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Maharishi Ayurveda

Ayurveda tips on nutrition and diet

Eat your way to health

The purpose of food is to supply our body with the necessary building materials and essential substances, such as vitamins, minerals and trace elements and to give us the energy we need.

The ayurvedic understanding of nutrition, however, goes much further and describes holistic approaches and principles still unknown to modern nutritional science. According to Ayurveda, to meet the body’s needs in the best possible way, what matters is not only the quality of our food but also the way we prepare it and the way our digestive system functions. As the ayurvedic scriptures tell us, good health begins with good digestion. Accordingly, it is important that our foods are well metabolised. In fact, ayurvedic teachings on health consider food just as important as medicine; Ayurveda uses diet as a therapeutic approach for treating and preventing illness and as a valuable means for (re-)balancing the doshas.

Individual nutritional recommendations

Thus, in addition to general nutrition guidelines, ayurvedic nutritional science also recommends a diet that is tailored to the individual and that takes into consideration a person’s dosha type, stage in life, digestive power, season and time of day, environment and current state of health.

Moreover, Ayurveda classifies foods and flavours according to the effect they have on the three doshas, which makes it possible to use food specifically for the purpose of promoting a healthy dosha balance and for optimal nourishment of mind and body.

According to Ayurveda, eating the right foods in the right quantities at the right time and in the right way plays an important role in preventing illness and slowing down the aging process.

We have, therefore, put together a list of Ayurveda tips for you that are sure to benefit your health and help prevent illness.

10 tips for an ayurvedic diet

If you want to do something good for yourself and want to change your diet, it is best if you do this one step at a time. Begin with one or two recommendations that can be easily integrated into your daily life. Tackle additional recommendations only after those first ones have proven to be effective.

  1. Eat only when you are hungry
    Trust your feeling of hunger. Eat only when you really feel hungry and when the preceding meal has been digested completely (ca. 3-5 hours after a main meal).
    Don’t overeat. Eat only until your stomach is about 3/4 full.
  2. Keep fixed mealtimes
    Always eat at about the same time of day. Lunch should be your main meal, while breakfast and dinner should be light meals. Ideally, eat your lunch at around noon because the digestive fire (“agni”) is especially strong at that time. Have dinner early (6:00 pm, 7:00 pm at the latest) and avoid heavy foods in the evening, such as meat, sausage, fish, yogurt, cheese, buttermilk, quark and similar foods that are rich in protein. These foods strain your organism and can disrupt your sleep.
    Avoid snacks between meals unless you feel hungry.
  3. Eat in a relaxed atmosphere
    Eat your meal in a calm and relaxed atmosphere. You should not read, work or watch TV while eating. Always sit down to eat. After your meal allow yourself 5-10 minutes of quiet sitting, or even take a brief rest lying down so that your body can devote itself entirely to the pending digestion.
  4. Pace yourself
    Do not eat too fast or too slowly. Chew your food thoroughly.
  5. Eat freshly prepared foods
    Your meals should be freshly prepared, tasty, easy to digest and warm. Avoid reheated and stale foods. Choose fresh, wholesome, organic foods. 
  6. Eat primarily cooked foods
    Most of your foods should be cooked because our body can absorb cooked foods more easily. If at all, raw food should be a side dish (salad). Honey should not be heated or used in cooking or baking.
  7. More than just an “add-on”: Flavour your meals with the right seasonings
    Use the right seasonings because the flavour of the meal is important and promotes health and well-being. Spices also support the digestive process. They can be used specifically for the purpose of improving dosha balance. Vata, Pitta, or Kapha churnas are especially recommended for this.
    To maintain your dosha balance, you should incorporate all six tastes in each meal if possible. Spices can be of great service in this respect.
  8. Drink mainly warm beverages and do not drink too much with your meal
    Have small sips of water, juice, lassi or other beverages during your meal. If you want to drink more, do so one hour before or after the meal. Hot or warm beverages are preferable while ice cold ones should be avoided.
    Do not drink milk with meals; you can combine it well with toast, cereals and sweet-tasting foods.
  9. Tailor your diet to your dosha type
    In addition to these general recommendations on nutrition, a diet tailored to your type plays a key role in Ayurveda. This diet is composed individually, based on an individual’s personal dosha balance and digestive power (agni).
  10. Use ayurvedic supplements
    Enhance your diet by adding supplements. Depending on their composition, the supplements can also be used specifically to improve your dosha balance.

Agni - the digestive fire

How well our body uses the nutrients in our foods depends to a large extent on our digestion. In Ayurveda we use the more comprehensive term agni, which can be translated as “digestive fire” or “digestive power”. Agni works everywhere throughout our entire mind-body system.

According to Ayurveda, agni not only governs the digestive processes in the gastrointestinal tract but also regulates the entire metabolism and the utilisation of nutrients down to each individual cell in our body. The stronger our individual digestive power, the better we can assimilate and utilise the food we eat and the fewer metabolic waste we produce.

To prevent illnesses and to live in good health for as long as possible, Ayurveda experts recommend adjusting our diet to our individual digestive power. For example, while people with a strong and vigorous agni can easily tolerate somewhat heavier foods, these foods can cause bloating and other problems in people with a weaker agni. How strong our agni is depends primarily on the balance of our three doshas.

