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The term Ahara (आहारः) in Samskrit refers to the food or diet. Any food that is consumed to gain energy or to continue the survival is called as Ahara in Ayurveda. Anna (अन्नम्), Bhojana (भोजनम्), Ashana (अशनम्) are some synonyms commonly used to refer Ahara in Ayurveda. Ahara has been identified as that entity which is responsible for sustenance of life of a person. It provides nourishment, strength, health and at the same time can cause various diseases if not consumed in an appropriate way. Thus, it is counted as the first among 3 supporting pillars of life i.e. Trayopasthambhas (त्रयोपस्तंभाः).
व्युत्पत्तिः तथा पर्यायाः ॥
In Samkskrit, Ahara is the term made of 3 roots, आङ् + हृ + घञ्.
पुं, (आङ् + हृ + घञ् ।) द्रव्यगलाधःकरणं । (Shabd.)
This altogether indicates that Ahara means to ingest/take inside something through mouth and throat. Thus ahara refers to food. Ahara is referred by many other words in different contexts in Ayurveda treatises and other literature. Various synonyms of the ward ahara are listed in shabdakalpadruma.
तत्पर्य्यायः । जग्धिः २ भोजनं ३ जेमनं ४लेपः ५ निघषः ६ न्यादः ७ । इत्यमरः ॥ जमनं ८ विघषः ९ इति तट्टीका ॥ प्रत्यवसानं १० भक्षणं ११ अशनं १२ ॥ इति रत्नमाला ॥ अभ्यवहारः १३ स्वदनं १४ निगरः १५ । इति राजनिर्घण्टः ॥ अस्य गुणाः । सद्यस्तृप्तिजनकत्वं । बलकारित्वं । देहधारकत्वञ्च । इति राजवल्लभः ॥ 
Bhojana (भोजनम्), Jemana (जेमन), Bhakshana (भक्षणम्). Ashana (अशनम्), Swadana (स्वदनम्) are some common synonyms for Ahara.
Ayurveda has put forward the concept of 3 supporting pillars of life. These are called as 3 upastambhas (उपस्तंभाः).  It is stated that, strength, immunity and growth of any individual is dependent on well-regulated support of 3 factors namely Ahara (आहार । food), nidra (निद्रा । sleep) and observance of brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्यम् ।celibacy/control of senses). These are called supports or pillars of one’s Ayu (आयुः) or life.
त्रय उपस्तम्भा इति- आहारः, स्वप्नो, ब्रह्मचर्यमिति; एभिस्त्रिभिर्युक्तियुक्तैरुपस्तब्धमुपस्तम्भैः शरीरं बलवर्णोपचयोपचितमनुवर्तते यावदायुःसंस्कारात् संस्कारमहितमनुपसेवमानस्य, य इहैवोपदेक्ष्यते॥ (Char Samh 11.35)
traya upastambhā iti- āhāraḥ, svapno, brahmacaryamiti; ebhistribhiryuktiyuktairupastabdhamupastambhaiḥ śarīraṁ balavarṇopacayopacitamanuvartate yāvadāyuḥsaṁskārāt saṁskāramahitamanupasevamānasya, ya ihaivopadekṣyate॥ (Char Samh 11.35)
Meaning: Three supporting pillars of life: Ahara (food), nidra (sleep) and observance of bramhacharya (celibacy/control of senses). By the wisdom of well regulated support of these three pillars one can get body with strength, good complexion and proper growth and this continues throughout life, provided person does not get involved in regimens which are detrimental for health, these are discussed in this chapter.
Thus, Ahara plays integral role in one’s health and wellness and therefore it is regarded as one of the 3 supports of life.
आहारसम्भवः देहः ॥ Annamaya deha
Ayurveda lays great emphasis on selection and consumption of Ahara for maintenance of health and well-being. It is considered to be the most important factor in one' life responsible for longevity, strength and health. Not just that but Ayurveda scholars have opined that Deha or Shariram (शरीरम) is made up of ahara (food). All the body components and elements are originated from and maintained through food. And therefore one needs to be extra cautious while taking food. Food should not be consumed out of affection (without mindfulness) or in ignorance since food taken in this way might prove harmful. Thus it is recommended that ahara should be consumed after properly assessing or understanding its nature.
एवं च कृत्वाऽन्नमया एव देहे सर्वे भावाः॥ न रागान्नाप्यविज्ञानादाहारानुपयोजयेत्| परीक्ष्य हितमश्नीयाद्देहो ह्याहारसम्भवः ॥ (Char. Samh. 28.41) evaṁ ca kr̥tvā'nnamayā eva dehe sarve bhāvāḥ॥ na rāgānnāpyavijñānādāhārānupayojayet| parīkṣya hitamaśnīyāddeho hyāhārasambhavaḥ ॥ (Char. Samh. 28.41)
Meaning: Therefore all body components have their origin in food. One should not take food with greed and ignorance. One should consume wholesome food after evaluation as the body is formed from food.
आहारस्य तथा देहस्य अपि पाञ्चभौतिकत्वम् ॥ 5 Elemental nature of ahara and deha
Deha means shariram. Sharira (शरीरम्) i.e. physical body of living beings is made of body tissues called as dhatus. All these dhatus are in turn made of of 5 mahabhutas (पञ्चमहाभूतानि) and therefore the body is said to be made of 5 mahabhutas (panchabhautika deha - body made up of 5 elements). On the basis of doctrine of samanya vishesha siddhanta (सामान्य विशेष सिद्धांतः) body made up of 5 mahabhutas can be nourished and grown only with the help of something that is also made up of 5 mahabhutas.
पञ्चभूतात्मके देहे ह्याहारः पाञ्चभौतिकः | विपक्वः पञ्चधा सम्यग्गुणान् स्वानभिवर्धयेत् ॥ (Sush. Samh. .46.526)
pañcabhūtātmake dehe hyāhāraḥ pāñcabhautikaḥ | vipakvaḥ pañcadhā samyagguṇān svānabhivardhayet ॥ (Sush. Samh. .46.526)
Thus Ahara (food articles) is looked upon as the source of these 5 mahabhutas which can later form dhatus/body tissues and cause development of body. It is stated that the 5 mahabhutas in body are replenished and grown by 5 mahabhutas in food after process by separate agni (अग्निः) for each mahabhuta present in the food itself. During the processing of food by agni of mahabhutas called as bhautikagni (भौतिकाग्निः), transformation of external mahabhuta into body type mahabhuta takes place. The transformed mahabhutas then finds the place in dhatu (धातवः) and become a part of shariram. 
प्राणाः प्राणभृतामन्नम्॥ Vital nature of Ahara
Ahara has been acclaimed for its role in every aspect of persons life in Charaka Samhita (चरक संहिता). Acharya Charaka has described the multivariate importance of Ahara or Annam in the verse below.
प्राणाः प्राणभृतामन्नमन्नं लोकोऽभिधावति| वर्णः प्रसादः सौस्वर्यं जीवितं प्रतिभा सुखम्॥
तुष्टिः पुष्टिर्बलं मेधा सर्वमन्ने प्रतिष्ठितम्| लौकिकं कर्म यद्वृत्तौ स्वर्गतौ यच्च वैदिकम्॥
कर्मापवर्गे यच्चोक्तं तच्चाप्यन्ने प्रतिष्ठितम्॥ (Char. Samh. 27.349-51)
prāṇāḥ prāṇabhr̥tāmannamannaṁ loko'bhidhāvati| varṇaḥ prasādaḥ sausvaryaṁ jīvitaṁ pratibhā sukham॥
tuṣṭiḥ puṣṭirbalaṁ medhā sarvamanne pratiṣṭhitam| laukikaṁ karma yadvr̥ttau svargatau yacca vaidikam॥
karmāpavarge yaccoktaṁ taccāpyanne pratiṣṭhitam॥ (Char. Samh. 27.349-51)
Meaning: The source of life for all living beings is food and thus all the world seeks (runs behind) food. Complexion, clarity, good voice, long life, understanding, happiness, satisfaction, growth, strength and intelligence are all established in food (can be attained by eating right food). Whatever is beneficial for worldly happiness, whatever pertains to the vedic sacrifices leading to higher abode and whatever actions lead to spiritual salvation are said to be established through food.
