Ayurveda and Immunity – Feed Your Child Healthy Fats

(Last in a three-part series on Immunity Boosting Foods)
by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsSome parents are confused about fats, thinking that they should limit fats even in very young children in order to keep their cholesterol down. This can be very damaging to the child, and can even cause “wasting disease.” The brain itself is over half fat by weight. At birth a newborn’s brain contains only 30 percent of the billions of brain cells that it will need as an adult. Your child’s brain acquires 95 percent of its brain cells by age eighteen months—a phenomenal rate of growth.

This shows how essential a diet rich in fat is for the growing infant, and why fat-rich breast milk is perfectly programmed by nature to provide exactly the right kind of fat and the right proportion to fulfill this need. It also shows why infants and toddlers need more fat than adults, with infants twelve months and younger needing half their calories in fat, toddlers from one to three years needing 35 percent of their calories in fat, and from three to six years, 30 percent of their calories in fat. In contrast, adults need less than 30 percent of their diet to contain fat. Thus infants and children under three years of age need high-fat diets to grow properly, and this is best provided through mother’s milk, cow’s milk, and ghee.

Besides feeding your child’s growing brain, fat is essential for building the bones and muscles. Fats help membrane development, cell formation, and cell differentiation. Fat protects against mutations in the cells and contains antioxidants.

But it’s essential to choose healthy fats that do not raise LDL cholesterol or create other imbalances in the body.

Ghee: As we mentioned above, Maharishi Ayurveda recommends ghee as the most healthy and sattvic cooking oil and as a spread to replace butter [see a complete description of the benefits of ghee in part 2 in this series]. Here are some other healthy oils to use.

Olive Oil: Besides ghee, extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil is also recommended. Other types of olive oil are heated, which destroys nutrients and increases free radical content. To prevent free radical damage, olive oil should not be heated above 302 ̊ F when cooking. This is why, in many parts of Italy, olive oil is traditionally added to pasta and vegetables after cooking to flavor the food. Olive oil can be used in bread recipes, as baking only raises the temperature inside the bread to 221 ̊ F. This is low enough to avoid destroying its positive properties.

Extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil is the only commercially produced, mass-marketed oil available that has not had its properties destroyed by heat, chemicals, and refining. One of the advantages of olive oil is that it stores well in a cool, dark place, and does not lose its nutritional properties unless overheated or exposed to light.

Extra-virgin olive oil is especially good for Kapha types, because it is lighter and less fattening than other oils and fats such as ghee. It is a monounsaturated fat, does not raise blood cholesterol, and has been shown to lower cardiovascular risks. Olive oil also tastes good in salad dressings.

Coconut Oil: Although it is a saturated fat, coconut oil has a high flame point and is therefore a good oil for cooking as it does not create free radicals when heated. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids and triglycerides, which are metabolized differently than other saturated fats and can have therapeutic effects on the brain and nervous system. Its high content of lauric acid also kills harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Other healthy oils: Essential fatty acids are fats that the body cannot produce and must obtain from food. These are essential in the sense that without them, the body cannot function properly. Flaxseed oil, hemp-seed oil, safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils all contain vary- ing amounts of essential fatty acids. However, flaxseed and hemp-seed oils are extremely fragile, and their essential fatty acids are destroyed when exposed to heat, light, or air. They must be stored in the refrigerator, cannot be used at all for cooking, and should be used within three weeks of opening. Flaxseed oil is not recommended in Maharishi Ayurveda because of its heating effect on the liver. Instead, grind fresh golden flaxseed in a spice grinder and add a teaspoon to the food.

Safflower, sunflower, and sesame seed oil are polyunsaturated oils, which are low in cholesterol but create excessive free radicals, which is why they are not often recommended in Maharishi Ayurveda.

