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Ayurveda 101: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha Foods

Feed your dosha! Diet is a key pillar to the edifice of robust health and vitality (Ojas) according to the ancient healing system of Ayurveda. Ayurveda aims to heighten your state of well-being by recommending to you diet plans that suit your prakruti (individual constitution), current dosha imbalances (vikriti), seasonal changes, timing, and lifestyle that you follow.

Before you can feed your dosha, you need to know what it is! Take the quiz here.

In the Ayurvedic science of ahara, the idea is not to starve, but to eat nutritious, wholesome foods in recommended quantities that are aligned with your physical and mental makeup; make you feel light, energized; and do not increase toxicity or ama. So let’s quickly understand how the science of diet works in Ayurveda, based on your dosha type!

What is healthy?

To understand that, we need to know what determines ‘healthy’ for an individual. Now, according to Ayurveda, each individual has a prakruti that is determined at the time of conception and vikruti is the imbalances in this precarious balance of doshas in one’s physiology, caused by various factors including environment, exposure to pollutants, bad food habits, a lifestyle that does not quite go with their dosha constitution.

An ideal diet or ahara that would feed your dosha contains ingredients that decrease or balance the vikrutis, and thereby reinstate good health, complexion, metabolism, and vitality. Based on each dosha type, there are specific ingredients and food items that are good for you, and some that you must avoid in order to reduce the aggravation of the dosha. Based on your prakruti, you are likely to have unique affinities towards particular tastes. These ingredients, food groups, and their suitability can vary based on time of the day and seasons too.

For example, simply based on one’s preferred tastes, vata people like sweet, sour, and salty foods; pitta types have a preference for sweet, bitter, and astringent; and kapha people like pungent, astringent and bitter foods. Nature beautifully balances the inherent excesses of these doshas through these preferences. But having wrong foods that go against one’s dosha type, can increase toxicity and speed up the occurrence of illnesses and diseases in the body.

For example, if vata people have too many pungent or bitter foods over prolonged periods of time, it can cause rapid aging and degenerative diseases. Here is a breakdown:

  • The nature of the vata dosha is cool, dry, rough, and light. So to have balance, one needs to have foods of opposite nature. People who have aggravated vata can do well by having foods that are warm, slightly spicy, fluids, contain healthy fats, and are grounding.
  • Pitta dosha is defined by heat, unctuous quality, lightness and sharpness. So to balance pitta, foods that are internally cooling, astringent, and mild are recommended.
  • Kapha dosha is heavy, oily, sticky, and cool. So balancing excess Kapha would involve having foods that are light, dry, rough, and warm.

Let ‘s look at each dosha in a little more detail and how the inherent qualities of these doshas influence the food combination that is right for the natives of each prakruti.

Vata Foods

Vata dosha is associated with ether and air elements. They are responsible for movement, nerve impulses, respiration, circulation, digestion, and creativity. Vata people must eat warm foods at regular intervals and should not go hungry for too long. Vata-pacifying foods are nourishing, moisturizing, improve digestion, and support the removal of toxins from the body. The foods they can have include

  • Fruits. They can have sweet-tasting ripe fruits including bananas, apples, pineapples, figs, melons, kiwi, raisins, soaked prunes, oranges, papayas, peaches, avocadoes, berries, cherries, apricots, plums, and coconuts. They can also have dried fruits in moderate amounts. Vata people can have fruits an hour before or after the meals,  but avoid having fruits during the evening or later.
  • Vegetables. They should be cooked and not raw for vatas. They can have asparagus, zucchini, spinach, fennel, carrots, garlic, sprouts, onions, beetroot, sweet potato, tomatoes.
  • Grains. They can have brown rice, wheat, boiled oats, wheat bread, rice.
  • Legumes. Beans should be avoided, with the exception of moong beans.
  • Jaggery and brown sugar can be had in moderate quantities. They can also have all spices and peppers in limited quantities. Clarified butter, fresh milk, paneer, tofu are all welcome for vata people. Among spices, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, cloves and cardamom can be had.

