What Is the Ayurveda Diet? History, Health Benefits, and Foods to Enjoy and Avoid

Wed, Feb 7th 2018

Summer Sander

9 mins read

What Is the Ayurveda Diet? History, Health Benefits, and Foods to Enjoy and Avoid

If you haven’t heard of the Ayurveda diet before, you’re not alone. Once isolated to the bustling population of India, it has only recently grown in popularity, thanks to the translation of more and more ancient Sanskrit texts into English over the last 40 years. These texts were written by monks and rishis (poets or sages enlightened by a higher power); they discuss the steps one must take to develop healthy patterns for their individual life force (dosha). By incorporating massage, meditation, yoga, and targeted, intentional dietary changes to one’s routine, the rishis of India believed one could reach optimal health and ward off a host of illnesses and body imbalances.

Ayurvedic medicine relies heavily on the use of plants and herbs to treat imbalances in the body. There are over 250 plants and 600 herbs that make up the all-natural “pharmacy” that is ayurvedic medicine. In this article, we’ll examine the doshas at the center of ayurvedic medicine, the efficacy and health benefits of this ancient practice in modern-day society, and the foods to enjoy and avoid as part of this age-old diet.

History of the Ayurveda Diet: Defining the Doshas

To understand the Ayurveda diet, you must first understand the principles that define it. Doshas are the life forces or energies inside every human being. There are three doshas and each one is made up of two of the five elements—ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Just as each of the doshas has a different combination of elements, each individual has a different makeup up doshas, typically being dominant in one.

Take a look at the description of the three doshas below. In which dosha do you think you are the most dominant?

The Vata Dosha

  • Combines the elements air and ether (space)
  • Associated with lightness, imagination, creativity, and adaptability
  • May experience physical symptoms like dryness, coldness, stiffness, and digestive issues
  • When experiencing an imbalance, vata-dominant individuals may become restless, indecisive, and fearful

The Pitta Dosha

  • Combines the elements fire and water
  • Associated with confidence, intelligence, expressiveness, perfectionism, and competitiveness
  • May experience physical symptoms like overheating, inflammation, acid reflux, and hormone issues
  • When experiencing an imbalance, pitta-dominant individuals may become arrogant and combative

The Kapha Dosha

  • Combines the elements earth and water
  • Associated with steadiness, loyalty, devotion, tranquility, and patience
  • May experience physical symptoms like weight gain, high cholesterol, and congestion
  • When experiencing an imbalance, kapha-dominant individuals may become depressed, needy, and secretive

Imbalances in doshas are thought to result in illness. For optimal health, Ayurvedic practitioners believe doshas must be balanced (as closely as possible, anyway). Restoring this balance doesn’t necessitate a trip to the doctor’s office or pharmacy, however. Practitioners believe it can largely be accomplished by the foods you eat or don’t eat (hence, the Ayurveda diet).

Health Benefits of the Ayurveda Diet

With the obesity epidemic at an all-time high and increasing rates of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, it might be time to carve out a bigger place for the Ayurveda diet in Western medicine. For thousands of years, the rishis of India have known about the signs and symptoms of diabetes. In fact, revered Ayurvedic texts coined the word, prameha, to describe the group of conditions that typically characterize this blood sugar disease (namely obesity, prediabetes, and metabolic syndrome). It appears that enlightened spiritual leaders knew then what Western medicine is just figuring out recently—disturbances in fat intake and carbohydrate metabolism greatly increase the likelihood of prameha (diabetes).

With this knowledge at hand, rishis began developing targeted treatment methods to combat the symptoms of diabetes, majorly revamping individuals’ diets to improve their quality of life. Following an Ayurveda-based diet is clearly effective for people battling weight issues, metabolic syndrome, and type 1 and type 2 diabetes. These are some other conditions in which an Ayurveda diet may be especially beneficial:

  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • High blood pressure

As more research is done in the Western world on the efficacy of the Ayurveda diet, researchers are likely to gather even more evidence that this holistic approach to food and wellness is safe, cost-effective, and results-oriented.

The Ayurveda Diet: Foods to Enjoy and Avoid for Each Dosha

The typical American diet is loaded with highly refined, processed food like sodas, white bread, dairy, cookies, and chips. Because these types of foods are highly acidic, they often contribute to illness. In fact, excessive acidic fluids in the body can cause headaches, fatigue, and a weakened immune system, ravaging your body and greatly increasing your chance of health problems.

Introducing more alkaline foods to the body is a key principle of the Ayurveda diet. This diet aims to restore and balance your body’s pH levels. Want a fun fact? Your body does not produce alkaline naturally. This means it’s critical to eat a substantial amount of alkaline-forming foods to maintain a healthy pH level. Some examples of effective alkaline foods that you can start incorporating into your diet include the following:

The Ayurveda diet maintains that 70–80 percent of each meal should be made up of alkaline-forming foods while 20–30 percent should be made up of acid-forming foods. It may come as a surprise, but citrus fruits are incredibly non-acidic once they are eaten and metabolized by the body. It’s true—fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges become alkaline after ingestion and are therefore an important part of the Ayurveda diet.