Unfortunately, most of the safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils you buy commercially (and even in health food stores) have been prepared using heat, light, harmful solvents, and chemicals, and thus are not nutritionally sound. If you do use them, make sure they are pressed mechanically without heat, light, or chemical processing and are organic and pesticide-free. Because oil becomes rancid easily, oils should be stored in opaque containers in a cool, dark place.

You may be able to find unheated, unrefined, organic oils in your health food store. Check to see if the different oils are all the same color; if so, then they have been over-processed and are harmful to the body. When processed mechanically without heat, chemicals, or light, the oils of different seeds take on different colors and hues.

Canola oil is a monounsaturated fat, but unfortunately, much of it is now genetically engineered and therefore not recommended, especially for children, unless it is organically grown (which means the seeds are not genetically modified) and processed mechanically, without heat.

Whole seeds and nuts: Healthy sources of oils and essential fatty acids for children are whole nuts and seeds. Sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds are delicious, as are blanched almonds, walnuts, and organic soy- beans (in the form of tofu, flour, or oil). They are also a good source of protein. (Cashews tend to be fatty and constipating, and should not be eaten in large quantities. Peanuts are not recommended.) Nuts are more digestible when soaked overnight, then ground and added to dishes.

Vegetables: Dark-green vegetables such as spinach, parsley, and broccoli also contain small quantities of essential fatty acids. Actually, all whole, fresh, unprocessed foods contain some amount of essential fatty acids. Avocados, for instance, are a good source of essential fatty acids. Herbs such as rosemary and thyme also contain essential oils.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda (Part 2 in a Series of 3)

by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsImmunity depends on healthy and vibrant digestion during childhood and beyond. This is a central principle of Maharishi Ayurveda.

The digestive juices are likened to a fire, called agni. In fact, the word agni refers to the sun and fire, and to the digestive and metabolic transformations that take place in the body. Charaka Samhita (an ancient text that expounds the principles of Ayurveda) states that strength, health, and longevity all depend on the power of agni.

Agni also refers to the digestive enzymes and secretions in the stomach and small intestines. Called jatharagni, the main agni, these digestive enzymes and secretions are responsible for breaking down food and turning it into chyle, or nutrient fluid. When jatharagni is healthy and strong, the nutrient fluid is formed correctly and easily reaches the cells to create and nourish healthy tissues.

After the process of digestion breaks down the food you eat into nutrient fluid, the various tissues of the body are metabolized through a series of transformations. These tissues include plasma, hemoglobin, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow, the central nervous system, and the reproductive tissue including semen and ovum.

The creation of tissue, called dhatu, requires a brightly burning digestive fire, or metabolic process. This is because the dhatus are formed in a sequence, starting with the nutrient fluid in the blood and ending with the reproductive tissue. If there is any block or abnormality at any point in the digestive process, then there will be a weakness in that tissue, and in all the tissues that follow in the chain of transformation.

So you can see how very important a strong digestion is to children, who are growing so rapidly and need to develop healthy blood, bones, organs, and brain. The following chart outlines the seven dhatus with their Sanskrit names.

chart:

The Seven Dhatus (Body Tissues)

Rasa—Blood plasma, chyle, nutrients

Rakta—Blood cells, hemoglobin

Mamsa—Muscle

Meda—Fat and adipose tissue

Asthi—Bone

Majja—Bone marrow and the central nervous system

Shukra—Reproductive tissue, including semen and ovum

This process of forming nutrient fluid into new tissues takes place in the cells—thus agni also resides in each cell. In fact, there is a meta- bolic process (agni) associated with each tissue (dhatu) cell, to trans- form that tissue into the next tissue in the sequence.

Thus rasa agni transforms nutrient fluid (rasa) into blood (rakta).

Once that transformation is complete, rakta agni transforms blood into muscle (mamsa). Mamsa agni transforms muscle into fat, and so on. A disturbance in mamsa agni could cause the muscle to be weak, and because the dhatus are formed in a sequence, all the subsequent

transformations—of fat to bone and bone to bone marrow, and so on—would also be weakened.

