In Ayurveda, your kitchen is considered your greatest pharmacy. One powerful healing remedy that is most likely sitting on your countertop is the most elementary fatty substance - oil. Oil is simply potent medicine, internally and externally.
Fat is essential for so many reasons, both physical and psychological. The unctuous quality of oil provides nourishment to all the tissues of the body giving strength and imparting anti-aging effects. Oil acts as a master delivery system for fat-soluble nutrition and medicinal compounds. It literally drives the medicine deeper into the tissues, enhancing its healing ability. Fat also acts as a buffer to the nervous system by providing insulation and a cushion to the nerve endings which protects the nervous system and soothes the mind.
Our brain, nervous tissue, and hormones all need fat to synthesize tissue and function optimally. Fat gives our body energy, supports cell growth, and actually helps keep cholesterol and blood pressure under control. Physical deprivation of fats can hinder these vital processes and make our bodies dry and depleted. This can foster a demeanor that is anxious, irritable, or hostile toward others.
There are hundreds of Ayurvedic formulations that are oil-based that come in the form of herbal ghee, herbal oils, and animal fats. These formulations are applied literally all over the body, in the body, and in every single orifice, truly. Ayurveda has recognized for thousands of years that oil has exceptional healing benefits.
I often find my clients a bit taken by surprise when I first start sharing all the ways they can use oil as medicine, and there are a couple of reasons for it. One, we don’t have these practices of using so much oil in our culture, particularly on the body. They are unfamiliar and seem odd. We use lotion, instead of oil and we mostly just cook with it sparingly, not putting it in all these places on/in our body that Ayurveda suggests. Two, we have had a low-fat, no-fat mentality with the belief that “any fat makes you fat” threaded throughout our consciousness for the last few decades, but it has been quite a disservice to our health and well-being. Let’s look at that a little closer.
Fear of Fat in our Culture
I grew up in the 80s and this was a time when our culture was experiencing a fat-free craze. I remember all of a sudden it seemed like every food product came out with a low-fat or fat-free version.
Why is that so? Well, during the 50s and 60s, fast food industries exploded in popularity offering foods laden with saturated fats, sodium, additives, and highly processed bread products stripped of nutrients. As a result, people’s waistlines expanded and as a whole, the health of our culture declined significantly. By the 1980s, experts declared that everyone was experiencing poorer health and gaining weight simply due to the high-fat content of these foods, but the type of fat was not distinguished or understood, nor the mention of these processed artificial-laden foods lacking vital nutrients, so it ultimately led to a decline in consumption of fats in general, but this also led to the decreased intake of important healthy fats that are so crucial to the body.
The low-fat craze, unfortunately, gave fat a bad rap, and the myriad of low-fat to no-fat products started hitting the shelves and consumers bought them willingly. In fact, they are still popular for many today who have not been able to get out of this mindset. In place of fat, these products often use refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, and harmful additives that lack any real nutritional value. They are simply not a healthy choice.
So if you’re going to eat foods containing fat, eat the honest-to-goodness most wholesome version that contains good healthy fat and take in the quantities that will balance your unique constitution. That’s the answer. Eat the real thing in the right amounts. Some need more, some need less. A general rule of thumb - Vatas will need more fat in their diet and will need to put more oil on their body. Kaphas need significantly less, and Pittas are somewhere in the middle.
For more on the Ayurvedic doshas Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, see my article here.
Simple Ways to Use Oil as Medicine
ON your BODY:
Abhyanga is the Ayurvedic practice of daily oil massage for the body. It is a transformative and deeply grounding self-care practice and ritual.
Sneha, the word for oil in Ayurveda, is also the word for love and compassion. Enveloping the body with oil is believed to have a similar effect as being filled with love. Both of these experiences, oiling the body or being filled with love, have an intrinsic connection, as they similarly give a deep feeling of stability, comfort, and warmth.
See my article here for more on this timeless practice called abhyanga.
For more on why massage is so powerful, see my article here.
IN your BODY:
To care for your nose, we can perform a practice called nasya. Nasya is the administration of medication to the nasal passages. A very simple version of this practice anyone can do is to gently rub the oil in the cavity of the nose.
For more on this practice and a quick and easy how-to, see my IG post here.
IN your DIET:
Healthy fats in our diet provide vital nourishment for the whole being. Being mindful of which fats and how much to consume make all the difference. In addition, efficient digestive power is vital in processing fat properly. Making sure you have a robust digestive fire is foundational for proper nutrition.
Note, if a person consumes too much food, whether it be fat, carbs, or proteins, and the digestive fire is not strong enough to digest it, any food can become fat in the body.
Fats to Take in:
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
Found in vegetable oils like olive & sunflower, nuts, seeds, chicken, and fish
Found in organic ghee, coconut oil, organic non-homogenized whole milk, organic full-fat yogurt, and grass-fed beef
Important note: Regarding whether it is healthy or not to consume saturated fats, there are different schools of thought and there are some modern studies looking at this, but ultimately, it really depends on the individual, their unique constitution, digestive health, and their diet practices. Ayurveda regards these unique factors as of great importance, and I believe it is what Western nutrition misses and why there is so much controversy between the two over what makes a good fat. So it bears repeating to make sure there is understanding - the state of your digestive fire determines how well you process these fats.
Fats to Avoid:
Avoiding trans fats completely is recommended. These are foods that add hydrogen to unsaturated fats to make them more solid to increase shelf-life. Unfortunately, this process makes the blood sticky and greatly increases plaque buildup in our blood vessels leading to a higher risk of stroke, heart attack, and Type 2 Diabetes.
Foods like margarine and Crisco were once popular culprits, but trans fats can also be hidden in common foods like packaged baked goods (cookies, cakes, and pies), fried foods (doughnuts, french fries, and fried chicken), peanut butter, microwave popcorn, and frozen pizza.
The bottom line - read the labels! When checking the package, look for these words on the nutrition label - "hydrogenation" or "partial hydrogenation".
But beware, in the United States, if a food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fats in a serving, the food label can read 0 grams of trans fats. To be safest, go by the list and stick to wholesome, real unprocessed food. A mantra I utter to my clients ~ your food should come straight from the garden and farm as much as possible.
Ayurveda has long recognized oil as a true medicinal gem, and there are so many ways to use it. Understanding your unique constitution will further guide you on how to make this healing elixir a part of your diet and daily self-care regimen.
If you want more on your unique constitution, check out my Discover Your Dosha guidebook by going to my website at: www.nature2balance.com/contact.
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If you’d like a more comprehensive look at your very own unique constitution, connect with me. I provide very thorough and detailed diet and lifestyle guidelines for individuals so that one can naturally find true mind-body-spirit wellness, balance, and bliss.
Check out my diet and lifestyle page on my website: