:::Ayurveda in the kitchen:::
I’ve been reflecting a lot on my trip to India recently. The bright and vibrant colors, the pungent and savory smells of the streets and in the kitchen, the odd sounds of cows, motorbikes and monkeys; I couldn’t imagine a more radical place to visit to indulge (and to not indulge) in the senses! When I was out of the chaos of the streets, I was focused in class, learning the very beginning teachings of an ancient science of health and well-being. This science, born out of India and even older than Chinese medicine, is Ayurveda. The more I started to understand what Ayurveda was, the more sense my life started to make and not just on a physical level, but emotionally and spiritually too.
My goal here is to help you understand a little bit about the science, to identify what your dosha (bodies constitution) is and how you can incorporate this wisdom into your kitchen.
WHAT is Ayurveda? A brief summary…
Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word directly translating to “the wisdom of life” or “the knowledge of longevity”. In Vedic tradition, the knowledge of Ayurveda was passed down orally and has thus been passed down through the centuries as a complete healing system. Through time, it has evolved to meet different needs accordingly, but has remained committed to its core principles since its birth.
Some of the basic principles of Ayurveda include:
- Reaching your unique state of balance (prakriti) in your whole being- body, mind and spirit.
- Ayurveda views the world through the lense of three constitutional principles: vata, pitta and kapha. Everyone is born with a specific combination of the three constitutions (prakriti), unique to them. When an imbalance occurs internally or externally to their current state of being (vikruti), it is important to observe the root cause of the imbalance and remove it, according to your natural born constitution (prakriti).
- If there are lingering imbalances after removing the root cause, then you bring balance by using opposites. For example, the Ayurvedic remedy for too much heat in the body is cooling. If you were experiencing something like acid reflex in the body, then using treatments such as herbs or foods to cool the digestive fire, or specific pranayama (breathing) techniques are ways to bring your body back into balance.
- One of the most important principles of Ayurveda is to always support the digestive fire to ensure proper excretion of toxins and waste from the body and absorption of nutrients (energy).
- WHAT is my dosha and HOW do I identify the doshas in my kitchen?
Try this online test to identify your constitution (prakriti). Don’t forget, you can mark more than one answer for each question if you’re feeling like two or all three represent you.
The best way my brain understands the doshas is thinking in terms of how the elements work. Here’s a little summary of what each dosha represents and how you can incorporate a balanced food system specific to your body’s constitution (vegetarian ingredients included only):
:::Vata in the kitchen:::
Vata (air, eather) is dry, light, cold, rough, subtle/pervasive, mobile and clear. Vata governs all movement in the mind and body. It controls blood flow, elimination of wastes, breathing, and movement of thoughts across the mind. Starting to make sense a little? When I consider the elements of air & eather, the same qualities come to mind. Imbalanced vata can affect any areas of the body it governs.
- Favor sweet, sour, and salty flavors. Also, eat foods that are grounding, warm, nourishing, moist, and smooth.
- Naturally sweet fruits, most grains, oatmeal, rice pudding, mung dahl, basmati rice, root veggies, milk, ghee, yogurt, eggs, nuts, seeds, most oils, avocado, coconut, sour fruits like lemon, lime, green grapes, oranges, pineapples, and grapefruit, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, cheese, and sour cream and consciously adding salt and sugar to foods (within reason), cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove, and cardamom are all good options for vata.
- Reduce consumption of pungent, bitter and astringent foods such as chiles, radish, turnip, raw onion, bitter greens, artichoke, burdock root, eggplant, chocolate, legumes, apple, cranberry, pomegranate, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, rye, rice cakes, and crackers.
- It is essential for vatas to eat in a peaceful environment and in a routine of three balanced meals a day.
:::Pitta in the kitchen:::
Pitta (fire, water) is sharp, penetrating, hot, light, liquid, mobile and oily. Pitta domains transformation in the body and oversees digestion, metabolism, temperature maintenance, sensory perception, and comprehension. Imbalanced pitta can lead to sharpness and inflammation in these areas.
- Do not skip meals! If you’ve ever heard the word “hangry”, well now you have an explanation behind it. Pittas do not do well if a meal is skipped.