In order for the nutrient fluid to be completely healthy, and in order for each dhatu agni to complete its transformation in each cell, the jatharagni, or digestion, must be functioning smoothly. You can see how healthy food and healthy digestion are essential for your child’s blood, muscles, fat, and bone tissues to be properly formed.

Agni also exists in every cell as the metabolic or transforming function, and thus maintains the proper functioning of the RNA and DNA. Agni is responsible for keeping the body’s cellular function vibrant. Each of the billion cells in the body has its own function, its own mechanisms. One may be concerned with seeing, one with hearing, one with digesting. Each organ and each cell has its own mechanisms. And in a healthy child, they’re all vibrant.

Strong Immunity Means Strong Digestion
Toxins in the Digestion

When digestion is weak or irregular, a sticky, toxic, waste product of digestion forms, called ama. Ama is the result of undigested food. It collects in the stomach first, but if it is not eliminated, it can spread to other parts of the body through the nutrient fluid and cause disease.

When digestion is weak and the nutrient fluid does not metabolize properly, it gets mixed with ama. Ama blocks the channels that carry nutrients to the cells, resulting in undernourishment, and if left unchecked, weakness and disease in the tissues. Ama also causes blockage in the channels of circulation and elimination, resulting in fatigue, lack of energy,  lethargy, and a heavy, dull feeling. It can cause the flow of Vata to reverse itself, which results in constipation, indigestion, excessive belching, bloating, gas, heartburn, bad breath, or regurgita- tion of food. In general, ama can cause dullness in the eyes and skin and a dull mind.

Ama creates a fertile environment for bacteria, thus contributing to disease. It also provides a breeding ground for free radicals, the reac- tive oxygen molecules that many scientists believe cause 90 percent of disease.

Signs of a Healthy Digestion

You’ve now seen how a weak digestion can affect your child’s health. On the bright side, a healthy digestion can create a state of health that is so invincible that disease rarely, if ever, happens. When digestion is balanced, the body produces greater quantities of the vital material called ojas. Ojas is the end-product of digestion, the essence of the dhatus, created from the proper transformation of each of the agnis. It is always present in the body, as it resides in the gaps between the body tissues and also in the heart.

The healthier a child is, the more ojas, and vice versa. When ojas is lively, it creates contentment, enthusiasm, vitality, bliss, and clear thinking. It is reflected in a sparkle in the eyes and luster in the skin. You could say that ojas is the material form of bliss in the body. It is also the expression of immunity, or bala. Ojas helps prevent disease and maintains the balance of the doshas and dhatus.

Ojas is the finest material form of consciousness, and exists at the junction point between consciousness and matter. It is similar to bal- anced Kapha dosha in quality: heavy, soft, smooth, thick, sweet, stable, clear, and unctuous.

You can see that ama and ojas are exact opposites. When digestion is balanced, then food gets digested without excess waste, ojas is cre- ated at each transformation, and the tissues are properly nourished and infused with vitality. When digestion is weak, toxins (ama) mix with the nutrient fluid, are transported throughout the body, obstruct the channels, diminish ojas, and create weakened or abnormal tissues.

When immunity is fostered with proper health care, then each cell functions to the best of its capacity. Then there is perfection at the basic level of the cell—perfection in digestion, perfection in metabolism, and perfection in the RNA and DNA. Immunity is at its peak in every cell—whether in the brain, the muscles, or the skin. The immunity and strength in the body create vitality, a happy smile, and the vibrant health of youth. And more importantly, immunity and digestive strength wipe out disease.

This is the primary goal of Maharishi Ayurveda: to create total health in mind, body, and emotions throughout life. You could say that conventional medicine is treating at the level of the wave, while Maharishi Ayurveda treats the level of the deep ocean, at the source.

When immunity is based on the strength of the deep ocean, then germs are like little waves on the surface, and do not pose a problem.