आहारः प्रीणनः सद्यो बलकृद्देहधारकः ॥ आयुस्तेजःसमुत्साहस्मृत्योजोग्निविवर्धनः ॥ (Sush. Samh. 24.68-69)
āhāraḥ prīṇanaḥ sadyo balakr̥ddehadhārakaḥ ॥ āyustejaḥsamutsāhasmr̥tyojognivivardhanaḥ ॥ (Sush. Samh. 24.68-69)
Meaning: Ahara is nourishing, instantly energizing and body bearer. It promotes longevity, energy, freshness, memory, ojas and Agni.
At the same time, Ayurveda acharyas have also identified the nuisance value of ahara if it is not consumed methodically. It is because of some inappropriate practices of consuming food, it can also become a cause for disease development and thus might create trouble. Acharya Charaka has pointed out this interesting aspect of Ahara by comparing it with liquor and poison by showing the similarity between them skillfully in the verse below.
किन्तु मद्यं स्वभावेन यथैवान्नं तथा स्मृतम्| अयुक्तियुक्तं रोगाय युक्तियुक्तं यथाऽमृतम्॥
प्राणाः प्राणभृतामन्नं तदयुक्त्या निहन्त्यसून्| विषं प्राणहरं तच्च युक्तियुक्तं रसायनम्॥ (Char. Samh. 24. 59-60)
kintu madyaṁ svabhāvena yathaivānnaṁ tathā smr̥tam| ayuktiyuktaṁ rogāya yuktiyuktaṁ yathā'mr̥tam|॥
prāṇāḥ prāṇabhr̥tāmannaṁ tadayuktyā nihantyasūn| viṣaṁ prāṇaharaṁ tacca yuktiyuktaṁ rasāyanam॥ (Char. Samh. 24. 59-60)
Meaning: (Ayurveda has identified alcoholic drinks or fermented preparations as one of the medicinal formulations e.g. Asavas and Arishtas. Thus how Madyam can be utilised as medicine and when it can give trouble was well-known to Ayurveda scholars which they skillfully applied in practice of medicine. The same applies to use of poison. In this reference this verse has been added) But liquor by nature is similar to the food. It causes disorders when consumed improperly; while it is like amritam (elixir) when consumed properly. Food is like the vitality of life for the human beings; but the same may be fatal if ingested improperly. The poison is fatal, but it can be rasayana if used sensibly.
पुरुषवृद्धिकरः आहारः ॥ Role of Ahara in controlling various aspects of life
Ayurveda has recognized the role of Ahara in various aspects of life.
हिताहारोपयोग एक एव पुरुषवृद्धिकरो भवति, अहिताहारोपयोगः पुनर्व्याधिनिमित्तमिति ॥ (Char Samh 25.31)
hitāhāropayoga eka eva puruṣavr̥ddhikaro bhavati, ahitāhāropayogaḥ punarvyādhinimittamiti ॥ (Char Samh 25.31)
Meaning: Hita Ahara (Favorable/suitable Food) is identified as the one and only source of Purusha Vrddhi (Growth of body-mind-energy system of a person).
This statement underlines the importance of Ahara in nourishment of not only physical body but also manas (मनः। mind). Ahara has also been identified as one of the extremely important causative factor for disease development. The origin, sustenance and destruction of life is rooted in Ahara. It is Ahara which causes growth, generates strength, health, wellness when consumed appropriately, on the other hand, inappropriately consumed food leads to illness.  Thus, role of ahara in all these aspects of life, health and well-being is discussed step-wise in brief.
शरीरवृद्धौ आहारः ॥ Role of Ahara in Sharira vruddhi
Shariram (शरीरम्। Physical body) of a person is made up of Ahara. Therefore Sharira vrddhi (शरीरवृद्धिः p hysical growth), strength building can be achieved essentially through ahara. Ahara undergoes the process of digestion and it is transformed into Rasa dhatu. (रस धातुः) This Rasa dhatu which is the essence of ahara is then circulated through various channels in the body to provide nourishment to each and every body component. Thus nourishment & growth of body, sustenance of metabolic functions and preservation of life is accomplished by Ahara through Rasa dhatu.  Owing to this, the root of living beings, their balam (बलम् । strength) and Varnam (वर्णम् । Complexion) appears to be in Ahara. All these vital activities are carried out by Ahara with the help of its Rasa(रसः), Guna (गुणः), Veery (वीर्यम्)a and vipaka (विपाकम्). These properties are based on dravya (द्रव्यम्) i.e. ingredient or substance which is consumed as a food. Therefore, what food you select and consume is extremely important. Physical body appears good when it is in proper shape and size. The disproportionate increase or reduction in size and shape of the body is unpleasant and leads to illness as well. Thus obesity and emaciation (frail/lean body structure) both conditions are displeasing to the person. Ayurveda too opines that such body types are unfavorable and suggests that Ahara is one of the extremely significant causative factors in this which needs to be properly addressed. The other important factor is Nidra (निद्रा । sleep). Overall, for the growth of the physical body known as Sharira in Ayurveda, the role of Ahara was well known to the Ayurveda scholars and thus it has been counted as one among the factors responsible for Sharira Vrddhi (शरीरवृद्धिः । physical growth). These factors are collective known as Sharira Vrddhikara Bhavas (शरीरवृद्धिकराः भावाः). At this place it is once again communicated that not just any ahara but Aharasampat (आहारसंपत्) i.e good quality of Ahara is responsible for body growth.
कार्त्स्न्येन शरीरवृद्धिकरास्त्विमे भावा भवन्ति; तद्यथा- कालयोगः, स्वभावसंसिद्धिः, आहारसौष्ठवम्, अविघातश्चेति ॥ (Char Samh 6.12)
kārtsnyena śarīravr̥ddhikarāstvime bhāvā bhavanti; tadyathā- kālayogaḥ, svabhāvasaṁsiddhiḥ, āhārasauṣṭhavam, avighātaśceti ॥ (Char Samh 6.12)
अग्निरक्षणे आहारः ॥ In agni palanam
Ayurveda shastra gives immense importance to the status of Agni (अग्निः) in a person. Agni is believed to be the moola (मूलम् b ase/root) of the life like that of Ahara. Ahara taken from outside is converted in the form of energy by Agni and this energy is responsible for all vital functions of our body. If the agni is in a balanced state, the person would be healthy and would lead a long, healthy, happy life. On the other hand, the any vitiation or disturbances in agni the entire metabolism of the body is disturbed resulting in illness and poor quality of life. Once the function of agni stops, the life ends. Thus Agni is critical for one's life. It the cause of health, nourishment, strength, lusture, ojas, (ओजः) teja (तेजम् । energy) and prana (प्राणः । life energy). One can also find that the similar description on impact of Ahara on Life is noted in Ayurveda treatises.     Therefore it is clear that Agni and Ahara both impact the life equally in every aspect. Their targets are similar also because agni and ahara are basically interdependent. Ahara can not impact life without process of agni neither agni can help individual without ahara. These two components control each other and bring about the final effect. How food controls the strength of agni has been explained in Ayurveda with a simple example. Agni can become strong and steady when it is offered Ahara which is nourishing and suitable with a tinge of unctuousness like the wood-fire becomes strong and steady with the help of heart wood / hard wood coated with some unctuous material.
दीप्तो यथैव स्थाणुश्च बाह्योऽग्निः सारदारुभिः | सस्नेहैर्जायते तद्वदाहारैः कोष्ठगोऽनलः ॥ (Asht. Hrud. 10.79)
dīpto yathaiva sthāṇuśca bāhyo'gniḥ sāradārubhiḥ | sasnehairjāyate tadvadāhāraiḥ koṣṭhago'nalaḥ ॥ (Asht. Hrud. 10.79)
Thus it is always believed in Ayurveda that, not just the food but its digestion and transformation also should be given equal importance while considering health and illness.
बलवृद्धौ आहारः ॥ In Balam Vruddhi
Balam (बलम्) in Samskrit refers to the strength of the body. It also indicates ability of the body or part of the body, to protect oneself against various harmful factors. As mentioned in previous sections, Ayurveda has given immense importance to Ahara and agni to acquire and maintain balam.    Grossly, Balam is the product of the strength of all the dhatus (धातवः । body tissues). Therefore strength and quality of each dhatu contributes in balam which in turn depends on the ahara. Ultimately, Ahara becomes one of the crucial contributing factors in building and maintaining strength. Ahara is thus listed on eamong the crucial factors for building strength. These factors are called as Balavrddhikara bhavas (बलवृद्धिकराः भावाः) in Ayurveda.
