You are what you eat, the saying goes. According to Ayurveda, this could not be more true. Ayurveda is the oldest known system of natural medicine, and it’s based on the principle that your health and longevity are determined by the quality of the food you eat and how you take care of your body and mind. Therefore, nutrition and how to eat for your dosha are central to the concept of long-lasting well-being.
Ok, so you know your predominant dosha, or doshas, but now what? What does that mean for you and what are the foods that balance all doshas? What are the Ayurvedic eating principles and what are tridosha balancing herbs? Keep on reading to get the answer to all these questions.
What is the Ayurvedic diet?
The Ayurvedic diet is not a restrictive concept, as many may believe, but rather a way of being mindful of what and how we eat in order to balance the doshas, and in doing so achieve better health and long-lasting wellness. It embraces the concept of individualised conscious eating, meaning it is a guide to help support the gut environment, our own bio-individuality, as well as our body’s capacity of extracting the needed nutrients from food.
Nutrition according to Ayurveda approaches the process of eating from a holistic point of view, looking not only at the food we consume but also at how we consume it. It starts with the digestive fire, or agni, a key concept in Ayurveda that governs a series of processes within the body, including digestion, assimilation of food, and absorption of nutrients. A low digestive fire means that food remains unprocessed in the body, fermenting, and hindering the absorption of nutrients into the tissues, ultimately leading to the creation of toxic material in the body, known as ama.
The Fundamentals of the Ayurvedic Diet
In Ayurveda, we are all unique, meaning we each have a different energetic makeup that dictates our inherent ability to process certain types of food. This energetic makeup, the doshas, is found in different ratios in our bodies, and the key to optimal health is keeping these doshas in balance. While it is important to know what your predominant dosha (or doshas) is, looking for imbalances within the body can help give a better overview of our individual needs.
However, there are a series of general guidelines beneficial for all dosha types according to Ayurveda.
Eating meals at consistent times, with lunch being the biggest meal, helps support the digestive system in its process. However, it is important to listen to your body, so eat only when you are hungry. Otherwise, skip a meal.
Eating warm foods
Transformation requires heat, and eating warm foods keeps the digestive fire working properly and supports it in the breakdown of foods.
Eating fresh food
Ayurveda recommends eating food within 48 minutes of cooking, which ensures the food prepared is still fresh and full of prana (life force). The longer you keep food, including refrigerating it overnight, the less nutritious the food will be. One example is food prepping, extremely popular nowadays, however, not done according to Ayurveda.
Cooking your food
According to Ayurveda, you should minimise the amount of raw foods you consume, as these are harder to digest, ultimately creating dysfunction in the gut. Salads are an exception here, given how the dressing practically “cooks” the salad, however, you should always combine it with cooked food.
Balancing the six tastes
Ayurveda teaches us that a meal should include all six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. This optimises the digestive process, along with the absorption of nutrients and elimination, and, at the same time, lessens cravings and snacking.
Using spices in your meals
Spices are a great way to support the digestive process while adding flavour to your meals. They are also a great way of keeping the tastes balanced.
Eat and cook mindfully
Your body communicates constantly with the nervous system and eating is no exception. Engage your mind and focus on your meal, this way your body knows to release the necessary enzymes to break down the food. At the same time, be mindful when preparing your food and enter the kitchen with good energy, this will automatically increase the nourishing properties of your meal.
The six tastes in Ayurveda
The six tastes are a central principle in Ayurveda as they determine the way we experience food and are essential in the way foods affect our state of balance. The six tastes are: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. In Ayurveda, these tastes are made up of the same elements the doshas are made of air, space, fire, water and earth, meaning they have the power to balance and restore the doshas.
The sweet taste (not to be mistaken with refined sugars) is made up of Earth and Water and it is grounding and nourishing, and it can be found in most carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Some of the foods that are inherently sweet are:
- Grains, like basmati rice and quinoa
- Legumes like chickpeas, mung beans and red lentils
- Nuts and seeds
- Fruits like dates, raisins, melons, pears and plums
In Ayurveda, the sweet taste is associated with strength and energy, but also with positive emotions like love, compassion and bliss.
Made up of Earth and Fire, the sour taste stimulates the production of saliva by releasing digestive enzymes, stimulating the appetite. In its nature, the sour taste is heating and should be eaten in moderation. Some sour foods are:
- Lemons and limes
- Yoghurt and sour cream
- Tomato sauce (canned)
The sour taste can stimulate the metabolism and support the proper functioning of the liver, and is associated with emotions of appreciation and understanding.
With its primary elements being Water and Fire, the salty taste is mildly heating. It supports the breakdown of foods and has a scraping effect. Salty foods include:
- Soy sauce
The salty taste helps the digestive process and the assimilation and absorption of nutrients and helps maintain the electrolyte balance in the body. It is associated with energy, courage and enthusiasm.
Made up of fire and air, this taste is heating in nature, which helps stoke the digestive fire, agni, improving digestion and elimination. Pungent foods are:
- Spices like basil, ginger, black pepper and clove
- Black chocolate
The Pungent taste clarifies the sense organs and enhances other flavours, and is associated with positive emotions like enthusiasm, vitality and vigour.