They come and go and are not disturbing. If there is enough bala or immunity in the body, the child doesn’t get the flu so easily. After all, the germs will always be there—whether your child succumbs to the infection or not depends on his immunity. If immunity is strong, various physical, emotional, and environmental changes won’t affect the child’s basic stability and strength.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda (Part 1 in a Series of 3)

by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsAccording to Maharishi Ayurveda, nutrition plays an important role in the developing human immune system. This is especially true during gestation. Undernourished, low- birth-weight babies show persistent immunological impairment for several months, even years.

Food is especially vital for the growing child. Every day your child is building bones, muscles, and brain cells at a rapid rate. Food gets converted into the seven dhatus, (tissues) and becomes the flesh, bones, blood, and muscles of the body. The more fresh the food is, the more consciousness it has, the more quickly it is converted into ojas, the most refined and nourishing product of digestion. And remember, ojas is directly related to immunity. The more wholesome the foods your child eats, the greater his immunity will be.

Because the amount of ojas is directly linked to the level of immunity, offering children ojas-producing foods should be the highest priority for parents. Here are five ways to increase the amount of ojas in your child’s diet to boost immunity.

1. Choose fresh foods.

In order to create ojas, food must be fresh to start with, the fresher the better. In Maharishi Ayurveda, there is the concept of prana or “life force.” Some foods contain more prana than others, and these are the foods that nourish both the body and mind.

Frozen, canned, packaged, and processed food has very little prana, and is therefore difficult to digest. If your child eats a steady diet of these foods, the result will be ama.

As a physician, it is easy for me to see which children are eating fresh, home-cooked meals and which children are eating processed, frozen, or canned foods. Signs of digestive toxic buildup (ama) in children include drowsiness, fatigue, a pale color, and lack of enthusiasm. Children who eat fresh foods tend to have rosy cheeks, sparkling eyes, and buoyant energy, not to mention less sickness and disease. Just by converting your child’s diet to fresh foods, you can increase his health and vitality immeasurably.

Foods that are packaged are not only old and lacking in prana, but they likely have many harmful additives and preservatives. A rule of thumb for choosing food: the more natural, whole, unprocessed, and unadulterated the food is, the healthier it will be for your child.

2. Serve regular meals of warm, cooked food.

Raw food is difficult to digest and can cause a Vata imbalance. Although many people believe that there are more vitamins in raw foods than in cooked ones, the problem is that the raw foods are hard to digest and assimilate. A preliminary study presented at the American Chemical Society showed that the antioxidant beta carotene—which exists in carrots, broccoli, and spinach and has been found to combat tissue damage and plaque in arteries—is absorbed 34 percent more easily in cooked and pureed carrots than in raw ones. The researchers concluded that cooking vegetables softens the plant tissue, allowing antioxidants to be released.

It’s better to serve children warm, delicious, attractive, and whole- some meals that have been cooked by someone who loves them. The warmth is essential for proper digestion, and helps avoid the buildup of ama. Children, being in the Kapha time of life, find warm foods espe- cially soothing and helpful to the digestive process.

Avoid serving your child food straight from the refrigerator. It’s better to serve warm drinks or warm water, fresh-cooked foods, and room- temperature fruits. Fresh salads made with grated carrot, ginger, fresh parsley, and cilantro are fine in small quantities to tone the appetite before the meal, if the child has strong digestion. (Grating makes vegetables more absorbable.)

3. Whenever possible, provide home-cooked meals for your child. There is no better medicine than mother’s home-cooked meals. Just as fresh food has more prana, so does food that is lovingly prepared with- out rushing. And the most important element of food is preparing it with love. As a mother, you put so much love into a meal. The mother’s love is pure ojas to the child. A mother’s food is, for that reason, recognized as the most nourishing in every culture in the world. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “but I don’t have time to cook elaborate meals using all natural ingredients!” Many of you are working mothers, and as a working mother myself, I know how difficult it is to prepare a hot supper after a long day on the job.

