In the quest for a healthy diet, why not try some alternative advice on how to stick to your food goals for 2013? Experts will tell you that making changes is a lifestyle choice, not a temporary fad, and a balanced lifestyle is also key to success. There are ancient schools of thought that support this modern nutritional standpoint, devised around the principle that a healthy, happy life is dependent on maintaining balance in your eating habits. In the Chinese philosophy of feng shui, this involves the balance of the life-giving but opposite forces of ‘ying’ and ‘yang’. Meanwhile, ayurveda – a traditional Indian form of medicine – advocates the balance of the body with its external surroundings. Here we explore the teachings of these two very different schools in relation to health and eating.

Originating in India and dating back as far as 5,500 years, ayurveda is an ancient art that uses the beneficial properties of natural ingredients. In Dubai, Balance Wellbeing 360, which houses the Balance Café, is a centre aimed at providing healthy lifestyle solutions in accordance with ayurvedic principles. As such, the venue serves a menu of healthy options cooked to ayurvedic requirements (see the examples, pictured). It also offers other treatments linked with ayurveda, such as yoga, with specialist practitioner Chandy George on hand. ‘Ayurveda is a way of life,’ explains Chandy. ‘It comes from two Sanskrit words: “ayu”, which means life, and “veda”, which means “the knowledge of”. To know about life is ayurveda.’

The lifestyle theory follows a holistic system, to promote healthy living. Chandy explains it does so by ‘drawing a balance within the body and with the environment in a natural way, through modification of diet, yoga, meditation and other therapies’. On a medicinal level, he adds, the system uses entirely herbal and natural remedies to cure ailments by resolving the underlying issues.

According to ayurvedic thought, this focus on natural qualities means the food you eat can also have medicinal properties, with each ingredient noted for their health benefits. Herbs and spices (which are naturally abundant in India, where ayurveda developed) are particularly useful.

At Balance, Chandy’s first step in a consultation is to establish the customer’s body type, achieved through an ancient process called ‘nadi pariksha’. Three fingers are used to measure the patient’s pulse, which is monitored for the rate, rhythm, tension, volume and flow of blood. From here, Chandry can establish which of the three ‘elemental energies’ or ‘doshas’ – vatta, pitta or kapha – the patient is most in line with. The aim of this system, he explains, is to keep these three forces in balance, which affects the function of both mind and body, although a tailored ayurvedic lifestyle plan can also be used to tackle goals such as weight loss, detox and stress relief.

‘Each “body type” needs to follow a particular type of diet,’ continues Chandy. ‘For instance, individuals with kapha body type need to avoid ghee and butter, while those with vatta body type will have no issues consuming it.

‘According to ayurvedic principles, food consists of five elements that are essential to our vitality and health, and an individual’s nutritional requirement is reached when a fine equilibrium is achieved between these five elements and the body type.’

The importance of balance is also present in the culinary nature of an ayurvedic diet. The ideal flavour spectrum is one that encompasses six key tastes, considered to be sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. In line with modern medical thought on healthy eating, ayurveda also ‘advocates the importance of eating on time and never skipping meals,’ explains Chandy. However, he points out that this is not an ascetic lifestyle choice, with guidance regarding food offering ‘more dos than don’ts’.
Ayurvedic consultations at Balance Wellness 360 from Dhs100. Oasis Centre, Al Quoz, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 515 4051).

Ayurvedic ingredients
In ayurvedic cooking, certain ingredients have specific health benefits. Chandy George from Balance Wellbeing 360 explains…

‘This is an antioxidant and a digestive stimulator, which can ease constipation.’

‘This helps to improve digestion.’

‘Cumin aids digestion and absorption of the nutrients in food.’

‘Also known as clarified butter, this nourishes the skin and muscles when consumed in moderation.’

‘Aids digestion and avoids bloating.’

‘This acts as an antiseptic for the body and the digestive system.’
Feng Shui cooking
Most of us take for granted that what you eat affects your physical and mental wellbeing, but some experts now claim that how your food looks is equally important. Food feng shui professionals say presentation encourages good health, while some go as far as to suggest the way produce is grown and how the ingredients are prepared also affects how the dish will influence your mental and physical state.

Feng shui can be traced back 3,500 years, and has its roots in Chinese culture. Literally translated as ‘wind-water’, symbolising the yin and yang of each individual, its popularity has grown in recent decades. It has its sceptics, although supporters believe that when applied to food preparation and presentation, feng shui can enhance your life force and increase your sense of calm and satisfaction.

At its most basic level, feng shui food philosophy states that you should eat a dish that contains as many different colours as possible, an idea that also has a grounding in modern nutritional science. In recent years, experts have suggested that different coloured vegetables provide different health benefits, advising that the optimum diet is one with plenty of variety in colour. For example, red vegetables contain lycopene, which helps to prevent prostate cancer.

In feng shui cooking, however, it is also essential the colours do not clash. An example of an easy ingredient to incorporate is bell peppers as they come in four colours: orange, yellow, green and red. Not only do the colours need to complement each other, but the taste and texture must do so as well. In this respect, a combination of steamed rice, soft chunks of meat and crunchy vegetables, such as green beans, is considered to be a good example of this balance.

Feng shui’s roots in Chinese culture ensure that many of the nation’s traditional dishes incorporate these ideals. Like ayurveda, feng shui cooking advocates a balance of flavour, as evidenced in sweet-and-sour dishes, which is said to enhance your life force.

The presentation of your food is also important. It is thought that eating from aesthetically pleasing plates and dishes with intricate, ornate designs will increase wealth. Whether this is true or not, making the eating experience more appealing to the eye is certainly more pleasurable, and a pretty porcelain plate also has no side effects.

Feng shui sweet-and-sour shrimp

300g medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 teasp soy sauce
1 teasp corn starch

For the sweet and sour sauce

2½ tbsp cornstarch
80ml soy sauce
4 tbsp rice vinegar
4 tbsp (packed) dark brown sugar
1 teasp ground ginger
1 teasp garlic powder
550g canned pineapple chunks in juice
1 celery stalk, cut in thin diagonals
1 carrot, cut in thin diagonals
1 medium onion, julienned (cut into thin strips)
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 tbsp oil

1 Marinate shrimp in the soy sauce and corn starch, and place in the fridge for about 20 minutes.

2 In a large bowl, mix the corn starch, soy sauce (add it while stirring slowly to avoid lumps), rice vinegar, brown sugar, ginger, garlic powder, and the juice from the pineapple chunks (reserving the pineapple chunks for later in the recipe.) Set the sauce aside.

3 Heat a wok over a medium-high heat and add oil. When oil is hot, add the shrimp and marinade to the pan and stir-fry until just cooked (the shrimp will start to curl and turn pink). Remove shrimp from the pan.

4 Add more oil to the pan if needed and stir-fry the celery and carrot to soften. When done, remove the vegetables and place in a separate bowl.

5 Add more oil if needed, then stir-fry the onion briefly to soften. Return the carrots and celery to the pan, along with bell pepper, and stir-fry for one to two minutes. Add the pineapple, then the shrimp. Stir-fry for a few seconds. Mix the sauce and pour into wok.

6 Stir and bring to a boil so the mixture can thicken.

7 Remove from the heat and serve with steamed rice.