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What Is the Ayurvedic Diet?

With all of the diets and healthier eating options available today, choosing one right for you can be overwhelming to say the least. "The Ayurvedic diet is an eating plan that provides guidelines for when you eat, what you eat, and how you eat to boost your health, prevent or manage disease, and maintain wellness. If you follow an Ayurvedic diet, you'll eat primarily whole or minimally processed foods and practice mindful eating rituals" according to Very Well Fit writer Malia Frey.

She continues, "The diet is based on Indian Ayurvedic wellness systems that date back thousands of years. Some studies have shown that Ayurvedic lifestyle practices—including the diet—can help improve your health. But following an Ayurvedic diet for weight loss isn't necessarily a proven method to reduce weight."

Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH notes that "Grounded in a Hindu system of medicine, an Ayurvedic diet instructs you to eat according to a dominant dosha (energy type). There is no scientific rationale for this style of eating, but experts agree the focus on unprocessed foods and mindful eating are both valuable takeaways."

Some Ayurvedic Background Ayurveda is a wellness practice that originated in India and is about 5,000 years old. The word "Ayurveda" is a combination of two Sanskrit words that mean life (Ayur) and science (Veda), so the literal translation of Ayurveda is "the science of life." Ayurvedic medicine seeks to create a healthy strong body through a series of diet, exercise and lifestyle practices, including sleep and mindful living.

How the Ayurvedic Diet Works If you follow an Ayurvedic diet, you'll incorporate many different practices into your eating routine. These practices help you to benefit from the different qualities of food.

One of the primary characteristics of an Ayurvedic diet is that you eat according to your dominant constitutional type or dosha. You can think of your dosha as your most prominent energy. There are three different Ayurvedic doshas that derive from five different elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Each element provides different qualities or attributes. Vata (space and air): Vatas are often described as creative, intense, or expressive. Attributes include dry, light, cold, and rough. Pitta (fire and water): Pittas are often described as intelligent, joyful, and driven. Attributes include sharp, hot, liquid, and mobile.

Kapha (earth and water): Kaphas are often described as calm, loving, or lethargic. Attributes include moist, heavy, soft, and static. After reading descriptions of each dosha, you may find that one sounds more like the qualities you embody. Many people find that they have two strong doshas. Those who practice an Ayurvedic lifestyle believe that each of us embodies all three doshas. Your prominent dosha will determine your eating style.

What to Eat Once you have determined your dominant dosha, you can create meals around foods that will help nourish your body and balance your energy. You'll find more extensive guides for dosha-based eating online at sites including The Ayurveda Institute, but it's helpful to scan a few of the foods suggested by the organization for each dosha. VATA Foods to Eat Sweet fruit such as cooked apples or cherries Cooked vegetables like asparagus or beets Grains including quinoa or rice Red lentils Dairy products (in moderation) Beef Eggs Fish Black pepper Coriander leaves Vinegar Peanuts and pecans Chia or flax seeds Beer or white wine Sesame oil and ghee

Foods to Avoid Dried fruit Raw apples and watermelon Frozen, raw or dried vegetables Potatoes Barley Corn Chickpeas Split peas Yogurt Lamb Turkey Red wine Chocolate


Foods to Eat Raisins Watermelon Sweet or bitter vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower Dry cereal Pasta Black beans Unsalted butter Chicken (white meat) Egg whites Almonds Beer Dry white wine Coconut

Foods to Avoid Apricots Avocado Pungent vegetables like onion or raw leeks Sour fruits Spinach Bread made with yeast Quinoa and brown rice Rye soy sauce Salted butter Sour cream Beef Chicken (dark meat) Chili pepper Red or sweet wine Seafood other than shrimp Chocolate

KAPHA Foods to Eat Astringent fruit like applesauce or prunes Pungent or bitter vegetables like celery or carrots Granola Polenta Lima beans Buttermilk Cottage cheese Shrimp Turkey Dry red or white wine

Foods to Avoid Sweet or sour fruits like grapefruit or figs Sweet or juicy vegetables like cucumber or zucchini Cooked oats Rice Pasta Pancakes Wheat Kidney beans Soft or hard cheese Duck Tofu Freshwater fish Ketchup Hard alcohol Chocolate


