A food that is “good for you” can have quite a different effect when eaten in excess or in poor combination with other foods. We see the results of this in many clients who come to Hale Pule for Ayurvedic consultations. They believe they are doing all the right things for their health, but still experience gas, constipation, anxiety and other symptoms. When we peel back the layers of their daily habits, these clients are often overconsuming a so-called healthy food or eating it in ways that weaken agni, or digestive fire.
Yogurt is a good example of this. The Ayurvedic texts suggest that, when eaten occasionally in small amounts with proper food combining and form, yogurt can aid digestion. But yogurt is sour, so when eaten in excess, it increases pitta dosha and weakens agni. Many people who eat yogurt daily see an increase in pitta symptoms, such as acne, irritability and inflammation.
Imbalances can also come from the way most people eat yogurt. Think about the typical breakfast of a big bowl of yogurt and fresh fruit. Several factors in that meal affect digestibility. First, the yogurt is usually served cold. Anything cold constricts digestion, and dairy is a heavy and dense food that requires more work to digest even without the cold temperature. That’s why it is best served at room temperature or warm and combined with digestive spices. Second, combining yogurt with fruit will result in gas. Fruit digests much faster than yogurt, and your body will adjust the pace of digestion to match the slowest food. This means the fruit ferments in your digestive tract while waiting, creating gas. Third, most people eat yogurt in serving sizes far bigger than necessary, resulting in symptoms of pitta imbalance. It’s too much of a good thing.
There is a way to enjoy the benefits of yogurt without resulting in imbalance and discomfort: lassi.
Lassi is a nice drink to enjoy every so often to bring in beneficial bacteria. Enjoy a half cup with your midday meal (when agni is strongest) to get the most benefit. Just be sure to exercise moderation. If you need to increase your digestive flora, such as after taking antibiotics, drink a half cup of takra, or buttermilk, daily for about two weeks. It is less sour than yogurt, and therefore less warming.
Yogurt lassi recipe
There are many spice variations you can use depending on the condition of your agni and your dosha balance. To calm vata or kapha, try adding black pepper and honey. To calm pitta, use maple syrup as a sweetener and add fennel, coriander or mint.
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt, preferably freshly cultured. (You can buy various yogurt or buttermilk cultures here.)
1/2 cup warm water
3/4 tsp. maple syrup or honey
Pinch of desired spices (see above)
Put all ingredients into a blender for 20 seconds or whisk until smooth. Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Simple!