Food is an important part of the Ayurvedic system and an Ayurvedic diet can both prevent and heal disease within the body. Ayurveda is a system of healing that is based on the five basic elements of the earth – earth, water, fire, air, and ether – and their combinations which are known as doshas. The three types of dosha are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The dosha is your constitutional type and there are three main types as well as four combination types. By eating according to your type, you will maximise your nutrition and correct any particular imbalances within your body. The food is selected according to such things as its elemental balance, its taste, how it affects the body, and the qualities of the food itself.
The main purpose of the diet in Ayurveda is to nourish the body’s tissues – when each of the tissues is fed, it nourishes and forms the next tissues in succession. To nourish the tissues, the food must be digested and this happens via the digestive fire which is seated in the stomach and small intestine. If the food is not properly digested as a result of overeating, a poor combination of foods, unbalanced elements or toxins, a sticky, toxic substance called ama coats the digestive tract and the tongue as well as potentially being deposited inside the tissues, forming a breeding ground for disease. By eating the proper foods, you are nourishing your body without creating this toxic substance.
The Vata is the principle of motion and it is responsible for everything in the body that moves. It combines the elements of air and ether and is said to be mobile, light, dry, cool, rough, subtle, and clear. People with the Vata dosha have very active minds and bodies and are often on the go. The Vata is seated in the colon and one of the main symptoms of Vata aggravation is excess gas in the lower bowel. Other symptoms of excess Vata include dry skin and hair, wrinkles, and cracking joints.
People with a Vata dosha should have foods that are warm, moist, oily, heavily, mostly cooked, and that emphasise tastes that are sweet, sour and salty. Spicy foods are good for Vata people as it increases the digestive fire. Dairy products are helpful. Foods that should be avoided include the cabbage/broccoli and nightshade family of vegetables, and most beans. Raw vegetables should only be eaten if they have been marinated or have salad dressing added. White sugar should be avoided and care should be taken when eating yeasted products.
The Pitta is the principle of heat and it combines the elements of fire and water. People with the Pitta dosha have a medium build that is often muscular and a ruddy complexion. Emotionally, they have a tendency for anger, aggressiveness and impatience. The Pitta is seated in the small intestine. Common irritations for Pitta people include skin rashes, heart disease, ulcers, fevers, inflammation and irritation.
People with a Pitta dosha should have foods that are cool, raw, green and soothing. Sweet, bitter and astringent tastes should be emphasized. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and low fat dairy products are helpful. Excessive amounts of oil, salt, alcohol and red meat should be avoided.
The Kapha is the principle of groundedness and stability and combines the elements of water and earth. Kapha qualities are cold, dense, oily, heavy, slow, and static. People with the Kapha dosha tend to be overweight, and retain fluid, or to be generally sluggish. They are calm and jovial but may tend towards possessiveness or greed. The Kapha is seated in the lungs and people with the Kapha dosha may suffer from congestion, excess mucus, diabetes, water retention, constipation and depression.
People with the Kapha dosha should include warm, light, dry foods with plenty of raw fruits and vegetables. The spicy, bitter and astringent tastes should be emphasized. Foods that are heavy, oily or creamy should be avoided, as should fried foods, and sweet, sour or salty foods. Other foods to be avoided include citrus fruits, red meat and dairy products.
There are some standard recommendations within Ayurveda about which foods should or should not be combined. Here is some general information: