Understanding Ayurvedic Nutrition

Before you read this, if you haven’t already please take a few minutes to complete the Dosha Quiz to know your own personal constitution. Once you have done the quiz [ideally twice as recommended] you will have an idea of what your constitution at birth was and where you are today. Armed with this information you can use the following charts in a very practical manner and decide what foods are compatible for YOU.

Although it may seem confusing, Ayurvedic nutritional philosophy is actually very logical and simple to understand. [Read more about Ayurveda Basics.]
I am going to break it up into 3 simple points:

  • What is food made of?
  • What effect does food have on us?
  • How to eat for your constitution?
What is food made of?

The Ayurvedic approach is deeply rooted in the foundational belief that every single thing in the world – you, I, food, animals – we are all a product of the 5 great elements. Earth, Water, Air, Fire & Ether.
It is these elements which are present in different permutations and combinations in each of us that make us who we are in our mind, body and emotions. [ Read more about Ayurveda Basics]

So, now let’s look at food with the same logic.
All foods have the 5 elements in them in different proportions and based on those proportions they fall into 6 taste categories.

Food tastes and the elements that make them:

Sweet – Made up of Earth & Water
Sour – Made up of Earth & Fire
Salty – Made up of Water & Fire
Pungent – Made up of Fire & Air
Bitter – Made up of Air & Ether
Astringent – Made up of Air & Earth

What effect does food have on us?

Now you must be wondering, why we aren’t talking about things like fats, proteins & carbs?
And what have earth, wind or fire got to do with anything we eat?

This is an important point to understand – Ayurveda has no interest in focussing on micro nutrients such as proteins, carbs, fats etc. Every whole food has these. Actually, extremely processed foods too have these micro nutrients as a part of them. 
However, these, while important in their own place, cannot determine what effect that food has on YOU or more importantly YOUR DIGESTION.

As an example look at beans, gluten, fermented foods, spicy food, raw foods etc. Each of these can be amazing for some of us & make us feel alive & clear minded. But each of these can almost be a punishment for some of us.
Why? It’s not like they don’t each have excellent micro nutrients and redeeming qualities.
So, should you eat beans or not eat them?

Coming back to the question – Why does any food have the effect it does on us?
Let’s circle back to what the food is made of – The five elements and these elements give the food qualities. Just like the elements give us qualities.

Ayurveda says food based on it’s qualities which depend on the combination of the 5 energies it’s made of, will have a tri-fold effect on us – Immediately, Short term and Long term.

Rasa – The immediate taste and effect of the food on us when we put it in our mouths. E.g. Sweet foods have a sweet and comforting taste and give us a feeling of satisfaction and safety.

Virya – The effect the taste has on our short term digestion – The Virya can be heating – which enhances digestive function or cooling – that which slows down digestion. E.g. Pungent foods have a heating virya and sweet foods have a cooling virya.

Vipak – This is the long term effect the taste has on our digestion. This too can be heating or cooling.

THE EFFECT OF FOOD

Screen-Shot-2016-0832-AM

How to eat for your constitution?

So now we know

  • All foods have their own constitution 
  • The constitution determines the taste which has some qualities associated with it
  • And each food because of these qualities will have an immediate, short term and long term effect on us

So, the final questions are, how do we decipher which foods have what effect? And what “I” should eat so “I” am healthy and have an optimally functioning digestion?

Simple. Follow one easy rule: Opposites attract

E.g. If you are a Kapha Body type then you have a lot of Earth & Water in your basic constitution.

This rule then dictates – stay away from foods which are watery and heavy, such as:
Sweet: Heavy, Cold & Oily
Sour: Light, Hot & Oily
Salty: Heavy, Hot & Moist

Eat foods that are Hot, Light and Dry and help to keep your watery and grounded nature in balance.

Pungent: Light, Hot & Dry
Bitter: Light, Cold & Dry
Astringent: Heavy, Cold & Dry

Nutritional Needs of Each Constitution
The chart below is a quick summary of what we should eat based on what our predominant dosha is.
To know your predominant dosha please click here to complete a short quiz.

Screen-Shot-2016-08-22-at-3.30.32-AM

Finally, a few important things to understand when we eat are:

  • Food is not an inert source of energy but is as alive as we are.
  • When we are advised to eat certain foods “in balance”, the balance within your individual system is the only barometer that should dictate what is too much or too little.
  • A balanced meal consists of all 6 tastes described below – some in large quantities and some in smaller – according to their potencies.
  • Foods with one taste should not be used exclusively, except when fasting.

FOOD TASTE CARDS
Please click on the relevant card and print or download them for easy reference.

Sweet
Sour

Pung

Bitt
Astr

Other sources to learn:
Banyan Botanicals provides excellent and in-depth articles about each food taste.