Ayurvedic Diet for Beginners – Eating to Balance Your Doshas
Maybe your yoga teacher mentioned that she eats according to her dosha. Or maybe your best friend is raving about her new morning Ayurvedic routine. But what exactly is an Ayurvedic diet… and how could it benefit you?
It’s important to know that Ayurveda isn’t just another wellness trend. It’s an ancient Indian philosophy that’s been around for thousands of years. The core of Ayurveda is the belief that health depends on a balance between the body, mind, and spirit.
This delicate balance can be reached by following core principles written down in ancient Vedic texts. One such principle reminds us that we have the ability to heal ourselves. By choosing the right foods, leading a balanced lifestyle, and promoting inner calm, we can regain and maintain optimal health.
Choosing a healthy, wholesome diet is a key aspect of the Ayurvedic lifestyle. Another is living in tune with your dosha. Here’s what beginners need to know about following an Ayurvedic diet, plus tips for eating according to your dosha.
The Basics of an Ayurvedic Diet
An Ayurvedic diet is typically a whole food diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, herbs, and spices. Food choices should be made according to your body type and how they make you feel.
It is not necessarily a vegetarian diet, but instead, it is more focused on individual needs. While some may feel amazing when they don’t eat meat, others may feel depleted or even malnourished over time. The key is to learn to listen to your body.
If swapping out meat for Soylent soy protein powders and other plant-based protein sources makes you feel healthier, more energized, and more focused, then that’s the right choice for you. But if you feel exhausted, get sick often, or notice other chronic health issues when you eliminate meat, that could be an indicator that a vegetarian diet isn’t the best choice for you.
As a general rule, Vata types tend to need more meat in their diet, while Pitta types do fine with just small amounts of meat. Kapha types seem to do best on a vegetarian diet due to their sluggish digestion. But the key is to look at the big picture and make adjustments according to what your body currently needs.
Understanding the Doshas
Understanding the doshas is key for following an Ayurvedic diet. Ayurveda teaches that the universe is made up of five elements:
When combined, these elements make up the three life energies or doshas of Ayurveda:
- Vata (space and air)
- Pitta (fire and water)
- Kapha (earth and water)
We all have all three energies within us. One dosha is usually dominant, while the others maintain a shifting but equal balance. It is possible to have equal portions of two or even all three doshas. In fact, achieving and maintaining balance in all three doshas is the key to optimal health.
Your dominant dosha dictates which foods will promote balance and nourishment for your body. It also dictates which foods to avoid to prevent energy imbalances that can cause a variety of health issues, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive problems, acne, and more.
For example, Pitta is a fire dosha. If your dominant dosha is Pitta, you would want to avoid spicy, hot foods that would fuel that fire because it would throw the doshas out of balance.
Finding Your Dominant Dosha
Meeting with an Ayurvedic practitioner is the best way to find your dominant dosha(s). However, knowing some general characteristics of each dosha can give you a pretty good idea of where you may fit on your own.
For example, Vatas tend to be sensitive, expressive, energetic, and creative. They also tend to have dry skin and be light sleepers with thin frames who always have cold feet and hands. They prefer warm, humid climates. When Vata’s doshas are out of balance, they tend to feel weak and restless.
Pittas are productive, hard-working, ambitious, and very smart. Their body type tends to be warm and athletic. They sleep soundly, but only for short amounts of time. They prefer a cold climate. When a Pitta’s doshas are out of balance, they will struggle with irritability, indigestion, heartburn, and skin issues.
On the other hand, Kaphas tend to be easy-going, thoughtful, calm and nurturing. They prefer consistent routines, warm/dry climates, are sound sleepers, and have solid body frames. A Kapha who is out of balance tends to sleep excessively, gain excess weight, and struggle with depression.
Eating to Balance Your Doshas
Imbalances in any dosha can lead to health issues, so the ultimate goal of an Ayurvedic diet is to balance the doshas. For example, a Pitta with an athletic build may become too thin if Vata is out of balance. Or, they may become overweight if Kapha is out of balance.
Ayurveda uses diet and lifestyle changes to correct imbalances. There are six distinct tastes in the Ayurvedic diet:
Each taste can either aggravate or pacify certain doshas.
How to Balance Vata
An individual with excess Vata always feels cold and may struggle with anxiety, viral infections, insomnia, dehydration, constipation, and unexplained weight loss. Vatas should avoid spicy, astringent, and bitter tastes.