- Favor foods that are sweet, bitter, and astringent to help tame the fire. Also, eat foods and herbs that are cooling such as melon, cucumber, coriander, cilantro, cardamom, saffron, fresh basil, peppermint, parsley, dill, cumin, turmeric, vanilla, and fennel. Sweet fruits like grape, cherry, mango, coconut, avocado, pomegranate, ripe pineapple, oranges, watermelon, and plums are great. Wheat, rice, barley, oats, pasta, quinoa, spelt, oat bran, adzuki beans, pinto beans, mung beans, asparagus, potato, sweet potato, green leafy veggies, pumpkin, broccoli, olives, leeks (cooked), mushrooms, celery, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, okra, green beans, and zucchini are also good choices.
- Dairy can help cool the fire, as long as it’s not fermented or sour (cheese, sour cream).
- Olive, sunflower, and coconut oils are the best for this dosha.
- Reduce consumption of molasses, honey, butter, hard cheese, sour cream, yogurt, honey, white sugar, almonds, cashews, chia, peanuts, mac nuts, sesame seeds, pistachio, walnuts, corn, rye, millet, brown rice, miso, soy meat, egg yolks, sour fruits, tomatoes, hot peppers, carrots, beets, eggplant, onions, garlic, radish, horseradish, turnips spinach, hotter spices such as ginger, cumin, black pepper, rosemary, sage, oregano, nutmeg, thyme, dry basil, fenugreek, clove, mustard seed, and salt.
:::Kapha in the kitchen:::
Kapha (water, earth) is heavy, cold, dull, oily, smooth, dense, soft, static, liquid, cloudy, hard, and gross. As kapha governs stability and structure, it forms the body, organs, skeleton and fatty molecules that support the body. An imbalance of kapha can lead to excess, heaviness, and density in the body.
- Kapha’s digestion tends to be slower, so finding ways to stimulate digestion is really helpful. Drinking ginger tea throughout the day, eating your biggest meal at lunchtime, allowing 3+ hours of digestion time before bed, and fasting one day a week are all really helpful.
- The only dairy somewhat favorable is ghee and very small amounts of low-fat milk and yogurt. I’ve found it helpful to eating small amounts of coconut milk yogurt instead, especially since I like to get my probiotics from yogurt, and you don’t have to be as careful because it’s non-dairy.
- Avoid most sweeteners! I know, this sounds crazy, but unfortunately it’s true. If you’re really craving something sweet, honey is the way to go. Make sure to not cook the honey as it turns carcinogenic once heated.
- Small amounts of olive, almond, corn, sunflower, mustard, and safflower oil are okay. Also ghee is a good option, just use mindfully.
- Favor foods that are pungent, bitter, and astringent in taste. Foods like all beans (not soy), lighter fruits such as apple, pear, pomegranate, cranberry, mango, cherries, and apricot, berries, almost ALL veggies on the spectrum, sprouts, lemon and lime, okra, spinach, mung dal, eggs, ALL spices (except salt) like ginger, cayenne and black pepper, barley, corn, millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and rye are all kapha pacifying.
- Reduce consumption of salt, sweet and juicy veggies like cucumber, tomato and sweet potato, squash, most nuts and seeds (favor sunflower, flax, chia and pumpkin seeds if you’re craving some), kidney beans, miso, soy products (unless cooked tofu or tempeh), oats, rice, wheat, heavier fruits like bananas, pineapples, avocado, oranges, peaches, coconut, dates, melon, and figs.
There is so much to learn when it comes understanding our bodies. The biggest rule I always suggest is to listen to yourself. The only person that can truly tell what’s best for you is YOU. There is endless amounts of information, opinions, and theories out there, so consider it all with a grain of salt, and remember to come back to tuning in to the body; feeling how you feel after eating something and asking yourself, “Did that meal sit right with me, or am I feeling a bit uncomfortable?”. For me personally, it’s a continuous process of trial and error. It’s really true when they say the only thing constant is change. What may have been right for your body two years ago may no longer be serving you in a good way. Just noticing these subtle shifts about yourself can be very empowering,especially if you have the knowledge to support it! Now, go out there and ENJOY your food!
What’s your constitution? Do you feel that these recommendations align with it? Leave a comment below!