I began studying Ayurveda, the oldest medicinal system, in 2001. One of the first things I learned is that leftovers are considered toxic and bad for your health. At the time the explanation was that it was “dead food”, that it was lacking Prana, the Sanskrit word for life-giving force/energy. It wasn’t until 2018 when I began studying with the renowned Ayurvedic teacher Dr. Vasant Lad that he cleared up those misconceptions.
During a lecture, a student asked about leftovers reiterating that they were considered “dead food”. Dr. Lad’s response was “No, that is not correct. Many people all over the world eat leftovers and survive just fine”.
That said, leftovers are still considered less viable/favorable than freshly cooked foods. Let’s dig in.
Benefits of cooking food
Cooking food breaks down the cellulose, fibers, and plant cell walls making food easier to digest. Depending on how food is cooked, nutrients are released and are more available for us to digest. However, according to Ayurveda foods need to be eaten right away in order to digest both the macronutrients and micronutrients that are available. Time is a real issue as well as the cooking process (high heat versus low heat, etc)
Why are leftovers considered a no-no in Ayurveda?
Foods are considered leftover approximately 3-4 hours after cooking.
Regardless if leftovers are reheated or not, naturally occurring enzymes denature quickly in leftover foods. These are enzymes we need to digest, absorb, and assimilate minerals, water-soluble vitamins, flavonoids, etc that our body needs. The longer a food is a leftover, the fewer micronutrients they contain. While the macronutrients like proteins, fats, and caloric value are present in leftovers, the micronutrients change. These micronutrients are vital to not only the digestive process but also disease prevention and overall health.
Eating leftovers accumulates toxins in the body
Leftovers are a Kapha increasing food. This means that leftovers are difficult to digest and will increase digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, feeling heavy or sleepy after meals, etc. These foods that are difficult to digest then leave undigested food particles in the body. These undigested particles accumulate and lead to the production of Ama (toxins) in the body. Ama is a molasses-like substance that coats the cells, joints, and nerves and potentially prevents proper and efficient productivity of the cells. We want our cells to be able to regenerate efficiently.
Ayurveda is keen on managing and eliminating the accumulation of Ama in order for the body to be healthy, prevent disease, and keep the mind bright and emotions balanced. Meaning decreasing ama formation in the body leads to balanced systems in the body.
Why leftovers are not a health-affirming choice
Over time the continuous consumption of leftovers will leave one nutrient deficient. Perhaps not deficient to the point of pathology or major disease but there will likely be a subclinical deficiency that may present as fatigue, not sleeping well, high anxiety, bloating, etc. A general dis-ease. When it comes to feeding children where the physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies are still developing, eating freshly cooked foods is especially important for optimal growth.
You are what you digest
According to Ayurveda, we build Dhatus (Body Tissues) from what we digest. These 7 bodily tissues require nourishment from our food in order to build excellent quality/quantity tissues.
Rasa – plasma, lymph (lymphatic system)
Rakta – blood tissue (circulatory system)
Mamsa – muscular tissue
Medas – fatty tissue
Asthi – bone tissue
Majja – bone marrow tissue (nervous system)
Shukra – male/female reproductive system
The food we digest immediately nourishes the Rasa Dhatu or lymph and plasma first. From there each dhatu nourishes the next dhatu successively. Therefore it’s essential that the food you digest has enough micro and macronutrients to be able to reach the deeper tissues like bone, nervous system, and reproductive systems. Nutrient deficiencies can present as fragile bones, nervous system disorders, and symptoms in the reproductive tissues and systems.
When possible it’s best to cook fresh and only cook as much as you need. Of course, it’s not always possible given our busy lives. However, making minor adjustments can make a big difference and your Ayurvedic Counselor/Practitioner can help with creative ideas and support to help you and your family.
I’m currently a student at California College of Ayurveda studying Ayurvedic Medicine. Aside from my classes and internships I schedule a once-a-week call with my favorite teacher and mentor Dr. Mary-Alice Quinn. We chat about everything from Ayurveda, to Yoga, to politics, and everything in between. A full-hearted thank you to Dr. Mary Alice.