Ayurvedic Healing With Sattvic Food
Updated: Sep 13
In many medical systems around the world, consuming healthy food is not only the best medicine, but it is also the best long-term disease prevention strategy.
In Ayurveda, a wrong diet is responsible for 90 percent of physical disease. A wrong diet can also reduce or negate the effects of herbal treatments, thus Ayurveda places great importance on the correct food and optimal ways to prepare and eat food.
Most people recognise that a balanced diet is the key to good health. Yet, there is a lot of discussion and confusion on what a balanced diet should be. From an Ayurvedic perspective a balanced diet can be very different from what is commonly understood in the West.
When we speak of balance in Ayurveda, we do not refer to vitamins, minerals or nutrients, but rather we focus on the effect of food on the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), agni (the digestive capacity) and the three gunas (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas). This is because Ayurveda perceives people as unique individuals and each individual has a different nature, digestive capacity and mental sensitivity. There is no one type of eating pattern or diet that suits everyone.
First, we must know our individual constitution (Vata, Kapha,Pitta), and then we must know the basic action of the six tastes on our constitution. For example, bitter, astringent and very spicy tastes increases Vata, so it should be minimised or avoided in every meal if your constitution is predominantly Vata. A person with Vata constitution should consume predominantly sweet, sour and salty tastes. It is important to choose the foods that balance or harmonise our constitution over a long period of time.
Apart from understanding the workings of the six tastes on our body type, it is important to understand that food choices and emotions/mental state (i.e. the sensitivity of the mind) are interrelated. Ayurveda and Yoga recognise three mental states known as gunas: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
The type of food or drinks we choose to consume depends on our mental state and we are able to change our mental state by consuming certain types of foods.
Each mental state has an influence on the type and quality of the decisions we make.
Tamas represents inertia and is a state of ignorance and fear. This energy is dull, heavy and depressed. A tamasic person is mostly selfish, lazy, attached and possessive.
Rajas is a state of mind where the qualities of ambition, drive and perfectionism dominate. It is the energy that moves everything into action. A rajasic person is restless, always setting goals to be achieved with considerable effort, and can become aggressive in reaching those goals.
Sattva or a Sattvic state is that of purity, balance and equilibrium. Sattva is light and its characteristics are clarity, compassion, devotion and faith. A Sattvic person is stable, calm, quiet, intelligent, creative, truthful, spiritually minded and health conscious. It portrays a person that maintains a feeling of contentment regardless of the circumstances in life.
When in a Sattvic state, we gain the power of clarity, insight and the true knowledge of reality. From Tamas comes the power of ignorance and obstruction. This hides the true nature of the self, and creates darkness and lack of awareness. In a state of Rajas we have the power of false imagination which projects a wrong idea or perception of things.
What is Tamasic diet?
Tamasic foods cause hypoactivity, lethargy, apathy, excess sleep, and accumulation of mucus and waste materials. Tamasic foods increase Kapha and Ama (toxins in the body). It is food that is reheated, rancid, artificial, greasy or heavy. It includes:
Not fresh, stale food including all fast food/junk food.
All ‘dead’ food (red meat, particularly pork and animal organs)
Canned and overly cold food.
White processed sugar and grains.
All industrially produced packaged food.
Over ripe food.
Poor quality dairy products especially those produced by factory farms.
Food grown with pesticides and chemicals.
Excessive intake of fats, oils, and pastries.
What is a Rajasic diet?
Rajasic foods cause hyperactivity, restlessness, irritability, insomnia, increases toxins in the blood and promotes hypertension. They bring Vata and Pitta dosha out of balance. It includes:
Very salty, spicy or sour foods (chilies, garlic, onions, wines, pickles, mayonnaise, sour cream, and vinegar).
Most fried food or roasted foods.
Coffee, black tea, tobacco, chocolate.
Meat, fish, shellfish, chicken.
Food too hot in temperature.
Drugs, alcohol and other intoxicating substances.
What is a Sattvic diet and lifestyle?
A Sattvic diet is especially suited for those who use their minds a lot. It improves mental energy and helps to treat mental disorders by restoring harmony and balance to the mind.
It is also recommended when recovering from disease or after cleansing the body of toxins. It helps to tone and rebuild tissues in the body and improves our state of consciousness.
A Sattvic diet includes pure foods (rich in prana or life force) that are light in nature and mildly cooling in energy so as not to disturb the mind. It consists of:
Pure, fresh organic vegetarian food prepared with care and love.
Lightly cooked food with a little spice to make it easier to digest.
All foods with a naturally sweet taste (not refined sugar).
Fresh ripe fruits & vegetables.
Spices like coriander, cumin, basil, turmeric, fennel, cardamon.
Oils like ghee, olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil.
Natural sweeteners such as raw honey, coconut blossom sugar and raw cane sugar.
Unprocessed and non-homogenised organic dairy products like fresh young cheeses.
In addition, Sattvic lifestyle habits like regular Yoga asana, meditation, mantra, spending time in nature, exposure to sunshine, adequate rest and sleep, and living according to your constitution.
Although a Sattvic diet helps bring peace to the mind, it may not be nourishing enough for those who do strenuous physical labor. Since Sattva is lightness, it may not be grounding enough for people who have high Vata conditions or a Vata dominant constitution.
This is why some people who follow strictly vegan diets for prolonged periods notice that their health deteriorates.
Therefore a Sattvic diet can be modified as per your current imbalance or constitution.
Sattvic Vata diet (reduces excess air element)
A person with Vata dominance or a Vata condition is prone to become Rajasic and agitated. Therefore the diet should consist of mostly Sattvic and very little Tamasic foods to counter the effect of Rajas. When you notice an excess of Rajasic qualities, consume more Sattvic food. When Tamas qualities are more dominant, use Rajasic spices for Vata like cayenne, black pepper, mustard and asafoetida in moderation. Avoid using salt excessively.
Sattvic Pitta diet (reduces excess fire element)
The standard Pitta balancing diet is predominately Sattvic as described above. Those with Pitta dominance or Pitta conditions are also prone to becoming Rajas. However, they are able to easily follow a completely Sattvic diet because they do not need as much grounding as Vata dominant people.
Sattvic Kapha diet (reduces excess water element)
Those with Kapha dosha dominance or conditions tend to become Tamas, as they easily develop lethargy, inertia, mucus and stagnation. Adding some Rajasic foods to the Sattvic diet prescribed above is beneficial, and especially a small dose of heating spices to get out of inertia and into more movement. Sattvic spices like ginger, cinnamon and cardamom can be used generously, including drier whole grains like corn or millet. Excess sweet taste should be avoided, using mainly raw honey as sweetner.
May your food give you lots of health and joy!
Dr David Frawley, (2000), “Ayurvedic Healing: A Comprehensive Guide”.
Vaidya Atreya Smith, (1998), "Practical Ayurveda: Secrets for Physical, sexual and spiritual health"