In this April 2009 file photo, Jane Crosen adds fresh chives from her garden to her Creamy Potato-Cheese Soup recipe at her Penobscot home. Credit: Bridget Brown / BDN

By Erinne Magee

This first appeared in the Bangor Metro’s April issue.

Portland native Kate O’Donnell remembers teaching yoga when she started to notice many of her students were turning to her for advice about healthy eating. Specifically, they wanted to know more about Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is defined as the science of life. The ancient healing dates back to India 5,000 years ago and is rooted in curing imbalance of psychological, emotional and physical health. In terms of food, Ayurveda belief teaches that we all have a unique energy within that moves nutrients where they need to go. The same energy is used to digest what we eat.

When it comes to eating, O’Donnell says following Ayurvedic principles can help with overall digestion as Ayurveda reduces bloating, gas and hyperacidity while also improving sleep.

In O’Donnell’s book, “Ayurveda Cooking for Beginners: An Ayurvedic Cookbook to Balance and Heal,” she simplifies the body’s connection to food by breaking down what a person needs from each season.

While Ayurveda can be implemented in many aspects of day-to-day living, nutrition is a main component of living an Ayurvedic lifestyle. Here are O’Donnell’s tips to bring Ayurveda to the kitchen.

Limit the focus on doshas

A combination of the three doshas (Pitta, Vata, Kapha), or substances, are what make up that unique energy we each possess. Certainly the doshas can inform different aspects of our mind, body and spiritual health but O’Donnell advises not to rely heavily on figuring out which dosha needs balancing (there are many online tests to determine which dosha is dominant for an individual).

Go big at lunchtime

In general, our digestive fire (known as agni) is strongest midday, says O’Donnell, which means our biggest meal should be lunch. Think about it this way: when we wake up, our digestive system is also waking up so a heavy breakfast won’t be digested the way it needs to be. In terms of dinner, our bodies use energy to prepare for sleep rather than for digestion. Eating a big meal or consuming food late can be problematic because anything not digested turns into toxins and stored in fat cells.

Change spices with the season

Spices play a big role in Ayurvedic cooking, and shift with the seasons. For example, in the winter, O’Donnell suggests warm foods paired with warming spices like black pepper, cumin, turmeric, coriander and ginger. In the summer, offsetting the heat with cooling spices will aid in balance and digestive health.

Keep year-round staples

There are a few pantry staples to keep on hand year round. Ghee, which is clarified butter, is commonly used in Ayurvedic cooking as well as white basmati rice and mung bean.

Consider how you prepare food

Prana is a Sanskrit word that means life or breath. Ayurveda teaches that each food has its own prana, which should be preserved as best as possible. Destroying prana often happens in overcooking, deep-frying and microwaving.

Start with an easy dish

Since one pot meals have become popular, O’Donnell recommends what is often referred to as the “perfect Ayurveda dish” due to its overall balancing properties.The dish is called Kitchari, a stew made with ghee, mung beans, white basmati rice and a variety of spices, depending on which in-season vegetables are used.

For more in depth information, O’Donnell has published three Ayurveda books and can be found online at