Some of the basic Ayurvedic eating practices include: Intake of six rasas or tastes. At each meal, you will incorporate foods that are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent. You begin your meal with foods that have a sweet taste (like sweet fruit), then consume food that is salty (such as seafood) and sour (citrus fruit, for example), then finish with foods that are pungent (like onions or peppers), astringent (such as green apples or tea), and bitter (celery, kale, or green leafy vegetables). Eat mindfully and with concentration. Avoid talking, laughter, and other distractions to fully appreciate your meal and the wholesome benefits it provides. Eat slowly enough that you can savor the taste of the food. Eat quickly enough to prevent the food from getting cold. Eat the proper quantity of food. Be aware of hunger signals and signs of fullness to avoid overeating. Eat only when your previous meal has been digested. Guidelines suggest that you do not eat within three hours of your previous meal or snack and you should not go without food for more than six hours. Many Ayurvedic practitioners also recommend that you eat a modest breakfast and a larger, satisfying lunch. Dinner may or may not be consumed based on your hunger levels.

Resources and Tips Before you begin an Ayurvedic diet, you will need to learn about and find your dominant dosha. Many experts in Ayurvedic medicine suggest that the smartest method is visiting an Ayurvedic doctor. Samantha Semmalar ("Dr. Sam") is an in-house Ayurvedic doctor at The Body Holiday in St. Lucia. "An Ayurvedic doctor can advise the right combination of foods to balance the dosha and make the diet more effective," she says, adding that the doctor can advise you what foods to eat and what foods to avoid. Mahalingam “Dr. Maha” Lakshmanan, also at The Body Holiday, agrees. He says an Ayurvedic doctor can help determine the best choice of food and herbs, and assist with medical concerns if necessary. If you choose to visit an Ayurvedic doctor, the practitioner will interview you and make an assessment based on the information you provide. This is likely to be the most accurate method of finding your dosha. If you don't have access to an Ayurvedic doctor, you can try an online questionnaire to help you find your dominant dosha type. But the questionnaires may not always be accurate. Once you have a sense of what your dosha might be, Dr. Maha suggests getting a book to help create healthy meals as you learn how to follow an Ayurvedic diet. He recommends Ayurvedic Cooking: A Life of Balance, The Tastes of Ayurveda, and The Modern Ayurvedic Cook Book. PROS AND CONS Pros Emphasis on unprocessed foods Promotes mindful eating May have health benefits May be effective for weight loss

CONS Determining dosha may be difficult Complicated, sometimes restrictive rules Some herbs may interact with prescription and over-the-counter medicines


Whole Food Focus Some Ayurvedic practitioners urge their students to eat only local food. While this is impractical for many people, it might prompt you to eat more whole, unprocessed foods, which tend to be more healthful than processed ones. Mindful Eating Ayurvedic practices suggest eating mindfully and intuitively. That means paying attention to your food and to your body's messages about it. It means taking the time to savor your food, to eat when you are hungry and to stop when you are full. Health Benefits Even though Ayurvedic medicine has been practiced for thousands of years, much of the evidence to support its effectiveness is observational. However, as interest in the approach increases, more researchers are conducting high-quality studies that support using the system for improved health. Researchers from Harvard conducted a study supporting the possible use of holistic health interventions including Ayurveda to help people stick to new and healthy behaviors.1 A pilot investigation found that Ayurvedic practices appear to improve psychosocial health among both overweight/obese yoga students. These researchers cautioned, however, that results must be interpreted with caution due to problems with study design and other issues.2 A study conducted in Sweden found that Ayurvedic medicine improved outcomes for some study participants with respiratory, musculoskeletal, circulatory, tumor, and cutaneous illnesses.3 Other studies have demonstrated that Ayurveda may be helpful in managing coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and improving sleep quality and duration. Weight Loss Benefits It's not clear whether any weight loss resulting from the Ayurvedic diet comes from eating by dosha, or from the focus on whole foods and mindful eating. But some research has shown its effectiveness nonetheless. A review published in the International Journal of Obesity reported that a trial of herbal Ayurvedic preparations for weight loss resulted in clinically significant weight loss as compared to placebo.4 And researchers from the University of New Mexico and the University of Arizona published a study that reported that an Ayurveda and yoga-based lifestyle modification program is an acceptable and feasible approach to weight management.5 While there is some evidence of the potential health and weight loss benefits of an Ayurvedic diet, it is hard to identify which factors in the Ayurvedic lifestyle are delivering the most benefit. Still, there are also some potential drawbacks to this diet and lifestyle. CONS

