Ayurveda is a system of diet and healing wisdom that originated in India more than 5000 years ago. If I had to choose just one system from the countless theories on diet that I have studied during the past 40 years, it would Ayurveda.
It has influenced my thinking deeply and I keep coming back to it.
When you first encounter Ayurveda, it can seem complex and daunting. And on one level, it is. But the fundamental principles of Ayurveda are simple. It’s all about intuition, balance and listening to your own body to decide what is the best diet for YOU.
Ayurveda believes the body has an innate intelligence that allows it to heal itself, given the right food, exercise and rest. It also emphasizes eating organic, seasonal and locally grown foods that are suited to your body type.
Ayurvedic body types
According to Ayurveda there are three different body types, or doshas. These are vata, pitta and kapha. We all have one dominant dosha and usually another dosha that is secondary.
There are various quizzes you can do online to determine your dosha. This is an excellent one: Take the dosha quiz
Here is an overview of each dosha
Vata – tend to be thin, have smaller bones, don’t gain weight easily and struggle with digestive issues such as gas and constipation. Vata types are creative, open-minded, curious and energetic but they have a tendency to overdo things and burn themselves out.
Pitta – tend to have a medium, athletic build and can quite easily gain muscle if they work out. Pitta types are usually intelligent, hard-working, ambitious and competitive but they can get angry and irritable if things don’t go their way. When pitta gets out of balance, it causes inflammation and digestive upsets as well as conditions such as hypertension and heart disease.
Kapha – tend to be of a larger, solid build and struggle with weight gain. Kapha types are slow and methodical, supportive, loving and forgiving but also tend to be lazy, insecure, envious and sad at times. When kapha gets out of balance it leads to health problems such as diabetes, cancer, obesity and respiratory illnesses.
Different diet for each body type
Rather than a “one size fits all” approach to diet, Ayurveda believes each dosha requires a different diet.
Diet for vata types:
If you are a vata type, you should eat mainly warm, cooked and oily foods that are easily digestible. You should minimize cold, raw foods. Cooked cereals, pasta, whole grains and soups are excellent for vata types. Cooked vegetables are preferred over salads and raw vegetables. Fruits are also better cooked than raw. Dairy products are good for vata types, as well as nuts and seeds, and warm beverages. Vata types should minimize caffeine and white sugar.
Diet for pitta types:
Pitta types can eat more raw fruits and vegetables, particularly in summer, as well as cooked whole grains. They should eat a lower fat diet and minimize fried foods, hot/spicy foods and sour foods such as tomatoes, yoghurt and vinegar.
Diet for kapha types:
The best foods for kapha types include lower-fat dairy products, lighter fruits, honey, beans, all grains, seasonal vegetables and spices. They should minimize sweet foods or very fatty meals, which may contribute to weight gain. Eat slowly and mindfully to avoid overeating.
Ayurvedic diet versus modern fad diets
What I love about Ayurveda is that it’s all about balance, moderation and avoidance of extremes. This is the exact opposite of most modern fad diets. To sell a modern diet book, the author needs to go even more extreme than anything that has come before.
So now we have not only low-carb and ketogenic diets but also “carnivore” diets where you eat nothing but meat and other animal products, with lots of fat. At the other extreme we have low fat diets where you can’t even eat olives or avocados because of the oil content!
Ayurveda strikes a nice balance. It resembles the traditional diets that people have always eaten around the world. Ayurveda recommends 45-55% of each meal should be grains or other starchy carbohydrate such as potatoes. Vata types should eat slightly more carbs and kaphas slightly less.
Ayurveda also favours cooked foods over raw (as do all traditional cuisines around the world) and favours the consumption of fats and oils in moderation. Vata types should eat more fats and oils, while pitta and kapha types need a lower fat diet. But everyone needs some fats and oils, according to Ayurveda.
Traditionally, Ayurveda is vegetarian although it does allow meat and other animal foods for medicinal purposes. Vata types, particularly, do better with some animal foods.
One of the downsides of Ayurveda is, being an Indian system, it recommends Indian foods, herbs and spices. This is not ideal for Westerners. I don’t want to be eating dahl and basmati rice, even though it is an ideal meal for my body type.
Thankfully, there are many books and websites about Ayurveda now which have adapted it to Western dietary needs. So we can follow the basic principles of Ayurveda without having to eat all those Indian foods. (Of course, if you live in India or are of Indian ancestry, then traditional Ayurvedic diets are perfect).
It can also be confusing when you study Ayruveda to see the specific foods recommend for each dosha. If you take it too legalistically, it can tie you up in knots. So I like to follow the principles for each dosha without getting too tied up with details.
Rather than being a short-term fix to lose weight (like most fad diets), Ayurvedic diets are meant to be followed for a lifetime – although they can change as you age and transition through different stages of life.
If you’re interested in learning more about Ayurveda, this website is a great place to start:
An excellent book that explains Ayurveda in simple terms is “The Idiots Guide to Ayurveda” by Sahara Rose.
I hope this has sparked your interest in Ayurveda. It can help you find some ancient wisdom to counter the crazy confusion of modern fad diets.