बलवृद्धिकरास्त्विमे भावा भवन्ति| तद्यथा- बलवत्पुरुषे देशे जन्म बलवत्पुरुषे काले च, सुखश्च कालयोगः, बीजक्षेत्रगुणसम्पच्च, आहारसम्पच्च, शरीरसम्पच्च, सात्म्यसम्पच्च, सत्त्वसम्पच्च, स्वभावसंसिद्धिश्च, यौवनं च, कर्म च, संहर्षश्चेति ॥ (Char. Samh. 6.13)
balavr̥ddhikarāstvime bhāvā bhavanti| tadyathā- balavatpuruṣe deśe janma balavatpuruṣe kāle ca, sukhaśca kālayogaḥ, bījakṣetraguṇasampacca, āhārasampacca, śarīrasampacca, sātmyasampacca, sattvasampacca, svabhāvasaṁsiddhiśca, yauvanaṁ ca, karma ca, saṁharṣaśceti ॥ (Char. Samh. 6.13)
Fundamentally there are 3 types of balam based on its source viz Sahaja (सहजम् । Natural, Present right from the birth), Kalaja (कालजम् । Present due to particular season and age) and Yuktikrita (युक्तिकृतम् । Obtained by deliberate efforts to acquire strength like use of diet, exercise, medicines). Ahara is believed to develop Yuktikruta type of Balam. This means with proper application of knowledge about which food should be taken and how it should be consumed, one can certainly increase the strength. E.g Inclusion of ghee, milk, meat and certain strength building recipes in diet under a Vaidya's supervision can help one build strength and stamina.  
स्वास्थ्यरक्षणे आहारः ॥ In Prevention of diseases
Ahara is one of the highly important factors from one's life that is responsible for maintenance of health and well-being. The entire theory of disease development and health in Ayurveda is based on the effect of food and lifestyle factors on various body components. Therefore, the role of ahara in prevention of diseases has also been identified by Ayurveda. Various Ayurveda scholars at multiple places in literature have clearly stated that the one who consumes the appropriate and suitable food regularly can stay away form diseases and live a healthy life.
नित्यं हिताहारविहारसेवी समीक्ष्यकारी विषयेष्वसक्तः | दाता समः सत्यपरः क्षमावानाप्तोपसेवी च भवत्यरोगः॥ (Asht. Hrud. 4.36)
nityaṁ hitāhāravihārasevī samīkṣyakārī viṣayeṣvasaktaḥ | dātā samaḥ satyaparaḥ kṣamāvānāptopasevī ca bhavatyarogaḥ॥ (Asht. Hrud. 4.36)
The qualities of food that should be looked for while selecting the daily food have been mentioned by ayurveda scholars. Ahara which is nutritious, right in quantity, snigdha (स्निग्धः । having appropriate amount of fats) and madhura rasa (मधुर रसः) dominant is believed to be beneficial to build and maintain strong health. Such ahara should be consumed on daily basis or in other words, the food that is recommended to be consumed on daily basis should have these qualities.
रोगोत्पत्तौ आहारः ॥ In development of diseases
Ahara (आहारः । Diet) and Vihara (विहारः । lifestyle) affects health of an individual. The causes of disease development are believed to be rooted in irregularities and mistakes of ahara and vihara. When these factors are of the gunas (गुणाः । nature) similar to doshas (दोषाः) [causing their aggravation] while opposite in gunas (गुणाः । nature) of that of dhatus (धातवः) [causing their depletion] diseases develop. This is regarded as the basis of knowledge about disease development and management according to Ayurveda. Therefore the role of ahara in diseases has been reiterated and emphasized multiple times in various context in Ayurveda literature. Acharya Charaka has opined that, the origin of life and diseases is Ahara i.e. food. Wholesome and unwholesome food articles are responsible for happiness and sorrow respectively.
आहारसम्भवं वस्तु रोगाश्चाहारसम्भवाः| हिताहितविशेषाच्च विशेषः सुखदुःखयोः ॥ (Char. Samh. 28.45)
āhārasambhavaṁ vastu rogāścāhārasambhavāḥ| hitāhitaviśeṣācca viśeṣaḥ sukhaduḥkhayoḥ ॥ (Char. Samh. 28.45)
Also, at some instances Ahara has been considered as the sole responsible factors in disease development and thus it has been advised to always eat wholesome food mindfully.
विविधादशितात् पीतादहिताल्लीढखादितात् | भवन्त्येते मनुष्याणां विकारा य उदाहृताः॥
तेषामिच्छन्ननुत्पत्तिं सेवेत मतिमान् सदा | हितान्येवाशितादीनि न स्युस्तज्जास्तथाऽऽमयाः॥ (Char. Samh. 28.23-24)
vividhādaśitāt pītādahitāllīḍhakhāditāt | bhavantyete manuṣyāṇāṁ vikārā ya udāhr̥tāḥ॥
teṣāmicchannanutpattiṁ seveta matimān sadā | hitānyevāśitādīni na syustajjāstathā''mayāḥ॥ (Char. Samh. 28.23-24)
Meaning: The diseases mentioned here (in this chapter) occur due to consumption of different types of unwholesome food articles viz eatables, drinkables. linctuses and chewables. Therefore the wise person who desires to avoid their occurrence should always eat only wholesome food (eatables, drinkables, chewables and linctuses) so as to keep check on such illnesses.
गर्भविवर्धने मातुः आहारः॥ In growth of new life in womb
From conception to delivery the baby is entirely dependent on mother for nourishment. The growth and development of baby inside the mother's womb occurs through the rasa dhatu of mother which is formed from ahara taken by mother according to Ayurveda. Thus ahara taken by mother during pregnancy and also during lactation is keenly monitored. It plays crucial role in the development of body of fetus.
.....मातुश्चाहाररसजैः क्रमात्कुक्षौ विवर्द्धते ॥ (Asht. Hrud. 1.2) 
....mātuścāhārarasajaiḥ kramātkukṣau vivarddhate ॥ (Asht. Hrud. 1.2)
आहारभेदाः॥ Ahara types
Various properties of Ahara have been mentioned in Ayurveda classics. These properties are described in terms of Panchamahabhutas, rasa and veerya of Ahara. While describing the properties, some types of Ahara have also been mentioned. Ahara is divided into 4 categories based on its form and method of consumption. These types of ahara are as follows,
- Bhakshya (भक्ष्यम्) : Food that can be eaten with mastication i.e. Hard and solid food
- Bhojya (भोज्यम्) : What may be eaten without masticaiton i.e. Solid food
- Lehya (लेह्यम्) : What can be licked i.e. Semisolid food
- Peya : What can be drunk i.e. Liquids
In this way, food articles on the basis of their physical nature have been divided into 4 types. Along with that, Ahara can also be categorized on the basis of its dominant properties e.g dominant mahabhuta or dominant rasa (रसः) etc. These types have significance from the point of view of digestion, transformation and end effects of it in the person who consumes it.
आहारद्रव्याणां भेदाः ॥ Types of ahara-dravyas
Although the ahara is categorised in 4 types based on its physical form, it can be divided in 2 groups depending on the properties of it core ingredients. These properties of ingredients are important because those decide the fate of this ahara and its effect on person's body after consumption. Also, this understanding helps to decide the appropriate quantity or portion of this ahara to be taken at a time in a person. Guru and Laghu are these 2 chief properties.
लघुः ॥ Laghu
The term Laghu means light or small. The ingredients which are easy for digestion and help to create the feeling of lightness, buoyancy in a body are identified as Laghu. Examples of such food articles are Rice, Green gram etc. Even if one consumes excess quantity of Laghu food articles, it does not cause as much trouble as the guru ahara can.
गुरुः ॥ Guru
Guru indicates that food article having this property will take more time to get completely digested. The agni (digestive fire) has to process it with more efforts than Laghu food. Such food articles should be consumed in less quantity for better digestion and avoid untoward side effects. Various milk products, starch rich food articles,black grams, meat etc fall under Guru category. Therefore it is necessary to control the portion of such food stuffs. 
आहारवर्गाः ॥ Ahara vargas
Ayurveda samhitas have categorized food items into various groups. Primarily the food is divided into liquid foods (द्रव-द्रव्याः । Drava dravya) and solid foods (घन द्रव्याः आहार द्रव्याः वाa hara dravya). Ahara dravyas (solid food) is further categorized into 8 groups and Drava drvyas (liquid food) divided into 4 groups. Altogether 12 groups of food items have been listed in Ayurveda and those are as follows.
|Sr No||Ahara Dravyas||Drava dravyas|
|1||Shooka Dhanya (शूकधान्य)||Toya varya (तोय वर्गः)|
|2||Shimbi Dhanya (शमीधान्य)||Ksheera varga (क्षीर वर्गः)|
|3||Mansa varga (मांस वर्गः)||Ikshu varga (इक्षु वर्गः)|
|4||Phala varga (फल वर्गः)||Taila varga (तैल वर्गः)|
|5||Shaka varga (शाक वर्गः)||Madya varga (मद्य वर्गः)|
|6||Krutanna varga (कृतान्न वर्गः)|
|7||Harita / Aharayogi varga (हरित/ आहारयोगी वर्गः)|
Various food articles have been grouped under these 12 categories. Their properties, effect on health and well-being have been critically studied and described in Ayurveda treatises.
