Steeped in the belief of food as medicine, an Ayurvedic or Vedic diet is based on the philosophy that the foods we eat impact both our bodily health and mental states. Yep that’s right. Our eating habits not only dictate our physical health, but directly affect our cognition, including thoughts and emotions, and the ability to learn, make decisions, and problem-solve, among other brain functions.

So what does it mean to eat in a balanced way in Ayurveda?

Traditionally, this meant following a diet of predominantly fresh, whole, organic plant-based or sattvic foods.

But even if you are not a vegetarian, you can benefit from incorporating aspects of Ayurveda into your established dietary practices - the ones you already know are best for your health profile and wellness goals.

Food as medicine

If you read the second post in this series, you were already introduced to (or reminded of) the three gunas, or energy states, that reside in physical matter. With respect for our propensities, we want to either incorporate more sattvic (fresh, organic, plant-based) foods or avoid nourishment that promotes rajas (spicy, stimulating) and tamas (stale, over-processed, heavy).

However, even without bringing in the three gunas, we all know to some extent what foods are “good” for us and which foods to avoid. 

I’m not just talking about junk food - the french fries, the boxed macaroni and cheese, the pint of ice cream, the Voodoo donuts - you get my drift. I’m also talking about the foods that aren’t best for our individual health profile. The ones that we know don’t agree with us, aren’t what our bodies need, and over time can cause undesirable effects.

But we go ahead and eat them anyway.

The question is why? Why do we do this? Why do we knowingly harm ourselves?

In ayurveda this question is answered with the concept of Prajnaparadha, which translates into crimes against wisdom.

When we know that something is bad for us but do it anyway, this is a crime against wisdom. We are acting against our own knowledge-base and intuition, what we know to be true.

This might sound a bit heavy-handed, but when we think of the cumulative harm we do to our bodies, minds, and spirits by repeatedly ignoring what is in our own best interests, it doesn’t sound all that extreme.

So eating those decadently delicious sweet, salty, and fatty foods once in a while? Not so bad. 

But when we indulge more than once in a while, that is when we may be entering into the danger zone.

Eating for your constitution - the three doshas

In Ayurveda, the entire universe is made up of five elements: air, fire, water, earth, and space. These elements manifest in all of creation (matter) in the form of the three doshas: vatta, pitta, and kapha. I had the good fortune to visit the Ayurvedic Institute in 2002 as a 4th year medical student on rotation. I had my dosha read by Ayurvedic Dr. Vasant Lad and I am Pitta 3, Kapha 2, Vatta 1.

The foods recommended for optimum health and vitality in Ayurveda vary by an individual’s dosha, the qualities of foods, and principles of food combining. We all are born with a unique dosha constitution, or prakruti, at birth, but through the stressors of life and poor health choices our doshas go out of balance, known as vikruti. It is important to eat according to your unique constitution. For instance if my pitta, fire element, gets too high I may need to eat more cooling foods. If vata dosha is out of balance, more grounding foods may be needed and more adherence to a daily routine. If kapha gets imbalanced, lighter foods and more movement is needed to regain balance.

Here’s a brief overview of the three doshas that make up our individual constitution:

Vatta - people with this constitution tend to have quick minds, are flexible, creative, active, alert, and restless; they may quickly fatigue and have difficulty with stability and grounding; they may also be prone to addiction; to counter the intensity of this dosha, use mediation and other relaxation techniques. Vatta types do well with warm, well-cooked, fatty/oily foods and limiting consumption of raw-foods.

Pitta - individuals more dominant in fiery pitta have sharp intelligence, profound ideas, and good comprehension; they like to take on leadership and planning, but can be easily agitated and aggressive when out of balance. Pitta types have strong metabolism and good digestion, but they should avoid salty, sour, and pungent foods; a vegetarian diet is best for this dosha with avoidance of meat, eggs, alcohol, and salt.

Kapha - those with a predominant kapha constitution are characterized by strength, stamina, and endurance; they are forgiving, calm, and tolerant and tend to be sweet and loving but may get possessive and greedy when out of balance. Kaphas may have slow metabolism, lethargy, and avoid exercise making them prone to weight-gain; they like sweet, salty, and oily foods, but need to balance this with bitter, astringent, and pungent tastes; dairy, fatty, and fried foods should be avoided and leafy greens emphasized; combine very limited meat consumption with moderate legume consumption as kaphas don’t require a lot of protein.

Discover your unique body type and what foods you can eat to balance your doshas.

Eating for your constitution - getting started

Eating for your constitution can get tricky, especially for parents feeding family members that run the gamut of the prakruti spectrum. One of our favorite family foods that we eat every week is kitchari, which is tridoshic, and a great food for detoxing and promoting optimal health. 

Here are a few resources to help you get started:

Food Guidelines

Appetizing Ayurvedic Recipes

Incompatible Food Combining

Try it and see how eating according to your constitution changes your life and those you love.