Focus on sweet, salty, and sour flavors, as well as moist, warm foods that are easy to digest. Good choices include:
- Herbal teas made from ginger, fennel, lemon, and chamomile
- Mild spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cumin, and mustard
- Moist grains like rice and wheat
- Ripe fruits
- Boiled or steamed starchy vegetables
How to Balance Pitta
Individuals with excess Pitta energy are often irritable and aggressive. They tend to be driven to the point of perfectionism and very critical of themselves. They may struggle with excessive hunger, heartburn, diarrhea, bacterial infections, and overheating. Vivid, violent dreams may disturb their sleep.
These people should avoid hot, spicy, oily, salty, fried, fermented foods and alcohol. Their diet should include more astringent, sweet, and bitter flavors, as well as cool and heavy foods. Some good examples are:
- Herbal teas made from red clover, chamomile, mint, and fennel
- Soupy grains like oats, barley, rice, and wheat
- Sweet fruits
- Mild cooling spices like curry, mint, coriander, and turmeric
- Boiled, steamed, or raw vegetables
- Small amounts of dairy
How to Balance Kapha
When Kapha is out of balance, you tend to feel lethargic, heavy, and stagnant. You may struggle with weight gain, water retention, procrastination, sluggish bowels, and candida infections. You may also sleep excessively and crave warm, spicy foods.
People with excess Kapha energy should stick to pungent, bitter, and astringent flavors and a warm, low-fat diet. Some good examples are:
- Herbal teas made from raspberry, peppermint, fenugreek, and cinnamon
- Strong spices like pepper, garlic, salt, basil, mustard, ginger, paprika, and turmeric
- Grains like barley, oats, rye, millet, and corn
- Boiled, steamed, and raw vegetables
- Ripe fruits (avoid bananas)
- Limited low-fat dairy
- Honey instead of sugar
Ayurvedic Diet Basics for Beginners
Following an Ayurvedic diet isn’t just about eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones. It’s also about how to eat in general. Beginners should keep these Ayurvedic diet basics in mind:
Eat at the Right Time
Whenever possible, choose seasonal foods and keep your meal times consistent every day, even on the weekends.
- Breakfast: Try to eat breakfast before 8 AM.
- Lunch: Lunch should be eaten in the middle of the, around noon. It should be your largest meal of the day.
- Dinner: Dinner should be eaten before 7 PM. This meal should be light since digestion becomes more sluggish later in the day.
Does dinnertime at your house typically involve a mad dash to the grocery store or scrambling to get dinner on the table by 9 PM? When you’re following an Ayurvedic diet, try to make meal preparation a tranquil experience.
Prepare your meals using fresh foods in a calm, relaxed manner in a spirit of joy and anticipation for the delicious food you’re about to eat. This will get your digestive enzymes flowing and make mealtime a pleasurable experience, instead of a stressful chore.
Make Every Meal an Event
Even if you’re eating by yourself, make every meal an event. That means using a pretty plate, turning on some pleasant background music, lighting a candle, and displaying some fresh flowers on the table.
Remember to slow down and chew your food thoroughly. Pay attention to how the food tastes, feels and smells. This will improve your digestion and make the experience more pleasurable.
Eat the Right Amount
The right amount of food at each meal will be different for everyone but the point is to not overeat or undereat. Your goal should be to eat until you feel pleasantly satisfied. You shouldn’t feel overfull, simply content and comfortably satiated.
Avoid Eating Incompatible Foods at the Same Meal
Ayurvedic guidelines dictate that certain foods should never be eaten together. Never eat lemon with tomato, chicken with honey, meat with eggs, milk with vegetables, or raw fruit with cooked foods. Why? Because these combinations can cause digestive upset and put unnecessary strain on the body.
Drink Water the Right Way
You’ve heard that you should drink at least eight glasses of water every day. But life gets busy and you forget. So, you gulp down a great big glass of water once or twice a day and hope for the best.
But that’s not the right way to drink water, according to Ayurveda. You should sip it slowly and intentionally throughout the day, and it should be room temperature, never cold. This is much better for digestion and staying properly hydrated.
Cook with Ghee
Ghee, or clarified butter, has a high smoke point and it should be your main fat used in cooking. It’s perfect for sauteing and it’s easy to digest since it contains no milk proteins.
Wrapping It Up: Why Switch to an Ayurvedic Diet
There are so many reasons to love an Ayurvedic diet! First, it focuses on eating nutrient-dense whole foods while minimizing processed foods. It’s also typically higher in fiber, which is better for digestive health. And, an Ayurvedic diet promotes mindful eating, which may help you maintain a healthy weight.
At the end of the day, it’s a healthy diet that most anyone can follow, so there’s no harm in giving it a try!