युक्ताहार द्रव्य निर्धारणार्थे विचारः ॥ Factors to be considered while selecting food articles
The food articles should be selected on the basis of certain factors so that they do not disturb the equilibrium of body components. These factors are Desha, Kala and one's body (physical constitution of individual). Desha refers to the geographical condition/land while Kala means season. The food article that possess qualities which will balance the disturbances created by external factors like desha, kala and also which are suitable to maintain balance of bodily components should be selected. This helps in maintaining health and well-being.
देशकालात्मगुणविपरीतानां हि कर्मणामाहारविकाराणां च क्रियोपयोगः सम्यक्, सर्वातियोगसन्धारणम्, असन्धारणमुदीर्णानां च गतिमतां, साहसानां च वर्जनं, स्वस्थवृत्तमेतावद्धातूनां साम्यानुग्रहार्थमुपदिश्यते ॥ (Cha. Sha. 6.8)
deśakālātmaguṇaviparītānāṁ hi karmaṇāmāhāravikārāṇāṁ ca kriyopayogaḥ samyak, sarvātiyogasandhāraṇam, asandhāraṇamudīrṇānāṁ ca gatimatāṁ, sāhasānāṁ ca varjanaṁ, svasthavr̥ttametāvaddhātūnāṁ sāmyānugrahārthamupadiśyate ॥ (Cha. Sha. 6.8)
अनेकविधाः आहारभेदाः॥ Various properties and types of Ahara considered by Ayurveda
Ayurveda classics thoroughly discuss about Ahara and its effects on person. Ahara has been studied in multiple aspects by Ayurveda scholars. As a result, Ahara is classified into various types which actually describe its nature and help to understand its probable effect on body. Ayurveda vaidyas consider all these points while assessing patinets' current diet, health and then recommending a specific diet plan for an individual.
- 2 types- based on origin-Sthavara (स्थावर । Vegetarian), Jangama (जाङ्गम । Non-vegetarian)
- 6 types- based on Rasa- Madhura (मधुरः S weet), Amla (अम्लः । Sour), Lavana (लवणः । Salty), Katu (कटुः । Pungent), Titkta (तिक्तः । Bitter), Kashaya (कषायः । Astringent)
- 20 types- Based on properties like Hot, Cold, Unctuous, Dry, Soft, Hard etc
- Infinite types - Based on combinations, processing techniques etc.
आहारस्य अग्र्यगुणः ॥ Best Quality of Ahara
Ahara can have different qualities depending on its ingredients, processing method, taste and texture etc. However, among all other qualities the best quality of Ahara is believed to be its capability to provide satisfaction i.e. satiety. Satiety is also defined as absence of hunger.
Thus the food or ahara that fulfills one's hunger completely so that after eating that food no more feeling of hunger is experienced and the person is satisfied completely is said to be the best quality of Ahara. The ahara which is capable of fulfilling the nutritional needs as well as is desirable for that person can possess this quality.
ऋतुसात्म्य आहारः ॥ Seasonal ahara
According to Ayurveda, diet and daily activities of an individual are responsible to maintain or disturb the internal balance of bodily elements. Thus, if one can modify diet and lifestyle or activities according to changes in external environment, one can achieve good health and wellness.
तस्याशिताद्यादाहाराद्बलं वर्णश्च वर्धते| यस्यर्तुसात्म्यं विदितं चेष्टाहारव्यपाश्रयम्|| (Char. Samh. 5.3)
tasyāśitādyādāhārādbalaṁ varṇaśca vardhate| yasyartusātmyaṁ viditaṁ ceṣṭāhāravyapāśrayam|| (Char. Samh. 5.3)
Meaning: A person who knows the rutusatmya (ऋतुसात्म्यम् । getting accustomed to changes in diet and behavior according to seasons), practices such habits timely, and whose diet consists of various types of food articles (with properties such as अशितम्। ashita, पीतम्। pitta, लीढम्। lidha and खादितम्। khadita), has his strength and luster enhanced, and he leads a healthy, long life.
Guidelines on selection of food items are based on the taste of food. The tastes that are to be deliberately included or excluded from diet in a particular season have been explicitly mentioned by Ayurveda treatises. These recommendations are given in order to maintain the equilibrium of doshas (दोषाः), dhatus (धातवः) and malas (मलाः) in body in spite of change in the external environment. The guidelines given are in general applicable to all provided the person following those is healthy and devoid of any other disease.  In case of existing diseases or any kind of already present illness, selection of food as per season should be done after taking advice of a qualified vaidya (वैद्यः).
The general guidelines on selection or exclusion of food as per rutu (seasons) can be found in Rutucharya.
विरुद्ध आहारः॥ Viruddha ahara
The concept of Viruddha Ahara is exclusively found in Ayurveda. Viruddha Ahara literally means incompatible food. The food that after getting digested is transformed into such a form that is antagonistic to dhatus (body tissues) and thus can cause range of diseases, is known as Viruddha ahara. The effects of Viruddha ahara are believed to be comparable to those of toxins. Viruddha ahara is believed to create such a disequilibrium in the body components that it becomes extremely difficult for a physician to treat the imbalance. This disequilibrium is described in the terms of doshas in Ayurveda.
यत् किञ्चिद्दोषमास्राव्य न निर्हरति कायतः |
आहारजातं तत् सर्वमहितायोपपद्यते ॥ (Char. Samh. 26.85)
yat kiñciddoṣamāsrāvya na nirharati kāyataḥ |
āhārajātaṁ tat sarvamahitāyopapadyate ॥ (Char. Samh. 26.85)
Since dhatus (धातवः) are the building blocks and functional units, the substances having opposite nature to dhatus will be responsible for disturbing and destroying the structure and function of dhatus. This ultimately affect the life and thus death is also mentioned as one of the extremely dangerous effects of Viruddha ahara. Viruddha ahara is not a specific substance of food ingredient. It could be a combination of 2 individually safe substances, or a wrong time/place/quantity for eating a specific food article. 18 types of viruddha ahara have been described in Ayurveda.  Getting one's lifestyle and diet analysed by a registered Vaidya (वैद्यः । Ayurveda expert), identifying the incompatible foods and avoiding them is essential step in preventive medicine as disease management.
ग्राम्य आहारः ॥ Gramya Ahara
Gramya Ahara (ग्राम्य आहारः।) is a special category of such dietary habits and food stuffs, that adversely and directly affect one's strength, immunity, health and well-being. Ayurveda scholars were able to identify those dietary factors as well as lifestyle components which when consumed and practiced over time, can lead to all types of illnesses due to their direct effect of Dhatus (धातवः। vital body tissues). such dietary factors are known as Gramya Ahara while such lifestyle factors are called as Gramya vihara (ग्राम्य विहारः।). Ayurveda acharyas have advised each and every individual to refrain from such practices if one wants to achieve the best possible life.
पथ्य-अपथ्य विचारः ॥ Pathya- Apathya
Any Ayurveda treatment is incomplete without guidance on what to eat and what is to be avoided. These do's and dont's related to diet are termed as Pathya (पथ्यम् । Do's) and Apathya (अपथ्यम् । Dont's). Diet that is suitable for maintaining healthy status of individual is called as Pathyam (पथ्यम्) while the diet which is responsible for creating imbalances in body, causing harm to various channels of transporting body components and development of diseases is called as Apathyam.
पथ्यं-पथो अनपेतं यध्यच्चोक्तं मनसःप्रियम॥ (Char.Samh. 25.45)
pathyaṁ pathō'napētaṁ yadyaccōktaṁ manasaḥ priyam|
Meaning: The dietary articles and activities that do not adversely affect the body systems and are liked by the mind are regarded as pathya (wholesome).
