An Ayurvedic diet is a way of approaching food that has been around for thousands of years. It is based on the principles of Ayurvedic medicine, which originated in India and is still used there.
The goal of an Ayurvedic diet is to balance your prominent dosha, or the energy that guides your body. “When the doshas are in balance, they create health and you feel your best,” says Tracy Adkins, Eleva, Wis.-based, certified nurse practitioner, Ayurvedic practitioner, and founder of the skincare line at Ayurvedic vocation Jivana. “Your skin glows, digestion works properly, and you don’t feel too tired or out of sorts.”
On the other hand, she says, if you’re out of balance, you can get sick or even feel bad.
Types of doshas
We all have elements of all three types of doshas, but there is usually one dosha that is more prominent in our body. The doshas of Ayurvedic medicine are:
Usually a person with this dosha is lean, bright, creative, and active, but will tire quickly. Vatas walk and think quickly but also get bored easily. Dry skin, gas, and constipation can be a problem for those with this prominent dosha. Hot foods like cooked root vegetables, soups and stews are believed to be good for vatas. And raw or cold foods should be avoided, Adkins says.
With a medium build and athleticism, pittas are natural leaders. However, they can also have a quick temper. Burning indigestion, diarrhea, and skin inflammation (such as rosacea or acne) may be common. Sweet and refreshing foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains are recommended for pittas. Spicy foods, alcohol, and excess caffeine can be irritating.
Typically hardy with good stamina, Kaphas are nurturing, patient, and calm. Heaviness, water retention and fatigue can be a problem. Lemon, green beans, and leafy greens can be helpful for kapha, as can avoiding dairy, sweets, and grains.
Although there is not much rigorous research to support an Ayurvedic diet, its fundamental emphasis on eating fresh foods and mindful eating is generally supported by nutrition experts.
Ayurvedic Diet Principles
Here are some of the basic principles behind an Ayurvedic diet:
- Eat fresh, organic foods that are in season for your climate. For example, summer berries grown in your area would be an ideal addition to your summer dishes. Where possible, this principle could include growing food yourself or buying from local farmers’ markets.
- Eat the foods that best suit your dosha. You can find more details on recommended foods for each dosha in the Ayurvedic Institute dietary guidelines.
- Avoid snacks. If you feel hungry between meals, drink herbal tea or room temperature water. It is believed that icy and cold foods or drinks slow down digestion.
- Eat mindfully, without distractions. It’s also recommended to eat slowly and enjoy your food, which will aid digestion, Sheth says.
- Don’t overeat. Eat just enough to feel full.
- Do not eat too early between meals. Ideally, you wait at least three hours before eating again.
- Incorporate six flavors into every meal: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent. An astringent taste makes the mouth pucker and rough. Pungent is a word used to describe spiciness or heat. By combining these flavors, you’re more likely to be satisfied with the meals you eat, says Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian nutritionist near Los Angeles and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. To help incorporate more flavor, Ayurvedic meals often include herbs and spices such as turmeric and ginger.
7 tips for getting started with an Ayurvedic diet
1. Consult an Ayurvedic practitioner.
An Ayurvedic practitioner is a person trained in Indian holistic techniques for healthy living. The National Ayurvedic Medical Association maintains a list of Ayurvedic professionals, and they may have different titles, such as Ayurvedic Practitioner, Health Advisor, or Physician. All can provide advice on an Ayurvedic diet. If you can’t find a local practitioner, there are a variety of online quizzes to help you identify your dosha.
2. Take your first steps in the principles of the Ayurvedic diet.
It can be overwhelming to try everything necessary at once with an Ayurvedic diet. Choose a few items to start with.
Try these suggestions from Adkins:
- Drink a glass of lemon water first thing in the morning.
- Eat your biggest meal at lunch.
- Eat at the same times each day.
“Those are three very doable tasks that don’t involve changes in food,” she says. “Once you’ve changed a few habits, start changing the foods you eat.”
3. Talk to a doctor about any potential drug interactions with herbs and spices.
This advice comes from Grace Derocha, registered dietitian and Detroit-based national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Since an Ayurvedic diet is rich in herbs and spices, certain medications you use may cause unwanted side effects when the medication and the herb or spice are consumed.
For example, ginger may not be recommended if you are using medications that thin your blood, including aspirin. Generally speaking, there are more risks if you use herb or spice supplements than if you just add a little seasoning to your food. However, it’s always a good idea to consult your health care provider before starting a new regimen.
4. Find a responsible partner.
Find someone to do this diet with you, suggests Isaac Robertson, the Indianapolis-based co-founder of fitness website Total Shape. It could be a friend or family member who is just as eager as you to try an Ayurvedic approach. You can all help each other stick to the plan.
5. Think about how you will meet the challenges of the plan.
Following an Ayurvedic diet can be especially difficult in the United States, where there is so much reliance on unhealthy processed foods. It can also feel restrictive to remove certain foods, Derocha says. Or others may find the diet confusing.
Robertson followed an Ayurvedic diet for just over a year and says he was less moody and had better digestion. However, he found it difficult to deal with as his family members did not follow the diet. If you are committed to an Ayurvedic diet, you can plan ahead how you will meet challenges like these. This is where consulting an Ayurvedic practitioner or talking to someone who follows an Ayurvedic diet can come in handy.
6. Keep in mind that you don’t have to completely avoid your favorite foods, even if they don’t belong to specific Ayurvedic categories.
“No food or drink is ever completely off-limits, regardless of your dosha, as long as it’s done mindfully,” says Adkins. This even applies to foods that fall outside your dosha. For example, a salad from the garden, with its raw vegetables, may be more difficult for the vatas to digest, but you can add foods like avocado, meat, nuts, cheese or a drizzle of oil for it. balance, she recommends.
7. Aim to try something new and healthy without worrying about perfection.
“Ayurveda is a way of life, not a diet,” says Adkins. You don’t have to be perfect for this to work. Follow what makes you feel good and make gradual changes.