When we hear the term Ayurveda, our mind automatically sways to spa, massages, body and facial treatments and essential oils… it is much more profound than that and it starts with NUTRITION!
Ayurveda is one of the most ancient systems of medicine in the world, with its roots reaching back to the 9th century BC. For thousands of years, these teachings were transmitted orally, but were eventually recorded during the Vedic period of ancient India as Sanskrit poetry and compiled into the classic books known as the Four Vedas.
Ayurveda, translated as the “science of life,” is a system of holistic wellness that utilizes various therapies including diet, yoga and herbal preparations to restore harmony and balance within the body.
The principles of Ayurveda are based on the concept of tridosha, “three doshas”. The three doshas, known as Vata, Pitta and Kapha, are dynamic forces with distinct characteristics that shape all things in the universe. In humans, the doshas control all mental, emotional and physical functions and responses, and also determine the state of the soul. They produce natural urges and individual preferences in food. They govern the maintenance and destruction of bodily tissue and the elimination of waste products.
Each person is born with a unique constitution, called prakriti (Sanskrit for “essential nature”), which is composed of varying amounts of influence from each of the three doshas. Each person’s prakriti describes the unique harmony or balance between the doshas that is necessary for that person to experience perfect health.
In the Ayurvedic view, an imbalance between the doshas produces a condition called vikriti, a Sanskrit word that means “deviated from nature.” According to Ayurvedic principles, each individual’s diet should be suited to his or her prakriti.
During times of vikriti or imbalance, the diet can be used to either decrease or increase the three doshas until balance is restored. The dosha balancing effect of a food is determined by its taste, either salty, sour, sweet, bitter, astringent, or pungent and its other qualities, either heavy, oily, cold, hot, light, or dry.
Also part of the Ayurvedic view, Vikriti results from an overexpression of one or two doshas (usually the dominant dosha) and a diminished expression of the other dosha. This imbalance can be caused by eating the wrong foods, chronic mental stress, physical overexertion, negative emotions, or poor sleeping habits, and will eventually lead to the development of disease, obesity and/or mental disorders. As a result, to prevent disease, each individual must maintain the doshas in, or restore them to, their proper balance.
Only a small percentage of people are purely Vata, Pitta, or Kapha. Each of us possesses a proportion of all three doshas. In many cases, two doshas combine to determine our dominant physiological and personality traits.
Vata, translated as “wind“, has the elements of ether and air, and controls all movement in the body, including the flow of blood to and from the heart, the expansion and contraction of lungs that makes breathing possible, and the contractions that push food through the digestive tract. The person with a Vata prikiti is typically of slight, thin build, and demonstrates great enthusiasm, imagination, and vivaciousness. Vata types grasp new concepts quickly, but forget things easily. They have bursts of mental and physical energy, love excitement and constant change, and display dramatic mood swings. Vatas tend to have irregular eating and sleeping patterns. When out of balance, Vata types experience dry or rough skin, constipation, tension headaches, cold hands and feet, anxiety and worry, fatigue, poor and irregular appetite, insomnia, arthritis, and difficulty maintaining their ideal body weight. The Vata constitution is characterized by swift change, and, as a result, it goes out of balance more easily than the other doshas.
Pitta, related to fire, controls metabolism and digestion and regulates appetite. Pitta types are often of medium build and medium strength and typically have blond, red, or light brown hair with freckled or ruddy skin. The basic theme of the pitta constitution is intensity. Pitta types are ambitious, self-disciplined, enterprising, articulate, intelligent, and outspoken. When in balance, they are warm and loving; out of balance, they can be demanding, sarcastic, critical, argumentative, or jealous. Unlike Vata types, Pittas experience intense hunger and cannot skip meals. When out of balance, Pitta types experience rashes, inflammatory skin diseases, heartburn, peptic ulcers, visual problems, irritability, premature graying or baldness, and tend towards compulsive behavior (e.g. alcoholism, eating disorders, etc.).
Kapha, derives from water and earth, and controls the structures of the body, giving strength and physical form to cells and tissues. Kapha types are of solid, powerful build and display great physical strength and endurance. A primary characteristic of the kapha prikiti is contentment. Kaphas are relaxed, affectionate, serene, slow to anger, forgiving, happy with the status quo, and respectful of the feelings of others. They tend to require lots of sleep, have slow digestion, and moderate hunger, though they find comfort in eating. Kaphas typically enjoy good health, but tend to become obese more often than Vata or Pitta types. When out of balance, Kapha types may experience colds and flu, allergies, sinus congestion, depression, lethargy, asthma, and joint problems.
In Ayurveda, diet is one of the key ways to maintain and restore dosha balance. According to Ayurvedic principles, each individual’s diet should be suited to his or her prakriti. And, during times of imbalance, the diet can be modified to either decrease or increase the three doshas until balance is restored. The dosha balancing effect is determined by its taste and qualities.
In Ayurvedic nutrition there are six different tastes and six major qualities:
The Six Tastes
Bitter: The bitter taste is found in spinach, romaine lettuce, endive, chicory, chard, kale, and tonic water. The bitter taste decreases both kapha and pitta, but increases vata.
Pungent: The pungent taste is found in chili peppers, cayenne, ginger, and other hot-tasting spices. The pungent taste decreases kapha, but increases pitta and vata.
