects of Ashwagandha may explain the stress-relieving and anti-aging effects of the herb.

Ashwagandha may be taken as an herbal powder, dissolved in either warm water or milk. It is also available in capsule and liquid extract form. Ashwagandha is the basis for our Ayurvedic healing drink, "Warrior". For more information visit ayudrinks.com

Monday, September 27, 2010

Is It Safe to Cook with Olive Oil?

Today I'll be answering a question from one of our readers: Is it safe to cook with olive oil, or can that create harmful trans fats?

From the perspective of integrative medicine, extra virgin olive oil (preferably organic 1st coldpressed) is one of the healthiest fats. It is a key element of the Mediterranean diet, one of the most healthful ways of eating that has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke. I use extra virgin olive oil every day in my food and cooking.

A key question is the smoke point of the oil, the temperature at which it starts to smoke and breakdown, creating free radicals. The smoke point of olive oil varies, between 300°F to 400°F. But in order to actually create trans fats, repeated heating above 400°F and cooling is required, like in a commercial fryer. If you're cooking at home you're not going to create trans fats from the olive oil.

However, you don't want to heat it to its smoke point because of the creation of free radicals. In general I use extra virgin olive oil for salads, sautéing, and similar lower temperature uses. I do not recommended for deep frying. I don't recommend deep frying anyway. For high temperature cooking applications I recommend coconut oil which has a very high smoke point, or ghee.

Please post your comments and responses!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Turmeric cocktail

You may have heard in the news about turmeric, a "new" healing superfood.

Turmeric has been used in Indian cooking for thousands of years. The rhizome or root of the plant is ground into a powder to create the yellow turmeric powder that we are familiar with.

Turmeric is rich in curcumin, a powerful natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. We are finding that inflammation is the common root cause for many chronic diseases, and having as much turmeric in your diet as possible may help reduce inflammation.

I recommend adding as much turmeric powder to your meat and vegetables as you can. It's hard to use too much. Most people can safely handle 8 g per day. In addition to eating food with turmeric, here is an interesting recipe to incorporate turmeric into beverages:

Turmeric Cocktail

1/2 cup fruit juice, such as apple or pineapple
1 heaping Tb. turmeric
1 Tb. apple cider vinegar
1 Tb. fresh lemon juice
dilute with water as necessary for taste
Stir all together. Drink once or twice a day.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Roasted Pork with fresh figs

Ayurveda always emphasizes being in touch with the current season and using whatever fresh fruits and vegetables are available. One of the great things about California is that we get a variety of fresh produce throughout the year. I recently obtained a large tray of fresh figs and had to figure out how to use them. Besides gobbling up as many as I could and freezing some, I needed to figure out a way to cook some as an entrée. Thus I came up with the following recipe:

Roasted pork with fresh figs

1 pound of ground pork
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 teaspoons clove powder
2 teaspoon coriander powder
half teaspoon allspice
half teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon salt (add more to taste)
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 fresh figs, sliced into thin strips

-- in saucepan, heat olive oil and cumin.
-- when cumin is browning, add the pork and remainder of spices. Stir well to blend all the spices evenly in the pork.
-- Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally
-- once the meat is fully cooked, scatter the fresh figs throughout the saucepan and stir well.
-- Turn off heat and cover. The remaining heat is just enough to lightly caramelize the figs and allow the various Indian spices to permeate them and create a sweet spicy flavor.

Serves 4 people. Pairs well with brown rice, naan or chapati. Try it out and let me know how it turns out!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Great Summer Recipe: Raita

Raita is a yogurt-based side dish often served with Indian foods. It is a quintessential cooling Ayurvedic dish that helps balance the often spicy pitta-provoking main dishes in Indian meals. It's cooling properties make it a great dish for the summertime. In Ayurveda yogurt is generally recommended only during the daytime and not at night. This is not only because the warmer days are better suited for a cooling dish, but our digestion tends to be a little stronger during the day and this helps better digest a heavy food like yogurt.

Spiced Raita recipe

2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
one half cucumber, seeded and diced
1 medium tomato, 1/4 inch diced
half cup chopped cilantro
half teaspoon salt
half teaspoon ground cumin powder

In a mixing bowl, mix all ingredients except cumin powder and stir well for 2 to 3 minutes. Top with ground cumin powder. Store in the refrigerator and serve cold.

In this and all my recipes I recommend organic ingredients, whenever available. In Ayurveda generally whole foods are recommended which is why I listed whole milk yogurt in this recipe. If you prefer you may use low-fat yogurt. This dish is an excellent complement to any spicy curry or other main course.

free Ayurvedic body type calculator

If you'd like to figure out your Ayurvedic body type, there are a variety of free online body type calculators. One that I like is at the following link:


It asks you a variety of questions to determine your percentage of the 3 different doshas, and then e-mails you an analysis for free. Have fun!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Vata-Balancing Recipe: Baked Butternut Squash with Walnuts

In Ayurveda all medicine is local. It must be individualized and tailored to each person's setting and environment. Right now in San Francisco it's cold and windy, which tends to disturb Vata. Mark Twain once said "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."

