Food not only carries us through the natural cycle of birth and death; food is memory and eating is remembering – clean food leads to a clean body, simple food creates simple health, wholesome food makes our body function smoothly. Our physical body holds the memory of five primordial elements: earth in the heart, water in the kidneys, fire in the intestines, air in the lungs, and space in the brain. Therefore, not only does the food we eat influence our emotions and moods but also our physical energy and how we transform.
Your relationship with food starts by planting a seed. It is only when you learn to grow, prepare and cook your own food, that it will sustain its memory and you will truly benefit from it and remain healthy and balanced. Thus, before learning the best foods for your type, it is important to consider some basic principles with regards to food so you can have a healthy life:
How you eat is even more important than what you eat! Eating healthy food in the wrong way can result in poor digestion and the formation of gas and toxins. For example, when you are in a negative mindset, sweet foods will turn sour in your digestive tract. Therefore, never eat when you are upset.
- When preparing food, never project your negative emotions into it. Prepare the food with love and kindness and it will nurture you in return.
- If possible, prepare fresh food on a daily basis, ideally home-grown. It is recommended to only use seasonal and locally grown foods. Occasionally, food from different countries can be used to celebrate your universal spirit.
- To ensure good digestion it is best to eat in silence or to engage in gentle, wholesome conversation.
- It is highly recommended to eat at the same time every day and keep your focus solely on eating, rather than your work.
- Do not eat unless you feel hungry and eat only as much food as you can hold in two cupped hands.
- Chewing plays a very important role in aiding digestion: chew in a relaxed manner and with awareness at least 25 times per mouthful. This will calm your mind and ease your digestive fire.
- Only sip warm water during meals or avoid drinking anything.
- Walk at least 100 steps after your meal in order to stimulate digestion.
3 Gunas – characteristics of food
Like your constitutional type, food also has its own character, which is classified by three Gunas: Sattva (potential energy), Rajas (kinetic energy), and Tamas (inertia). Different foods will induce different mental qualities/emotional states when you consume them.
- Sattvic food is light and easy to digest, clarifies our perception, releases love and compassion, and promotes forgiveness. Sattvic foods include: fruits (mango, coconut, peaches, pears), steamed vegetables, rice, sweet potato, milk, and ghee. Vata types should increase their Sattvic food intake to gain clarity and lightness, Pitta types to gain knowledge and understanding, and Kapha types to gain love and forgiveness.
- Rajasic food stimulates the mind and body and promotes movement. When prepared fresh it is nutritious and benefits those who love to act in a positive way such as politicians, businessmen and athletes. However, when consumed in excess, Rajasic food will ignite anger, hate and manipulation. It is also the food we easily get addicted to: salted crackers, crisps, chips, heavily spiced foods, apples, bananas, guava, millet, corn, buckwheat, broccoli, spinach, fish, shrimps and chicken. Rajasic food may increase activity and movement in Vata and Pitta types.
- Tamasic food is heavy and dull and will induce deep sleep. When eaten in moderation this food is grounding and promotes stability. It is especially recommended in cases of hyperactivity and insomnia. Tamasic foods include: avocado, plums, apricots, brown rice, mushrooms, pumpkin, beef, lamb, pork, cheese, and old food. Vata types will become confused if they increase their consumption of Tamasic foods, Pitta types will become aggressive, and Kapha types will become tired and feel dull.
There are six basic tastes in Ayurveda. When the food comes in contact with the tongue, the taste buds send signals to the brain, this then influences digestion, the body tissues, cells and organs, as well as the doshas. Including all six tastes in your daily diet will prevent cravings and make your meals satisfying.
The 6 tastes are:
- Sweet: rice, sugar, milk, wheat, dates. This taste increases the vital essence of life. It encourages the senses, improves complexion, promotes healthy skin, hair and speech. Furthermore, it can relieve burning sensations and thrush. However, Kapha types can be aggravated by sweet foods.
- Sour: citrus, sour cream, vinegar, cheese, green grapes, fermented food. Sour foods are refreshing and delicious. They stimulate digestion, energise the body, nourish the heart and enlighten the mind.
- Salty: salt. Salty food relieves Vata and increases Pitta and Kapha. It promotes growth, helps maintain water/electrolyte balance, improves the flavour of food, aids digestion and absorption, and helps with waste elimination.
- Pungent (spicy): peppers, onions, radishes, garlic, mustard, ginger. Spicy food improves digestion, absorption and cleanses the mouth. It also brings clarity of perception. However, these foods can aggravate the fire in Pitta types.
- Bitter: coffee, bitter melon, aloe vera, turmeric, dandelion. Bitter taste increases Vata and decreases Pitta and Kapha. It has antioxidant properties, kills germs, helps relieve burning sensations, fainting and skin disorders.
- Astringent: unripe bananas, turmeric, lotus seeds, chickpeas. These foods help heal ulcers and calm Pitta and Kapha types. However, consuming too much astringent food will aggravate Vata.
Please note that sweet taste foods digest first, thus causing food that you have eaten previously to wait. According to Ayurveda, it is therefore recommended to start a meal with a sweet dish and end it with a salad or bitter/astringent taste, this will reduce sweet cravings.
