Diet

The importance of nutrition in health and wellbeing has gained greater importance in recent decades because of the rise of lifestyle diseases that are closely linked with our food choices. If you’re looking for a diet that offers balance and harmony, you need look no further. Ayurvedic dietary recommendations may seem complex on the surface, but when you dig deeper you’ll find that are very simple to follow, simply requiring a common sense approach.
The Ayurvedic tradition gives us a rich insight into food choices and eating habits, with a more personal touch. It makes recommendations on appropriate foods based on your unique constitution, methods of preparation, food combinations, and more. The most important recommendations are those specific to your dosha type or prakriti. This is because of the interaction between various foods and the doshas. For this reason, it is important that you identify your dosha type to get diet advice that is best suited to your unique requirements. You can visit our Know Your Dosha page to identify your dosha balance and get personal advice.

Ayurvedic Classification of Foods

When formulating the ideal diet for your dosha type you need to consider the taste or rasa, the energy or virya, and the interaction or influence of these characteristics on the 3 doshas.
Taste or ‘rasa’ is an important food characteristic in Ayurvedic diets because of its influence on healing and digestion. Each taste has its own energetics and influence on doshas. The taste or essence of food is carried to the brain through channels that extend from the mouth. This has a stimulating effect on práòa (a mental energy force like vata) that in turn has a stimulating effect on agni or the digestive fires.
Taste (Rasa) Energy (Virya) Dosha Interaction Post-Digestive Effects (Vipaka)
Sweet Oily, cooling, and heavy Pacifies vata and pitta Consumed in moderation, it helps to build the dhatus or tissues in your body, strengthens ojas (immune boosting substance), and promotes musculoskeletal growth and skin health.
Can aggravate kapha In excess, it aggravates kapha predisposing you to respiratory infections and congestion, fat buildup, heaviness, sluggishness, indigestion, tumors, and metabolic syndrome diseases.
Sour Liquid, light, heating, and oily Pacifies vata and kapha When consumed in moderation it promotes healthy digestion, circulation, waste elimination, and heart function.
Can aggravate pitta Excessive intake causes aggravation of pitta, which results in hyperacidity and inflammatory skin conditions. It also increases the risk of peptic ulcers, blood toxicity, and urinary tract disorders.
Salty Heating, heavy, and oily Pacifies vata When consumed in moderation, this taste has a softening and lubricating effect on dhatus, particularly for the digestive tract. It also supports healthy electrolyte balance, facilitates both absorption of nutrients and elimination of wastes, and decongests hard phlegm.
Can aggravate pitta and kapha In excess, salty taste will aggravate kapha and pitta, causing increased blood viscosity and hypertension, increased body heat, premature graying and balding, skin conditions, and water retention.
Pungent Heating, light, and drying Pacifies kapha When consumed in moderation, it strengthens agni to enhance digestion and nutrient absorption. It also helps to clear the sinuses, promotes circulation, facilitates elimination of wastes, and may exhibit anti-microbial and anti-parasitic effects.
Can aggravate vata and pitta Consumed excessively, it aggravates pitta and has an adverse effect on digestive and reproductive functions. It can increase feelings of fatigue, cause diarrhea and hyperacidity conditions, and makes you vulnerable to various inflammatory conditions.
Bitter Cooling, drying, and light Pacifies pitta and kapha This taste is most closely associated with a detoxifying and germicidal effect, which means that it has a purifying and cleansing effect on the body. It can support healthy digestion, skin health, and metabolic processes that lower the risk of obesity.
Can aggravate vata Excessive intake of bitter tasting foods can aggravate vata, causing depletion of essential body fat, bone density, muscle mass, and reproductive fluids. Fatigue and unhealthy weight loss are linked with excessive intake of bitter foods.
Astringent Cooling, drying, and heavy Pacifies pitta and kapha When consumed in moderation it supports healthy digestion, facilitating healing of ulcers and promoting normal blood clotting. It also has a diuretic and tissue tightening effect that helps fight water retention.
Can aggravate vata When consumed in excess, it aggravates vata and causes dryness of the mouth, which can impair speech. The drying effect can also impair digestive function, causing constipation and abdominal pain. Excessive intake of astringent foods can also have an adverse effect on virility, circulation, heart function, and may increase the risk of neuromuscular disorders.

