Ayurvedic nutrition: what is it and what is it important for?

Ayurvedische Ernährung: Was ist das und wofür ist sie wichtig?

Ayurveda comes from India and has its origins over 5,000 years ago. Content of the Ayurvedic teaching is an optimal balance in the body-mind system. Diet plays a big part in this. It has a significant impact on our digestion. An old Ayurvedic wisdom says: “You are what you digest”.

In the Ayurvedic diet, digestion should therefore be optimized. This happens through the targeted consumption or avoidance of certain foods. Ayurveda is also clear that nutrition and digestion is a very individual topic. Therefore there are no general and universal guidelines.

There are three types in the Ayurvedic diet. In order to be able to make a statement about personalized recommendations for nutrition, this type must first be determined.

the essentials in brief

  • Ayurvedic nutrition pursues the goal of holistic physical and mental health through optimized digestion.
  • Optimal nutrition varies by type. In Ayurveda, there are three so-called dosha types. No universal recommendations can be made, as each person is individual.
  • Ayurvedic nutrition and medicinal plants can have a proven positive impact on health. (1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

Background: What is Ayurvedic nutrition?

Behind the Ayurvedic diet there are many principles and structures that you should first understand before you change your diet. We have summarized for you here what these are and how you can tailor your diet to suit you individually.

How does Ayurvedic nutrition work?

Ayurveda is a 5,000 year old form of nutrition that originated in India. In addition to being well tolerated by the body, the diet also aims at psychological well-being. This should make a healthy way of life possible for the body and mind as a whole. In the health teachings of Ayurveda, nutrition is considered as important as medicine.

digestion (fire)

Digestion is the focus of physical tolerance. The digestive process should be optimized through the special preparation and use of selected foods. The goal is to create your own dosha balance. This means creating an individual balance from the three different types of nutrition (described below).

Each food has its own effects and can be assigned to one of the three types. This means that you can eat or omit foods in a targeted manner in order to create a balance.

Digestion plays a key role in how well our body absorbs nutrients.

The Ayurvedic term Agni, translated as "digestive fire" or "digestive power", not only works in the digestive tract itself, but also down to the use of nutrients in the cells. This power works holistically in the body-mind system and thus describes much more than just digestion, as it is understood in normal usage.

It is important for the form of nutrition to know how strong and pronounced one's own Agni is. Heavy foods should only be eaten by persons with strong Agni. The strength of Agni depends on the degree of dosha balance. So it is logical that an Ayurvedic diet looks different for everyone.

spices and herbs

Spices and herbs play an important role in Ayurvedic cuisine. Only a meal that contains all six flavors is considered balanced. This sequence of tastes should correspond to the digestive phases and is considered optimal: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, tart.

spices and herbs

Spices and herbs play an important role in the Ayurvedic diet. Every meal should contain all six flavors if possible. (Image source: Tiard Schulz / Unsplash)

Hot water

Ayurvedic teachings recommend drinking hot/warm still water or herbal teas for general fluid intake. Ice-cold drinks should be avoided if possible. Sipping a glass of hot water with food is described as aiding digestion. However, after and before eating, you should refrain from drinking liquids for one to one and a half hours to allow digestion to work optimally.

Other positive properties that are attributed to the hot water are an improvement in the Dosha balance, a strengthening of Agni and the promotion of nutrient transport in the body and the body's own purification process.

What types of Ayurvedic nutrition are there?

In order to better understand the three dosha types and to give you a first insight, we have summarized the three types and their properties for you here. There is not always just one dosha. Rather, the dominant dosha determines the type.

dosha type personality and body digestion
Vata - The principle of movement
  • movable
  • fast
  • light
  • cool/cold
  • dry
  • changeable
  • sensitive
  • irregular hunger
  • changeable digestion
  • has varying degrees of ease in skipping meals
  • gas
  • tendency to constipation
  • lose weight quickly
Pitta - the principle of metabolism
  • warm hot
  • sour
  • flushed
  • sharp
  • irritated
  • flammable
  • burning
  • pronounced, intense hunger
  • good digestion
  • finds it difficult to skip meals
  • heartburn
  • Tendency to loose stools to diarrhea
  • active metabolism
Kapha - The Structural Principle
  • immobile
  • difficult
  • powerless
  • moist
  • slow
  • firmly
  • stable
  • low hunger
  • sluggish digestion
  • it is easy to skip meals
  • bloating
  • tendency to greasy stool
  • gaining weight quickly
  • Since the Ayurvedic diet plans are adapted to the individual Dosha weightings and the focus is on individual needs, this overview is only for rough orientation. Find out your type in the next section.

    What type am I? - Self test

    In order to find out what type you are, you should ask yourself the following questions about the individual characteristics and answer them honestly. When answering the questions, think about your current condition and the last six months.

    Look at the table above. Ask yourself which of the characteristics best describes you and tick them. Now compare how many Vata, Pitta and Kapha properties you have ticked.

    The type you ticked the most is your dominant type. If you have more than one dosha type, the one with the second most ticks is your secondary type, and so on.

    What Foods Should Certain Types Eat on an Ayurvedic Diet?

