What is an Ayurvedic Diet?
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
As an Ayurvedic practitioner and student, I get a lot of people asking me how they should be eating. There’s a lot of talk around the Ayurvedic diet these days, and that’s awesome! I’m so glad people are becoming more interested in holistic eating.
So what is an Ayurvedic diet? This is kind of a big question. First, I’ll tell you what it is not:
An Ayurvedic diet is not dogmatic or rigid. It is not a set of strict rules that we all need to follow all the time. It's not a diet fad or a "lose weight quick" scheme.
The Ayurvedic Diet is really about looking at the imbalances within your mind-body right now, and eating in a way that doesn’t continuously perpetuate dis-ease.
Let me explain.
Ayurveda is India’s ancient holistic medicine practice. It literally translates to “Life Knowledge,” or “Life Wisdom,” and many people translate it as “Life Science.”
It’s known in Ayurveda that everything on the physical plane, including our own bodies and minds, are made up of the five elements - ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Each of us is a unique blend of these five elements.
This is called your constitution, and it’s the compass for your Ayurvedic diet.
The five elements of nature make up three main energetic qualities. They’re called the doshas. It’s not the purpose of this post to go into all of that very deeply here (a future post for sure!), but each one manifests within us as specific psychological and physiological behaviors. The doshas are as follows:
Kapha (KAH-fuh) - consists of earth and water - heavy, slow, static, cool, moist, soft, sweet, compassionate
Pitta (PIT-tuh) - consists of fire and a little water - hot, light, fast, unstable, sharp, passionate, driven
Vata (VAH-tuh) - consists of ether and air - cold, dry, light, mobile, sharp, enthusiastic, creative
We all have every dosha within us, but generally a person will be predominantly one of these, with just a bit of the others showing up here and there. There are many tests you can take to determine which dosha is predominant within you. Or you can reach out to me, I’ll send you a questionnaire, and we’ll get it sorted for you. Cultivating a relationship with an Ayurvedic practitioner is definitely a better way to go, but a quick online quiz will do the trick too! Here's one from Banyan Botanicals.
Once you know your constitution, and have become aware of which doshas may be currently imbalanced, you can take on practices that will help you come back to that original, unique balanced state of personal health. And that nearly always starts with the food you eat.
***The only general rule of thumb I would always try to follow is this: Eat real, whole foods. Primarily plants. If you can, support your local farmers instead of big chain grocery stores. Then (bonus!), you'll also be eating seasonally, which is ideal!***
So. The question you’ve been waiting for. What’s an Ayurvedic Diet? Well, if you really read the above info, you’ll realize it’s not a plain answer. Ayurveda is a fluid, intuitive, and unique personal practice for everyone. But here’s the lowdown:
The same way we humans are made up of these elemental qualities, so, too, is all of the food we eat. Meaning, if you are primarily pitta dosha, and you’re experiencing some pitta imbalances like burning indigestion, acne, or anger, you generally want to steer clear of extra spicy foods like cayenne, jalapeños, and Level 5 spice on your curry at Thai restaurants. That would increase your current pitta imbalance and cause more havoc.
On the other hand, if your digestion has been slow and sluggish, or you feel heavy, cold, and lethargic, bring on the spices! The pitta heat, in this case, is a great medicine.
A NOTE ON THE SIX TASTES:
There are six tastes we can experience. Sweet (earth and water elements), sour (fire and earth elements), pungent (fire and air elements), astringent (earth and air elements), and bitter (air and ether elements).
In an ideal Ayurvedic diet, every single taste would be in every meal, with several tastes stronger than the others, depending on the personal imbalance. In the same way everyone has all three doshas within them, everyone needs all six tastes within them, just to varying degrees at any given time. So the more of those tastes you can get in one meal, the better.
SUMMARY OF EATING FOR DOSHA IMBALANCES:
KAPHA (earth and water): Pacify kapha imbalance with more bitter, pungent, and astringent flavors. We want to lighten up and invigorate kapha dosha.
For example (but not limited to): corn, basmati rice, barley, seeds, apples, pomegranates, leafy greens, radishes, parsley, chilies, onions, all spices (especially the hot ones), mustard, and safflower oil. Minimize dense foods like root veggies, heavy oils, excess breads, and sweets.
PITTA (fire and water): Pacify pitta imbalance with more sweet, bitter, and astringent flavors. We want to cool and calm pitta dosha.
For example (but not limited to): increase barley, basmati rice, tofu, beans, coconut, sweet fruits, bitter vegetables and root vegetables, leafy greens, vegetable juices, cucumber, maple syrup, ghee, olive oil, fennel, coriander. Minimize spicy foods.
VATA (ether and air): Pacify vata imbalance with more sweet, sour, and salty flavors. We want to ground and nourish vata dosha.
For example (but not limited to): increase oats, rice, wheat, mung beans, nuts, sweet and sour fruits, root vegetables, cooked vegetables, honey, molasses, all spices except extremely hot, sesame, flaxseed, and almond oil. Minimize light, airy, sharp foods like crackers, popcorn, and raw vegetables.
It’s important to reiterate that this is a summary, as the depth of this topic could literally be the length of a full book. No food is completely and forever off limits (unless you have a serious allergy or something, then please, stay away from that!). Ayurveda encourages us to find balance in all things. Obsessing over only eating perfectly healthy meals is not a healthy mindset, and frankly, kind of defeats the purpose, don’t you think?
Listen to your body, stay present, and stay malleable.
Just do the best you can with the knowledge you have now. As we become more aware of our body and the doshic qualities within our food, the greater ability we have to heal ourselves through our meals.
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