Ayurveda: Eating for Optimal Health
The following dietary guidelines will help you to balance all three doshas, create strong digestion, reduce ama (toxic undigested food) and build a healthy immune system. These recommendations can be followed by anyone, since they limit the foods that cause most of the problems for all doshas. If you have specific health problems or diseases, read about Health Problems and Ayurvedic Home Remedies and consult with an Ayurvedic specialistfor personalized recommendations.
Even if you are able to follow only one or two of the following guidelines at first, you will find that gradually, over time, you can incorporate more changes. Please do not allow yourself to become stressed or fanatical about eating or avoiding certain foods—the most important thing is to bless your food and enjoy the process of eating!
According to Ayurveda, the general tips are these:
∙ Eat warm, moist, cooked foods.
∙ Eat warm soups in the fall, winter and early spring.
∙ Drink warm beverages in the fall, winter and early spring.
∙ Room temperature (slightly cool) beverages are all right in the summer.
∙ Use spices to balance the qualities of food (see below).
∙ Use unrefined salt.
∙ Buy organic whenever possible.
∙ Avoid or limit canned, microwaved, frozen, packaged, processed and stale foods, all of which contribute to ama (toxins).
∙ Avoid or greatly reduce junk food such as chips, pretzels, candy bars, ice cream, pastries, cookies, soft drinks, etc., to reduce ama.
∙ Avoid white sugar and artificial sweeteners to reduce ama and avoid doshic imbalance.
Ayurveda recommends eating lots of cooked fresh vegetables.
Especially enjoy these vegetables freely:
∙ Beets and beet greens
∙ Green beans
∙ Leafy greens, especially kale, spinach, Swiss chard
∙ Well-cooked onions, leeks
∙ Sweet potatoes
Most people can eat the following cooked veggies once or twice a week:
∙ Bitter melon
∙ Broccoli, with garlic and/or ginger
∙ Mustard greens
∙ Red or yellow bell peppers
Certain vegetables are more likely to cause doshic imbalance, so it is wise to consume them in greater moderation. If you like the following veggies, you may feel best if you limit them to once or twice per month, using ghee and spices such as cumin, coriander, fennel, black pepper, fresh ginger and turmeric:
∙ Green bell peppers
∙ Brussels sprouts
∙ Cucumbers (for vata and kapha types; pitta types can eat frequently.)
∙ Mustard and turnip greens
∙ Red or yellow bell peppers, if you suffer from arthritis
∙ White potatoes
Limit raw vegetables. Raw vegetables cannot be completely digested by the human digestive tract, according to Ayurveda, and should be avoided if toxins (ama) are present and only consumed occasionally otherwise. However, lettuce and salad leaves can be digested and may be taken at lunchtime with oil and a small squeeze of lime juice as a replacement for vinegar. Fresh vegetable juice is very nourishing and is easily digested, although certain juices may aggravate the doshas, particularly kapha.
Eat whole grains and favor the following:
∙ Spelt (has a similar taste to wheat, but is lighter and easier to digest)
∙ Basmati rice, white and brown
∙ Brown rice (for pitta types, only once or twice per week is best)
∙ Jasmine rice
These grains can be made into porridge without milk, and flavored with cinnamon, cardamom and coconut flakes to make an ideal breakfast that is easy to digest, highly nutritious and energizing.
A note about corn: Corn on or off the cob and cornmeal are highly aggravating to vata and can also increase pitta, so they are best eaten on occasion rather than regularly.
A note about basmati rice: The doctors of the Siddha Ved lineage of Ayuveda suggest avoiding basmati rice unless your health is strong. If you are suffering from any kind of chronic disease, basmati rice can contribute to the build-up of toxins, according to Dr. Smita Naram. Basmati is also best avoided if you have kapha problems such as a cold or cough.
A note about wheat: Please note that of all the grains, wheat is the heaviest and hardest to digest because of its high-gluten content. Frequent consumption of wheat (both white and whole grain) contributes to excess mucus and sinus congestion, allergies, weak digestion, fluid retention and weight gain, according to the Siddha Ved lineage. Wheat and wheat breads may be substituted with any other grain. Try spelt bread, which is lower in gluten, or explore non-gluten breads. If these are not available, you may try seven- or nine-grain brands, since the gluten content is lower than in whole wheat. Wheat pastas may be substituted with spelt or rice pasta, which are commonly available at natural food stores.
Many people—especially people who suffer with chronic health problems—will feel better by avoiding certain foods most of the time because these foods severely aggravate the doshas and contribute to the formation of toxins. If that seems too austere to you because you love these foods, eat them in small amounts once or twice a month or for an occasional treat.
∙ Chilies, cayenne pepper
∙ Coffee and black tea (if taken, limit to one 8 oz. cup per day)
∙ Green bell peppers
∙ Raw onions
∙ Tomatoes are a member of the ‘deadly nightshade’ family of plants, which contribute to arthritic degeneration of the joints and osteoporosis. Tomatoes cooked with cumin are less aggravating than raw tomatoes.
∙ Deep-fried foods
∙ Ice-cold foods and drinks severely weaken the digestive fire
∙ Fermented foods, including alcoholic beverages, vinegar and products that contain vinegar, soy sauce, tamari, yogurt and hard, aged cheeses such as cheddar and Swiss
While suffering from a cold, cough or sinus infection, you’ll recover more quickly if you avoid:
∙ All dairy products
∙ Sweet potatoes
Soak legumes in cold water six to eight hours before cooking. Cook with warming spices (asafetida, garlic, ginger) and combine with rice for a complete protein.
