Ayurveda is a holistic science of health with a focus on maintaining a physically and emotionally balanced state.
Ayurvedic nutrition is based on Ayurveda, a traditional form of Hindu medicine based on the idea of balance in the body’s systems, and uses diet, herbal treatments and yogic breathing to help combat the signs and symptoms of illness. It is also used as a preventative method, employing everyday principles to stave off unwanted health problems that can occur through daily living.
The word Ayurveda is taken from two separate Sanskrit words – “ayur”, meaning life, and “veda”, or science. This makes Ayurvedic medicine quite literally the science of life. It has been practiced for over 5,000 years since the discovery of the Vedas, which are ancient Indian texts of wisdom. The aim of Ayurvedic medicine is to remind us that health is the balanced and dynamic integration between our environment, body, mind, and spirit. It provides a holistic set of guidelines in regards to food and lifestyle, and lets those that are already healthy maintain good health while helping to heal those suffering from ailments of the body and mind. Ayurveda sees health as a right given to everyone at birth.
What separates Ayurvedic medicine from other, more modern forms, is its focus on the constitution, or the chemical, genetic and physiological makeup of each individual. It is thought that different foods affect people in different ways, so what and how we eat connects straight to how we feel, act and think. In Charaka, one of the ancient Veda texts, it is written, “Man is the epitome of the universe. Within man, there is as much diversity as in the world outside.” When we recognize and combine who we are with the nature we came from, our bodies can be in harmony for the rest of our lives.
Nutrition – Modern vs. Ayurvedic
While Ayurvedic medicine seeks to treat the individual as a whole, from the inside out, modern medicine tends to see the disease from a physical standpoint and treats the problem first without regard to the person being afflicted by the illness. Hence, modern nutrition tends to use a “one size fits all” approach, which is not supported by practitioners of Ayurveda and its holistic approach.
The idea of nutrition behind Ayurveda is simple: You are what you eat. It is a system of structuring your diet according to your own metabolic principles, so what works for you might not work for your friend or neighbour. We all process food differently, in our own time and ways. With some of us not being able to eat certain types of foods, while others with a strong constitution being able to withstand almost anything that is ingested. This is what makes us unique, and where the main concentration of Ayurvedic nutrition lies.
Modern nutrition tends to have a uniform blanket of rules: “Egg yolks are bad, eat only the whites; carbs are to be avoided at all costs, lest you not fit into your jeans anymore; butter is bad, chicken is good”, and so on. There is little science backing these rules, which is why “fad” foods and diets are often just that, a passing phase.
According to Ayurveda, each of us has a unique mix of three mind and body principles, which creates our specific mental and physical characteristics. These three principles are called doshas. The doshas are fundamental energies that govern our inner and outer environments: Movement, transformation, and structure. Known in Sanskrit as Vata (Wind), Pitta (Fire), and Kapha (Earth), these primary forces are responsible for the characteristics of our mind and body. Everyone has a unique proportion of these three doshas within us that shapes our nature. But most of us have one or two doshas which are most dominant, with the remaining one(s) less expressed. Here is a list of the types of doshas and the meaning of each one:
This is the energy that controls bodily functions associated with motion including breathing, blinking, our heart beating and the blood circulating through our bodies. When this dosha is in balance, it can lead to creativity and vitality. Out of balance, however, it can produce anxiety, insomnia and fear in a person.
Vata tends to be the most slender of the three body types, and people can actually find it difficult to gain weight. Physically, Vata individuals are thin with prominent bone structures; tend to be cold all the time; have dry skin and hair; and have little muscle tone. Mentally, they learn and forget quickly, enjoy change, and are very creative. Emotionally, Vata types are excitable and enthusiastic, but can become easily anxious.
This is the energy that controls the body’s metabolic systems such as digestion, how we absorb food, our body’s internal temperature and our basic nutrition. If this dosha is balanced correctly, you will feel content, disciplined and intelligent. But if out of balance, you may tend to be compulsive and irritable and suffer from indigestion or an inflammatory condition.
Pitta individuals are typically of medium build with good muscle tone. They enjoy high energy levels, strong digestion, and have a tendency to always feel warm. Mentally, they are extremely intelligent, focused, and ambitious. Emotionally, they are passionate about life, have a tendency to be perfectionists, and can become easily irritated.
This is the energy that controls bodily growth and provides water to all of our organs and limbs. It hydrates our skin and maintains our delicate immune system. In balance, this dosha is expressed as love and forgiveness. But beware! When out of balance, you may have feelings of envy or insecurity and experience sluggishness, weight gain, and sinus congestion.
Kapha types typically have a larger physique, thick wavy hair and good physical stamina. They have an excellent memory, and emotionally tend to be very loyal, stable and reliable.
It is important that you recognize each dosha within your body and eat accordingly to regulate each system. You can take a quiz by clicking on this link to determine your dominant doshas.
Diet by Dosha
For each dosha, there are certain foods that help maintain the balance needed for harmony, good health and longevity, and should be eaten according to each dosha type.
Vata types should choose foods that are warm, cooked and easy to digest, while being nourishing at the same time. Sweet berries, rice, all types of nuts, fruits, beans and dairy products should be consumed in moderation. You should try to maintain regular eating and sleeping habits, keeping your meals and sleep around the same time each day.
To keep your body active you should participate in moderate exercise such as swimming, brisk walking, yoga or Tai chi. Such activities allow for a greater range of motion and better circulation, leading to a greater frame of mind and digestion.
Pitta individuals need to avoid fried and spicy foods, and abstain from alcohol and tobacco. They should choose fresh fruits and vegetables that have a high water content like cherries, melons, cucumbers and avocado, and eat a variety of dark greens such as kale, spinach and arugula in order to maintain the maximum nutritional balance possible.
Kapha types should actively seek out spicy, warm foods that are light in nature, and avoid foods that are processed, oily or loaded with sugar. Incorporating a variety of spices like black pepper and chili are essential for balance. Ginger, tea and lemon should become a regular part of their diet.
As with Vata, regular exercise is recommended as the Kapha dosha tends to make people feel sluggish or unmotivated. Running, walking, jogging or spending time outside on a consistent basis makes the most of this energy.