Food Combinations

Just as various foods interact with and have an influence on your body, they can also interact with each other. Naturally, this makes it important to exercise caution when combining foods with different qualities, whether in terms of taste, energy, or post-digestive effect. In many cases, inappropriate food combinations can overwhelm your digestive fire or agni, impairing digestion. This leads to poor nutrient absorption, buildup of toxins or ama in the body, bloating, constipation, and other digestive disorders that in turn increase the risk of chronic diseases.

Following Ayurvedic recommendations on food combinations to the tee can be a bit challenging, which is why it is best that you begin to make the necessary dietary changes gradually. As a basic rule, remember that most fruits are best eaten in isolation, rather than in combination with other foods. We’ve also created a very basic list of bad food combinations to help you get started.

Incompatible Food Combinations

Milk Bananas, melons, citric fruits, fish, meat, curd, kitchari
Melons Cereal & grains, starch, cheese, fried foods
Starches Bananas, dates, milk, eggs
Honey Ghee (in equal proportions)
Radishes Bananas, raisins, milk
Potato, Eggplant, Tomato, Chilies Melons, cucumber, milk, yogurt
Yogurt Mangoes, melons, citric fruits, meat, fish, milk, starches
Eggs Bananas, melons, meat, fish, milk, yogurt, cheese
Mangoes Cucumbers, yogurt, cheese
Corn Bananas, raisins, dates
Lemon Cucumbers, tomatoes, milk, yogurt

Meal Timings

The frequency with which food should be consumed and the appropriate timing of meals will vary among individuals, depending on their dosha constitution. As a general rule however, it is best to eat all meals during daylight hours. The next rule is to eat only when you are hungry. This means that you need to be attuned to your body and senses, having a higher level of self-awareness. This can only be achieved by following a disciplined daily routine or dinacharya and the practice of yoga, meditation, and mindful eating.
Broadly speaking however, breakfast may be eaten during the early morning hours, but not before performing your morning routine that includes cleansing, evacuation, abhyanga, bathing, and yoga. Breakfast should always be light and wholesome. Breakfast could even be as little as a handful of nuts and seeds to keep you going until lunch time.
Lunch should ideally be consumed between 10 am to 2 pm, as this is when pitta is in dominance, powering agni for optimal digestion. Contrary to popular belief, Ayurveda regards lunch as the most important meal of the day, rather than breakfast. So, no matter how busy your schedule may be, try to have a wholesome and balanced meal for lunch that includes various food groups. You can have light snacks with fresh fruits and nuts through the rest of the day, but avoid overeating.
Dinner should be consumed between 6 pm to 9 pm, ideally before sunset. While 6 pm is likely to be too early for most of us to dine and begin winding down the day, it would be best to do so as early as you can manage. Kapha dominates between 6 to 10 pm, which is why it is best to spend these hours relaxing and preparing for bed. Keep in mind that your dinner should be light and easy to digest to avoid over stimulation and disturbed sleep.
For more specific and personalized recommendations it is advisable that you identify your dosha type and then check out the dosha specific recommendations.

References:

  • Tirtha, Swami Sadashiva. The Ayurveda Encyclopedia: Natural Secrets to Healing, Prevention & Longevity. 2nd ed., Ayurveda Holistic Center Press, 2007.
  • Lad, Vasant. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Three Rivers Press, 1999.
COPYRIGHT

The information on this page has been contributed by Meghna Unhawane, B.Sc. Home Science & Nutrition and is intended for the sole use of Allayurveda. Information contained within this article may not be reproduced without the explicit permission of Allayurveda.