We’ve all heard the phrase: “you are what you eat.” Ayurvedic nutrition takes this mantra a step further; it’s the foundation is based on the idea that you are the result of what, when, where, how, and why you eat. Yea, there’s a lot more to take into consideration than we thought!
According to Ayurveda, you should mindfully eat your food and with gratitude, and it should be fresh, high-quality, lovingly prepared, and satisfying to your senses. Ayurveda offers a balanced approach to preparing, eating, and digesting your food based on your unique dosha, as well as the time of day, season, where you are in your life cycle, and your location.
First, let’s take a look at the Ayurvedic principles of food, aka what you’re eating.
According to Ayurveda, foods and herbs are categorized by their taste, general qualities, and how they affect the doshas. Vata is made of air and ether, so it is light, cold, dry, rough, clear, and mobile. Pitta is made of fire and water, so it is light, hot, wet/oily, sharp, clear, and mobile. Kapha is made of water and earth, so it is heavy, cool, wet, soft, dense, and static.
Ayurveda recognizes six tastes that you will find in all foods; they are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Each taste has qualities associated with it that will either increase or decrease the doshas. For example, sweet is heavy, sour is moist, salty is warm, bitter is cold, pungent is hot, and astringent is dry.
Foods with qualities that are similar to a dosha will increase that dosha and foods with qualities that are unlike a dosha will decrease that dosha, thereby, keeping it in balance (hence the phrases “like increases like” and “opposite creates balance”). The tastes and qualities that balance Vata are sweet, sour, salty, warm, heavy, and moist. The tastes and qualities that balance Pitta are sweet, bitter, astringent, cool, dry, and heavy. The tastes and qualities that balance Kapha are pungent, bitter, astringent, light, warm, and dry. Overall, the characteristics balance out the dosha – if the food is dry it will increase the dryness often experienced by Vata types. If a food is heavy, it will elevate the Kapha.
One of the primary characteristics of an Ayurvedic diet is to eat foods according to your Prakruti, or true nature. Once you have determined your constitution (if you haven’t done that yet you can take our quiz), you can create meals using foods that will help nourish your body and balance your energy if any of the doshas are elevated in the body.
Foods for Each Dosha
Foods to Eat: sweet fruit such as cooked apples or cherries, cooked vegetables like asparagus or beets, grains including quinoa or rice, red lentils, dairy products, beef, eggs, fish, black pepper, coriander leaves, vinegar, peanuts, pecans, chia or flax seeds, beer or white wine, sesame oil, and ghee.
Foods to Avoid: dried fruit, raw apples, watermelon, frozen, raw or dried vegetables, potatoes, barley, corn, chickpeas, split peas, yogurt, lamb, turkey, red wine, and chocolate.
Foods to Eat: raisins, watermelon, sweet or bitter vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower, dry cereal, pasta, black beans, unsalted butter, chicken (white meat), egg whites, almonds, beer, dry white wine, and coconut.
Foods to Avoid: apricots, avocado, pungent vegetables like onion or raw leeks, sour fruits, spinach, bread made with yeast, quinoa, brown rice, rye, soy sauce, salted butter, sour cream, beef, chicken (dark meat), chili pepper, red or sweet wine, seafood, and chocolate.
Foods to Eat: astringent fruit like applesauce or prunes, pungent or bitter vegetables like celery or carrots, granola, polenta, lima beans, buttermilk, cottage cheese, shrimp, turkey, and dry red or white wine.
Foods to Avoid: sweet or sour fruits like grapefruit or figs, sweet or juicy vegetables like cucumber or zucchini, cooked oats, rice, pasta, pancakes, wheat, kidney beans, soft or hard cheese, duck, tofu, freshwater fish, ketchup, hard alcohol, and chocolate.
Ayurvedic Eating Practices
Now, when it comes to actually eating these foods, Ayurveda has a few practices that focus on the when, where, why, and how you eat.
Ayurveda suggests that you should incorporate all six tastes in every meal in ratios that will balance with your dosha. According to Ayurveda, if your meal consists of all six tastes, your brain and body will communicate in a way that allows for improved digestion and leaves you feeling satisfied. Proper digestion means your body will absorb nutrients from food easier and feeling satisfied will reduce food cravings and overeating. This is also important to keep in mind when serving your food; you want to make sure you have the proper portions.
As a suggestion, begin your meal with foods that have a sweet taste (like sweet fruit). Then move on to food that is salty (such as seafood) and sour (citrus fruit, for example). Finish with foods that are pungent (like onions or peppers), astringent (such as green apples or tea), and bitter (celery, kale, or green leafy vegetables). In the US, we often begin a meal with a salad, but some other cultures end their meal with a salad. Ayurvedically, we have it all wrong in the states!
When you are making your food, make sure that it is appealing, not only to your sense of taste, but also your sense of sight, smell, touch, and sound. Digestion begins with the production of saliva in your mouth, and it’s your sensory organs (especially your eyes and nose) that stimulate this mouth-watering process. When you use a variety of foods and spices that are flavorful, aromatic, and visually appealing with an assortment of colors and textures, it enhances your culinary experience and provides you with a wide range of nutrients.
Ayurveda encourages you to prepare and eat your food in a peaceful, loving, and pleasant environment; and to greet your food with reverence, acknowledging its source with gratitude. You should eat mindfully and with concentration to fully appreciate your meal and the wholesome benefits it provides. Eat slow enough to savor the taste of the food, but quickly enough to prevent it from getting cold. There is a trick in Ayurveda that helps to bring ease to the digestive system – chew each bite of food at least 30 times, making it that much easier for your body to process.
Timing also plays an important role. Ayurveda explains that your dietary needs and your digestion are affected by the rhythms of nature and the changes that occur in your life. You should eat only when your previous meal has been digested, so around three hours after your previous meal or snack. Make sure not to go without food for longer than six hours.
The time of day also has its influence according to Ayurveda. 10 am to 2 pm is the period dominated by Pitta and is considered the best time of day to eat your largest and most complex meal as your digestive fire or Agni is strongest.
The cycle of life is yet another determining factor in conscious eating. As we grow older, we enter the Vata time of our lives, Agni may weaken and vital tissues become dryer. By eating smaller, more frequent, warm, moist, and nutrient-rich meals, like hearty soups, you can maintain a balanced state of health.
The last thing to take into consideration is the quality of the food, the current season, and your location. You should eat high-quality foods that are locally-grown if you can. I highly recommend stopping by your local farmer’s market to get what’s in season. You should eat foods that are balancing for your dosha depending on the season in your location, as well. For example: if you are living in any northern states in the middle of winter and are receiving lots of snow, a bowl of warm, hearty soup or rich piece of meat with cooked vegetables are suitable meals. On the opposite end of the spectrum, on a hot, heavy, humid, summer day in Florida, you can maintain balance with a cool, light, dry, leafy-green salad.
What we put into our bodies is incredibly important. Food is what fuels our body, and it is important that we establish a healthy relationship with it and show it gratitude for the nutrients that it gives our body. I hope that you found this helpful and that it inspires you to create more mindful rituals with your food, and get a little more creative in the kitchen!