Although Pathya changes as per the individual's Prakrti (प्रकृतिः ।constitution), diseases (रोगः), region (देशः), season (ऋतुः), balam (बलम् । strength) and multiple other factors, there are few food articles that are considered as 'Pathya' in general for any individual healthy or diseased. Same is the case for Apathya category of Ahara. Few pathya and apathya ahara substances are listed below as examples from food groups described in Ayurveda. Acharya Charaka says that the substances included in Pathya category are always beneficial for a person who consumes them while those in Apathya category are harmful than other substances of same category for anyone who consumes them.
|Ahara vargas (Food groups)||Pathya||Apathya|
|Shooka Dhanya (शूकधान्य)||Lohitashali (लोहितशाली)||Yavaka (यवकाः)|
|Shimbi Dhanya (शमीधान्य)||Mudga (मुद्ग)||Masha (माषाः)|
|Lavana varga (लवण वर्गः)||Saindhava (सैन्धवम्)||Ushara (उषरः)|
|Phala varga (फल वर्गः)||Mrudvika (मृद्विका)||Nikucha (निकुचः)|
|Dugdha varga (दुग्ध वर्गः)||Gavya dugdha (गव्य दुग्धम्)||Avi Dugdha (अवि दुग्धम्)|
|Matsya varga (मत्स्य वर्गः)||Rohit (रोहित मत्स्यः)||Chilichim (चिलिचिम)|
हिताहित-आहारस्य विपरितकारित्वे हेतवः ॥ Factors that can change the outcomes of favorable and unfavorable food
When the food is selected with caution based on the needs and suitability, it should ideally produce favorable effects and well-being. Similarly when any unsuitable food is consumed it should lead to adverse outcomes. However, that is not the case always. Not the the food article but also the some other associated factors are found equally important for the final outcome of the food displayed on body. Ayurveda acharyas have identified these factors discerningly and described their role in deciding the final outcome with examples. The factors that decide the final outcome of ahara are as follows,
- Matra (मात्रा) : Quantity/portion of food
- Kala (कालः): Time (Season/whether) of consumption of a specific food article
- Kriya (क्रिया): Food processing technique
- Bhumi (भूमिः): Region (Regional food diversity/culture suited to the local environment)
- Deha (देहः): Body type / size/ weight
- Dosha (दोषः): dominant dosha or dosha status specific to individual, disease, co-morbiditites
- Avastha of Purusha (पुरुष अवस्था): Age and pattern of doshas, dhatus specific to every age
भोजनार्थे योग्य कालः॥ Bhojana kala
Acharya Vagbhata in Ashtanga hrudayam (अष्टाङ्गहृदयम्) explains the right time to have food. It is recommended that one should have food when he experiences following signs in body.
- When bodily wastes like stools and urine have been passed out of body
- Belching that might occur is clear and there is no regurgitation with it
- When person has good appetite and desire to eat
- When there is unobstructed flow of vata
- Body feels light
दिनचर्यायाम् भोजनस्य कालः ॥ Bhojan kala in daily routine
Dinacharya refers to the ideal daily regime of the person which can maintain his health and wellness. The daily routine explained by Ayurveda scholars includes diet as an integral part of it. The right time of having food is mentioned after having explained all the cleansing process right up to the bath. Thus most importantly food is to be taken only after the wastes generated from previous day's metabolism are removed, body is cleansed and good appetite is observed.
आहार परिणमनम् वा पाचनम्॥ Digestion and transformation of food
Parinamana (परिणमनम्) means digestion and transformation. It is also called as Pachanam (पाचनम्). Ahara taken by a person is processed by Agni (अग्निः) located in koshta (कोष्ठम् । equivalent to gastrointestinal tract or gut). After this process, the processed part is divided into 2 parts. One part is known as sara (सारम्) i.e. essence and the other part is known as kitta (किट्टम्) i.e. waste. The rasa dhatu (रस धातुः) formed after the digestion process is called as sara (सारम्) of Ahara. On the other hand, vit (विट् । feces) and mutram (मूत्रम् । Urine) are formed as kitta (किट्टम् । wastes) of ahara according to the Ayurveda. Thus Rasa is known as sara while vit and mutra are known as kitta of ahara.
विण्मूत्रमाहारमलः सारः प्रागीरितो रसः ॥ (Sush. Samh. 46.528)
viṇmūtramāhāramalaḥ sāraḥ prāgīrito rasaḥ ॥ (Sush. Samh. 46.528)
All this transformation of food occurs in 3 steps. These are the transient phases of food during digestion inside the koshtha (कोष्ठम् । Gut). The entire process in discussed in depth in ayurveda treatises. At the end of 3 phases the digestion is supposed to be complete. In a nutshell, ahara after digestion becomes rasa dhatu which is then circulated all over the body and performs the function of nourishment. The wastes generated in formation of rasa dhatu are feces and urine which are excreted out of the body through proper channels. Agni plays the vital role in this entire process. Any disturbances in agni result in alteration in quality of rasa dhatu and wastes like vit and mutram. Changes in quality of these components lay foundation for development of any illness. Thus parinamana (परिणमनम्) or pachanam (पाचनम्) of ahara has been given tremendous importance in Ayurveda.
आहार परिणमन कालः ॥ Ahara parinaman kala
Ahara parinaman kala means the time required for complete digestion and transformation of the food. In Ashtanga Hrudayam , Acharya Vagbhata has explained that there are varied opinions of scholars about this time. Few scholars suggest that the food is transformed completely in a ahoratra (24 hours/ 1 daytime+ 1 night-time) while some opine that it takes 6 days to get transformed. There are other scholars of opinion that the food gets transformed completely and reaches upto the last dhatu in the sequence i.e. Shukra after a period of a month (28 days). Thus Ahara is transformed into Rasa dhatu in a period of a day while it takes a period of almost a week or a month to show its effect on the last Shukra dhatu. This knowledge is applied while deciding a timeline for treatment, diet and planning other treatment modalities.
आहारस्य अजीर्णे सामान्यहेतवः ॥ Factors that affect proper digestion of food
Ayurveda acharyas have identified few factors that can potentially disturb the process of Ahara parinamanam. These factors are mentioned below,
- Vishamashanam विषमाशनम्
- Vega sandharana सन्धारणम्
- Swapnaviparyaya स्वप्नविपर्ययम्
- Psycholagical status of person who takes food: ईर्ष्याभयक्रोधपरिक्षतेन लुब्धेन शुग्दैन्यनिपीडितेन | प्रद्वेषयुक्तेन च सेव्यमानमन्नं
It is opined that, when a person consumes food in this manner, however wholesome suitable and light food it might be but, it does not get digested and transformed properly even of it taken on right time. Therefore it is highly recommended to avoid these factors that impede the ahara parinamana and lay foundation for illness.
आहारपरिणामकराः भावाः ॥ Aharaparinamakara bhava
Ahara parinamana refers to the digestion of food and its transformation into rasa dhatu which then further provides nutrition to entire body. If the digestion and transformation of food is not proper, the undigested form of food in the rasa dhatu (रस धातुः) can cause multiple diseases. Aharaparinamkara Bhavas (आहारपरिणामकराः भावाः) are the factors responsible for transformation of food into bio-available nutrients which are capable of building and repairing body tissues. These factors are responsible for proper digestion of food so that most of the nutrients from that food required by body are absorbed and utilized. If function of any one of these factors is disturbed, the food undergoing the process of digestion is not processed well and instead of fulfilling the nutritional requirements of body, the improperly digested food becomes the cause for multiple ailments. Therefore Ayurveda lays high importance on well regulated functioning of all these food transforming factors to achieve health and well-being.
आहारपरिणामकरास्त्विमे भावा भवन्ति| तद्यथा- ऊष्मा, वायुः, क्लेदः, स्नेहः, कालः, समयोगश्चेति ॥ (Char. Samh. 6.14) āhārapariṇāmakarāstvime bhāvā bhavanti| tadyathā- ūṣmā, vāyuḥ, kledaḥ, snehaḥ, kālaḥ, samayogaśceti ॥ (Char. Samh. 6.14)
Meaning: Factors responsible for transformation of the food are, Ushma (Heat), Vayu (Air), Kleda (Moisture), Sneha (oiliness or lubrication), Kala (time) and Samayoga (appropriate combination of all these factors for every individual).
Ushma (उष्मा) means heat is responsible for digestion, Vayu (वायुः) helps move the food forward in digestive system, kleda (क्लेदः) helps in loosening the bulk of food, sneha (स्नेहः) softens the food consumed, kala (कालः) is required to complete this process and produce the desirable outcome from it, samayoga(समयोगः) means appropriate combination of these factors helps to establish equilibrium in the formed Dhatus.
सम्यक् परिणमतस्य आहारस्य लाभाः ॥ Significance of proper digestion of food to obtain good health, strength and long life
Ahara is indispensable for survival and maintenance of shariram in this loka (world). Thus it is highly regarded. However, Ahara can not be utilized as it is by body building tissues. In order to acquire all the benefits from ahara i.e. longevity, strength, lusture, nourishment, growth, ojas, health and well-being, it is necessary that ahara gets completely digested and transformed properly into rasa dhatu.  The completely transformed ahara can become the part of this body provided it is of the similar properties and not contrary to that of body tissues. And when such ahara similar in quality to that of body tissues nourishes the body components, all the desired benefits from ahara can be obtained.
परिणमतस्त्वाहारस्य गुणाः शरीरगुणभावमापद्यन्ते यथास्वमविरुद्धाः; विरुद्धाश्च विहन्युर्विहताश्च विरोधिभिः शरीरम् (Char. Samh. 6.16) pariṇamatastvāhārasya guṇāḥ śarīraguṇabhāvamāpadyante yathāsvamaviruddhāḥ; viruddhāśca vihanyurvihatāśca virodhibhiḥ śarīram (Char. Samh. 6.16)
On the contrary when the transformed ahara possesses qualities that are opposite in nature of that of body tissues which build strength, it can not nourish and replenish dhatus but lead to disease development. Thus proper pachanam (पाचनम्) of ahara is highly important in order to stay healthy, fit and strong. This pachanam is controlled by multiple factors. The portion size or quantity of food is one of those. Ayurveda acharyas have also described other factors that should be closely monitored to reap the superior goodness from Ahara in all aspects of life . These factors are called as Ashta Ahara vidhi visheshayatanas (अष्टौ आहारविधि विशेषायतनानि). 
Ayurveda believes that, Bala (बलम् Strength) and Ayu (आयुः longevity) of a person are dependent on one's ahara. Therefore assessing one's food (intake) capacity could be a good criterion to assess one's strength and longevity as well. Thus, assessment of this parameter is one part of clinical examination of a patient which a Ayurveda practitioner performs. It is believed that, not just the food intake capacity but also the capacity to digest the consumed food is also equally important to get rough idea of one's strength and longevity. Ayurveda gives high importance to the digestion and transformation of ingested food and therefore is is considered as the integral part of examination of a patient.
आहारस्य योग्या मात्रा॥ Ahara matra
The portion size or quantity of ahara taken at a time is called as Ahara matra (मात्रा). The right quantity of ahara is believed to be crucial for smooth digestion and formation of good quality of rasa dhatu. There are certain factors that can help to decide the right quantity for given. The guna or innate property of food article, constitution of the individual, agni of the person, proportion of the solids-liquids are some of the important factors. How one can decide if he has consumed food in right amount can be decided by guidelines given by Ayurveda treatises. Some of them are mentioned below.
अग्निनुसारिणि मात्रा॥ Based on agni
The quantity of the food to be taken should be decided based on the strength of the agni (अग्निः) of the individual. This is the ideal approach. This simply means one should consume as much food as one can properly digest and does not suffer from any digestion related issues thereafter.
मात्राशी स्यात्| आहारमात्रा पुनरग्निबलापेक्षिणी| (Char. Samh. 5.3)  mātrāśī syāt| āhāramātrā punaragnibalāpekṣiṇī| (Char. Samh. 5.3)
द्रव्यानुसारिणि मात्रा॥ Based on property of food article
The food articles that are guru (heavy for digestion or take long time to get digested) should be taken half their satiety level experienced by the consumer while foods that are laghu (light on digestion) can be taken upto the satisfaction.
गुरूणामर्धसौहित्यं लघूनां तृप्तिरिष्यते | द्रवोत्तरो द्रवश्चापि न मात्रागुरुरिष्यते (Sush. Samh. 46.495)  gurūṇāmardhasauhityaṁ laghūnāṁ tr̥ptiriṣyate | dravottaro dravaścāpi na mātrāgururiṣyate (Sush. Samh. 46.495)
कुक्षिविभागानुसारिणि मात्रा॥ Based on volume or quantity
Ayurveda acharyas give guidelines for deciding right quantity or portion of food that is being consumed. This has been described on the basis of physical form of food and the space available within imaginary partitions inside the stomach. If we consider that the stomach is divided into 3 parts then, for solid food and liquids one compartment each is to be utilized while a sufficient space i.e. one third space is to be kept vacant for movement of doshas which participate in the process of digestion. Moral of the entire consideration is that one should not over-stuff the stomach with food. solids and liquids both should be taken in balanced proportion and at the same time some part of your stomach should be kept empty to facilitate easy digestion.
देह-प्रकृतिनुसारिणि मात्रा॥ Prakrti and ahara matra
Different doshas have different impact on the status of the agni. This decides the appetite of the person and how much one can eat. Thus while describing prakrti, Ayurveda treatises mention about the appetite pattern of individuals having specific dosha's dominance due to prakrti (प्रकृतिः). The relation of dosha prakruti and appetite is given below.
- Kapha (कफ)- The people with kapha prakrti eat alpa (अल्पम् less). 
- Pitta (पित्त)- Those with Pitta dominant constitution eat a lot and also frequently.
- Vata (वात)- Those with vata dominant constitution tend to eat less and in small quantities.
सम्यक मात्रया भुक्तस्य लक्षणानि॥ How do I understand I have eaten in right quantity?
Ayurveda acharyas have given some simple clues to understand whether the person has eaten in right quantity. Since every individuals capacity to eat is different and it varies based on multiple factors, the hints to understand right quantity for everyone are based on symptoms the person experiences and not in weight or any measures. According to Acharya Charaka, the person has eaten the food in right quantity when it,
- Does not cause undue pressure on stomach
- Does not cause obstruction in the proper functioning of the circulatory system
- Does not exert any pressure on the sides of the chest
- Does not leave a feeling of excessive heaviness in the abdomen,
- Pacifies the sense organs and energizes them
- Pacifies hunger and quenches thirst
- Does not result in difficulty in performing activities such as standing, sitting, walking, exhaling, inhaling, laughing, and talking
- Appears to be easy to digest when taken in the morning and evening hours.
Such a quantity of food helps in enhancing strength and complexion, gets absorbed better and nourishes the body.
आहार-अनुपानम्॥ Ahara anupana
Anupana is the exclusive concept from pharmacology and dietetics in Ayurveda. The term anupana refers to adjuvant or vehicle or carrier or a drug/food. It is usually a liquid which is given just after or along with some drug/food. Ahara anupana thus refers to the adjuvant of a food article which is deliberately introduced in order to get maximum benefits from that food and reduce its unwanted effects on one's health.
In charaka Samhita, the right anupana of ahara is said to be opposite in properties of that food but at the same time it should not be opposite (incompatible) to the dhatus. Such anupana is believed to increase energy levels, provide nourishment and strength in body on taking that food. It helps in proper digestion and transformation of that food in one's body so that one can get maximum benefits from it.  Subsequently it helps to fulfill the nutritional requirements of the body through the particular diet.
अनुपानं हितं युक्तं तर्पयत्याशु मानवम्|
सुखं पचति चाहारमायुषे च बलाय च||३२६||
Meaning: The right anupana of ahara energizes the person. It helps in smooth digestion of the food and ultimately increases strength and longevity.
Few examples of aharanupana are given in the classical literature. Selection of these anupanas are based on the properties of that food, the health condition or desired health effect for that person etc. For vata dominant conditions and food, anupana that is snigdha (unctuous) and ushna (hot) in properties is chosen. Various types of fermented preparations made from herbs can prove to be good choice of anupana. However this is to be started under the guidance a qualified Vaidya in order to avoid untoward side effects.
अष्टौ आहारविधि विशेषायतनानि॥ Ashta Ahara vidhi vishesha ayatanani
Ahara is the chief source of nourishment for sustenance of life. It provides the strength , energy, and nutrition necessary for smooth functioning of entire body-mind system. However, all these benefits from ahara can be obtained when it is consumed in a specific manner. According to Ayurveda, How we eat is equally important as What we eat. The method of eating has significant impact on the final outcome of consuming a specific food. Therefore, Ayurveda also gives significant importance to the methods of eating which can be considered as the basic dietetic rules.
There are few factors which need to be considered before taking the food in order to obtain maximum benefits from the food that is being consumed. There are 8 such factors and those are collectively known as Ashta Ahara vidhi visheshayatanani in Ayurveda.