Here’s a quick look at the types of foods to enjoy and avoid for each dosha

Foods for the Vata Dosha

Foods for the Vata Dosha

Foods to Enjoy: Because they are often cold and dry, vatas benefit from warm, wet foods. Opt for herbal teas and hot soups. And don’t forget to include plenty of healthy oils in your cooking. When it comes to fruit, choose bananas, melons, and grapes; for veggies, cooked asparagus and carrots are good options for you.

Foods to Avoid: Vatas should steer clear of most dried fruit, such as dates and raisins, and also avoid eating raw veggies like onions, mushrooms, and cauliflower.

Foods for the Pitta Dosha

Foods for the Pitta Dosha

Foods to Enjoy: Quick to anger and prone to bouts of overheating, pittas benefit from sweet, cool foods. If you identify with the pitta dosha, think yogurt, refreshing salads, green juices, raw seeds and cooling herbs when making your food choices. For fruits, select berries, apples, figs, and plums. For veggies, opt for cooked beets, cooked carrots, kale, and cucumbers. 

Foods to Avoid: It is recommended that pitta-dominant individuals steer clear of caffeine, alcoholic beverages, and spicy foods. Avoid sour fruits like lemons, pineapple, and grapefruit and shy away from pungent vegetables, such as raw radishes, mustard greens, and green chiles. 

Foods for the Kapha Dosha

Foods for the Kapha Dosha

Foods to Enjoy: Typically stable and nurturing individuals, light, dry, and bitter foods are thought to be most beneficial to kaphas. Choose beans, legumes, salads, whole grains, and citrus if this is your dominant dosha. Pick astringent fruits like peaches, persimmons, and pomegranates when hitting the produce aisle. For veggies, look for pungent and bitter varieties, such as artichoke, beet greens, asparagus, and cauliflower

Foods to Avoid: Avoid overeating or indulging in too much sugar or salt as kaphas are prone to high cholesterol and weight gain. Do your best to curb your intake of sweet and sour fruit like coconut, tamarind, and pineapple. And steer clear of sweet and juicy vegetables, such as raw tomatoes, olives, cucumber, and squash. 

By using the above guidelines, doing some of your own research, and consulting with an Ayurvedic practitioner, you can start to make food choices that promote good health from the inside out.

Read more information about this diet: Ayurvedic Diet: Discover the Goodness of Nature

Insights and Safety Precautions for the Ayurveda Diet

The beautiful part about adopting an Ayurveda diet and practicing the principles of Ayurvedic medicine is that you are taught that you are perfect and divine in your natural state. Now what could possibly feel better than that? Like yoga, Ayurvedic medicine teaches awareness, compassion, and self-observation, which are thought to greatly improve overall health. By promoting mindful, purposeful, distraction-free eating, the Ayurveda diet encourages its followers to put their health first and balance their life forces. Ayurveda diet devotees eat meals at regular hours so the body positively responds to the natural rhythms of the day and learns what types of foods to expect.

Take caution when taking herbal medicines, which make up a central part of this diet. Herbs may cause unexpected side effects (especially if it’s your first time trying a particular formulation). Additionally, keep in mind that some treatments recommended by Ayurvedic practitioners may include the use of heavy metals. To be on the safe side, check with your primary care physician before introducing any new herbal medicines or heavy metals to your body as some may interact with your current medications.

References 

University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Ayurvedic medicine. http://www.fammed.wisc.edu/files/webfm-uploads/documents/outreach/im/handout_ayurveda_patient.pdf. Updated June 2011. Accessed February 6, 2018.

University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Ayurveda. https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/special/ayurveda/aa116840spec.html. Updated March 2017. Accessed February 6, 2018.

Sharma H, Chandola HM. Prameha in Ayurveda: correlation with obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes mellitus. Part 1-etiology, classification and pathogenesis. J Altern Complement Med. 2011;17(6):491-496. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0396.

Sharma H, Chandola HM. Prameha in Ayurveda: correlation with obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes mellitus. Part 2–management of Prameha. J Altern Complement Med. 2011;17(7):589-599. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0397.

Sharma H, Chandola HM. Ayurvedic concept of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes mellitus. J Altern Complement Med. 2011;17(6):549-552. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0690.

The Ayurvedic Institute. Food guidelines for basic constitutional types. https://www.ayurveda.com/pdf/food-guidelines.pdf. Updated 2016. Accessed February 6, 2018. 

Sund E, Food & Nutrition Magazine, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Ayurveda: India’s 5,000-year-old diet and wellness plan. https://foodandnutrition.org/may-2013/ayurveda-indias-5000-year-old-diet-wellness-plan/. Updated May 2013. Accessed February 6, 2018.

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About the Author
Summer Sander

Falling in love with the art of writing at a young age, Summer decided to pursue it professionally right out of high school. She completed her studies in English literature, Spanish literature, and psychology in 2007, earning a bachelor’s degree from UCSD. From there, Summer worked as a health information writer, pharmaceutical marketing editor, and an instructional writer. Working in several industries, Summer ultimately found that writing on wellness and health conditions is her niche. At home, she enjoys tending to her roses, playing in the backyard with her two children, and bingeing on the latest Netflix series.

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