Food Processing and Prana

By Veero Kanda (Student Post)

When I think about Western nutrition, what first comes to mind are nutrition labels, which break down the food into scientific parts, including the percentage of fat, carbohydrate, and caloric content, which are heavily underlined in our society. What I’ve come to notice, growing up in the Western world, is that traditional scientists and doctors alike, tend to focus their energies on breaking things down and isolating them from the rest of the unit in attempts to understanding the whole.

Allopathic doctors want to isolate and treat a specific organ vs. looking at an individual’s whole body and health. Traditional scientists, like a nutritional scientist for example, will break down foods to their vitamin, mineral, fat, and caloric content. They then use a combination of these parts to determine the nutritional value of the food, rather than looking at it from a holistic perspective.

A famous quote by Aristotle once said “the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts”, and I believe this wholeheartedly to be true. I believe that traditional Western doctors and scientists have inadvertently done humanity a disservice by not acknowledging this to be true through the work that they do. Western nutrition approaches food as being equal to the sum of it’s parts, similar to the way that many Western practitioners approach the human body to be equal to the sum of it’s parts.

The truth is, that everything in the universe is energetically and spiritually more than the sum of it’s parts. Ayurvedic medicine emphasizes the importance of holism, looking at the entire picture, whether it be the human body or the food that we eat.

Ayurvedic nutrition seeks to achieve balance and heal your body, mind, soul, and karma. Those who study, and practice Ayurvedic medicine, whether familiar with Aristotle or not, recognize that the whole is more than the combination of it’s parts. The more, in Ayurveda refers to prana, which is life force energy, known also as chi or qi in Chinese Medicine.

In the human body, “the seat of prana is in the head and prana governs all higher cerebral activities. The functions of the mind, memory, thought and emotions are all under the control of prana. The physiological functioning of the heart is also governed by prana, and from the heart prana enters the blood and thus controls oxygenation in all the dhatus and vital organs” (Lad, 1984, p. 109).

It is not just us as human beings that have this life force energy, but all living organisms have prana. In Ayurveda, the nutritional value, quality, and health benefits of foods are based first and foremost on the prana they contain.

“Prana in food is a concept of life, vitality and qi in plant based foods” (San Diego College of Ayurveda, Ahara 101, p. 8). Foods vary on the amount of prana that they contain, so we seek to eat those that have the most prana, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, especially ons that are grown locally and organically, without the use of chemicals. Food that is freshly cooked, as well as whole grains and fresh dairy products and foods that are not highly processed have more prana.

The second major consideration in Ayurvedic nutrition is on how foods are processed, both during the preparation of the food, and once they enter our bodies. How foods are processed and prepares can greatly affect the prana of a food.

Some examples of food processing are cooking, drying, freezing, canning, pickling, refining, fortifying, pasteurizing, and adding preservatives or chemicals.

Foods that are highly processed, especially those that are frozen, canned or microwaved foods, foods that have been refrigerated for a long time, foods that are not grown in our area, and foods that are grown using pesticides, chemicals or that are genetically modified do not contain much if any prana after these processes take place. We should avoid foods that are processed in this way, in favor of higher prana options.

Ayurveda seeks to process and preserve foods in ways that simultaneously preserve the prana of the food. This is often done by preserving the food with sugar, salt, or ghee, or pickling and sun drying foods, as opposed to preserving them while chemicals or by freezing. Additionally, those seeking to maintain the prana of their foods should cook them over a woodstove or in a natural oven, as opposed to less natural cooking methods such as the use of microwaves and other electric appliances.

Ayurveda seeks to view the foods we are eating, as well as our bodies, in their entirety, in order to determine what will most benefit our health and well being. Western nutrition may say, for example that microwaved conventionally grown vegetables are healthy for us, based on it’s vitamins, minerals, and low fat and calorie content. Ayurvedic nutrition, however recognizes that that those vegetables were grown using pesticides and chemicals as well as prepared in a manor that greatly reduce it’s prana and thereby it’s health benefits. I think that it is definitely worth taking a closer look at some of our dietary and nutritional choices, to view the foods we’re eating more holistically, and discern how much prana remains in the foods we are choosing to nourish ourselves with.


Lad, V. (1984). Ayurveda : the science of self-healing : a practical guide. Santa Fe, N.M: Lotus Press.

San Diego College of Ayurveda. Ahara 101: workbook.