Ayurveda is a traditional system of medicine developed in India more than 3000 years ago. Today it remains a favored form of health care in large parts of the Eastern world, especially in India, where a large percentage of the population uses this system exclusively or combined with modern medicine.
The basic principle of Ayurvedic medicine is to promote good health, not fight disease – by maintaining balance in and harmony between your body, mind, and environment. It employs a holistic approach that combines diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes to do so.
Table of Contents
What is the Ayurvedic diet?
An Ayurvedic diet provides guidelines that encourage mindful eating and consuming foods that are appropriate for your dosha.
How does the Ayurvedic diet work?
According to Ayurveda, five elements make up the universe — Vayu (air), Jala (water), Akash (space), Teja (fire), and Prithvi (earth). These combine in the human body to form three life forces or energies, called doshas. They control how your body works. They are Vata dosha (space and air); Pitta dosha (fire and water); and Kapha dosha (water and earth).
- Vata (air + space). Vatas are often described as creative, intense, or expressive. Additionally, the dosha controls cell division, mind, breathing and blood flow. It does also control heart function, and the ability of your intestines to eliminate waste. Eating too soon after a meal, fear, grief, and staying up too late are all things that can interrupt it.
People with vata dosha are thought to be more prone to anxiety, asthma, heart disease, skin disorders, and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Pitta (fire + water). Pittas are often described as intelligent, joyful, and driven. This energy regulates your digestion, metabolism and certain appetite-related hormones. Eating sour or spicy foods, as well as spending too much time in the sun, can disrupt it.
People with pitta dosha are more likely to develop conditions like Crohn’s disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, and infections.
- Kapha (earth + water). Naturally calm, grounded, and loyal. It controls muscle growth, body strength and stability, weight, and your immune system. Sleeping during the day, eating too many sweet foods, and eating or drinking things that contain too much salt or water can disrupt it.
People with kapha dosha may develop asthma and other breathing disorders, cancer, diabetes, nausea after eating, and obesity.
Everyone inherits a unique mix of the three doshas. But one is usually stronger than the others and each one controls a different body function. The energy of each dosha helps determine what to eat to boost health, prevent or manage diseases, and maintain overall health and wellness.
Also, many people find that they have two strong doshas.
Red meat, artificial sweeteners, and processed ingredients are limited for all three doshas. Instead, the Ayurvedic diet encourages eating healthy whole foods.
For example, the pitta dosha controls hunger, thirst, and body temperature. Meanwhile, the Vata dosha maintains electrolyte balance and movement, while the Kapha dosha promotes joint functionJaiswal YS, Williams LL. A glimpse of Ayurveda – The forgotten history and principles of Indian traditional medicine. J Tradit Complement Med. 2016 Feb 28;7(1):50-53. doi: … Continue reading.
According to recent scientific analysis, ayurvedic lifestyle practices including the diet can potentially lead to weight lossPayyappallimana U, Venkatasubramanian P. Exploring Ayurvedic knowledge on food and health for providing innovative solutions to contemporary healthcare. Front Public Health. 2016;4:57. … Continue reading.
An Ayurvedic doctor can also help you decide the ideal herbs for your dosha and, if necessary, assist with medical issues. This is most likely the most precise method of finding your dosha.
If you don’t have access to an Ayurvedic practitioner, you can use an online questionnaire to determine your dominant dosha type. However, the questionnaires may not always be correct.
Foods to eat for your dosha
In Ayurveda, foods are categorized based on their physical qualities and the way they are said to affect your body. This helps determine which ingredients work best for different doshasPayyappallimana U, Venkatasubramanian P. Exploring Ayurvedic Knowledge on Food and Health for Providing Innovative Solutions to Contemporary Healthcare. Front Public Health. 2016 Mar 31;4:57. doi: … Continue reading.