I would suggest that you start by adding just one more home-cooked meal a week. If you already cook twice a week, try cooking three times. If you don’t cook at all, try just one meal. Instead of picking up food at a restaurant, instead of popping a frozen pizza in the oven, try to cook a simple meal of fresh vegetables, grains, and legumes.

Then see how your family reacts. Do they appreciate your efforts? Are the children more satisfied, more settled after eating? How do you feel when you eat fresher, more lovingly prepared foods? How do your children feel? Are they more relaxed, more focused?

Then gradually add another home-cooked meal, and another. One thing I know about cooking—the more you do it, the easier it gets. If you just have in your mind that you are committed to cooking more, you will find ways to do it. Once you are committed to the idea, then it just becomes a matter of finding the easiest way to carry out your plan. For instance, you can enlist your older children and husband to help. Some families enjoy cooking together, and make the preparation of meals a family project.

The other problem is school lunches. If your child is eating institutionally prepared meals at school, the fact is that he or she is eating food that is not fresh. It may even be harmful. School cafeterias are notorious for using canned, frozen, and packaged foods, which are often laced with preservatives and other chemicals. Children usually com- plain about such food, calling it all sorts of unpleasant names. Most adults would not eat the food that is served in many school cafeterias.

I am not bringing this problem up to make you feel guilty. I am bringing it up because I know that if parents get passionate enough about something, they can do amazing things. You can band together with other parents and get the food in your child’s cafeteria changed. Or you can try to provide your child with a thermos of nourishing soup or other hot food from home. The main point is to first recognize the problem. The solution will make itself known.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

As summer ends and kids go back to school, it’s a good time to boost your brain power. Here are six ways to get back on track.

IMG_44821. Eat Fruits and Vegetables for Brain Food

It has long been known that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for you.  In recent years, research has focused on phytochemicals, the biologically active compounds naturally found in plants that have a positive impact on your health.

Foods that boost memory are walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, almonds, turmeric, and blueberries, to name a few.  Walnuts contain polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the brain and have been shown to aid brain development in infants.

Researchers at UCLA found that curcumin in turmeric protects the brain against plaques in the synapses of rats, indicating the plaques found in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients also respond to turmeric.  Interestingly enough, India, a country where turmeric is widely used, has very little Alzheimer’s disease.

IMG_0108Black pepper has also been shown to enhance the power of memory.  An easy way to include these spices in your diet is to sauté Worry Free Spice Mixture or Vata, Pitta or Kapha Churna in ghee and add it to your cooked vegetables.

A 1999 Tufts University study of 40 fruits and vegetables found that raw blueberries contained the highest level of antioxidants. Animals fed a blueberry extract diet outperformed other animals in memory tests, and showed less degeneration of motor skills due to aging.

To gain the most memory power from food, eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, along with healthy proteins such as walnuts, almonds, milk, panir (a fresh cheese made from milk) and split beans and pulses.

2. Enliven Memory with Herbs

Phytochemicals are even more concentrated in herbs. Ayurvedic herbs that are traditionally known to improve memory are Brahmi and Gotu Kola.  Brahmi and Gotu Kola are medhya herbs, which means that they improve the coordination between dhi (learning), dhriti (retention) and smriti (long-term memory).  Shankapushpi is another medhya herb that is revered in the ayurvedic tradition.

Worry Free and Stress Free Mind both contain these herbs.  Worry Free helps reduce mental anxiety while at the same time making the mind clearer.  This is an extraordinary combination–to simultaneously relax the mind and sharpen the memory.  Stress Free Mind has a similar effect as Worry Free, only stronger. If you are experiencing some unusual mental stress, such as exams or starting a new job, or if you have tried Worry Free but need even more support, try Stress Free Mind.

