Some things are easy to digest and some things are difficult. And then there are some which are very difficult (abhishyandi). Knowledge of these makes a huge difference to how well you digest, absorb and assimilate nutrients and thus how healthy you are.
Foods that are heavy to digest are not inherently bad for you, you just need to make sure you have good digestive fire (agni) when you eat them. Ways of doing this are making sure you are properly hungry when you eat and not eating heavy foods to excess. Think of weight-lifting as an analogy. If you lift the really heavy weights when you are already fit and strong, the exercise can be beneficial, and you can gain more muscle. If you were to jump straight into lifting heavy weights when you did not have good inherent muscle strength, you’d injure yourself. The heavy foods are like this.
There are also some mega weights in the corner of the gym that you need to be even more wary of. These will really mess you up if you don’t treat them with caution. In terms of foods, these are the abhishyandi foods, the cloggers, the obstructors, the blockers. These, whilst having some wonderful nutritional properties, are both heavy (guru) and slimy (picchila). These properties mean the foods create excessive moisture or secretions in the channels and cause them to become blocked.
Substances which by their sliminess and heaviness block the passages of plasma/lymph (rasa), thereby causing heaviness of the body or organ are abhishyandi.Sharngadhara Samhita 4/24-25
A major aim in Ayurveda is to keep the channels free of obstruction so we must be wary of anything which blocks them. Blocked channels lead to illness.
And you know we said these were the mega heavy weights? Well, it turns out there is a cupboard in the back of the gym which contains the weights deemed too dangerous for the average gym user. These are the maha-abhishyandi foods. Maha in front of anything means ‘great’ so these are the foods which cause this blocking in an even greater way.
What are these obstructing foods?
Meat and Fish
In order of LEAST obstructing to MOST obstructing (most superior to most inferior):
- Birds (e.g. chicken, quail)
- Domestic animals (e.g. sheep, cows)
- If these animals live near habitation or water the meat becomes maha-abhishyandi (very obstructing). From this description and our knowledge of modern farming methods, this means most beef and lamb/mutton will move into the very obstructing category along with fish.
- Note that goat meat, despite goats being potentially domestic animals, is described as being anabhishyandi – the opposite of blocking which makes this a more easily digestible form of meat.
- Animals living near/on water (e.g. duck, goose)
- This meat and that of fish is described as maha-abhishyandi (very obstructing).
- Animals living in water (e.g. fish)
- Cow’s Milk is slightly abhishyandi. Note that goat’s milk isn’t desribed as abhishyandi at all, in fact it is described as easy to digest)
- Buffalo milk is even more abhishyandi.
- Sweet curd/yoghurt, described as being well-solidified with a clearly perceptible sweet taste and unnoticeable sour taste, is maha-abhishyandi (very obstructing). Sheep’s yoghurt is also described as maha-abhishyandi.
Cheese as described in the classics (more like paneer or cottage cheese) is not described as abhishyandi. However, given the properties of aged, hard cheeses, we can assume that these too will fit into the very obstructing category along with yoghurt. It is safer to stick to soft, fresh cheeses which aren’t described as abhishyandi.
Should we eat these foods and if so, how?
These foods, whilst channel blocking, are not bad or forbidden but we do need to be cautious of them, especially the very obstructive ones. All of them are strengthening (balya) and muscle-building (brmhana), as we’d expect given their high protein content . We just need to be aware of when and how we eat them.
Eat in moderation. Eat in small quantities when needed; listen to your body.
Eat when digestive fire is strong. Abhishyandi foods should be eaten only when our digestive fire is strong. This means when we are properly hungry. This is also most likely at lunchtime when our digestive fire is at its peak, which also gives us a long time to digest before sleep. Eating these near sleep is a no-no. Yoghurt is particularly contraindicated at night.
Avoid when you have ama. If you have any digestive upset, constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, loss of appetite, a sense of lethargy or heaviness, don’t eat these abhishyandi foods.
Eat these foods with herbs and spices. Herbs and spices will counteract the blocking effect to a certain degree.
Cook meat well. All these foods are recommended for strengthening when that is needed (e.g. post panchakarma or after illness). Meat is only ever prescribed in the form of meat soup, however, so this is how it is best eaten. Eat your meat in slow-cooked stews and make bone broth from the bones.
Be careful with yoghurt. Do not eat at night. Do not eat without adding ghee, sugar, mung soup, honey or amalaki. Do not eat cold. Don’t eat during spring and summer. Lots of rules with yoghurt!
Beware of incompatible food combinations. It is often these foods which are involved in incompatible food combinations so bear these simple rules in mind. Avoid milk with meat, fish and sour foods including fruit, yoghurt and cheese. Don’t eat meat and fish with milk, yoghurt, honey or sugar.
If you bear these tips in mind, you can continue to enjoy these foods in small quantities and won’t succumb to the perils of blocked channels.
Learn more about Ayurveda, diet and lifestyle with The Ayurveda Academy.
 Sushruta Sutra Sthana 46/53
 Sushruta Sutra Sthana 46/136
 Sushruta Sutra Sthana 46/91-92
 Sushruta Sutra Sthana 46/87
 Sushruta Sutra Sthana 46/125, Bhavaprakasha Vol 1 6(XI)/7-8
 Bhavaprakasha Vol 1 6(XIV)/7-8,15,16-17
 Bhavaprakasha Vol 1 6(XV)/3-9
 Sushruta Sutra Sthana 45/71
 Bhavaprakasha Vol 1 6(XV)/17-19
Photo of yoghurt thanks to freedigitalphotos.net