- Protein: small amounts of poultry, seafood, tofu
- Dairy: milk, butter, yogurt, cheese, ghee
- Fruits: fully ripe, sweet, and heavy fruits, such as bananas, blueberries, strawberries, grapefruit, mangoes, peaches, and plums
- Vegetables: cooked vegetables, including beets, sweet potatoes, onions, radishes, turnips, carrots, and green beans
- Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, mung beans
- Grains: cooked oats, cooked rice
- Nuts and seeds: any, including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, chia seeds, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds
- Herbs and spices: cardamom, ginger, cumin, basil, cloves, oregano, thyme, black pepper
- Protein: poultry in small amounts, egg whites, tofu
- Dairy: milk, ghee, butter
- Fruits: sweet, fully ripe fruits like oranges, pears, pineapples, bananas, melons, and mangoes
- Vegetables: sweet and bitter veggies, including cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, zucchini, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, and Brussels sprouts
- Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, mung beans, lima beans, black beans, kidney beans
- Grains: barley, oats, basmati rice, wheat
- Nuts and seeds: small amounts of pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, coconut
- Herbs and spices: small amounts of black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, cilantro, dill, turmeric
- Protein: poultry in small amounts, seafood, egg whites
- Dairy: skim milk, goat milk, soy milk
- Fruits: apples, blueberries, pears, pomegranates, cherries, and dried fruit like raisins, figs, and prunes
- Vegetables: asparagus, leafy greens, onions, potatoes, mushrooms, radishes, okra
- Legumes: any, including black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and navy beans
- Grains: oats, rye, buckwheat, barley, corn, millet
- Nuts and seeds: small amounts of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds
- Herbs and spices: any, including cumin, black pepper, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, basil, oregano, and thyme
Foods to avoid for your dosha
The Ayurvedic diet suggests that you limit or avoid certain foods based on your dosha.
- Proteins: red meat
- Fruits: dried, unripe, or light fruits, such as raisins, cranberries, pomegranates, and pears
- Vegetables: any raw vegetables, as well as cooked broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mushrooms, potatoes, and tomatoes
- Legumes: beans, such as black beans, kidney beans, and navy beans
- Grains: buckwheat, barley, rye, wheat, corn, quinoa, millet
- Herbs and spices: bitter or astringent herbs like parsley, thyme, and coriander seed
- Proteins: red meat, seafood, egg yolks
- Dairy: sour cream, cheese, buttermilk
- Fruits: sour or unripe fruits, such as grapes, apricots, papaya, grapefruit, and sour cherries
- Vegetables: chili peppers, beets, tomatoes, onions, eggplant
- Grains: brown rice, millet, corn, rye
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, peanuts, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, sesame seeds
- Herbs and spices: any spices not included in the list above
- Proteins: red meat, shrimp, egg yolks
- Fruits: bananas, coconuts, mangoes, fresh figs
- Vegetables: sweet potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers
- Legumes: soybeans, kidney beans, miso
- Grains: rice, wheat, cooked cereal
- Nuts and seeds: cashews, pecans, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, walnuts
Are there any other rules to the Ayurvedic diet?
Well, the Ayurvedic diet isn’t just about eating for your dosha—there are some basic principles to keep in mind that apply to everyone.
According to the diet, each of the six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent, and bitter—can affect your physiology, or your body’s ability to function properly. These are the other principles of the Ayurvedic diet that every dosha should follow:
- Intake of six rasas or tastes. At each meal, incorporate foods that are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent.
- Begin your meal with sweet-tasting foods (like fruit).
- Continue with salty foods (such as seafood) and sour ones (citrus fruit, for example).
- Finish with pungent foods (like onions or peppers), astringent (such as green apples or tea), and bitter (celery, kale, or green leafy vegetables).
- Eat the proper quantity of food. Be aware of hunger signals and signs of fullness to avoid overeating.
- Eat only when your previous meal has been digested. According to the guidelines, you should not eat within three hours of your previous meal or snack, but you should not go without eating for more than six hours.
- Eat mindfully, concentrating on how your food tastes and makes you feel.
- Eat quickly enough to prevent the food from getting cold.
- Focus on breakfast and lunch. Many Ayurvedic practitioners recommend a light breakfast followed by a larger, filling lunch. Dinner may or may not be eaten, depending on your hunger levels.
Benefits and Downsides
Here are a few of the potential benefits of the Ayurvedic Diet.
Mindful eating, according to one small research of ten people, lowered body weight, depression, stress, and binge eatingDalen J, Smith BW, Shelley BM, Sloan AL, Leahigh L, Begay D. Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based … Continue reading.
Mindful eating focuses on minimizing distractions during meals so that you may concentrate on the flavor, texture, and fragrance of your food. It may also enhance self-control and promote a healthy relationship with foodKristeller JL, Jordan KD. Mindful Eating: Connecting With the Wise Self, the Spiritual Self. Front Psychol. 2018 Aug 14;9:1271. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01271. PMID: 30154740; PMCID: PMC6102380..
Could promote weight loss
Being more mindful of how much you eat and how quickly you eat could also help with weight loss. A review in the International Journal of Obesity showed that following Ayurvedic principles resulted in clinically significant weight loss compared to a placeboPittler, M., Ernst, E. Complementary therapies for reducing body weight: a systematic review. Int J Obes 29, 1030–1038 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0803008.
