As spring peeks around the corner at us, our thoughts go to the rejuvenation of mind and body that this time of year seems to inspire in us. Perhaps it’s the vision of how we will appear in a bathing suit, knowing that we could still shed a few pounds. Perhaps it’s that attempt to put a better dent in that rising cholesterol level. Perhaps it’s the first touch of the warmth of the sun upon our skin, leaving the chill of winter far behind. Whatever the source of our inspiration, it drives up our motivation and prepares us to take action.
Detox cleanses are becoming more and more common in our world and more groups are joining in: the athletes, the overweight, those with chronic illnesses and of course the walking well but worried! I, for one, freely admit, I have had a love/hate relationship with green juices. When I visit my daughters, I am invariably handed a very tall glass of green “juice.” It all began with smoothies, so firm and so smooth, that I barely could tip the contents out of the glass. Between the almond milk and the banana, it was too thick for my taste. Making them was fun to watch; however, and I was amazed at how you could throw large pieces of kale and other greens in the mixer and how smooth it came out. I only lasted a few months on those. Next in line were the green juices that are made in a juicer that removes all the pulp. While the nutrients of fresh vegetables were beneficial, there was no fiber in this drink. I didn’t really like the taste either. Actually I did better with the “red” juices, the ones made with beets, apples, celery and lots of ginger. If I tried to have one of these for breakfast and was too rushed to eat anything else, I’d be starving in a matter of hours, not a good strategy in the middle of a workday.
Fortunately, for those of us who prefer to eat solid than liquid food, there is the mighty mono food diet. Kitchari is used as an Ayurvedic detox food that also is believed to foster spiritual growth in its native India. Kitchari is the Sanskrit word for mixture and is used to describe any dish that is made with beans and rice. Originally it was used to feed the sick, the elderly and babies due to its high digestibility. The purpose of the diet is similar to the goal of juicing with some added benefits. First of all, the food has substance, so it is high on satiety, which is the feeling of fullness and satisfaction we get after eating a meal. The higher the satiety the higher the leptin levels which stave off hunger for longer periods of time and prevent overeating. This makes it a perfect weight loss food. If you have any gastrointestinal issues, it is an excellent diet for healing and repair of inflammation. Mono diet means you eat the exact same food for a period of time, up to about a week. Mung dal or moong dahl is the mono food of choice due to its high level of digestibility. Mung beans are hulled, split and soaked until ready to prepare. In combination with a grain such as rice, quinoa or teff, the meal becomes a complete protein, low in fat and high in B vitamins and minerals. White rice is recommended because brown rice has its outer shell and is harder to digest. The downside is that the shelled mung beans and white rice have a low fiber content so a caveat is to supplement some form of fiber like psyllium while on this cleanse to prevent constipation. Its estimated glycemic load is only 59 on the scale of 0-100, which means it has the ability to keep your blood glucose level at a steady level longer, able to prevent frequent hunger spikes. If you will be eating it for days at a time, you can make it more interesting by changing the vegetables from one dish to the next. One day add carrots and kale, the next add zucchini and swiss chard, the next butternut squash and cilantro. Another variation is to cook the mung dal and the rice separately instead of together. The true beauty of this dish is that it does not precipitate the “starvation response” that is characteristic of so many diets in which the body feels deprived and goes into the emergency mode of decreased metabolism in order to hold onto its calories. Conversely, kitchari allows the nervous system to relax, feeling it is being properly nourished and satisfied. The result is that fat is metabolized and toxins washed away leading to, in the minds of many, the perfect cleanse. In addition, it is cheap! One 32 ounce bag of both rice and mung dal can feed two people 3 meals a day for a whole week! Try it out and you will be glad you did.
A word about ghee or clarified butter: I have included the recipe for making ghee as it is the most important fat in Ayurvedic dishes. Not only does it have a high smoking point similar to coconut which makes it useful for cooking but it does not need to be refrigerated. Kept in the dark in an airtight container, it can be kept two to three months or up to a year unopened in a refrigerator. There are accounts of 100 year old ghee! It has been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years and is found in the original Sanskrit texts. A sampling of benefits include: it is safe for the lactose and casein intolerant due to the removed milk solids and impurities; It is rich in vitamin A, E, K2 and CLA (from grass fed cows;) it is a source of medium chain fatty acids that are an excellent energy source and that allow the body to burn other fats; it is rich in butyric acid which increases killer T cells in the gut that foster the immune response and help to keep the intestinal mucosa healthy. In a 2010 study by Shamara et al in the journal, AYU, the researchers concluded that data in the literature does not support a harmful effect on lipids by the moderate consumption of ghee in the general population.