तत्र खल्विमान्यष्टावाहारविधिविशेषायतनानि भवन्ति; तद्यथा- प्रकृतिकरणसंयोगराशिदेशकालोपयोगसंस्थोपयोक्त्रष्टमानि (भवन्ति) ॥ (Char. Samh. 1.21) tatra khalvimānyaṣṭāvāhāravidhiviśeṣāyatanāni bhavanti; tadyathā- prakr̥tikaraṇasaṁyogarāśideśakālopayogasaṁsthopayoktraṣṭamāni (bhavanti) ॥ (Char. Samh. 1.21)
The meaning of the term ‘Ashta Ahara vidhi visheshayatanani’
Th can be split into 5 parts as below
- Ashta (अष्ट)- Means number 8
- Ahara (आहार)- Food
- Vidhi (विधिः)- Method or manner
- Vishesha (विशेषः)- Specific effect i.e. beneficial or harmful
- Ayatanani (आयतनानि)- Seat/ grounds/ responsible factors
Collectively it can be understood as ‘the method of eating food based on 8 specific grounds’
Therefore, in order to understand or select the right way to consume food for any person, it is necessary to consider these 8 factors. When food is taken considering these factors, one can get all desired benefits from right chosen food without getting any untoward effects. Prakriti (प्रकृतिः), Karana (करण), Samyoga (संयोगः), Rashi (राशि), Desha (देश), Kala (काल), Upayoga-samstha (उपयोगसंस्था) and Upyokta (उपयोक्ता) are these 8 factors.
8 factors to be considered while taking food are as below
- Prakriti- Qualitative characteristic of food
- Karana- Processing of food
- Samyoga- Combination/ mixing
- Rashi- The Quantity
- Desha- Habitat
- Kala- Time & Seasonal variation
- Upayoga-Samstha- Classical Ayurvedic Rules of eating
- Upayokta -The person who takes the food/ User
The right way to eat any food presented in front of you should be decided after considering these 8 factors to get best possible benefits from it.
This includes points like the quantity to be consumed, accompaniments to be chosen while taking that food, time to eat that food etc. This provides guideline for healthy eating practices. It is believed that, food consumed after considering these factors and implementing these rules provides all benefits and does not become the cause for ailments. On the other hand, food can be the cause for multiples diseases when it is consumed without considering these factors.
Ahara is believed to be the best among those things which are essential for maintenance of livelihood. Since it is such an extremely important lifestyle factors, there are some rules related to its consumption and some basic guidelines. Some of those are listed below,
- Eating in excess quantity of Ahara is the chief cause of Ama generation (Foundational stone for disease development)
- Eating in quantity as per one's Agni's strength is the best way to kindle the digestive fire i.e. Agni
- Eating food that is compatible for one's body type and suitable or habitual to one is the best practice one can adopt
- Eating on right time (timely eating) is the best method to stay healthy
- Eating once a day is best for smooth digestive functioning
- Staying food deprived or empty stomach is life threatening or reduces life span
- Guru Ahara (heavy to digest) eating is the chief cause for indigestion
- Eating unbalanced food (Only one rasa dominant or only one type of food) is the prime cause of malnourishment
- Overeating (taking next food before the previous one is digested) is the primary cause of dysfunction of grahani (chief digestive organ)
- Untimely eating is the leading cause of agni disturbances/ irregularities
- Eating Viruddha ahara (incompatible food) is the primary cause of developing nindita rogas e.g. Obesity, gigantism, dwarfism, pigmentation disorders etc
आहारविधिः॥ How to eat
Aharavidhi in Ayurveda refers to the code of eating food. It includes guidelines on eating food for getting best results from food that is consumed. These guidelines are advantageous for healthy as well as sick individuals. These should be followed even if the best suitable food is to be consumed which is supposed to give favorable outcomes. The basic guidelines are given below,
- Eat when fresh and hot
- Eat unctuous food (food articles that lack unctuousness or fats are prohibited)
- Eat in appropriate quantity
- Consume food when the previous food is digested
- Take the food which is not contradictory in veerya (वीर्यम् potency and thermal energy) i.e fulfilling basic needs of the body
- Eat at right place (in terms of hygiene, environment, availability etc)
- Eat when all necessary accessories for eating are available
- Do not eat at a very fast pace or very slowly
- While eating one should try not to talk and laugh
- Concentrate on food while eating and pay due regard to oneself
आहारद्रव्याणां धारणार्थे पात्राणि॥ Metal for vessel to store specific aharadravyas
Ayurveda gives keen attention to not just the food and methods to consume it but also to the method of serving it and storing it. It is believed that all these factors contribute in the final effect of the food that is being consumed. It is known that, material of the container in which the food is served and stored affects the quality of the food. In Sushruta Samhita, one can find the guidelines on the selection of vessel for storage of a specific type of a food recipe. For example ghee (clarified butter of cow milk) is advised to be stored in a vessel made up of black iron while rice gruel is to be stored in a vessel of silver. It is said that when these food articles are stored and served in such specific metal's vessel they give add-on health benefits. 
|Sr No||Food Articles||Material/type of the vessel|
|1||Ghrutam (घृतम् Ghee)||Black iron|
|2||Peya (पेया Rice gruel), Liquids, Juices/Soups||Silver|
|3||Fruits and other solid foods||Plant leaves|
|4||Dried and marinated food||Gold|
|5||Spicy, Salty, Sour||Stone|
|7||Alcohol, Sour/fermented drinks||Clay/Mud, Glass|
|8||Raga, Shadava, Sattaka (राग, षाडव, स्सट्टक- Traditional sour preparations-)||Vaidurya (वैडूर्य types of a precious stone)|
भोजनपात्रे विविधानां आहारद्रव्याणां स्थापन/स्थानम्॥ Arrangement of food stuffs in a plate
In most of the cultures across Bharata, traditionally the food is served in a plate in a specific manner. There exists a sequence and specific place in in a plate for a specific food article. The roots of this type of serving food are found to be in the classical treatises on Ayurveda. In Sushruta Samhita, the arrangement of food articles in a plate has been clearly mentioned. This description on food arrangement also throws light on the variety of food articles on ancient Bharatiya's plate, traditional balanced diet and probably a secret to good health from ancient wisdom. According to Ayurveda the food should be arranged and served in the following manner.
On a clean, presentable, big size plate,
- सूद, सूपौदनम्- Soup/Dal, curry, rice, broth should be placed at the front end of plate
- सुसंस्कृतान प्रदेहान्- Solid food should be placed at the front place near soups
- फलानि, भक्ष्याः- Fruits, vegetables, meat is to be served on the right hand side of the person on a plate
- प्रद्रवाणि- रसाः, पानीयम्, पानकं, पयः- Other liquids, pickles, gruels should be served on the left hand side on the plate
- गुडविकारान्, राग, षाडव, सट्टकान्- Sweets, confectioneries should be served in the middle on the plate.
In this way the food articles should be arranged and served on plate.
आहार्स्योपरि अर्हाणि पञ्चकर्माणि॥ Panchakarmas after ahara
Panchakarmas (पञ्चकर्माणि) are the shodhana karmas (शोधन कर्माणि cleansing therapies) described in Ayurveda. They are used in specific dosha dominant illnesses where the basic dosha pacifying medicines wont prove effective enough to manage the illness. Also these procedures are implemented under medical supervision in specific health conditions in eligible individuals at appropriate time. There are stringent rules regarding their implementation. In almost all the panchakarmas and associates procedures, there are specific rules regarding ahara. Usually the chief panchakarmas are not done after the intake of food. Also there exists a specific diet plan which should be followed before and after panchakarmas. However, there exists one type of minor procedure under upakarmas (उपकर्माणि - minor cleansing therapies) which is advised to be carried out after having food and it is known as Dhumapana (धूमपानम्). Dhumapana involves inhaling and exhaling the medicated smoke for cleansing excess kapha and vata accumulated in upper body. One of the type of it is Madhyama (मध्यम - moderate) Dhumapana. It is advised that one can take this kind of dhumapana after having food. There are other suitable times for dhumpana mentioned also.
आहारस्य महाभेषजत्वम्॥ Ahara as medicine
Various diseases develop due to intake of inappropriate and unwholesome ahara (food). Therefore it is counted as one of the causative factors for diseases. But at the same time, appropriate changes in such food articles and their consumption manners can also cure these diseases. Therefore, Ahara is believed to be the equally consequential medicine in Ayurveda. Administration of right diet plan in a patient with any disease gives fast relief and many a time offers permanent cure. Thus Ayurveda Vaidya always recommends do's and dont's in Ahara while giving treatment for any disease. These are known as Pathyas & Apathyas.
चिकित्साभेदः ॥ Medicine category
Chikitsa(चिकित्सा) i.e. treatment is said to be of 3 types in Ayurveda literature. Daivavyapashraya (दैवव्यपाश्रया), Yuktivyapashraya (युक्तिव्यपाश्रया) and Satvavajaya (सत्वावजया). Among these 3 types, use of wholesome food articles and administration of diet plan is counted under the Yuktivyapashraya type of a chikitsa.
युक्तिव्यपाश्रयं- पुनराहारौषधद्रव्याणां योजना.. (Char. Samh. 11.54) yuktivyapāśrayaṁ- punarāhārauṣadhadravyāṇāṁ yojanā.. (Char. Samh. 11.54)
आहार एव औषधम् ॥ The only medicine in certain conditions
Ahara is the only medicine to regain strength during recovery from diseases. Many acute severe or chronic diseases affect the person in such a way that the person recovering from them becomes weak, looses strength and remains incompetent to perform routine activities. In many instances the strength of the patient is lost due to the strong medicines used for treatment of the disease which in turn make the person weak. In such conditions Ayurveda scholars have identified and emphasized the role of ahara as medicine. In spite of using any medicine to boost strength, it is advised to use different types of food recipes that will boost energy and strength. In such cases, ghee, meat soup, milk, soups/broths etc.
भेषजक्षपिते पथ्यमाहारैरेव बृंहणम्|....
..तथा स लभते शर्म युज्यते चायुषा चिरम्||२३|| Cha.Su. 16.22-23
bheṣajakṣapite pathyamāhāraireva br̥ṁhaṇam|....
..tathā sa labhate śarma yujyate cāyuṣā ciram||23|| Cha.Su. 16.22-23
Going further the benefit of administering such diet in diseases individuals, Ayurveda acharyas have mentioned that, it helps to balance the the body-mind-energy complex and increase the longevity.
रोगनिवारणे आहारस्य कार्यम्॥ Role of ahara in management of diseases
Any medicine used to treat a roga (disease) in Ayurveda, is believed to act chiefly on doshas and dhatus. It helps to re-establish the equilibrium of these components responsible for laying the foundation of disease. Samanya vishesha siddhanta is commonly used to select the dravyas (medicinal substances) to treat that disease. Therefore when ahara is to be used to manage a certain ailment or in addition to medicines, food articles, recipes and combinations are selected which will help to reduce the aggravated doshas, increase the depleted dhatus etc. Since Ahara and shariram as well as its component like doshas and dhatus are also panchabhautika in nature, 5 elements are the basis of this type of activity of ahara. 5 mahabhutas in ahara help to increase or reduce the disturbed 5 mahabhutas in shariram.
अनया चोक्त्या आहारः शरीरगतानां भावानां समानगुणानां गुणद्वारेण वर्द्धनहेतुः,विपरीत गुणानां च क्षयहेतुः इति प्रतिपादयति ----
यथास्वं ते च पुष्णन्ति पक्वा भूतगुणान् पृथक्| पार्थिवाः पार्थिवानेव शेषाः शेषांश्च देहगान् (Asht. Hrud. 3.60)
anayā coktyā āhāraḥ śarīragatānāṁ bhāvānāṁ samānaguṇānāṁ guṇadvāreṇa varddhanahetuḥ,viparīta guṇānāṁ ca kṣayahetuḥ iti pratipādayati ----
yathāsvaṁ te ca puṣṇanti pakvā bhūtaguṇān pr̥thak| pārthivāḥ pārthivāneva śeṣāḥ śeṣāṁśca dehagān (Asht. Hrud. 3.60)
विविधाः औषधी पाककृतयः॥ Specific recipes in specific diseases
The subject of food can not end without recipes. Ayurveda acharya in their treatises have not missed this extremely important aspect of administering food. At many instances they have described recipes of medicinal food articles which would be beneficial for intake in special health conditions. Various recipes have been designed in such a way that not just the food ingredient in it but also its processing method will be adding quality to that recipe which will be desired in that specific health conditions. There are certain classical treatises like Kshemakutuhalam (क्षेमकुतुहलम्) that are entirely dedicated for describing ancient traditional and healthy recipes which have basis of Ayurveda and were commonly followed in Bharata in ancient times. One can find the mention of Sanyawa (संयावः Haluwa), Ghewara (घेवरम् a type of jalebi) and many such interesting preparations in Ayurveda treatises in the context of management of diseases. For example, in the management of certain Shirorogas (शिरोरोगाः diseases of head & neck), use of Sanyawa, Madhumastaka (मधुमस्तक), Ghrutapoora (घृतपूर ghewara) etc has been advocated.  Similarly in certain rogas like Jwara(ज्वरः) Pandu (पाण्डु) use of soups of Mudga (मुद्ग Green gram), Masura (मसूर), Chanaka (चणक), Makushthaka (मकुष्ठक) has been recommended in aharakala (आहारकालम् right time of having food). 
In this way, Ayurveda describes the Ahara, its significance, its types, guidelines for food intake, its role in causing diseases and also its role in management of diseases in depth. Ahara has been given paramount importance when the matter of the life comes forward. Owing to Ahara's crucial role in maintaining the life, one must take utmost precautions while taking food. One should not indulge in intake of unwholesome food out of greed or ignorance. The wholesome food taken in appropriate manner is the key to healthy and long life.
- Shabdakalpadruma Ahara
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyayam 11 Sutram 35)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 7 Sutra 52)
- Charaka samhita online (Sutra Sthanasutra Chapter 11.The Three Desires of Life and important triads sutram 35)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 28 Sutram 41)
- Sushruta Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 46 Sutra 526)
- Sushruta Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 46 Sutra 526)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutra 59)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 27 Sutras 349-51)
- Available from charakasamhitaonline.com
- Sushruta Samhita (Chikitsasthanam Adhyaya 24 Sutra 68-69)
- Charaka Samhita (Chikitsasthanam Adhyaya 24 Sutram 59-60)
- Available from charakasamhitaonline.com
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 25 Sutra 31)
- Sushruta Samhita (Sutrasthnam Adhyaya 46 Sutra 3)
- Sushruta Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 14 Sutra 3)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 21 Sutra 51)
- Charaka Samhita (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 6 Sutra 12)
- Charaka Samhita (Chiktsasthanam Adhyaya 15 Sutra 3-4)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Chikitsasthanam Adhyaya 10 Sutra 79)
- Sushrut Samhita (Sutrastanam Adhyaya 15 Sutra 19)
- Charaka Samhita (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 6 Sutra 13)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 11 Sutram 36)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutra 78)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 4 Sutram 36)
- Sushruta Samhita (Chikitsasthanam Adhyaya 24 Sutram 98)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutram 44)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 28 Sutra 45)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 28 Sutras 23-24)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 1 Sutra 2)
- Dalhana Commentary On Sushruta Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 14 Sutram 3)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 5 Sutram 5)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 5, 6)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 26 Sutras 6-7)
- Charaka Samhita (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 6 Sutra 8)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 25 Sutra 36)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 25 Sutram 40)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 5 Sutra 3)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutra 2)
- Commentary of Arundatta On Ashtanaga Hrudayam (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutram 57)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 7 Sutram 29)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 26 Sutra 85)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 26 Sutra 81)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 7 Sutra 40-42)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 25 Sutra 45)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 25 Sutra 38)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 25 Sutra 30-32)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 8 Sutram 55)
- Sushruta Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 46 Sutra 528)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutra 65-66)
- Sushruta Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 46 Sutra 500-501)
- Charaka Samhita (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 6 Sutra 14)
- Charaka Samhita (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 6 Sutra 16-17)
- Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 2 Sutra 4)
- Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 8 Sutra 94)
- Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 8 sutra 120)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 5 sutra 3)
- Sushruta Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 46 Sutram 495)
- Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 2 Sutram 3)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutra 101)
- Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 8 Sutra 97-98 )
- Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 2 Sutram 6)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 27 Sutra 319-26)
- Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 1 Sutram 21)
- Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 1 Sutram 24)
- Sushruta Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 46 Sutras 449-457)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 21 Sutra 6)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 11 Sutra 54)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutra 60)
- Sushruta Samhita (Uttaratantram Adhyaya 26 Sutras 37-38)
- Sushruta Samhita (Uttaratantram Adhyaya 39 Sutra 150-151)