Determination of Dosha Keep in mind that the process of finding your dosha is subjective—even if you visit an Ayurvedic doctor. It is not based on objective data, like a blood or urine test. For that reason, it may not be perfectly accurate. Your dosha may also be a combination of more than one type. You may need to make some adjustments along the way. It's also important to remember that an Ayurvedic doctor may not be a licensed medical doctor in the United States. In the U.S., no states license Ayurvedic practitioners, although a few have approved Ayurvedic schools. The National Institutes of Health provides guidelines for selecting a complementary care provider, such as an Ayurvedic doctor. They also recommend that you communicate with your primary care physician about the use of alternative health practices. Complicated Rules Even if increasing evidence supports an Ayurvedic diet for weight loss or wellness, no eating plan will work if you don't stick to it for the long term. Both Dr. Maha and Dr. Sam acknowledge that some people have a hard time maintaining the program. Dr. Maha says that the limited food choices and even food taste may be difficult for some when they begin. Aside from taste, the complexity of an Ayurvedic diet may be intimidating for some. If following the dosha eating plan seems too confusing, some experts suggest simply using basic eating principles. Sarajean Rudman is an Ayurvedic practitioner and clinical nutritionist. She doesn't suggest dosha-specific foods, but rather foods that aid in digestion, and lifestyle practices that emphasize listening to your body, coming into balance, and intuitive eating and exercise. Instead of focusing on weight loss, she helps her clients focus on wellness. She suggests choosing nutritious whole foods instead of processed foods, ignoring calorie counting, and eating intuitively to manage portion sizes. Rudman says that adopting a comprehensive Ayurvedic lifestyle that is tailored to your personal needs will yield results without restriction, starvation, or that feeling of being trapped in a diet. Side Effects and Interactions The National Institutes of Health cautions consumers that certain Ayurvedic products, herbs, or herbal combinations may cause side effects and can be harmful if used improperly. If you take prescription medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking herbal preparations as interactions may occur.

How It Compares You'll notice that the Ayurvedic diet shares some qualities with other diets that incorporate lifestyle elements and a philosophy of wellness. However, since it is so personalized by dosha, it is tough to compare it with expert guidelines on nutrition.

USDA Recommendations

Food Groups

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines suggest filling your plate with a balanced combination of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. While Ayurveda also emphasizes balance, it does not offer guidance on food groups or macronutrients (like how much protein to eat). Instead, the focus is on which foods to eat within a category based on your dosha.


While the USDA suggests calorie ranges for weight loss and weight maintenance, the Ayurvedic diet instead emphasizes mindful, intuitive eating—listening to your body to determine what you need to eat, when, and how much. If weight loss is your goal, you may need to combine calorie counting with the Ayurvedic advice on which foods to eat (perhaps just until you learn what portion sizes work best for you and how to best interpret your body's hunger cues). If you're still interested in determining your individual calorie needs, you can do so with this calculator.

A Word From Verywell

The Ayurvedic diet has been practiced by millions of people for thousands of years and is well accepted in many parts of the world as a key component of overall health and wellness. There are many elements of the eating plan that overlap with nutrition fundamentals practiced by Western medical and health experts.

If weight loss is your goal, you're likely to see results if you adopt an Ayurvedic diet and build meals around whole, unprocessed foods and mindful eating practices. However, the National Institutes of Health cautions consumers that certain Ayurvedic products, herbs, or herbal combinations may cause side effects and can be harmful if used improperly. Be sure to discuss any major dietary changes or herbal medicines with your health care provider to make sure they don't interfere with current medications or with the management of your medical conditions.

See the original online article published February 12, 2020 on VeryWellFit Here:


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