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Food Combinations to Avoid: Viruddha Ahara & Modern Chemistry - Part 1

Author - Sonia Velarsan, RD


Food is not just a source of sustenance; it holds the key to our overall well-being. Ancient knowledge systems like Ayurveda have long emphasized the importance of a diet (pathya) for maintaining good health. One intriguing concept in Ayurveda is "Viruddha Ahara," which translates to incompatible foods; these combinations of foods, if consumed regularly for a long time, are considered to be a risk factor for ill health (1)

Historical roots:

In ancient systems of medicine, the emphasis on harmonizing food combinations to maintain overall health and well-being is given importance. The belief was that combining incompatible foods could create imbalances in the body, leading to various ailments and discomforts.


Modern-day temptations:

It is easy to dismiss these traditional beliefs because there is no direct evidence of harm; even as a risk factor viruddha ahaar is difficult to quantify and retrospectively study as diet practices are enormously heterogeneous. Nutritionally, however, this concept is not new. For instance, it is widely recognized that when vitamin C-rich foods are paired with iron-rich foods, the body can better absorb iron (Fe) (2). Consequently, the seemingly counterintuitive or irrational combinations of viruddha ahaar mentioned in Ayurveda might be attributed to our limited understanding of their physiological effects in modern scientific terms.


Notably, food combinations are well known in the packaged food industry which uses them in ready-to-eat foods and convenience snacks. Many of us will affirm the addictive nature of a packet of chips, a combination of salt with starchy potatoes, known to override our nutritional sensibilities and internal states!


In Western thought, “trophology” was used to indicate the branch of science dealing with nutrition, and Herbert Shelton, an American naturopath, employed the term “Orthotropy” to discuss food combination in his seminal work “The Hygienic System”.


According to this book (3), it's best not to mix proteins with starches and carbohydrates because they need different conditions to be digested. The reason provided is that amylases, the enzymes responsible for breaking down starches, are inhibited by proteins so in the presence of protein, starches are not digested. The same happens when we eat sugars with acid fruits as it reduces pH and inhibits amylases.


Gastronomic chemistry = Viruddha Ahara? Due to advances in molecular detection techniques, our understanding today of the chemical composition of some foods and the interaction of individual chemical constituents with our bodies is more advanced. Let's delve into some common examples of Viruddha Ahara milk combinations and see how they align with scientific explanations:

food combinations to avoid milk and citrus fruit

Milk and citrus: The chemistry behind this incompatibility lies in the pH levels of these substances. Milk has a slightly acidic pH ranging from 6.5 to 6.7, while citrus fruits like oranges and lemons have highly acidic pH levels, often below 3. When acidic substances like citrus fruits are added to milk, the acidic environment can cause the proteins in milk, such as casein, to denature and coagulate. This curdling effect can lead to digestion issues and discomfort.


Green tea or black tea and milk:

In Ayurveda, combining tea with milk is discouraged as it can reduce the beneficial compounds known as catechins present in tea. Modern chemistry confirms that the proteins in milk can bind with catechins, decreasing their concentration and potentially impacting their health benefits. (4)


Milk and Yogurt: Consuming milk and yogurt together can lead to milk curdling inside the stomach, potentially causing discomfort and vomiting. (5)


Tea and Garlic: Tea contains anticoagulant compounds, and when combined with garlic, which also has anti-clotting properties, it may increase the risk of bleeding. (6)


The logic provided in Ayurveda of milk-related viruddha ahaar combinations has to do with the rasapanchaka of milk. For instance, milk and fish are not a good combination because they have opposing veeryas ie., thermal properties. Milk is cooking (sheeta) while many fishes are heating (ushna).


While the concept of Virudha Ahaar highlights the potential adverse effects of certain food combinations, it is essential to remember that occasional indulgence is unlikely to cause significant harm. As with many aspects of nutrition, moderation is key. Enjoying your favorite incompatible treats once in a while is unlikely to have a lasting impact on your health.


In addition to veerya, there are 18 more Viruddha Ahaar combinations mentioned in Ayurveda. Curious? Enroll now in our Introduction to Ayurveda Dietetics course. Visit the website for details.


References:

  1. Agnivesha . In: Charaka, Dridhabala, Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthana, 26/81. Reprint. Vaidya Jadavaji Trikamaji Acharya., editor. Varanasi: Krishnadas Academy; 2000. p. 149.

  2. Lynch SR, Cook JD. Interaction of vitamin C and iron. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1980;355:32-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1980.tb21325.x. PMID: 6940487.

  3. Shelton HM. The hygienic system: Orthotrophy, Chap. 26. Dr. Shelton's Health School. 1935

  4. Brown PJ, Wright WB. An Investigation of the interactions between milk proteins and tea polyphenols. J Chromatogr. 1963;11:504–14.

  5. Sabnis M. Viruddha Ahara: A critical view. Ayu. 2012 Jul;33(3):332.

  6. Engdal S, Nilsen OG. In vitro inhibition of CYP3A4 by herbal remedies frequently used by cancer patients. Phytother Res. 2009;23:906–12.

  7. Sabnis M. Viruddha Ahara: A critical view. Ayu. 2012 Jul;33(3):332.


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