Now that we have learnt the different tastes, qualities (heavy, light, dry, oily, liquid, solid), heating and cooling characteristics, and the effects of foods on digestion lets now look at how best to combine foods. If you combine two or three different food substances with different tastes, energy and digestive effect, your digestive fire can become overloaded, inhibiting your enzyme system, resulting in the production of toxins, gas, bloating, acid reflux, headaches, and stomach aches. In such cases, food may stay in the stomach for up to eight hours, which in the long run can lead to the development of diseases. For example, bananas combined with milk will diminish digestive fire and change the intestinal flora, creating toxins that will cause, sinus congestion, colds, coughs, and allergies.
Here are some examples of incompatible foods:
- Milk and fish, meat, yoghurt, bananas, bread.
- Yoghurt and milk, meat, fish, sour fruits, mango, banana, cheese.
- Eggs and milk, yoghurt, meat, fish, cheese, fruits, potatoes.
- Starches and eggs, milk, dates, bananas.
- Lemons with yoghurt, milk, melon, cucumber, tomatoes.
- Melons always need to be eaten on their own.
Latest research shows that most of the diseases we face today (arthritis, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic bowel disease), start with inflammation as the root cause, which can be prevented by using the right types of food. Even though inflammation is a natural reaction when our immune system is trying to cure/heal our body, in cases of an overactive immune system, it can sadly lead to other health issues such as: leaky gut syndrome, chronic diseases, and autoimmune disorders.
Inflammatory foods to avoid: processed fats, meats and foods; sweet and fried foods; fizzy drinks, gluten, dairy, frozen yoghurt, peanuts, dressings and sauces.
Best anti-inflammatory foods: fresh leafy green vegetables (celery, broccoli, beets, spinach, kale); fresh fruits (blueberries, strawberries, cherries, oranges, pineapple, tomatoes) – rich in antioxidants (anthocyanin’s) and minerals; foods rich in omega 3 (salmon, tuna, sardines, almonds, walnuts); spices (ginger, garlic, turmeric) and olives.
Food and Doshas
Ayurveda also stresses the importance of adapting your diet to suit your constitutional type. Below are some ideas to inspire you. It is important to stress that when prepared properly, it is possible to turn inappropriate foods for your type into appropriate. For example: raw apples provoke Vata, however, when cooked and warmed with a little ghee, cardamom and cinnamon, they will be able to consume them. Also, it is recommended to steam your vegetables in spring and summer to make sure the food does not retain its heat, whereas during autumn and winter, sautéing your vegetables with warming oils/ghee and spices, will add enough moisture to the food to keep Vata dosha balanced.
If you would like to get a proper nutritional plan, prepared exclusively for your constitutional type, please do contact an experienced Ayurvedic doctor or write to me.
- Moist, smooth, warm and sturdy foods with sweet, sour and salty taste.
- 50 % whole grains (cooked oats, quinoa, basmati and brown rice, wheat).
- 20 % protein (eggs, fish, salmon, poultry, black & red lentils, tofu, cottage cheese, ghee, goats milk).
- 20–30 % fresh vegetables, mainly winter vegetables (asparagus, beets, leeks, carrots, cucumbers, garlic, green beans, olives, peas, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, courgettes).
- 10 % fruits (avocados, apricots, berries, cherries, coconuts, grapefruit, kiwis, lemons, mangoes, melons, oranges, papayas, peaches, pineapples, plums, strawberries, bananas).
- Oils are a vital requirement for Vata types: almond, canola and sesame are the best choices.
- Unbalancing foods are: raw or uncooked vegetables, beef, and dried fruits.
- Sweet, bitter and astringent tastes with cool and fresh qualities.
- 50 % whole grains (barley, couscous, crackers, granola, quinoa, cooked oats, rice, wheat).
- 20 % protein (all types of beans, tofu, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, raw milk, ghee, egg whites, chicken, fish, rabbit, turkey).
- 20–30 % vegetables, especially leafy greens (asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, dandelion greens, kale, mushrooms, olives, peas, pumpkin).
- 10 % sweet fruits (sweet apples, apricots, berries, cherries, coconuts, red and purple grapes, melons, oranges, pears, pineapples, plums, raisins, pomegranates).
- Oils that cool Pitta down: coconut, soy, canola.
- Unbalancing foods: most foods with heating properties or that stimulate circulation: garlic, ginger, mustard seeds, lemons, grapefruit, tomatoes, onions, millet, brown rice, rye, most nuts, lamb, beef, shellfish, sour cream, hard cheese, feta, yoghurt, salted dairy products, fermented foods, foods with yeast, alcohol, and caffeine.
- Pungent, bitter and astringent tastes. However, grains and fruits, that are sweet in nature can be consumed but there needs to be caution whilst using the sweet taste.
- 30–40 % whole grains (barley, buckwheat, corn, rye, couscous, granola, millet, polenta).
- 20 % protein (fish, chicken, turkey, boiled /poached eggs, goats milk, yoghurt, beans).
- 40–50 % vegetables, preferably pungent and bitter taste (asparagus, beets greens, broccoli, ginger, onions, chilli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, aubergine, garlic, green beans, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, leek, mushrooms, peas, spinach).
