Harmony is at the heart of Ayurveda, a holistic wellness system developed in ancient India. According to the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA), Ayurveda groups our thoughts, emotions, physical substances, and everything we experience into qualities, or "gunas." These gunas fall into ten groups of opposites, such as heavy versus light.
The NAMA website states, "The foundation of Ayurvedic treatment relies upon recognizing when gunas have become excessive or deficient, as this is known to cause doshic imbalance and lead to disease. Ayurveda applies the opposite qualities to return to balance."
An Ayurvedic diet fits into the larger Ayurveda system by using functional foods full of nourishing vitamins and nutrients to balance the body and mind. Learning more about the principles of Ayurveda and the specific foods involved can help you determine if this eating practice might benefit you.
Discover Your Dosha
According to an article in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, a dosha is a fundamental regulatory principle of the body, mind, and behavior. There are three different doshas—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha—and each person has a dominant dosha.
These doshas are composed of five basic elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth, explains a review article in the Journal of Ethnic Foods. "These three doshas govern all physiopathological, psychological, and biological functions of the body, mind, and consciousness," the article states.
You can determine your dominant dosha through an online test or by visiting an Ayurvedic treatment professional. Once you've identified your dosha, you can then pinpoint the optimal foods to eat in order to maintain or correct your balance.
Below is a breakdown of each dosha's components and some foods that best serve each dosha.
Vata—comprised of ether and air—regulates "breathing, mobility, and central and sympathetic nervous systems," according to the Journal of Ethnic Foods article.
Dietary recommendations include eating cooked rice, wheat, cooked carrots, sweet potatoes, and berries, while moderating the use of spices, nuts, oils, and dairy. Foods such as maize, white bread, and raw vegetable salads are among those to be avoided for Vata body constitutions.
Pitta—comprised of fire and water—monitors "the digestion and assimilation process in the body."
Pitta dietary guidelines encourage the consumption of rice, wheat, legumes, leafy greens, and sweet fruits. Mild spices such as coriander, cinnamon, and fresh ginger should be used in moderation. Ingredients such as bananas, radishes, and strong spices should be avoided for Pitta body constitutions, as well as sesame, safflower, and corn oils.
Kapha—comprised of earth and water—controls "heat regulation, lubrication, and formation of mucus and synovia."
Individuals with this body constitution are encouraged to eat corn, dry oats, raw vegetables, and spices and should moderate oil consumption. Dietary recommendations also include avoiding dairy, sweet fruits, refined cereals, avocado, and salt.
Health Benefits of an Ayurvedic Diet
Ayurvedic eating principles pay close attention to how all foods are processed, and some practitioners recommend avoiding overly refined foods. Simply limiting your intake of processed foods in general may benefit your health, as a study published in Cell Metabolism linked ultra-processed diets with excess calorie intake and increased weight.
The Journal of Ethnic Foods article outlines several traditionally Indian dishes popular for their taste as well as their positive effects on health. Spinach—which is commonly cooked into roti—may be a good choice during menstruation because of its high levels of protein and iron. Gundruk, a fermented food, is a good source of ascorbic and lactic acid and is thought to be an anticarcinogen.
Because Ayurveda focuses on overall balance, the system also has dietary recommendations for those diagnosed with conditions such as diabetes and osteoporosis.
While the specific foods involved with an Ayurvedic diet may offer health benefits, it's important to note that Ayurveda has not been analyzed by many scientific studies. An article in the EPMA Journal states, "Ayurvedic medicine is severely deficient in scientific evidence related to clinical practice and scientific research."
As with any dietary change, please consult your healthcare professional to determine if Ayurvedic eating is right for you.
Balance Is Everything
Personally, I often find it hard to make a firm commitment to the rules and regulations of any specific diet, so what I like to do is incorporate the principles into a meal plan that I can easily follow. I relate the Ayurvedic lifestyle with eating mindfully. Rather than reaching for a bag of potato chips when I need a snack, I try to identify what my body needs. If it's a boost of energy, I grab a handful of almonds. If I feel a cold coming on, I eat an orange rich with vitamin C.
The idea of balanced eating can be incorporated into just about any lifestyle. A night of indulgence at your favorite restaurant can leave you sluggish, but you can get your diet back on track by starting the next day with a fresh fruit smoothie for breakfast or a healthy salad for lunch.
The balanced principles of an Ayurvedic diet can help you experience health and harmony in your body and mind. Whether you decide to follow the program to a T or use it as a guideline along with other considerations, an Ayurvedic diet focuses on whole body health—and that's a good thing.
Looking for recipes that are perfect for Vata, Pitta, or Kapha doshas? Follow the Smart Snacking board from @tomsofmaine on Pinterest for more healthy eating ideas!
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Why It's Good
An Ayurvedic diet prioritizes holistic health and balances the body and mind by eating for a specific constitution or dosha. Mindful meals full of healthy ingredients—whether part of the Ayurveda system or inspired by it—can help you achieve whole-body wellness.