Ayurveda is nothing new: it is an age-old practice. But with celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Rodgers and Kourtney Kardashian touting the lifestyle benefits, it’s become a wellness trend that piques people’s interests.
Ayurveda, which translates to the “science of life,” is a holistic medical healing system designed to align mind, body, and nature. Part of this involves dietary practices to create harmony between your individual energy patterns and the universal elements. The belief is that, when aligned, processes like digestion, metabolism and immune regulatory function at peak performance, reducing your risk of chronic health problems.
The basics of ayurveda: Understanding the Elements and Doshas
Ayurvedic practitioners believe that the universe is made up of five elements:
- Vayu, or air
- Jala, or water
- Aakash, or space
- Prithvi or earth
- Teja, or fire
In addition to the five elements, people are believed to have three energy patterns, called doshas:
- Vata represents air and ether. This dosha maintains electrolyte balance and helps eliminate waste.
- Pitta means fire and water. Pitta regulates body temperature and our hunger and mechanisms of thirst.
- Kapha represents earth and water. This dosha is responsible for joint health.
Ayurveda emphasizes the alignment of elements and doshas. This balance is considered a healthy state, while imbalances are thought to promote illness and disease.
How to eat for your dosha
According to Ayurvedic practices, we each have a dominant dosha, and your diet can help balance it. The doshas are believed to be related to different bodily functions. For example, Vata governs catabolism, or the breakdown of substances, and Vata-dominant people are considered thin or have a delicate frame. Pitta rules metabolism, so Pitta-dominant people can have strong appetites and muscularity. Meanwhile, anabolism – the way the body builds and repairs internal structures – is overseen by Kapha, and this dominance is believed to correspond to a slower metabolism. Kaphas are described as “big bones”.
According to Ayurveda, your dosha determines what you need to eat to create the harmony necessary for optimal health. Here are some general tips on best and worst foods to eat for each dosha:
- Best foods for Vata dominance: Vata attributes are cool and dry, so Vatta dominance is balanced by hot and moist foods, such as soups, casseroles, stews, baked apples and soaked dates. Vata dominance also benefits from warm up the spices.
- Worst foods for Vata dominance: To balance Vata dominance, nightshade vegetables, such as potatoes, peppers and eggplant, should be avoided. Likewise, nuts and seeds should be avoided in their crunchy state and consumed in the form of nut butter or nut milk instead. It is also best for Vatas to avoid cold, raw and frozen foods as well as sweets.
- Best Foods for Pitta Dominance: Since Pitta types have fiery qualities, they benefit from fresh, non-spicy foods. Vegetarianism is ideal for Pittas and raw vegetables, such as salads, are accentuated during the warmer months. Grains like barley, rice, and oats are another staple for Pitta-dominant people.
- Worst Foods for Pitta Dominance: Since pittas benefit from fresh foods, strong spices, including cinnamon and turmeric, are usually limited. Pitta’s qualities are also balanced when reducing salt and limiting oils, coffee and alcohol.
- Best Foods for Kapha Dominance: Kapha types are balanced by leafy greens and other vegetables grown above ground. They eat less cereal than other types, but millet is one of the favorite cereals. For proteins, legumes are preferred to animal proteins. Honey is the only sweetener considered appropriate for this dosha. Spices are suitable for Kaphas.
- The worst foods for Kapha dominance: Since Kapha dominance is associated with a slower metabolism, sweets and fried or fatty foods are rarely eaten. Dairy products are also limited when balancing Kapha dominance. Also, this guy shouldn’t drink frozen drinks.
These are just a few dietary recommendations for each dosha, so if you want to know your dominant dosha and what to eat to balance it, it’s best to work with a practitioner experienced in Ayurvedic practices.
Benefits of the Ayurvedic diet
Essentially, the Ayurvedic diet is a plant-centric, whole food diet. All the existing evidence indicates that a plant-based diet protects the mind and body from various health problems.
But remember that Ayurveda is a holistic approach to balance your dosha, so it goes beyond your eating habits. For example, movement, such as yoga and meditation, are recommended on a daily basis, and these practices are associated with many benefits. For example, yoga has been widely studied and shown to help reduce stress, anxietydepression and muscle pain.
Yoga offers additional health benefits, too. According to a exam comparing the effects of yoga in people with type 2 diabetes, yoga provided better blood sugar control and improvements in cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Additionally, a small study found that combining the Ayurvedic diet to combat Kapha dominance with practicing yoga three times a week resulted in weight loss. Participants lost an average of about 8 pounds over the 12-week period, and they continued to lose weight after the study period, losing a total of almost 13 pounds over six months. However, the study did not have a control group for comparison.
Likewise, meditation can help improve health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It can also help you feel more in control around food and increase your enjoyment of eating, so it’s a perfect complement to Ayurvedic diet strategies.
Disadvantages of Ayurvedic Diet
Some people might find the dietary guidelines confusing or restrictive, making the diet difficult to maintain. Also, while the diet includes many healthy foods, other nutritious foods are avoided or consumed infrequently. For example, Vatas are better off without tomatoes, while Kaphas avoid oats.
Another challenge could be getting used to eating foods that you may not be used to eating. And if you’re not a home chef, you might feel overwhelmed to shop for and prepare your meals. This means you may need additional guidance to incorporate these dietary strategies into your lifestyle.
Additionally, while Ayurvedic medicine has been practiced for hundreds of years, there is no standardized or scientifically validated way to determine your dosha. In other words, your dosha is not based on your blood type or anything else that can be measured. Additionally, much of the existing research comes from small studies or research with limitations (such as no control group).
To finish, Ayurvedic medicine is not well regulated in the United States, and different states may have different practice requirements. Even the term doctor can be misleading. In Ayurvedic medicine, it refers to a certain level of education, but it does not mean that the practitioner is a medical doctor (MD). If you want to discover the Ayurvedic diet, the National Association of Ayurvedic Medicine has a certification process and a search tool to help you find a certified professional.