Astringent: The astringent taste is found in beans, lentils, cabbage, apples and pears. The astringent taste decreases kapha and pitta, but increases vata.
Salty: The salty taste is found in any food to which salt has been added. The salty taste increases kapha and pitta, but decreases vata.
Sour: The sour taste is found in lemons, limes, vinegar, yogurt, cheese, and plums. The sour taste increases kapha and pitta, but decreases vata.
Sweet: The sweet taste is found in table sugar, honey, rice, pasta, milk, cream, butter, wheat and bread. The sweet taste increases kapha, but decreases pitta and vata.
The Six Major Food Qualities
Heavy: Heavy foods include bread, pasta, cheese, and yogurt. The heavy quality decreases vata and pitta, but increases kapha.
Light: Light foods include millet, buckwheat, rye, barley, corn, spinach, lettuce, pears and apples. The light quality decreases kapha, but increases vata and pitta.
Oily: Oily foods include dairy products, meat, fatty foods, and cooking oils. The oily quality decreases vata and pitta, but increases kapha.
Dry: Dry foods include beans, potatoes, barley, and corn. The dry quality decreases kapha, but increases vata and pitta.
Hot: The hot quality describes hot beverages and warm, cooked foods. The hot quality decreases vata and kapha, but increases pitta.
Cold: The cold quality describes cold beverages and raw foods. The cold quality decreases pitta, but increases kapha and vata.
By selecting foods appropriate for your prakriti, you can maintain or restore your proper dosha balance. Here are a few dietary and lifestyle suggestions for balancing the different doshas.
To balance Vata:
Because the Vata constitution is characterized by swift change and is easily thrown out of balance, Vata types benefit from sticking to a daily routine with consistent meal times and a regular sleeping pattern. Vatas should emphasize the consumption of foods with a salty, sour or sweet taste. And eat plenty of foods that are heavy, oily, and hot in quality. For example: stews, breads, warm desserts, and should drink lots of warm fluids (e.g. herbal tea). Vatas do well on a meat-based diet, and can handle lots of dairy products. In addition, they should eat only well-cooked foods and consume warm beverages instead of cold beverages. On the other hand, raw fruits and vegetables and cold beverages should comprise only a small part of a Vata-balancing diet.
To balance Pitta:
When out of balance, Pitta types tend to work excessively. As a result, it is important for Pittas to avoid overscheduling and to balance work and other commitments with sufficient recreation and leisure. Pittas should avoid skipping meals, and should avoid overeating at meals. Pittas should emphasize the consumption of foods with a bitter, sweet, or astringent taste. And heavy, oily and cold in quality. Pitta types are well-suited to a vegetarian diet, and benefit tremendously from consumption of fruits, raw vegetables and cold beverages. Pittas may also eat starchy vegetables, grains and beans, but should eliminate spicy and overcooked foods.
To balance Kapha:
Because Kapha types tend to gain weight easily and have difficulty shedding unwanted pounds, regular exercise is crucial for weight management. In addition, Kapha types should eat only when hungry and should consider doing a 24-hour liquid fast as often as one time per week. Kaphas should emphasize the consumption of foods with a bitter, pungent, or astringent taste. And light, dry, and warm in quality. Kapha types should avoid ice cream, butter, milk, rich and sugary desserts, meat, and fried foods. Instead, Kaphas should consume large amounts of raw vegetables, fruits and beans, and may improve their digestion by drinking hot ginger tea. Although Kaphas can handle some meat in the diet, it should be eaten on an occasional basis only.
Regardless of your dominant dosha, Ayurvedic nutrition principles encourage the consumption of fresh, unprocessed foods. Ayurvedic principles also govern the timing of meals. Because the Pitta dosha is responsible for digestion and metabolism, the ideal time for a large meal is during the period from 10 am to 2 pm when Pitta is dominant. As a result, all people should take their largest meal sometime around 12 noon.
Vatas should avoid foods with bitter, pungent or astringent tastes. And light, dry, or cold in quality.
Pittas should avoid foods with pungent, salty, or sour tastes. And light, dry, or hot in quality.
Kaphas should avoid foods with salty, sour, or sweet tastes. And heavy, oily, or cold in quality.
Following Ayurvedic diet principles does not limit the quantity or variety of food that can be eaten. As a result, such a diet is not likely to be deficient in any nutrients, assuming the person is eating enough calories and selecting a wide variety of foods.
Food for thought:
- Eat living, high water-content, high-fiber, whole, organic foods, a high percentage consumed raw when possible. If you want hot, briefly steam your vegetables
- The ideal balance is 80% alkaline to 20% acid foods… meaning that 80% of your food comes out of the garden (fruits, vegetables, legumes, pulses etc.). Juice greens, carrots and beetroot for trace minerals, vitamins and enzymes
- Hydrate the body with clean filtered water, 1 to 2 liters a day
- Select fruits with a low sugar-conversion, such as apples and pears
- Eat small meals throughout the day
- Exercise to get everything moving, 60 minutes a day in open, fresh air
- Rest, rest, rest
- Reduce environmental toxins, also at work
- Use safe personal care and household products
Avoid the following:
- Refined sugar/flour/rice
- Hydrogenated fats (margarine)
- Junk foods, fizzy sodas, additives and other highly processed foods
- Pork products, high in nitrates
- Shellfish, has concentrated toxins in their tissues
References: The Spencer Institute, CHLC.