The Ayurvedic diet is part of Ayurvedic medicine, which has been practiced for 1000s of years. Ayurveda focuses on holistic mind and body healing. Let’s dive into the principles of the Ayurvedic diet and how to start.
What is the Ayurvedic Diet?
The main goal of the Ayurvedic diet is to achieve svasthya — a state of optimal health.
To get there, you must balance several physical, mental and physiological factors (i.e. strength, metabolism, temperament). 1
Along with lifestyle, certain foods and herbs may help or inhibit svasthya. Ayurveda categorizes people in doshas with specific guidelines for each.
What dosha am I?
According to the Ayurvedic Institute, there are 3 dosha classifications. Each is a unique mix of general traits and common struggles. 2
- Vata dosha: Lean or thin build. Usually energetic, talkative and lighthearted. Creative, moody, flexible but possibly indecisive. May struggle with anxiety, mindfulness and motivated by threats.
- Pitta dosha: Medium or muscular build. May have great friends but also enemies. Strong-willed and passionate. Often a leader that’s direct and takes charge. May struggle with anxiety, stress, mindfulness and bad mood.
- Kapha dosha: Solid or thick build. Calm, easygoing, loving and caring. May be slow to act and react but is very purposeful. May struggle with stress, threats and have less curiosity.
Benefits of the Ayurvedic Diet
There are several great concepts in the Ayurvedic diet. While it may be hard to follow long-term, here are principles to take away from this diet:
- Dosha personalization. Individualized diets can help you better achieve your goals and manage chronic disease. 3 You’ll get the most personalization by working 1-on-1 with a Registered Dietitian.
- Mindful eating. Mindful eating (AKA intuitive eating) is a specific way to consume your food. It makes you slow down so eating is an “experience.” It can help you enjoy your meal and be satisfied with smaller portions.
- Plant-based foods. While it’s not a vegan or vegetarian diet, it emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Plant-based diets improve various aspects of chronic disease and their biomarkers. 4
- Well-studied antioxidants and other compounds. Turmeric, an anti-inflammatory, is often used in Ayurveda. It can support the cardiovascular system, liver, immune system, digestive system and may improve brain function. 5 Turmeric and curcumin may help in arthritis therapy, but larger studies are needed. 6 Pomegranates, another common Ayurvedic food, contain compounds that help reduce oxidative stress and fight inflammation.
Drawbacks of the Ayurvedic Diet
Even though Ayurveda has been around for centuries, that doesn’t mean it’s totally safe or proven by science. If you’re thinking about starting the Ayurvedic diet, keep these drawbacks in mind:
- Not a replacement for conventional medicine. While natural healing is paramount in Ayurveda, many holistic methods don’t compare to the effectiveness of modern medicine.
- Lacks evidence. More evidence is needed to determine if Ayurvedic dietary guidelines yield significant results. However, one study showed that an Ayurvedic diet and yoga program yielded weight loss in participants. 7
- No apparent rhyme or reason. As you’ll see in the dosha food lists below, it’s hard to fully understand why some foods are allowed and others aren’t. This can make it hard for you to learn and master the diet without referencing back to the lists.
- Some healthy foods are restricted. When you take a look at the dosha foods, you may be confused as to why some “healthy foods” are not allowed on your dosha. This may limit your options, lead to nutrient deficiencies and make it hard to stick with.
What to Eat on the Ayurvedic Diet
Ayurvedic dieters eat based on their dosha. Below are abbreviated lists of preferred and off-limit Ayurvedic foods, though they’re not based on substantial science. 8
|50 Vata Foods to Eat||50 Vata Foods to Avoid|
Sprouted wheat bread
Cold soy milk
Dried fruits (raisins, prunes)
|50 Pitta Foods to Eat||50 Pitta Foods to Avoid|
Almonds (soaked and peeled)
Leafy greens (kale)
Sweet and bitter vegetables
White wine (dry)
|Almonds (with skin)|
|50 Kapha Foods to Eat||50 Kapha Foods to Avoid|
Dry wine (red or white)
Leafy greens (kale)
Lemon and lime
Salted popcorn (no butter)
|Almonds (soaked and peeled)|
How to Eat on the Ayurvedic Diet
A huge practice in Ayurveda is mindfulness. Mindful eating makes you stop, eliminate distractions and enjoy the meal in front of you. Doing this can help you feel more satisfied (even with smaller portions).
How to practice mindful eating:
- Make your meal or snack visually appealing.
- Limit all distractions at meal time. No cellphone, TV, driving, eating at your desk…
- Eat seated at a table.
- Eat until you’re 80% full. Your stomach is a vessel. Imagine what it would feel like to be 80% full.
- Take your time. Make your meal last 20 minutes from first bite to last.
It’s really helpful to practice mindful eating with foods you “binge” on. Maybe you overdo it on chocolate, potato chips or French fries. However, mindful eating should be done with all foods on the Ayurvedic diet.
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- Payyappallimana U, Venkatasubramanian P. Exploring Ayurvedic knowledge on food and health for providing innovative solutions to contemporary healthcare. Front Public Health. 2016;4:57. Published 2016 Mar 31. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2016.00057
- Travis FT, Wallace RK. Dosha brain-types: A neural model of individual differences. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2015;6(4):280-285. doi:10.4103/0975-9476.172385
- Bush CL, Blumberg JB, El-Sohemy A, et al. Toward the definition of personalized nutrition: A proposal by the American Nutrition Association. J Am Coll Nutr. 2020;39(1):5-15. doi:10.1080/07315724.2019.1685332
- Eichelmann F, Schwingshackl L, Fedirko V, Aleksandrova K. Effect of plant-based diets on obesity-related inflammatory profiles: A systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention trials. Obes Rev. 2016;17(11):1067-1079. doi:10.1111/obr.12439
- Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: A review of its effects on human health. Foods. 2017;6(10):92. doi:10.3390/foods6100092
- Daily JW, Yang M, Park S. Efficacy of turmeric extracts and curcumin for alleviating the symptoms of joint arthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Med Food. 2016;19(8):717-729. doi:10.1089/jmf.2016.3705
- Rioux J, Howerter A. Outcomes from a whole-systems Ayurvedic medicine and yoga therapy treatment for obesity pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2019;25(S1):S124-S137. doi:10.1089/acm.2018.0448
- Lad V. Food guidelines. Ayurvedic Institute website. Accessed January 27, 2021.