How To Eat Better According To Ayurveda
It’s Not A Fad Diet
Ayurveda is a natural healing system that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. “Ayurveda is an ancient system for living well,” explains Sara Herandi, founder and CEO of Deja, an Ayurvedic-inspired supplement range. Sara first discovered Ayurveda after being diagnosed with lymphoma when she was 19. She was going through chemotherapy and wanted to find a natural and holistic solution to support her health alongside conventional medicine. “Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga. It uses holistic, natural remedies and practices to bring our physical and mental selves into balance, responding to the constant changes within us and our environment. It’s based on the idea that prevention is better than cure, that you should treat the body as a whole.” Ayurvedic eating isn’t just something you can tap into – it takes time to understand the details – but the general guidelines can be embraced by anyone, Sara says.
Learning Your Dosha Can Help
According to Ayurveda, we are born with our own unique ratio of three doshas, or ‘mind-body types’, which are created from the five elements that make up everything in the universe. Each of the three doshas – Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (earth) – express a blend of physical, emotional and mental characteristics. Usually, one or two doshas are dominant, and this combination is referred to as your natural state. “You should strive for balance between these three main forces – your most dominant dosha makes you who you are,” says Sara. “Understanding your primary dosha and its characteristics is the first step to achieving the inner balance that will help you perform at your best.” Here, Sara explains the three main doshas and the ideal foods each type should eat for optimal health:
Vatas tend to always be on the go, with energetic and creative minds. They can be more anxious with an active mind. They speak quickly and are likely to have dry skin and joints that crack. When Vatas are in balance, they are lively and enthusiastic.
FOODS TO EAT
Vata is a cold and dry dosha. To balance this out, warm, nourishing foods with a moderately heavy texture, as well as added butter and fat, are best for maintaining balance. Choose foods with spicy, acidic and sweet flavours, as well as foods that are calming and satisfying. Warm milk, cream, butter, warm soups, stews, fresh baked bread, raw almonds and nut butters are also great.
FOODS TO REDUCE
Cold foods – think salads and iced drinks – aren’t ideal. Caffeinated drinks and unripe fruit should also be avoided since they disrupt Vata.
Pittas have more fire in them than other doshas. They have stronger appetites and a stronger metabolism. Since they are hot-headed, they can handle the cold better. They are restless by nature, as well as intellectual and sharp. Pittas can eat almost anything because their digestion is strong, and they are known to get hungry often.
FOODS TO EAT
Cold or warm foods with relatively heavy textures – that is, foods that are not steaming hot. Tastes that are bitter, sweet and astringent are best. Salads, yogurt and ice cream are examples of cold, refreshing foods to enjoy during the summer. Pittas respond well to cooling herbal tea, like mint or liquorice root tea.
FOODS TO REDUCE
Anything that heats the body, such as spicy food, vinegar or excessive salt, should be avoided. Pittas should use less butter and added fat, and should avoid pickles, sour cream and cheese.
Kaphas tend to be grounded and steady, with great stamina and smooth skin and hair. They may have a more solid build than other types, and store fluids and fat more easily. A Kapha is usually quiet and attached; they talk softly and melodically. When Kaphas are out of balance, they can gain weight and become lethargic.
FOODS TO EAT
Warm, light and dry food, or lightly cooked foods or raw fruits and vegetables. Any food that is spicy is good for Kaphas, especially in winter. Dry cooking methods (baking, broiling, grilling, sautéeing) are better than moist cooking such as steaming, boiling, or poaching.
FOODS TO REDUCE
Kaphas should try not to eat too many sweet, fatty, fried and salty foods, as it can lead to water retention. A typical Kapha tendency is to overeat, so try to have only a light, dry meal in the evening.
Recognise When Your Dosha Is Unbalanced
As Sara explains, an Ayurvedic diet strives to keep your dosha in balance at all times. “If you are a Vata, there are some classic signs that your dosha is out of whack. Keep an eye out for nervousness, anxiety, and fear; twitches or tremors, or anything to do with the nervous system; low energy and persistent fatigue; dry, flaky skin; constipation and bloating; and light, interrupted sleep, often waking up in the early hours.” If you are a Pitta, meanwhile, look out for signs of inflammation – think skin rashes, digestive inflammation, and acid reflux and heartburn. Frustration, anger, irritability, impatience, a sensitivity to light and red, inflamed eyes are also warning signs. “Kaphas, meanwhile, should look out for a thick, white coating on the tongue, infrequent or sluggish bowel movements; emotional eating; difficulty waking in the morning; feeling lethargic or heavy in mind and body; and feelings of stubbornness,” Sara says.