While modern researchers usually extract the active ingredients from plants and put them in pill form, recent studies show that the whole plants contain a synergistic combination of phytochemicals. For instance, a study reported in Nature found that eating 100 grams of fresh apple with skins provided the total antioxidant activity equal to 1,500 milligrams of isolated vitamin C.  A single carrot contains more than 100 phytochemicals, which would not be available in a pill that only contained isolated beta-carotene.

This finding verifies what Maharishi Ayurveda has known for thousands of years–the benefit comes from using the whole plant, not just an isolated ingredient.  By including the whole herb or fruit, M.A.P.I. herbal formulas are safer and much more effective.

3. Say Yes to Good Fats

In the past 20 years we have been told over and over that fat is bad for you.  Not only is this fat-free diet impossible to sustain for more than a week, it is actually damaging to the brain and body. Fat is necessary for memory to function.

It is important is to eat high-quality fats.  The brain can only use the most intelligent of foods.  Maharishi Ayurveda recommends ghee, which contains brain-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids and other good fats.  It is not only medhya, nourishing to the mind and memory, but is called smritida, which means memory-giving.

Olive oil is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is also nourishing to the brain. Olive oil should never be heated to high temperatures, as that destroys its beneficial qualities.

Fats to avoid:  hydrogenated fats, which raise bad cholesterol, are found in most packaged foods today and are not digestible by the body; polyunsaturated fats such as corn oil or safflower oil as these are unstable and create excessive free radicals; and canola oil, which is often genetically engineered and should only be eaten if organic.

4. Be Sure to Get Your Zzzzzs

Exciting new research shows that sleep improves memory. In fact, it is while the brain is sleeping that it works the hardest–rehearing newly learned information, storing memory files, converting information to long-term memory.

In one Canada study, students who slept the night before the exam significantly out-performed students who stayed awake and crammed.  So important is sleep that researchers at Harvard Medical School now suggest that after learning a new skill, it’s best to sleep on it.  Sleeping for six to eight hours after learning apparently helps the brain transfer new skills and information to its permanent memory banks.

5. Exercise and Breathe Deeply

While a good night’s sleep helps us retain what we learn, it’s equally important to get physical exercise during the day. Exercise oxygenates the brain and sharpens memory. If you’ve ever sat around for a day or two with very little activity, you’ve probably noticed that your brain turns into a wet noodle.

Exercise also helps us to breathe deeply, which is another way to oxygenate brain cells and flush out toxins. You can stop and take deep breaths throughout the day, or practice Vedic breathing exercises called Pranayama to re-charge your memory.

Like all recommendations from Maharishi Ayurveda, how much exercise you do depends on your constitution and imbalances.  Kapha types, especially, need more intense exercise than others to keep their mind and body at peak performance. For most people, a brisk walk once a day is a good place to start.  Breathe through your nose to direct the oxygen to your brain.  Always stay in your comfort zone, stopping or slowing down when you feel the need to breathe through your mouth, or start to sweat on your forehead or tip of your nose.

Yoga asanas are an excellent way to tone the memory. These gentle stretches direct the blood to the brain and cleanse the organs and channels of toxins, helping to increase communication between the mind and body.

6. Exercise Your Mind, Too

We all know that when it comes to muscles, you have to use it or lose it.  This is equally true of the brain.

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, there are three causes of memory problems:  overuse (such as working too long hours), misuse (such as doing mental work that is too difficult, or that we feel is morally wrong), and underuse.  Underuse means never stimulating your mind with meaningful activities.

If your job doesn’t involve much mental work, or is boring to you, it’s especially important that you spend some of your free time each day exercising your memory and brain. Take a course at your local college, read a good book, write in your journal, practice memorizing poetry or your favorite sayings, practice playing a musical instrument or learn to sing some new songs.

By stimulating new areas of the brain, you’ll enliven new brain connections and spark your memory skills. And you just might prolong your life, as well.  It turns out that people who are mentally active live longer and enjoy life more, too.

Photos by Linda Egenes