If you are going to a new acquaintance’s house in India for dinner, they will probably ask you if you are a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian. In Boston, where I am currently visiting, I was asked if I was allergic to any particular foods. This seems to be the common question that is asked when it comes to food preferences. And more so when it comes to children. Many kids seem to be lactose-intolerant or have groundnut allergy or are allergic to cranberries or black beans and other commonplace edibles.
In India, it is not as common to find adults or kids with numerous allergies although it is slowly on the increase, even in Chennai. I am, however, not surprised by the rash of allergies that America is suffering from. There seems to be no concern when children or adults do not move their bowels everyday. Children are given cold milk from the refrigerator. It is not uncommon to see parents pour cold milk from the fridge straight into bottles for one-year-olds to drink or to see them feed children food reheated a myriad times. There is no premium on eating freshly prepared foods made at home. Is it any wonder that adults and children eating ready-to-eat food full of chemicals and preservatives develop allergies, and especially so if those toxins remain in the system longer than they should because of constipation and irregular bowel movements?
Our vaidyars have laid down simple rules for eating; the food must be warm, it should not be dry but slightly liquidy—not hard like a pizza but more like a khichdi. It should be eaten when you are hungry, when all new your senses are alert and your previous meal has been digested. Food should be eaten in pleasant company with proper accessories and accompaniments.
My friend who has myriad allergies here in the US has abandoned usual foods and has what she considers healthy meals—flaxseed and quinoa, oats and salads, fruits and greens with lots of fibre. In spite of eating what Americans consider healthy foods, my friend has been suffering from constipation for about 10 years. Physicians were unable to address the problem and asked her to eat more fibre-rich food and ‘isabgol’ (psyllium husk). Build-up of gas, a feeling of heaviness and various allergies were things she considered as being part of her general health condition about which she could not do much.
Allergies are often induced by build-up of toxins in the body and poor digestion. Addressing these issues by helping her evacuate her bowels regularly with herbal laxatives (of which there are plenty in Ayurveda) and building up her digestive fire can help her get rid of allergies. Eating and drinking cold food such as cold meats and cold sodas also does not help in digestion.
Trivrit Lehyam and triphala help in regular bowel movements. Vayu Gutika and AshtaChoornam can help eliminate gas and improve digestive fire. Eating cold foods increases kaphaand results in itching and scratching, especially around the eyes, swelling of lips etc. Some kids having severe allergies have to be treated with caution by experienced Ayurvedic practitioners. I have seen several kids with severe lactose intolerance who have been successfully treated by improving their Agni or digestive fire. So next time you get an allergy, do check your digestion and take steps to improve it.
The writer is retired Additional Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu. She can be reached at sheelarani.