An Ayurvedic diet is a way to approach to food that’s been around for thousands of years. It’s based on the principles of Ayurvedic medicine, which originated in India and is still used there.
The goal behind an Ayurvedic diet is to balance your prominent dosha, or the energy that guides your body. “When doshas are in balance, they create health and you feel your best,” says Eleva, Wisconsin-based Tracy Adkins, a board-certified nurse practitioner, Ayurvedic practitioner and founder of the Ayurvedic-geared skincare line Jivana. “Your skin glows, digestion functions properly and you don’t feel overly fatigued or moody.”
In contrast, she says, if you’re out of balance, you may experience disease, illness or even feel just generally off.
Types of Doshas
We all have elements of the three types of doshas, but there’s typically one dosha that’s more prominent in our bodies. The doshas within Ayurvedic medicine are:
Usually a person with this dosha is slim, bright, creative and active, but will get tired quickly. Vatas walk and think fast but also get bored easily. Dry skin, gas and constipation can be a problem for those with this prominent dosha. Warm foods like cooked root vegetables, soups and stews are thought to be good for vatas. And raw or cold foods should be avoided, Adkins says.
With a medium, athletic build, pittas are natural leaders. However, they also can have a quick temper. Burning indigestion, diarrhea and skin inflammation (like rosacea or acne) can be common. Sweet, cooling foods like fruit, vegetables and whole grains are advised for pittas. Spicy foods, alcohol and excess caffeine can be irritating.
Typically sturdy with good endurance, kaphas are nurturing, patient and calm. Heaviness, water retention and fatigue can be a problem. Lemon, green beans and leafy greens can be helpful for kaphas, as can avoiding dairy products, sweets and grains.
Although there’s not much rigorous research to support an Ayurvedic diet, its basic emphasis on eating fresh foods and eating mindfully are commonly supported among nutrition experts.
Principles of the Ayurvedic Diet
Here are some of the basic principles behind an Ayurvedic diet:
- Eating fresh, organic foods that are in season for your climate. For instance, summer berries grown in your region would be an ideal addition to your summer dishes. When possible, this principle could include growing foods on your own or shopping at local farmers markets.
- Eating foods that are best for your dosha. You can find more details on foods recommended for each dosha from The Ayurvedic Institute’s food guidelines.
- Avoiding snacks. If you feel hungry between meals, drink herbal tea or room-temperature water. Icy, cold foods or drinks are thought to slow digestion.
- Eating mindfully, without distractions. It’s also recommended to eat slowly and enjoy your food, which will help with digestion, Sheth says.
- Not overeating. Eat just enough to feel satisfied.
- Not eating too soon between meals. Ideally, you wait at least three hours before eating again.
- Incorporating six flavors into each meal: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent. An astringent taste makes the mouth pucker and leaves it feeling rough. Pungent is a word used to describe spiciness, or heat. By combining these flavors, you’re more likely to feel satisfied with the meals you eat, says Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian nutritionist near Los Angeles and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. To help incorporate more flavors, Ayurvedic meals often include herbs and spices such as turmeric and ginger.
7 Tips to Get Started With an Ayurvedic Diet
1. Consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner.
An Ayurvedic practitioner is someone with training in Indian holistic techniques about living healthy. The National Ayurvedic Medical Association maintains a list of Ayurvedic professionals, and they may have different titles, like an ayurvedic practitioner, health counselor or doctor. All can provide guidance on an Ayurvedic diet. If you can’t find a local practitioner, there are a variety of quizzes online to help you identify your dosha.
2. Take small first steps into Ayurvedic diet principles.
It can be overwhelming to try everything at once that’s required with an Ayurvedic diet. Choose a couple of things to get started.
Try these suggestions from Adkins:
- Drink a glass of lemon water first thing in the morning.
- Eat your largest meal at lunch.
- Eat at the same times every day.
“These are three very doable tasks that don’t involve changes in foods,” she says. “Once you’ve changed a couple of habits, start changing the foods you’re eating.”
3. Talk to a doctor about any potential medication interactions with herbs and spices.
This advice comes from Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian and Detroit-based national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Because an Ayurvedic diet is rich in herbs and spices, there may be medications you use that could cause unwanted side effects when both the drug and the herb or spice are consumed.
For instance, ginger may not be recommended if you use medications that thin your blood, including aspirin. Generally speaking, there’s more of a risk if you’re using herb or spice supplements compared to if you’re adding just a little of the seasoning to your food. However, it’s always a good idea to check with your health provider before you start a new diet.
4. Find an accountability partner.
Find someone to do this diet with you, suggests Isaac Robertson, the Indianapolis-based co-founder of the fitness website Total Shape. This can be a friend or family member who’s just as excited to try an Ayurvedic approach as you are. You all can help each other stick to the plan.
5. Consider how you’ll address the diet’s challenges.
Following an Ayurvedic diet can be especially challenging in the U.S., where there’s so much reliance on unhealthy, processed food. It also can feel restrictive to take out certain foods, Derocha says. Or others may find the diet confusing.
Robertson followed an Ayurvedic diet for a little over a year and says that he was less moody and had better digestion. However, he found it difficult to manage as his family members were not following the diet. If you’re committed to an Ayurvedic diet, you can plan in advance how you’ll meet challenges like these. This is where consulting with an Ayurvedic practitioner or speaking with someone who follows an Ayurvedic diet can come in handy.
6. Keep in mind that you don’t have to completely avoid your favorite foods, even if they don’t fall into specific Ayurvedic categories.
“No food or drink is ever completely off-limits, no matter your dosha, as long as it’s done mindfully,” Adkins says. This even applies to foods that don’t fall within your dosha. For instance, a garden salad, with its raw veggies, may be harder to digest for vatas, but you can add foods like avocado, meat, nuts, cheese or a drizzle of oil to balance it out, she recommends.
7. Aim for trying something new and healthy without worrying about perfection.
“Ayurveda is a lifestyle, not a diet,” Adkins says. You don’t need to be perfect for it to work. Follow what feels good to you and make gradual changes.