This post was updated on September 13th, 2020
Ayurveda believes in breadth of variety in food. You are what you eat, but all your problems can be attributed to what you don’t eat.
Contrary to popular belief, Ayurveda does not recommend a pure vegetarian diet. In fact, red meat in moderation is one of the six foods that can be had on a daily basis! If you are a vegetarian out of choice, there are certain must have foods that should form part of your diet.
From a nutrient deficient perspective, you should have plenty of milk. A2 milk is what Ayurveda recommends. Even the mighty Lord Shiva prefers desi milk, or to be precise, the milk of a cow of single colour. The A2 Milk Company of New Zealand has grown exponentially to become the largest organization in the country. It’s the same story all over the world. A2 milk is a huge craze that is slowly catching up in India too. As far as food choice are concerned, India is currently torn between ancient ayurvedic wisdom and modern imported innovations.
There are still farmers in India who are shifting from organic farming to Class I pesticides, which are so poisonous that farmers die during the spraying process itself! Moving away from hybrid foods and pesticides should be the aim for all vegetarians.
As I have said earlier, A2 milk is considered a superfood by Ayurveda. If you stopped drinking milk because you believed you have lactose intolerance, give A2 milk a try. If you don’t like the taste of milk, try mixing something else with it to alter the taste. Do not mix the following with milk though: bananas, cherries, melons, sour fruits, bread, fish, kitchari, meat, yogurt. This means no milk shakes and no bread & milk.
If you are vegan out of compassion, give up on industrial milk and milk products. They are very harmful for human health too. If you have access to a local dairy farm, visit it multiple times, till you are convinced that the cows (& the calves) are happy and healthy. Resume consuming milk only after that.
If not, you need to go outdoors on a daily basis to get the recommended amount of Vitamin D. To get adequate amounts of other nutrients, eat a varied diet & do not stick to a specific set of food items.
Religious Diets & Fasts
Linked to religion or not, Ayurveda loves fasting. Not eating anything from sunset to sunrise (minimum 12 hours) is something that has to be done on a daily basis. No wonder the first meal of the day is called a “break-fast”. Ayurveda also does not recommend eating too much of anything, so giving up on your favorite food for a few weeks to a month is also a good idea. This is also preached in several religions including Jainism & Christianity. Jains have the most rigorous of fasts, which can continue for several months or leave out a specific taste altogether, both of which require adequate care. Ayurveda claims that it takes years to master the art of fasting, so start gradually and increase the intensity of the fast with each attempt.
Vata people should not undertake rigorous fasts, pitta types can fast intermittently. Fasting benefits kapha dosha the most and they need to practice this art to perfection. Fasting is an overlapping science between Ayurveda and Yoga. Fasting is a great way to cleanse your mind and concentrate better when you are meditating.
Ayurveda believes in variety. Any diet that asks you to leave out a large number of foods or a nutrient group is bad according to Ayurveda and should not be practiced for a prolonged period. Most fad diets are meant for weight loss, so here are some tips to lose weight without giving up on food:
- Honey and lemon in warm water: This simple sounding hack actually works. Ayurveda forbids using honey or lemon in anything warm or for cooking, but makes this one exception for people who are on a weight loss regimen. Enjoy the great tasting concatenation first thing in the morning.
- Snack on sprouts: Moong sprouts is another Ayurvedic superfood. It is the only food item that can do both, decrease weight for those who are overweight & increase weight for the underweight.
- Chuck the dining table: Eat sitting on the floor or on a wooden plank, especially if you always tend to overeat. Ayurveda instructs you to eat till you are 3/4th full. The other 1/4th belong to the tridoshas. When you eat sitting on the floor, there are half a dozen other benefits apart from preventing overeating, including longevity!
- Shatpauli: Walk 100 steps after lunch and dinner. Not a brisk walk, just a stroll is enough. Heavy exercising immediately after eating is not recommended.
Any weight loss regimen should have physical exercise built in and Ayurveda is not an exception. The complete ecosystem of Ayurveda also includes Raj Yoga, 1/8th of which is already being used universally; yoga asanans. For those who are looking at diets to gain weight, drink milk with dry fruits in the morning (drink milk in the night if you don’t want to gain weight) and snack on sprouts, the magic food that balances body weight.
There are yogasanas for weight management, but we’ll come to them later.
“I hate karela! All the other 5 tastes of Ayurveda are fine with me, but I just can’t stand the bitter taste, that too in every meal” If this is you, there is hope. Bitter is not just karela. Brinjal, sesame, haldi, methi, all of these have this taste. It just that you haven’t noticed because you were too engrossed watching your favorite series while eating 🙂
It’s fine to have likes and dislikes, but it’s not fine to not do anything about it. While eating a lot of something you like is bad, not eating a certain kind of food at all is worse. Here’s an interesting exercise you can do on a lazy Sunday:
- Make a list of foods that you hate (wait, don’t puke yet)
- Find out your Dosha by taking a quiz online
- Check if the food you hate is in the prohibited list here Ayurveda.com Food Guidelines
- If you hate a lot of stuff (food stuff), also check the taste chart to see if you’re missing out too much on the tastes that benefit your dosha. Instead of relying on a chart this time, try to guess the tastes (including the after taste) of the food that you hate. You can puke now!
- Find out alternate foods & make it a point to onclude them in your diet
Being a pitta and having a strong digestive fire, I experimented with being a pure carnivore for 10 years & almost got away with it. I had rice, rotis & breads with my non veg, but no vegetables, no fruits & no dairy products. I limited myself to the dominating tastes of sweet, sour & salty. As a pitta, I’m allowed to have a prominently non veg diet. Sweet, bitter & astringent tastes pacify pitta in that order & I was getting enough of the sweet taste. This article here lists the dangers of such a diet from a modern medicine perspective, but I got away with being overweight and high cholesterol, because I’m a pitta.
This diet is absolutely not recommended for Vata or Kapha types. I gained weight because of increase in kapha, as I did not have enough of bitter, pungent & astringent tastes. For a vata or kapha individual, the consequences can be more severe.
You may be allergic to certain foods or worse, food groups. If you are diabetic, your doctor would have put you on a strict diet that excludes rice, potatoes, most sweet fruits, and sweets of course. All lifestyle diseases come with a list of foods that you can’t eat. Again, follow the steps given earlier to find out what you are missing and include substitutes in your diet plan.
If you visit an Ayurvedic Vaidya, you will be surprised to know that she can actually treat your food allergy and you can start eating that food item again (it may take some time though). This is because Ayurveda treats the root cause, while allopathy attacks the symptoms. Similarly, Ayurveda has better diet plans for lifestyle diseases that is more inclusive.
Whatever the reason, try to love your food a bit more, removing biases & prejudices that you hold against them. Again, some meditation and yoga will help you open up to foods you don’t eat over a period of time. The ideal Ayurveda practitioner should be able to eat everything that is edible.