Phalahari - The "Paleo" Diet of Yogis
A traditional yogic diet for loosing weight, good health and better practice.
Ivona Peček – Hemwati, Ayurveda Therapist, Sattva Udruga.
How did you learn about the phalahari diet?
A Yoga master and author of the Yoga in Daily Life System, Vishwa Guruji Sri Paramhans Maheswarananda, recommended and explained the phalahari principles to me. At first, I tried to follow this diet for three months, but then I prolonged it on the recommendation of Vishwa Guruji. In time the phalahari diet became a part of my life style. Before I started to eat according to its guidelines, I didn't have any specific health issues, but with advancing age and being overweight, problems can be expected. Since I have been following the phalahari diet, that is ongoing for more than 3 and a half years now, I am enjoying perfect health. In all this time, I had one common cold, that's all. I also have my blood checked from time to time, and all my levels are as they should be.
Is the phalahari diet well known in India?
In India, where I learned more about the phalahari diet, it is said that god Rama, his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman were the inspiration for this food regime. These divine characters were living in the forest for 14 years and during that time they ate only fruits and roots, which were available there. Therefore the Phalahari diet is an old yogic tradition. When I attended the biggest spiritual gathering Khumba mela, I also met Ramdev, a very popular yogi in India. He followed the phalahari diet for 12 years and he looks very athletic and healthy. It was his vow to follow the phalahari diet until the Indian government wouldn't start to officially support spirituality. Viswha Guruji offered him the first chapatti when he came from the Himalayas, after the Indian government organised the first annual globally attended free practice course of yoga – The International Day of Yoga.
Which food is to be avoided on the phalahari diet?
Bananas and potatoes, though in India they eat both.
Many Ayurveda doctors also suggest that imported bananas are best to be avoided.
Ayurveda promotes the notion, that food should be adjusted to our circumstances. While in India bananas and potatoes are eaten on the phalahari method, dhal is not on the menu. In Europe it is included. According to Ayurveda mung dhal is a legume that is very nourishing, but not fattening. It provides us with proteins and energy, promotes the production of blood, while it will not weigh you down. The Phalahari diet in Europe alsoincludes buckwheat and amaranth. I grind these grains in flour and make chapattis.
So the phalahari method does not mean eating raw food only?
Of course not. Ayurveda is a very old scientific system. It promotes adjustment and stresses the importance of the fact, that our food should above all be easily digestible. According to Ayurveda we live in the kali yuga and we are much different from the people that lived on raw food in caves. Our digestive system has changed accordingly, also our skin among other things. It is therefore difficult for us to compare ourselves to the people from the past. That is why our food should be chosen according to our current state. Ayurveda suggests that we should also eat cooked food. But please, do not torture your vegetables for hour. Your lunch can be ready in 10 minutes. If we cook our vegetables, we can use all of their parts, which means less waste. We should avoid piling up waste inside our bodies by all means, because that invites illness. To sum up, on the phalahari diet you can eat cooked vegetables and even roast them in the oven with some olive oil – delicious. I know a lady who didn't need an additional heart surgery, because her condition improved so significantly after following the phalahari diet. It can have a very positive effect on your health. Proven by medical doctors. But of course, if you have medical restrictions regarding dieting, you should respect that.
Which foods are a part of this diet in Europe?
Phal in Sanskrit means fruit, which means that you can eat all the fruit, except bananas, and all vegetables, except potatoes. Sweet potatoes are allowed, since it has other properties. As I have mentioned before, buckwheat, amaranth and mung dhal can be a part of your menu. There is another flour that can be used and it is called besan. It is not to be confused with chickpea flour, because besan is made of another variety (chana dal). Nuts are also included in the diet in the amount of one fist hold per day. Dried fruits of all kinds are recommended. From figs, dates and apples to coconuts. Ayurveda advises that nuts and dried fruits should be soaked overnight. I would say that the food items in the phalahari diet are varied enough.
Would you recommend it mostly to those, who are overweight?