Foods to be avoided include

  • Bitter, raw or astringent vegetables including artichoke, broccoli, brussel sprouts, corn, mushrooms, raw onions and peas.
  • Couscous, granola, tapioca, wheat bran, among others.
  • Flavored yogurt or powdered milk
  • Spices like coriander seed, fenugreek, thyme or parsley.

Pitta Foods

Pitta represents the fire and water elements that regulate metabolism, body temperature, hunger, intelligence, and hormonal function. For pitta people, the food should not be very spicy, sour, or salty, which can aggravate pitta. Pitta people are known for great digestion and they can eat just about everything, without their digestion going for a toss. The food should be cool or light warm and not steaming hot. The food should be cooler in summer in the form of salads or fruit juices. Mint or licorice are favored herbal teas for pitta types. A vegetarian diet is advisable for pitta people. Their recommended foods are

  • Fruits. Sweet fruits like avocadoes, apples, coconuts, melons, oranges, dates, figs, grapes, sweet cherries and berries, mangoes, pomegranates, plums, and raisins. They should avoid having dried fruits.
  • Vegetables. Sweet or bitter vegetables such as cabbage, cucumber, potatoes, zucchini, cress, mushrooms, asparagus, lettuce, cauliflower, green beans, and peas.
  • Grains. Barley, cooked oats, wheat and rice can be had.
  • Legumes. All the legumes are allowed for pitta people, except lentils.
  • They can have brown sugar and honey. Spices like cilantro, turmeric, fennel, black pepper, cardamom are okay. Milk of goat or cow, cheese, clarified butter and unsalted butter can also be consumed and soy milk or tofu for vegans.

Foods to avoid include

  • Sour fruits
  • Pungent vegetables including root, raddish, eggplants, mustard, olives, and turnips.
  • Dry oats
  • Yeast bread
  • Millet
  • Salted butter, hard cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and soy.

Kapha Foods

The earth and water elements combine to form kapha dosha—representing qualities like heaviness, slowness, stability, softness, density, and cold. The dosha is responsible for body fluids, structures, and solidity in physiology. Kapha people should eat drying, light, and warm foods. They can have lightly cooked to raw fruits and salads. Kapha people can also have spicy food.

For Kapha, cooking methods should be drying like baked, broiled, grilled, or sautéed instead of steaming. Kapha people should avoid overeating. The foods that help the Kapha people with good digestion include

  • Fruits. Apples, cherries, mangoes, berries, pear, raisins, dried fig, plums, and peaches. Most other dried fruits should be avoided.
  • Vegetables. Spicy and bitter including, cabbage, carrots, eggplants, mushrooms, onions, spinach, Brussels sprouts, celery, garlic, peas, fennel and cauliflower.
  • Grains. Barley, millet, oats, and corn can be had in moderate quantities.
  • Legumes. Except for white beans and lentils, all the other legumes are okay for consumption, and so are all the spices.

Foods to avoid:

  • White sugar
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • All fatty foods

Additional Ways to Maintain Your Health

Some other Ayurvedic principles that help improve digestion and lead a healthier lifestyle include

  1. Avoid snacking which can can interrupt your digestive cycle. The first hour after you eat, kapha is on the rise, when you feel heavy and dull. The following 2–4 hours, pitta takes control of the digestion when the heat inside the body increases. Finally, 4–5 hours after a meal, vata rises and you you start feeling light and hungry again. It is important to let this process happen instead of snacking in between meals.
  2. Ayurveda also recommends avoiding overeating. The stomach shouldn’t be completely full after a meal. Eat as much as you can hold within your palms formed into a cup. This is the amount of food that your body can digest, and assimilate without drawing a lot of energy from other physiological functions and channeling it into digestion. An overworked digestive system can slow down the process of effective digestion and assimilation of nourishment, and lead to the formation of amatoxins.
  3. To increase Ojas or vitality, eat foods that are freshly cooked and high in prana. Avoid leftovers when possible.
  4. Include all the six tastes in your meals. Each taste serves a specific function. For example, sweet-tasting foods are nourishing and grounding, sour foods have a cleansing and purifying quality to them. For balance and regulation, have salty foods; to detox and assimilate more minerals, bitter foods do the trick; pungent foods are warming and astringent foods are known to be cool and help reduce inflammations.

Take the quiz and determine what your dosha is here!

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