- 10 % fruits (apples, apricots, berries, cherries, peaches, pears, pomegranates, prunes, raisins).
- Oils must be used sparingly: the best options are canola, corn, mustard and safflower.
- Unbalancing foods: overly sweet or sour fruits and juicy vegetables; most nuts, all forms of cooked rice and wheat; mung, kidney and soybeans; shellfish, cow's milk, cheese, butter, tofu, and ice cream.
Herbs and Doshas
There are different herbs and spices that benefit the different doshas:
The best herbs for dry and restless Vata types are:
- To calm down the mind: holy basil (tulsi) – opens the heart and mind, lotus seed (best to use the dried seeds cooked in rice or soups), black cumin, caraway, nutmeg (best for sleep and relaxation when grated into fresh milk), sesame seeds (best washed and roasted and added to milk or rice – either whole or ground), or sesame oil (a great therapy for the body).
- To warm up, stimulate the digestive fire (Agni), cleanse and burn toxins, and clear the head and sinuses: basil, cardamom, cinnamon, clove (a great antiseptic), ginger root (aids digestion, warms the heart, and helps with muscular pains and constipation), paprika, or chilli peppers. Aloe vera, which is usually good for Pitta, can also be used for Vata to stimulate digestion when mixed with ginger and turmeric.
- To promote the removal of bodily wastes such as menstrual fluids and sweat: mugwort or sage.
Pitta types should only consume herbs and spices with cooling and appeasing characteristics: black cumin, coriander leaves (the juice also neutralises snake bites and insect stings) or seeds (best slowly roasted and powdered into a masala), neem (best is fresh neem juice made from the leaves – great for diabetics, weight reduction and those with high Pitta), fennel seeds, lotus seeds, or saffron. Aloe vera is a great herb for the liver, blood and detoxification.
Kapha types need stimulation and this can be promoted by consuming the following herbs and spices:
- To stimulate cleansing and detoxification: basil, caraway, black cumin, mugwort, or nettle.
- To encourage circulation, induce warmth in the body, and reduce mucus and inflammation: cardamom, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, paprika, curry powder, ginger root, horseradish root, cayenne or chilli peppers.
There are herbs and spices that can be consumed by all three types for different results:
- To cleanse and improve digestion: cumin (best dry roasted and powdered), fennel seeds (best roasted and ground into a masala, or used as a breath freshener) – fennel will aid digestion, mint, or coriander.
- To improve digestion, relieve muscular pains and constipation: ginger root.
- General promoters of well-being and anti-inflammatories: black cumin, poppy seeds, or turmeric (dried or fresh) – promotes peripheral circulation, cleanses the blood and helps with tension and pre-menstrual cramps.
- Sattvic food: saffron (great in milk-based deserts).
According to Ayurveda oils must be used in the following quantities:
- 1/3 saturated fatty acid: ghee or butter.
- 1/3 omega 3: mustard.
- 1/3 omega 6: sesame or coconut.
Sunflower oil increases Pitta and has been shown to be non-nutritious.
Even though Ayurveda does not prohibit the use of meat, consuming meat could induce emotions of violence and decay as it is obtained from dead animals. Also, red meat contains high amounts of saturated fat, which increases cholesterol levels and the likelihood of a heart attack. Meat eaters generally suffer from indigestion or constipation because meat does not contain any fibre.
On the other hand, raw and cooked vegetables and fruits represent healing foods, acting as cleansers, helping the body to eliminate waste faster and detoxify the body. High amounts of protein can be found in legumes and beans; which are even easier to digest than the protein found in meat.
Not only does your food choice depend on your constitutional type and any ailments you have but also on the season. Thus, in summer when it is hot, make sure you keep your Pitta dosha balanced by avoiding hot and spicy foods. In autumn stay away from dried fruits, salads and cold food as it will provoke Vata. During winter and early spring limit ice-cream and other heavy and cold foods/drinks as they will provoke Kapha. If you are a mixed type, for example, Vata-Pitta avoid Vata increasing foods in autumn and winter and minimise Pitta provoking foods in summer.
Let me conclude with information on the latest research, confirming the findings of Ayurveda – the 5000-year-old science of life. One of the main studies showed that a change in school nutrition resulted in not only improved behaviour in problematic children but also better test results (Read more).
Moreover, Dr Hawkins constructed a chart correlating emotions and the energy fields of consciousness. The chart shows that positive emotions have reasonably higher energy levels than negative emotions. Therefore, it is better to feel authentically joyful about the piece of chocolate you are eating, rather than feeling angry and bitter when you are eating healthy vegetables (as you are only eating them because you think you should be). If you feel good eating your current diet then it is better to keep on doing it rather than changing it for a diet that will make you feel unhappy. Joy is contagious so will fill up your body and strengthen it much more than any foods eaten with negativity will.
Look at your food, fall in love with it and be grateful for all you have. Learn to give back to nature by composting any leftovers and remember that today's food becomes your tomorrow body.
Inspired by: Tiwari, Maya (1995) Ayurveda. A life of Balance. Healing Arts Press: Rochester, Vermont.