The bitter taste is made up of Air and Ether, the coldest of the elements, and because of its cool qualities it is highly detoxifying, supporting the successful elimination of toxins from the body. Some foods that are bitter are:
- Castor oil
- Dandelion greens
- Jerusalem artichokes
The bitter taste stimulates a healthy appetite and has cleansing properties, scraping away fat and toxins from the body. It is associated with clarity and self-awareness.
Made of Air and Earth, this taste helps cleanse the mucus membranes due to its drying quality and helps clear toxins from the system. Astringent foods are:
- Fruits like apples, cranberries and green bananas
- Beet greens
- Brussel sprouts
- Leafy greens
- Bean sprouts
The astringent taste is thought to tone tissues and reduce excess sweating and is associated with emotions like stability and unification.
How to eat for your dosha
Well-being starts in the gut and is strongly connected with your predominant dosha(s). This dictates the way you process food, and how different foods and tastes affect your gut environment.
Made up of Air and Ether, Vata dosha is linked to movement and mobility. Balancing Vata means eating freshly cooked, whole foods that have a soft, mushy texture, are well seasoned with a variety of spices and that are rich in fat and protein. Being dominated by two of the coldest elements, always favour hot over cold as Vata gets aggravated by even more cold.
This goes for both foods and the environment. In order to balance Vata, choose warming foods that are characterised by the sweet, sour and salty taste, go for grounding and nourishing foods instead of light meals and avoid dry foods.
Tips for a Vata pacifying diet
- Favour naturally sweet foods like fruits, root vegetables, milk, ghee, eggs, nuts, seeds and lean meats
- Drink a lot of warm water, water is sweet in taste and is pacifying for all three doshas (Tridoshic)
- Complement your meals with a splash of sour like kimchi, vinegar, lemon juice or some sour cream
- Snack on sour fruits like grapefruit, oranges or pineapple as they have warming qualities that pacify Vata.
- Add pungent foods to your diet like garlic, cooked onions, and spices like cinnamon, cayenne and paprika.
- Minimise bitter foods like kale and dandelion greens
- Avoid astringent foods like broccoli, bitter greens and brussel sprouts.
- Have your meals at consistent times each day and stick to a routine, but eat only when you are hungry.
With its governing elements of Fire and Water, this polar-opposite dosha thrives on foods that are cooling, hearty, dry and grounding. The principle of like increases like is central to Ayurvedic philosophy, which means that opposite qualities balance each other, leading to increased overall well-being. Pitta is fiery, oily, sharp and liquid by nature, which means that in order to balance it, you should favour foods that counteract these qualities, like sweet fruits, bitter greens and leafy greens.
Tips for balancing Pitta Dosha
- Favour sweet foods as, generally, these are cooling and heavy but avoid foods like egg yolks, rye, and most nuts and seeds as they are warming, therefore aggravates Pitta.
- Avoid sour foods like kefir, aged cheese, lemons and sour fruit as they are heating in nature. If you are the kind of Pitta that likes her water with a slice of lemon, try replacing this with lime. When not used in excess, limes can actually balance Pitta.
- Avoid using too much salt in your diet; salt’s qualities are hot, light and oily, meaning it aggravates Pitta.
- Avoid heating spices like cayenne, nutmeg, dry ginger and fenugreek. Favour instead spices that are Tridoshic like cilantro, fresh basil, turmeric and saffron.
- Include bitter foods in your diet like kale and dandelion greens.
- Favour astringent foods like broccoli, cauliflower and leafy greens as they are generally drying.
Kapha Dosha is characterised by heavy, dense, binding and cold qualities. This means that a Kapha pacifying diet should be the opposite: light, airy, dry and warm. To keep Kapha balanced, include heating foods in your diet like chillies, radishes and most spices, along with drying foods like beans, dried fruit and rice cakes, and light foods like fresh vegetables (preferably cooked, however, a modest amount of raw vegetable, fruits and salads in the warmer seasons are also good) and teas.
Tips for Kapha balancing diet:
- Favour warm meals over cold
- Reduce sweet and grounding foods like ice cream, dark meat, nuts and root vegetables.
- Minimise sour foods like cow’s cheese, oranges, and vinegar
- Include spices in your diet that are heating, like cloves, cinnamon, garlic, mustard seeds and hing, also known as asafoetida. Also, cilantro, saffron, turmeric and basil are Tridoshic so safe to use for all three doshas, not to mention delicious.
- Include bitter foods in your diet like eggplant, kale and dandelion greens.
- Favour astringent foods such as beet greens, broccoli, brussel sprouts, leafy greens and cauliflower
- Go for smaller portions and don’t overeat
- Drink enough water for your type of activity and climate. Kaphas are prone to water retention, so drinking too much water can increase this.
Knowing how to eat for your doshas and help pacify any imbalances in your body is essential to your well-being. However, making these changes to your diet is a considerable task, so try to take it one step at a time so that you don’t become overwhelmed.