According to a study from the University of New Mexico and the University of ArizonaRioux J, Thomson C, Howerter A. A Pilot Feasibility Study of Whole-systems Ayurvedic Medicine and Yoga therapy for Weight Loss. Global Advances in Health and Medicine. January 2014:28-35. … Continue reading, an Ayurvedic and yoga-based lifestyle modification program was shown to be an effective technique of weight management.
Encourages whole foods
Although there are specific instructions for each dosha in the Ayurvedic diet, the diet as a whole encourages the consumption of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.
The diet also minimizes processed foods, which often lack fiber and important vitamins and minerals.
Studies show that eating higher amounts of processed foods may be associated with a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, and even deathSrour B, Fezeu LK, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B, Méjean C, Andrianasolo RM, Chazelas E, Deschasaux M, Hercberg S, Galan P, Monteiro CA, Julia C, Touvier M. Ultra-processed food intake and risk of … Continue readingFiolet T, Srour B, Sellem L, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B, Méjean C, Deschasaux M, Fassier P, Latino-Martel P, Beslay M, Hercberg S, Lavalette C, Monteiro CA, Julia C, Touvier M. Consumption of … Continue readingSchnabel L, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B, Touvier M, Srour B, Hercberg S, Buscail C, Julia C. Association Between Ultraprocessed Food Consumption and Risk of Mortality Among Middle-aged Adults in France. … Continue reading. However, more studies are needed in regard to its credibility.
There are no food restrictions in the Ayurvedic diet. Instead, it provides you with a list of things to eat and avoid based on your dosha. As a result, it can provide balanced nutrition as you make healthy food choices.
Flexible and Sustainable
The Ayurvedic diet does not demand strict adherence to the principles; those who follow it can make their own decisions about what works best for them and their bodies. If the dosha eating plan seems too complicated or restrictive, some experts recommend simply following the basic eating principles.
Adopting an Ayurvedic lifestyle that is suited to your specific demands will provide unrestricted benefits. This adaptability may benefit in the long-term viability of the Ayurvedic diet.
The Ayurvedic way of living promotes body-mind harmony via nutrition, exercise, and appropriate sleep. While Ayurvedic medicine has been practiced for thousands of years, much of the evidence supporting its efficacy is based on observation.
However, as interest in integrative approaches to health, such as Ayurveda, grows, more researchers are performing high-quality studies that support the system’s use in providing new insights into its impacts.
Although the Ayurvedic diet has some advantages, it also has certain disadvantages to consider. Here are a few of the Ayurvedic diet’s potential drawbacks.
Rules can be complicated
There are comprehensive lists of items on the Ayurvedic diet that you are encouraged to eat or avoid depending on your dosha. This can cut out healthy, whole foods or entire food groups that are thought to aggravate specific dosha.
Other foods, such as red meat or processed meals, are also excluded, which may require considerable dietary changes.
This can feel overly restrictive and less flexible than other meal plans and may make it difficult to stick to the diet long term.
Dosha May Be Hard to Determine
Although there are multiple guidelines and online quizzes to aid in the process, determining your dosha is not without risk.
Because the food suggestions are personalized to each dosha, picking the wrong dosha could have a damaging effect on your results.
Even if you see an Ayurvedic doctor, determining your dosha is a subjective procedure. It does not rely on objective evidence such as a blood or urine test.
Furthermore, no evidence currently supports the concept of doshas or the claim that your personality traits determine which foods you should eat and avoid. Therefore, it’s unclear how beneficial the diet is, even if you correctly determine your dosha.
Herbs May Cause Side Effects
According to the National Institutes of Health, consumers should be aware that certain Ayurvedic medicines, herbs, or herbal combinations may have negative effects and can be harmful if taken inappropriatelyNational Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Ayurvedic medicine: In depth. Updated January 2019..
Can be confusing
The Ayurvedic diet can be complex and difficult to follow, which is one of its major drawbacks.
Not only are there specific food lists for each dosha but also many additional rules to follow. For instance, the recommendations regarding which foods you should eat and avoid change throughout the year based on the season.
There are also recommendations for when, how often, and how much to eat, which can be difficult to follow – especially for individuals who are just starting out on the diet.
While focusing on whole foods and eating mindfully are typically healthy and safe practices, utilizing Ayurvedic medications may come with certain risks.
The National Institutes of Health cautions that some Ayurvedic products, herbs, or herbal combinations may cause side effects National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Ayurvedic medicine: In depth. Updated January 2019..
- Triphala: Diarrhea and abdominal discomfort when taken in high doses
- Boswellia: Stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and an allergic rash (when applied topically)
- Guggul: Headaches, stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, loose stools, diarrhea, hiccups, and belching
- Gotu kola: Upset stomach, nausea, light sensitivity, and an allergic rash (when applied topically)
Does it work? UPSHOT
For thousands of years, millions of people have followed the Ayurvedic diet, which is now recognized in many areas of the world as a way to improve general health and wellness. There are also aspects of the Ayurvedic diet that are similar to nutrition practices used by Western medical and health professionals.
If weight loss is your objective, an Ayurvedic diet that encourages whole, unprocessed foods and mindful eating habits is likely to yield results.
In the United States, there are only a handful of state-approved Ayurvedic schools. However, there is no national standard training or certification program.
Ayurvedic products are not reviewed or approved by the FDA and since 2007, it has prohibited certain ones from entering the nation.
Furthermore, the FDA has stated that one out of every five Ayurvedic medications contains harmful metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. These heavy metals, especially in youngsters, can cause life-threatening illnesses.
Always discuss any major dietary changes or herbal medicines with your healthcare provider to make sure they don’t interfere with current medications or with the management of any medical conditions. It would always be nice if you talk to your doctor before you try Ayurveda or any other alternative medical treatment.
The bottom line: Whether you subscribe to the concept of eating for your dosha or not, being more mindful of what foods you eat and how they impact your body and how you feel—and tweaking your diet based on that—is definitely a good thing. If the Ayurvedic diet helps you do that, that’s a win.
Additional sources: healthline.com, verywellfit.com, womenshealthmag.com, webmd.com
|↑1||Jaiswal YS, Williams LL. A glimpse of Ayurveda – The forgotten history and principles of Indian traditional medicine. J Tradit Complement Med. 2016 Feb 28;7(1):50-53. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.02.002. PMID: 28053888; PMCID: PMC5198827.|
|↑2||Payyappallimana U, Venkatasubramanian P. Exploring Ayurvedic knowledge on food and health for providing innovative solutions to contemporary healthcare. Front Public Health. 2016;4:57. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2016.00057|
|↑3||Payyappallimana U, Venkatasubramanian P. Exploring Ayurvedic Knowledge on Food and Health for Providing Innovative Solutions to Contemporary Healthcare. Front Public Health. 2016 Mar 31;4:57. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2016.00057. PMID: 27066472; PMCID: PMC4815005.|
|↑4||Dalen J, Smith BW, Shelley BM, Sloan AL, Leahigh L, Begay D. Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Complement Ther Med. 2010 Dec;18(6):260-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2010.09.008. Epub 2010 Nov 11. PMID: 21130363.|
|↑5||Kristeller JL, Jordan KD. Mindful Eating: Connecting With the Wise Self, the Spiritual Self. Front Psychol. 2018 Aug 14;9:1271. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01271. PMID: 30154740; PMCID: PMC6102380.|
|↑6||Pittler, M., Ernst, E. Complementary therapies for reducing body weight: a systematic review. Int J Obes 29, 1030–1038 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0803008|
|↑7||Rioux J, Thomson C, Howerter A. A Pilot Feasibility Study of Whole-systems Ayurvedic Medicine and Yoga therapy for Weight Loss. Global Advances in Health and Medicine. January 2014:28-35. doi:10.7453/gahmj.2013.084|
|↑8||Srour B, Fezeu LK, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B, Méjean C, Andrianasolo RM, Chazelas E, Deschasaux M, Hercberg S, Galan P, Monteiro CA, Julia C, Touvier M. Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective cohort study (NutriNet-Santé). BMJ. 2019 May 29;365:l1451. doi: 10.1136/bmj.l1451. PMID: 31142457; PMCID: PMC6538975.|
|↑9||Fiolet T, Srour B, Sellem L, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B, Méjean C, Deschasaux M, Fassier P, Latino-Martel P, Beslay M, Hercberg S, Lavalette C, Monteiro CA, Julia C, Touvier M. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. BMJ. 2018 Feb 14;360:k322. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k322. PMID: 29444771; PMCID: PMC5811844.|
|↑10||Schnabel L, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B, Touvier M, Srour B, Hercberg S, Buscail C, Julia C. Association Between Ultraprocessed Food Consumption and Risk of Mortality Among Middle-aged Adults in France. JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Apr 1;179(4):490-498. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.7289. PMID: 30742202; PMCID: PMC6450295.|
|↑11, ↑12||National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Ayurvedic medicine: In depth. Updated January 2019.|