The following legumes can be eaten daily or even two to three times a day since they are easy to digest, balancing and nourishing to the body. They also help the body to detoxify:
∙ Split (yellow) mung dal
∙ Whole (green) mung soup
These legumes are best eaten only once a week because they can be difficult to digest if eaten in excess:
∙ Toor (also called tuver) dal
∙ Green, French and red lentils
∙ Snow peas
∙ Soy beans and soy products
∙ Sugar snap peas
Limit hard beans to once a week, or less, collectively, because they aggravate vata:
∙ Black beans
∙ Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
∙ Kidney beans
∙ Navy beans
∙ Cooked or raw peas
∙ Pinto beans
∙ Split peas
Learning to cook with spices is one of the most important keys to healthy eating, according to Ayurveda. Spices aid in the digestion and absorption of nutrients and improve the flavor of foods. Food should be spiced to have an overall warming effect without overheating the metabolism. It is the overall effect of the combination of spices that is most important
Use these spices liberally to balance all doshas and increase agni, the digestive fire:
Use to taste:
∙ Bay leaf
∙ Unrefined mineral salt or unrefined sea salt
Use in moderation if pitta complaints are present (e.g., burning pain, bleeding disorders, headaches, irritability, anger):
∙ Asafetida (also spelled asafoetida and called hing in Asian markets), only use a pinch or two per 1 cup dried legumes or per 4 cups cruciferous vegetables or white potatoes to reduce gas-producing quality
∙ Black pepper
∙ Caraway seeds
∙ Garlic (Garlic may need to be avoided by people who suffer from acid indigestion or acid reflux.)
∙ Ginger root
∙ Ginger powder
∙ Mustard seeds
∙ Poppy seeds
Avoid cayenne pepper, green or red chilies, and curries. If you must eat them, they should be used only in very small amounts. They should be avoided completely if vata and pitta complaints are present.
If you want to avoid toxins in your diet, eat fruits separated by 30-60 minutes from other foods. When fruit is eaten at the same time with other foods, toxins tend to form in the colon. Avocados are an exception to this rule.
∙ Cooked fruits
∙ Sweet fruits—apples (when sweet), bananas, sweet berries, sweet cherries, grapes, mangos, melons, papayas, peaches, pears, plums
∙ Avocados (except when suffering from kapha problems)
Limit sour fruits to once a week or even once a month (eliminate if you suffer from GERD or acid indigestion). These include:
∙ Grapefruit, oranges, lemons, strawberries
Limit dried fruits to occasionally, unless soaked overnight in water or eaten with ghee.
Eat nuts and nut butters in moderation.
∙ All nuts and nut butters increase kapha.
∙ Most nuts aggravate pitta, when taken in excess.
∙ Almonds are especially recommended because they are considered satvic (pure energy) and they only increase pitta slightly.
∙ Dry-roasted nuts will increase vata.
Cook with moderate amounts of healthy fats, including:
∙ Coconut oil
∙ Olive oil
∙ High oleic sunflower oil
Use natural—unprocessed—sweeteners in moderation:
∙ Raw sugar, such as Sucanat, Turbinado and jaggery
∙ Pure maple syrup (not the kind with corn syrup and other additives)
∙ Raw honey, never heated above 100˚ F, cooked or baked
Ayurveda suggests that following a vegetarian diet best supports optimal health. Although a vegan diet may be your preference, traditional Ayurveda has always honored fresh dairy in the diet unless you have kapha symptoms (cold, cough, excess weight). In fact, ghee—clarified butter—has medicinal value, according to Ayurveda. Considered a “carrier,” ghee is said to transport the medicinal value of foods and spices to the various tissues and organs.
Eat dairy and eggs in moderation.
Limit cheese, especially hard, aged cheeses, to once a week or less, as they can clog the subtle channels. Cheeses are best when soft, such as cottage cheese, farmer cheese, paneer, ricotta and goat cheese. Goat cheeses and goat’s milk are easier to digest than products made from cow’s milk.
If you can tolerate milk, try to find raw or non-homogenized milk. Cold milk increases kapha and ama, and should always be avoided. Milk is easiest to digest when it’s been brought to a light boil and mixed with spices such as fresh ginger, cardamom and black pepper, as in chai, or spiced Indian tea. Avoid all dairy products when you have kapha problems (mucus, allergies, cold and cough, bronchitis, asthma, or excess weight).
You can eat organic, cage-free eggs as often as once a week.
A Note to Omnivores
Because meat is heavy, Ayurveda suggests that it creates toxins. If meat is eaten, it is better to consume small, digestible quantities of white meat, i.e. chicken and turkey, since red meat and dark-meat cuts of poultry are heavier, contain more fat and are harder to digest. Red meat and dark-meat poultry also increase pitta and kapha.
*Excerpted from Sacred & Delicious, Celebrating the Healing Power of Food and Spices. Copyright © 2009 by Lisa Joy Mitchell, all rights reserved. Scheduled for publication in late 2009. This information may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, whether electronic, mechanical or otherwise, or used for any purpose other than the individual reader’s personal use without the expressed written consent of the author.