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Four steps to an Ayurvedically balanced meal

A tablescape of colorful Ayurvedic meal
According to Ayurveda, life is supported by three pillars: food (Ahara), sleep (Nidra) and proper management of procreation (Brahmacharya). Of those three factors, food occupies the most important position for the maintenance of health. Eating is more than just putting tasty morsels in your mouth as fuel for the day. Food provides strength for your body, mind and soul and if consumed properly can help prevent disease.

 

Ayurvedic versus conventional nutrition

Have you ever heard the slogan, “You are what you eat?” This is part of the conventional approach to nutrition, which emphasizes healthy food choices based on the nutrition facts required on food labels. Ayurveda doesn’t agree with that slogan. In Ayurvedic nutrition, the appropriate mantra is, “You are what you digest,” giving the digestibility of the food most importance. Ayurvedic nutrition focuses on how your body processes what you eat. Meals are structured in accordance with your individual body constitution (Prakriti) and imbalances (Vikruti). Instead of focusing on calories and food groups, Ayurveda builds the diet using the elements and their associated tastes, or Rasas.

 

A dosha identifying paper quiz

 

Step 1: Identify your Dosha or constitution

The Doshas are energy patterns that govern your thinking, behavior and physical appearance. Ayurveda refers to them as Vata, Pitta and Kapha and you’re born with a unique combination of the three. Each Dosha is defined by its primary elemental characteristics or building blocks. According to Ayurveda, everything in the physical world is composed of these elements or Mahabhutas, including our bodies and our food, and you’ll use them in the upcoming steps to help build your meal plan.

 

How the Doshas of your individual constitution match to the elements
Dosha Elemental Composition
Vata Ether + Air
Pitta Fire + Water
Kapha Water + Earth

 

NOTE: There are many Dosha identifying quizzes out there, but it’s best to meet with an Ayurvedic professional for a thorough assessment and identification. Not only will the professional help you identify your Dosha, but they’ll also help you become aware of any potential imbalances requiring diet modifications.

The Ayurvedic elements depicted inside glass cups

 

Step 2: Understand the taste and element connection

There are four varieties of taste buds on the tongue with each perceiving either a sweet, sour, salty or bitter taste. The action of each taste is determined by its elemental composition.

 

Taste Elemental Composition
Sweet (Madhura) Earth + Water
Amla (Sour) Earth + Fire
Lavana (Salty) Water + Fire
Katu (Pungent) Fire + Air
Kashaya (Astringent) Air + Earth
Tikta (Bitter) Air + Ether

 

To maintain your Dosha balance and the proper functioning of your body, ALL six of the tastes should be consumed in each meal, BUT with proportions of each which are appropriate to your in-born body constitution (Dosha) and current imbalances.

 

 

Step 3: Match the six tastes to your Dosha

Matching the appropriate tastes to your Dosha is easy! All you have to do is use the elements as your guide.

Vata is composed mainly of air and ether elements, Pitta of fire and water, and Kapha of earth and water. Taking that into account, you can determine which tastes will bring balance and which, if consumed in abundance, may aggravate your digestion and overall health status.

 

Referring back to the chart above:

If you have a Vata dominant constitution, you’ll want to avoid an abundance of food with bitter, pungent and astringent tastes

If you have a Pitta dominant constitution: you’ll want to avoid an abundance of pungent, sour and salty

If you have a Kapha dominant constitution: you’ll want to avoid an abundance of sweet, sour and salty

 

A close up of Saag paneer

 

Step 4: Choose food to keep you balanced

Using the elements once again as your guide, you can easily evaluate your recipes to make sure they contain food and spice choices appropriate to your individual needs. Foods predominant in the earth element are heavy or grounding (sweet potatoes, beets, pumpkin, mangos). Water element foods are more liquid, moist and mobile (milk, fish, seaweed, soups). Hot, sharp foods (pepper, garlic, lime, ginger) contain the fire element and help fuel digestion. The air element contains foods such as certain varieties of beans, leafy vegetables, and crackers. And ether, subtle, light, clear foods such as greens, bitter melon and fenugreek.

