So Why Ayurveda, Yogic & FODMAP Diet Recommends No Onion No Garlic?
As a Bangali (Bengali) it is not easy to avoid onion and garlic in the kitchen. Especially when everyone in your family thinks flavour comes when the base of a curry, stir fry or stew is made with onion, garlic and ginger. I, myself loved few pieces raw onion with my food for the longest time. However as my knowledge in alternative medicine progressed I learned apart from ginger – onion and garlic are not favoured in many cultures and healing diets around the world. The infamous onion, garlic, leeks, and chives are from the allium family and they have a strong pungent flavour. These flavours are popular mostly in ‘meat/fish eating cultures’ as they can easily hide the ‘gamy taste’ or ‘fishy taste’ in meat and fish.
At my first job at a vegetarian restaurant in London, England I was made aware that there are meals that were prepared for those who did not eat onion and garlic for religious or cultural reasons. Later I came to know Yogi’s also do not prefer onion and garlic in their meals. In many traditional Ayurvedic Cooking onions and garlic are used in less amounts, instead more ginger is used. That doesn’t mean Ayurveda recommends a diet completely void of onion and garlic but during certain meal preparation they are not used as much as in regular cooking. It also depend who, where and for whom the meal is being cooked. In Hindu religion many devotees do not eat onion and garlic simply because they cannot be served to the God’s.
In the Western society a very popular ‘Fodmap’ diet it also excludes onion and garlic in order to combat Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
There is also a connection with imbalanced gut and brain health with consumption of garlic and onion regularly in your diet.
So I wanted to find out why is it that some culture, religion, and healing modality did not prefer onion and garlic despite many healing benefits of both of these spices? Here are some of my discoveries – you will understand the spiritual reasons as well as the scientific reasons for not over doing onion and garlic in your meals.
‘Low/No Onion and Garlic’ in Ayurveda: In ancient times, Ayurveda looked into food based on taste and guna’s. Ayurveda defines nutritional properties of food based on six tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent as well as their Guna’s or qualities – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Onion and garlic are considered to be Tamasic and Rajasic by nature. Meaning they are pungent foods that increase heat, and bile in the body. The ones who followed a more spiritual path or who were considered the learned Ayurvedic practitioner or teachers (carrier of information for better human development) did not consume onions and garlic as they lead to ignorance, lethargy, anger, aggression, over stimulation of the senses, increase in sexual desire and anxiety. Rajasic foods are known to create unstable intellect, and over stimulation of the senses hence they disturb focus and presence of mind.
According to Ayurveda both onions and garlic can act as blood purifiers. However onion is classified as a tamasic food and garlic because of it medicinal and heating qualities are considered as rajasic food. Garlic is pungent and drying is quality and carries this heating energetic effect throughout the GI tract. Interestingly garlic can improve the quality of semen and reduce mucus from the GI tract. Therefore garlic can be consumed by Kapha and Vata types individual but not by Pitta. However raw garlic is not recommended for Vata quite possibly because it has an impact on focus and attention.
Onions are sweet and pungent tasting however they have a cooling energetics. Therefore, it usually has a cooling effect on the digestive tract which in turn inhibits proper digestion. Due to this cooling effect raw onions are not a preferred food for Vata type individuals.
Due to their healing benefits – onion and garlic are used more as medicine in Ayurveda than food. It is recommended to avoid onion and garlic for individuals who are Pitta Dosha.
‘No Onion, No Garlic’ in Yogic Diet: Yogi’s do not consume onion and garlic as these foods can stimulate passion (Rajasic in nature) and increase ignorance (Tamasic in nature) – thus interfere with their meditation practices. Yogi’s tend to consume more of a Sattvic diet like the Jain’s. A Sattvic diet comprises of fresh/ripe fruits, vegetables (apart from onion and garlic), herbs, dairy, grains and legumes.
‘No Onion, No Garlic’ to avoid Physiological Effects: Onion and garlic contains enzyme that can cause repulsive breath, odour from perspiration and bowels. They can also make us cry when chopping and dicing! Some people complain brain fog effect, attention deficit disorder or experience minor headaches after consuming too much garlic. If you have low grade headache or attention deficit disorder then take off garlic from your meals for a minimum 2-3 weeks to monitor the impact. If you feel the difference after three weeks then consider lowering or eliminating onion and garlic from your diet.
‘No Onion, No Garlic’ in Jain Cuisine: The followers of the Jain culture and philosophy consume a strict vegetarian diet that is driven by spiritual beliefs. Apart from following a vegetarian diet, they also completely avoid eating onion, garlic, eggplant and root vegetables because when root vegetables are pulled out from the earth. The Jain’s believe when you pull out root vegetables from the earth, it hurts the microorganism’s that are part of these plants, hence causing injury to those organisms. Additionally some of the root vegetables are considered ‘living’ as they have the ability to sprout. As they follow a diet based on Ahimnsa or non-violence they prefer not eating onion and garlic which can easily sprout and is pulled out from the earth disturbing the ecology.