So even though it's summer I'm sharing the following recipe which is great for cold weather -- that's the beauty of Ayurveda:

Baked Butternut Squash with Walnuts – Vata-Balancing version

Ingredients: (organic recommended)
1 medium-size butternut squash
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
1 tablespoon black strap molasses
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
12-14 raw walnuts

• Preheat oven to 350 F
• Wash squash and then cut lengthwise down the middle
• Scoop out the seeds
• Lightly coat the exposed parts of the squash with 1 tablespoon ghee
• Place skin-side down in a baking pan
• Cook for about 30 minutes until squash is tender
• Scoop out the squash and spoon into a shallow smaller baking pan lined with 1 tablespoon ghee
• Add ground ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and black strap molasses. Mix well and top with raw walnuts
• Bake for another 15-20 minutes until walnuts are crisp

Vata is light, cold and dry so the foods that balance this have the opposite qualities: heavy, warm, and moist. Squash is a vegetable with powerful vata-balancing properties, which is why it's often recommended in the winter. The ghee and walnuts provide grounding and calming qualities. Sweet and spicy tastes are especially good for balancing vata, so the combination of ginger, cinnamon and cardamom will balance the heavy qualities of the dish. Black strap molasses are an all-natural sweetener that is rich in potassium and calcium. This dish is an integrative medicine bonanza of blood sugar and cholesterol lowering cinnamon, walnuts high in omega-3's, squash rich in vitamins A and C, and calcium and iron from the molasses.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Introduction to Ayurveda Part 2

Now let's talk a little more about the cornerstone of Ayurveda, the doshas...

The doshas are known by their original Sanskrit names: vata, pitta, and kapha.

The vata dosha combines the elements space and air. It is considered the most powerful dosha because it controls very basic body processes such as cell division, the heartbeat, breathing, discharge of waste, and the mind. Vata can be aggravated by, for example, fear, grief, staying up late at night, eating excessively dry cold foods, or eating before the previous meal is digested. People with vata as their main dosha are thought to be especially susceptible to skin and neurological
conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, anxiety, and insomnia.

The pitta dosha represents the elements fire and water. Pitta controls hormones and the digestive system. A person with a pitta imbalance may experience negative emotions such as anger and may have physical symptoms such as heartburn, rashes, or inflammation. Pitta is upset by, for example, eating spicy or sour food, fatigue, or spending too much time in the sun. People with a predominantly pitta constitution are thought to be susceptible to hypertension, heart disease, infectious diseases, and digestive conditions.

The kapha dosha combines the elements water and earth. Kapha helps to maintain strength and immunity and to control growth. An imbalance of the kapha dosha may cause excessive sleepiness, obesity, problems with blood sugar, or nausea immediately after eating. Kapha is aggravated by, for example, greed, sleeping during the daytime, eating too many sweet foods, eating after one is full, and eating and drinking foods and beverages with too much salt and water (especially in the springtime). Those with a predominant kapha dosha are thought to be vulnerable to diabetes, obesity, and respiratory illnesses such as asthma.

Now let's talk briefly about treatment. The goal of treatment is to restore each person's doshas to their original state of balance, what they were born with. Ayurvedic treatment is tailored to each person's constitution. The goal is not to acquire equal amounts of all 3 doshas but rather to attain one's own individual unique balance. Therapies include:

• Dietary recommendations individualized to each person
• Cleansing and detoxification therapies
• Herbal therapies
• Yoga
• Meditation
• Exercise: Individualized to a person's constitution
• Massage: Medicated herbal oils are often used.

Next week: a great Ayurvedic recipe for summertime.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Introduction to Ayurveda Part 1

In this post, we will be starting to talk about what exactly Ayurveda is.

In brief, Ayurvedic medicine is a holistic system that seeks to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit. This balance is believed to lead to happiness and health, and to help prevent illness. Ayurvedic medicine also treats specific physical and mental health problems, by seeking to correct the underlying root causes that have led to the development of these problems. It emphasizes:

Connection with Nature. Ayurvedic medicine believes that each person is connected to and should live in harmony with the rhythms of nature, e.g. seasons.

Constitution (prakriti). Constitution refers to the unique body type an individual is born with. The prakriti is a person's unique combination of physical and psychological characteristics and patterns, tendencies, and weaknesses. The prakriti is believed to be unchanged over a person's lifetime. The goal in Ayurvedic treatment is to correct imbalances and achieve a harmonized, well functioning physiology that is as close as possible to one's prakriti.

Life forces (doshas). Each person's physiology is governed by the three life forces or energies called doshas. These control all the activities of the body.

  • Each dosha is made up of two of five basic elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth.
  • Each person is born with a unique combination of the three doshas, although one dosha is usually prominent. Doshas are constantly being formed and reformed by food, activity, and bodily processes.
  • Each dosha has its own physical and psychological characteristics.
  • An imbalance of a dosha will produce symptoms that are unique to that dosha. Imbalances may be caused by a person's age, unhealthy lifestyle, or diet; too much or too little mental and physical exertion; the seasons; or inadequate protection from the weather, chemicals, or germs.
In the next post, we'll get into a little more about the doshas, which are one of the foundations of Ayurveda.