There’s A Strong Emphasis On Digestion
“You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘You are what you eat’. In Ayurveda, you are what you digest,” Sara explains. “Digestion is the key to good overall health. It’s all about your digestive fire and making sure this is always kept strong. In terms of timing, try to eat your biggest meal at lunchtime, because your digestive fire is strongest when the sun is at its highest. Try to eat light in the evening so that your body isn’t struggling to digest heavy food when it should be resting at night.” Sara also says that environment is important when you eat. Eating in a relaxed setting and avoiding stressful conversations or thoughts when you are eating can also impact how well you digest food.
Ditch The Snacks
“In general, an Ayurvedic diet doesn’t advocate snacking,” says Sara. “According to Ayurvedic principles, there are three stages of digestion that must be completed after a meal, and it’s during this time that lightness and space return and appetite increases – this can take four to five hours. If you interrupt this process by snacking, you throw your whole system out of whack. If snacking becomes a habit, your digestive fire will weaken over time, which can lead to fatigue, malabsorption of nutrients, and a loss of strength.” Sara also says that routine is key, so make an effort to eat your meals at roughly the same time each day.
Consume Whole, Fresh Foods
Like any balanced diet, Ayurveda places a strong emphasis on foods that come straight from the earth. As well as fruits and vegetables, you should also be mindful of eating foods that are as fresh as possible – ideally seasonal and local where possible. “Your local farmer’s market is a great way to find fresh foods, but be careful of eating raw vegetables, which can be trickier to digest,” says Sara. “Cook your vegetables where possible and try not to eat fruit immediately after a meal, which can disrupt the digestion of food already in the stomach.”
Include All Six Tastes At Every Meal
“Ayurveda recognises six tastes, each of which brings different qualities to balance out different doshas,” says Sara. “The six tastes are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. A well-balanced diet contains a bit of each of the six tastes, but the ones that should be more dominant in your diet depends on your dominant dosha, or any imbalances you may have.” The sweet taste, for example, is grounding and nourishing – think sweet fruits and cinnamon. Sour flavours are cleansing and purifying, such as lemons, limes, apple cider vinegar and fermented foods. Salty tastes are balancing and regulating, such as pickles, soy sauce and miso. Pungent flavours are warming and stimulating – think garlic, onions, mustard and radishes. Bitter tastes are detoxifying, such as turmeric, cacao, aubergine and raw kale. Astringent flavours, such as those found in cranberries, pomegranates and artichokes, are cooling and anti-inflammatory.
Master The Hero Dishes
“If you want to start eating Ayurvedic-inspired food, one of the simplest things to start with is golden milk. This is made by warming milk of your choice – either dairy or plant-based – and adding turmeric, cinnamon and ginger. Golden milk has so many health benefits, such as boosting immunity, reducing inflammation and lowering blood sugar levels,” Sara says. Kitchari is also one to add to your repertoire, she says. “This is the most nourishing and easy-to-digest dish in Ayurveda. It’s made from yellow split mung beans and basmati rice, which together form a complete protein. It also includes a mix of spices that are very detoxifying. You can also try making saffron rice, which is sweet, astringent and bitter to taste, with a strong post-digestive effect. It’s great for balancing all three doshas and helps with food allergies.”
Stock Your Cupboards
Having the right ingredients to hand means you can put an Ayurvedic spin on almost any meal, says Sara. “Spices are the key,” she stresses. “Stock up on turmeric, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon and saffron, all of which are great staples. Yellow split mung beans are also a great staple protein, both for kitchari and other dishes. Honey is a healthy sweetener that builds immunity and stimulates digestive fire. Lemon and limes are great for removing toxins by stimulating digestion. Almonds are a great source of both protein and unsaturated fats.”
Ease Yourself Into The Summer Months
With warmer weather on the horizon, look to cooling foods and practices, Sara advises. “The summer months are associated with the Pitta (fire) season, so if your dosha is already Pitta, this could lead to a Pitta imbalance. Look to cooling foods – aloe vera juice is a great Ayurvedic medicine, while summer fruits and cooling foods such as coconut water, mint, cucumbers and mangos are great for balancing Pitta as the weather gets warmer.”
To learn more about Ayurveda and to discover your dosha, try Deja’s online quiz. For more information visit Deja.Life.
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