Let’s look at a recipe for Saag Paneer and how it can be modified to accommodate all Doshas. The original recipe was tailored to the Kapha Dosha, but simple substitutions remove the heating (fire) element for Pitta and add a more nourishing (water) element for Vata.

 

Saag Paneer

 

Ingredients Vata Pitta Kapha
2 cups fresh spinach
2 cups mustard greens Reduce to 1 cup mustard greens
Spice blend Ginger, fenugreek, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg Coriander seeds, mint, dill and turmeric Ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, red pepper, black pepper
¼ cup liquid Increase to 1 cup milk ¼ cup coconut milk ¼ cup vegetable broth
2 tbsps ghee
¼ cup paneer

Creating an Ayurvedically balanced meal is easy and elemental, pun intended. It just takes a little planning in terms of understanding the individual(s) you are cooking for.

 

Would you like to learn more about the elements, Doshas and Ayurvedic nutrition?

Start learning in our Holistic Ayurvedic Coach certification! It includes classes dedicated to helping you learn how to choose the foods right for your body and consume them in a way that will result in optimal digestion and health. Learn more about our Coach certification here »

Agni: the force behind digestion and metabolism:

We utilize energy for all physiological actions and functions in our body. In this process, our tissues are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. They receive needed replenishment for this activity from food, water and air.

When we eat, our body does not utilize all foods in the same manner. Food needs to be transformed into physical form to help in building new tissues. The energy responsible for this discrimination and transformation is called Agni.

 

An Ayurvedic Definition of Agni

1) Fire, one of the nine substances (Dravya), one of the five elements (Bhoota)

2) Digestive power

 

Agni and The 5 Elements

Agni is one of the Panchabhutas, or five elements – one of the foundational principles of Ayurvedic philosophy. According to this theory, everything in the universe is made up of these five elements. Agni referred to as the “Teja Mahabhuta” in the body. It governs our life, strength, health, energy, luster, Ojas (fluid of life, responsible for vigor, heartiness, immunity and more) and Tejas (radiance). Agni represents the root of healthy life when balanced. If deranged, it causes disease. Also, Agni keeps us alive. If Agni is extinguished, a person dies.

 

Functions of Agni in our body

  • Digests food
  • Nourishes the Doshas (the three energies governing all functions of the body)
    • Balanced Vata (Air + Ether) creates energy
    • Balanced Pitta (Fire + Water) creates radiance
    • Balanced Kapha (Water + Earth) creates strength
  • Nourishes Dhatus (tissues of the body)
  • Creates OjasTejas and Prana (Subtle Doshas)
  • Clears mind, thoughts and ideas
  • Maintains life force

 

Tips for maintaining balanced Agni and metabolism

The choices we make not just daily, but throughout the day influence the status of our Agni. When Agni is strong, we are able to sustainably digest and assimilate what we consume – food, thoughts, actions and ideas. When Agni is weak, we are not able to digest what we intake. We are not what we eat. We are what we digest. Thus, a strong, balanced Agni is crucial to our health!

 

Each individual will require different lifestyle choices to balance Agni for their unique constitution, though there are general guidelines we can all follow:

  • Eat 3 healthy meals a day and according to your unique needs
  • Avoid consuming things you know tax your system (such as wheat, dairy, spicy food, raw foods, etc)
  • Eat your largest and most diverse meal when digestive fire is strongest: between 10am-2pm
  • Ginger tea can stimulate digestion
  • Avoid cold beverages – they can extinguish the fire of our Agni
  • Don’t overeat – end a meal before the “full” feeling
  • When hunger strikes, don’t ignore it – you need fuel to keep the fire going!
  • Get plenty of sleep so our system can rest and replenish