Using doshas as guides to a type-specific diet

According to Ayurveda, a harmonious balance of the three doshas Vata, Pitta and Kapha is the best foundation for health and well-being in life. Ayurveda distinguishes between Vata, Pitta and Kapha types, depending on which dosha dominates.

Vata –
the principle of movement
Pitta –
the principle of metabolism
Kapha –
the principle of structure
Elements Ether, air Fire (and a little water) Earth, water
Typical characteristics agile, quick, light, cool/cold, dry, changeable warm/hot, reddish, sharp, irritable inert, heavy, moist, slow, solid, stable
Physical build rather light build and low weight mostly medium-heavy buildr rather solid, heavy build
Typical strengths quick-witted, enthusiastic, clear, alert mind, creative contentment, sharp intellect, eloquent persevering, strong, calm
Digestion rather irregular, also where feeling hungry is concerned, tends to constipation and bloating strong feelings of hunger, good digestion, doesn’t do well skipping meals, active metabolism, tends to have loose stools, occasionally also diarrhoea tends to have less appetite, digests slowly, gains weight easily

As a first step toward finding out the ratio the three doshas within you, you can take our dosha test.

The proportion in which the different doshas are manifest in you is reflected in your agni and digestion. For example, people with a dominant Pitta dosha usually enjoy a strong agni, while Kapha types have a rather weak agni. Those with a dominant Vata dosha, on the other hand, typically have fluctuations in their agni and digestion.

You can support your dosha balance by choosing and preparing foods according to your dosha type and the season. If you are a mixed type of two or three dosha types, you should be guided primarily by the dominant dosha.

Eating according to your type means:

  • the right quantity
  • the right selection and combination of foods
  • appropriate seasonings
  • optimal preparation
Vata-Type
  • If you are a Vata type, you should eat regularly.
  • To offset the cold and dryness of the Vata dosha eat warm foods that are not too dry and are cooked well. Feel free to add a bit of ghee or oil to your food.
  • Your beverages should also be warm.
  • Sweet, sour and salty foods have a balancing effect.
  • All sweet and warming spices have a Vata-calming effect: anise, fennel, cumin, fresh ginger, mustard seed, fenugreek, cinnamon, cardamom, liquorice, asafoetida, cloves, black pepper (in small quantities), basil and salt. Other spices in small quantities.
  • Spicy, bitter and astringent foods should only be consumed in moderation.
Pitta-Type
  • If you are a Pitta type, your food and beverages should not be too hot.
  • Cook your foods well.
  • People with a dominant Pitta dosha should have fixed meal times and keep them punctually.
  • Ideally, Pitta types should not use fasting for weight loss and should avoid raw vegetables.
  • Sweet, bitter and astringent foods and seasonings have a balancing effect on the fiery Pitta dosha. Among these are, for example, artichokes, asparagus, spinach, broccoli and zucchini.
  • The following spices are especially suited to this type: coriander, cumin, turmeric, saffron, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom as well as small quantities of ginger, among others.
  • As for fruit, you may choose sweet fruits, such as grapes, bananas, figs and apricots.
Kapha-Type
  • If you are a Kapha type, you should favour light, warm meals and not eat too much, especially not in the evening. In general, use only very little salt.
  • Warm and dry foods low in fat are especially recommended.
  • Hot (spicy), bitter and astringent foods and spices have a balancing effect on the Kapha dosha. For extra flavour use pepper and ginger.
  • As for dairy products, choose light alternatives, such as lassi and buttermilk. Use heavy dairy products, such as ghee and whole milk, only sparingly.

Foods that are strongly recommended

Recommended foods

    

Foods to avoid

other foods


Would you like to know more about what you can do to improve your dosha balance and prevent illness in the long term? For those who want to learn more we recommend our article “Diet tips for your dosha type“ as well as our recorded webinar “The right diet for every dosha type“. Our Indian experts Dr. Richa Shrivastava and Vaidya Dr. Saurabh Sharma have compiled the most important tips for you there.

YouTube - The right diet for every dosha type

Hot water in Ayurveda

Water plays a special role in Ayurveda. For thousands of years water has been considered an important element of a healthy life. However, we should not drink it cold because that would weaken our agni. Instead, we should drink warm or hot water.

According to Ayurveda water helps us to

  • improve the dosha balance
  • strengthen our agni
  • improve the transport of nutrients throughout the body
  • stimulate cleansing processes in the body
  • speed up the elimination of waste products
  • avoid false hunger feelings
  • increase our energy level

To enhance the quality of water and change its structure so that it becomes softer and is able to flush water-soluble toxins out of the body bring water to a rolling boil for 10 minutes in an open pot. You will find more details on how to do this in our article “What you should know about hot water”.

Our recorded webinar “Ayurveda and hot water” explains how much water you should drink based on your dosha type and shares additional benefits of drinking hot water.

YouTube - Ayurveda and hot water

Recommended reading

Guidebook by Dr. Ernst Schrott: Ayurveda für jeden Tag; contains many recommendations regarding choice of food for each dosha type (German only).

Cookbook by Frank Lotz: Heavenly cooking with Ayurveda