The Phalahari diet is advised to all who, according to ayurvedic principles, have a tendency to increased kapha. It means they have more fat tissue, are more prone to tamas guna, have a lack of enthusiasm, and tend to be less athletic. The Phalahari regime will show results in several weeks or in months, but the best results are achieved in a year. With this diet people balance their cholesterol levels, blood pressure and boost their overall immune system. There are fewer heart problems and so on. I should stress that this diet is not suitable for children, teenagers, during pregnancy, for people with low weight and those who are recuperating after an illness. Otherwise this diet is recommended to all those who practice yoga during summer months, when fruits and vegetables are easily available. For those who are overweight, the diet is a good way to loose weight slowly and safely, while being full of energy. I noticed that some people, while dieting, look weak and somehow slow. This diet is not like that. Those following it need less sleep, bad breath or unpleasant body smell vanish, and their life energy is renewed. Some also report fewer headaches, better digestion and similar.
Are there really no dairy products allowed?
No. In principle there are none. But if needed, a very little amount of yogurt or milk can be used (1 decilitre per day). I also used to take some dairy, but now I stopped and I feel well.
The main characteristic of this diet is an absence of carbohydrates obtained from grains.
That is so. I should also stress that food should be organically grown. At the beginning, one has to get used to the fact that it is necessary to eat five or six times a day. In the first days of dieting, you might be hungry very soon after after eating lunch. Food is easily digestible, and this also means an increase in one’s visits to the toilet. Our body needs 3 to 4 months to accept the new regime and then the bowel movements are stabilised. It is most interesting, that you loose weight and eat five or six times a day.
You published a phalahari cookbook. Can you tell us what you have for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Currently my breakfast is puffed amaranth with cinnamon, cardamom, almond milk and honey or sweetener. A perfect breakfast. I also like to eat fruit and nut bars that I make from dried fruits. Or smoothies from soaked dried fruits and nuts. For lunch I prepare a vegetable soup and sabdzi (Indian vegetable dish). I should mention that tofu can also be used. 5 decagrams per week is recommended. I also add a few buckwheat chapattis to the vegetable dishes and I must say, it is most delicious and filling. For dinner I prepare a vegetable cooked dish or a bigger salad. After three years on the phalahari diet I once wanted to eat something »normal«, but after taking a bite, I was not overwhelmed with satisfaction. This diet showed me, how mind tricks us in the way to seek novelty, but it is more in the mind than in the taste.
What about coffee and black tea?
The diet does not allow any intake of coffee and black tea. I very rarely I order a decaff, just to get a taste. During the diet I started drinking jasmine green tea and I love it. You can drink herbal tea, natural lemonade, some fruit juice and above all water. Vishwa Guruji stressed that this diet is not just about loosing weight and health; it opens our manipura chakra – the solar plexus. Therefore it is not only about our physical bodys, but it supports all that follow the path of yoga and spiritual development.
Can you tell us more about the right combination of different types of food that has a prominent role in Ayurveda?
Following Ayurveda, we should first take food that is more difficult to digest and then follow with more easily digested dishes. For example first we should eat salad and follow with a cooked meal. It is even preferable to separate raw and cooked meals, as well as fruit and vegetable dishes. We need different enzymes to digest fruit or vegetables, so if we combine them, one of them will not be digested properly. We should eat fruit as a separate meal, at least an hour after a previous meal. Ayurveda favours fresh fruit. If we cook it, spices should be used to assist digestion.
Are there any setbacks to the phalahari diet?
For adults that are suited to follow this diet, the main hindrance can be the fact, that you have to do a lot of searching. Shops and restaurants have little to offer in the way of acceptable meals, except maybe a vegetable soup or some steamed vegetables. It can be also quite frustrating if you are on the road and you want to go shopping for food, only to discover, that 90% of what they sell is not for you. One should also take into account, that on the phalahari diet, at least two daily meals should be cooked, if you want to be content. That can be off putting for those who are not used to cooking, but with some practice you have a nice meal ready in 15 minutes.