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.
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
|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.
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.
|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
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.
|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 »