The Jain diet is also known as ‘Sattvic Diet,” meaning a diet that encourages human’s to eat foods that cause happiness, lightness and are of purest qualities. They are the most healing foods and balance all three doshas. Onions and garlic are NOT a part of Sattvic diet; on the contrary they are Tamasic and Rajasic in nature. Tamasic are substances that can cause darkness, lethargy and a putrid smell. Rajasic foods can cause over stimulation, generate excess energy and heat in the body.
No Onion, No Garlic’ in Buddhism: In Chinese literature onion, garlic, leeks, chives and asafoetida (hing) are considered ‘Hun’ vegetables. Hun vegetables/seasonings are strong smelling spices that are used to season the meat/fish or else meat/fish will have their odor and taste off putting. Therefore the Hun seasonings are not allowed near the temples for many reasons. For example, they cannot greet guests, take part in group activities or chant sutras in temples with bad breath, as the odor will offend or cause discomfort to others. The heating qualities of these foods may cause anger, aggression, temperament, irritability or over excitement. Especially when eaten raw. During group activities if people who ate those foods, perspire then the smell will come from their bodies/skin as well and offend others who are near them. When eaten cooked they arouse passion by stimulating the sexual desire. In both cases the practitioners or the Priests may offend others with their over stimulated behaviour which in turn will cause anger or disappointment in the visitors as well.
Islamic Point of View on Garlic, Onion and Leeks: The allium family vegetables are not forbidden in Islam. However group prayers and entry to mosques or masjids are not preferred when someone ate onions, garlic and leeks prior to congregation. It is believed that Angels do not come near you when you have strong odor or bad breath while praying.
‘No Onion, No Garlic’ in FODMAP Diet: Researcher’s found that eating certain carbohydrate rich foods can cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS. Therefore they discovered a new diet known as the FODMAP diet – which excludes any food that has Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides, and Polyols. FODMAP researchers have found that these short-chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols are not properly absorbed by our small intestine. They are fermented by bacteria’s within the digestive tract. The rapid fermentation of these high FODMAP foods contribute towards unhealthy gut symptoms by creating a distention of the intestines in two ways – through a higher volume of liquid due to osmosis, and an increase in gas production. The symptoms these foods can cause are abdominal pain, intestinal gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. Onion and garlic both are high FODMAP foods. Therefore eliminating them will reduce the above mentioned symptoms from IBS patients.
‘No Onion, No Garlic’ to support Probiotics: Garlic and onions have natural anti-biotic properties. Research in Moscow Laboratory of Experimental Biology found that volatile antibiotics of certain plants contain active bactericidal properties. Bacteria, fungi and protozoa exposed to these volatile bactericidal substances are usually killed within 2 to 5 minutes. But the antibiotic effect not only it destroys the harmful bacterial but it also impacts the beneficial ones. The vapours from fresh garlic and onion are highly concentrated. Therefore they can negatively impact people who are already suffering from digestive ailments such as IBD, IBD, Colitis, Crohn’s and other illness that is due to already low beneficial bacterial population in the gut. Although garlic contains small amounts of pre-biotics (foods for the friendly gut bacteria) the high sulfur content in raw garlic are likely to harm the probiotics than feed them.
‘No Onion, No Garlic’ for those who suffer from Digestive Disorders: High stress, poor quality food, high acidic diet (more factory produced foods or fried foods), lack of sleep and low friendly gut bacteria can cause various digestive conditions. Additionally eating high sulfur foods such as onion and garlic – can further aggravate the acidic environment of the body and cause IBS, IBD and increased intestinal gas.
Garlic and Brain Health: Dr. Robert Beck DSc. shared that garlic can negatively impact the human brains due to a toxic substance called ‘sulphone hydroxyl ion’ that can penetrate the blood brain barrier and become poisonous for brain cells. Check out the video here: http://youtu.be/xft0CLkgLpE
Reiki Practitioners recommends ‘No Onion, No Garlic’: Reiki practitioners often recommends to stay away from the pungent foods – onion, garlic, shallots, leeks, chives, spring onions and asafoetida/hing because they cause problem focusing, cause nightmares, disturbed dreams, creates confusion, fear, anxiety and makes it difficult to meditate and still the mind. They can also cause pain in the body for some people who do not digest them well. Some practitioners also believe consuming these foods can cause to attract astral energy which can lead to create negativity and clairvoyance (perceive things that are not present).
It is important to understand that I am not asking you to ignore the benefits of onions and garlic neither I am preaching to give up garlic and onion. According to Ayurveda these foods cause the blood to be heated therefore maybe not suitable for Pitta constitution however can help alleviate mucus from Kapha.
In treating cold, flu, fever, earache, pain, asthma, nausea, intestinal worms/parasites and sexual debility garlic and onions are often used in formula’s and there are guidance on how to prepare them for medicinal usage.
Use your own intelligence and listen to your body when you consume something. Consider eating what you can digest and absorb. Those of you who have appropriate friendly gut bacteria or probiotics and who follow a healthy diet can reap benefit from allium family foods. If you have chronic headache, experience brain fog, lack of focus and IBD exclude or lower your intake of onion and garlic.
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Morningstar, Amanda and Desai, Urmila. The Ayurvedic Cookbook. Lotus Press. 1990. Print.