We do many things to find balance — like taking a relaxing walk around the neighborhood, spending 10 minutes stretching, meditating in the middle of a busy workday, or unwinding at night with a warm bath. This practice of looking for balance also applies to the foods you eat. Enter the ayurvedic diet, a component of ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest whole-body healing systems, that’s been practiced for thousands of years.
Originally developed in India, it’s based on the belief overall wellness and health depends on a delicate balance between the mind, body and spirit. The ayurvedic diet sets guidelines for what, how and when a person should eat based on their body type or “dosha.”
Here are 10 things to know before trying the ayurvedic diet:
1. THERE ARE THREE DOSHAS
In ayurveda, there are three doshas — pitta, vata and kapha. Each of them are combinations of the five great elements that make up the cosmos (space, air, fire, water, and earth).
- Pitta (fire and water): Typically this person is intelligent and decisive. This dosha is often dominant in a person with a medium physical build, and they may deal with indigestion, high blood pressure or heart disease.
- Vata (air and space): This person is often characterized as creative and lively. Often thin in stature, those with this dominant dosha are prone to fatigue, anxiety and digestive issues.
- Kapha (earth and water): This person is often calm in demeanor. In their life, they may struggle with asthma, diabetes, weight gain or depression.
2. YOU MUST DECIPHER YOUR DOMINANT DOSHA
Each dosha has certain foods associated with it. While all three doshas are believed to be present in each of us, by identifying your more dominant dosha, you know which one to lean into on your quest to find balance. There are plenty of online quizzes you can take to figure out what dosha you are, however, experts recommend you seek an ayurvedic expert to help figure this out. You can also find many similarities with one over another, although not fit the physical characteristics of said dosha, for example. Again, this is why it’s so important to consult an expert.
3. THE DIET FOCUSES ON WHOLE FOODS
Regardless of what dosha resonates with you, the ayurvedic diet focuses on fresh, high-quality nutrient-dense foods, including lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, spices, plant-based proteins and some animal proteins. While one dosha may encourage individuals to focus on more acidic fruits like apricots or berries, another may favor sweet ones like apricots or cherries.
“One of the biggest benefits of the ayurvedic diet is that it encourages the consumption of whole foods,” says Tiffany Joy, a registered nurse and nutritionist. “It’s no secret whole foods are the best sources of nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and are free of chemicals that increase your risk of diseases.”
4. IT COULD AID DIGESTION
Many of the foods recommended by the ayurvedic diet are high in fiber, which promotes better digestion and gut health. Remember: The recommended daily intake of fiber is 25 grams for women and 35 grams for men. This equates to roughly a 1/2 cup (75g) of beans, a pear, and 1/2 cup (75g) mixed veggies per day.
5. LUNCH IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY
In ayurvedic principles, agni, or digestive fire, is associated with the sun. In the morning, when the sun rises, it’s believed digestion is not yet at its peak, so the ayurvedic diet recommends having a light breakfast. When the sun is the strongest, from noon to 2 p.m., the body’s digestive fire is thought to be the most powerful, which is why the diet recommends this as the best time to consume the largest proportion of daily nutrients. Similarly, when the sun sets, digestive fire cools, so evening meals should also be light. “This lacks substantial science,” notes Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, and it’s also one of the main critiques of this way of eating. “However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain themes that people would want to pull from this thinking, like the emphasis on fruits, veggies, plant-based proteins and legumes,” says Kostro Miller.
6. IT EMBRACES ALL SIX TASTES
Ayurveda classifies foods into categories of six tastes (referred to as “shad rasa”). These include sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent (acidic). According to ayurveda principles, each taste corresponds to a certain area of the tongue, which stimulates a different organ. By stimulating all organs at once, it’s believed the body functions more optimally.
7. THERE ARE NO SET MACRO GUIDELINES
Unlike other popular diets like keto (which focuses on high fat) or low-carb, there is no focus on a specific macronutrient target in the Ayurvedic diet. While some doshas recommend varying amounts of protein, it’s flexible and there’s no specific guideline for exactly how much protein, carbs and fat (or overall calories) you should consume.
8. IT EMPHASIZES MINDFUL EATING
Mindful eating is being aware of the texture, taste, presentation, aroma and your body’s hunger and fullness cues. This is a huge component of the ayurvedic diet, which advises eating only when you’re truly hungry and listening to the body’s natural signals.
9. IT COULD RESULT IN WEIGHT LOSS
Everyone responds to different diets in different ways. However, researchers have found weight loss can be one of the results of the ayurvedic diet. In one study of 200 obese adults following a diet prescribed for their dominant dosha, lost an average of 17.8 pounds in three months. Because the diet focuses on adding more nutrient-dense foods to your plate and mindful eating, it could help with successful weight loss.
10. SEEKING ADVICE FROM A SPECIALIST IS KEY
Just like with any diet, it’s important to consult with an expert who can best advise you about what’s right for you and your body. Since deciphering your dominant dosha can be quite complex, it helps to seek input before beginning an ayurvedic diet. For example, “some doshas want smaller amounts of protein and exclude nuts,” notes Kostro Miller. “A registered dietitian would be able to look at your specific diet to spot deficiencies and make appropriate recommendations.”