    You now know which dosha type you are or how these different types are weighted in relation to each other. We show you which foods the different types should eat to compensate for their deficits in the other doshi types. Your type-specific diet includes the right amount, the right food, the right spices and the optimal preparation.

    The Vata type

    Basic Tips:

    1. Eat at regular times.
    2. Warm, not too dry and well-cooked food should be eaten to compensate for cold and dryness.
    3. Drink warm beverages, preferably hot/warm water.
    4. Sweet, sour and salty foods have a balancing effect on you.
    5. Consume bitter and astringent foods in moderation.
    6. Recommended spices are all sweet and warming ones, such as anise, fennel, cumin, fresh ginger, mustard seed, fenugreek, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, salt and basil.
    7. Avoid unripe, dry and sour fruits and beans.

    Good foods:

    • Cereals: wheat, rice, cooked oatmeal
    • Legumes: yellow mung beans, red lentils
    • Vegetables: zucchini, artichoke, asparagus, sweet potatoes, cucumber, celery
    • Fruits: Anything that is ripe, sweet, juicy, such as grapes, pomegranates, mangoes, bananas, avocados, pears, sweet oranges, melons, raisins, dates, prunes, figs, kiwis, apricots
    • Dairy, Oils and Others: All dairy, sugar cane, all good oils, all nuts
    • Spices: Anything sweet and warming like aniseed, fennel, cumin, fresh ginger, fenugreek, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, salt, and basil

    The Pitta type

    Basic Tips:

    1. Cook your food well.
    2. Do not eat the cooked food too hot and also make sure that the drinks are not consumed too hot.
    3. Pay attention to regular and punctual meal times.
    4. Don't eat raw vegetables.
    5. Avoid fasting to lose weight.
    6. Sweet, bitter and tart foods balance the fiery Pitta properties.
    7. Avoid spicy, hot, sour, or salty foods.
    8. Avoid sour fruits, tomatoes, sour milk products, yoghurt (only as lassi), quark and cheese.

    Good foods:

    • Cereals: wheat, rice, barley, millet, oatmeal
    • Legumes: soy products, yellow mungdal
    • Vegetables: Asparagus, artichokes, zucchini, okra, spinach, chicory, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, celery, sweet potatoes, green peppers, sprouts, lettuce,
    • Fruits: Grapes, pomegranates, bananas, avocados, mangoes, apples, pears , raisins, dates, figs, apricots, sweet oranges, grapefruit, sweet pineapple, kiwi
    • Dairy products, oils and others: ghee, milk, butter, sweet lassi, cream, coconut oil, olive oil, coconut
    • Spices: coriander, turmeric, saffron, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom

    The Kapha type

    Basic Tips:

    1. Eat light, warm foods.
    2. Use little salt.
    3. Be careful not to overeat. You should consume small portions, especially in the evening.
    4. Warm, dry (= low-fat) foods are recommended.
    5. Spicy, bitter, tart, astringent (= contracting) foods have a balancing effect on your Kapha dosha.
    6. Avoid sweet, sour, or salty foods.
    7. If possible, eliminate whole milk, ghee, greasy and oily foods, ice cream and sweets from your diet.

    Good foods:

    • Cereals: barley, millet, corn, buckwheat, rye, oatmeal, wheat, rice
    • Legumes: all types of beans
    • Vegetables: green leafy vegetables, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, celery, peas, peppers, sprouts, zucchini, baby radish
    • Fruits: pomegranates, grapes, cranberries, figs, dates, peaches, apples, papaya
    • Dairy products, oils and others: lassi and buttermilk, ghee and whole milk in moderation, honey, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews
    • Spices: all spices except salt. Pepper and ginger are recommended.

    How healthy is the Ayurvedic diet?

    The Ayurvedic approach as an alternative to conventional medicine is of interest to more and more researchers. Even if the large field of Ayurvedic nutrition and supplements has not yet been researched very well, there are already some studies that confirm the positive effect on the health of people with various diseases.

    Pain relief for knee osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis

    In two studies conducted independently of one another in 2011, the pain-relieving effect on knee osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in general was demonstrated. Were treated with Ayurvedic supplements. (1,2)

    Treatment of promyelocytic leukemia

    In a study by Prakash et al. (2010) demonstrated that Ayurveda can significantly increase life expectancy in leukemia with a high risk factor. (3)

    Relief from ADHD

    Another study proves the effect of Ayurvedic herbs in the treatment of children with ADHD. The children who received a combination of three healing Ayurvedic herbs showed an improvement in reaction time and thus in attention span. (4)

    lowering of blood lipid levels

    In an experiment on laboratory rats, the positive effect of the Ayurvedic remedy Arogyavardhini vati on blood lipid levels was proven. Thus, Ayurveda can also be used with, for example, elevated cholesterol levels. (5)

    Relief from chronic bowel disease

    Ayurvedic nutrition places digestion at the center of health. It is therefore not far from the assumption that chronic intestinal diseases can also be alleviated by an adapted Ayurvedic diet. In the study by Patel et al. a positive effect on the symptoms of ulcerative colitis could be demonstrated. (6)

    Symptoms of intoxication from overdose of herbal remedies

    Even if the Ayurvedic health teachings are based on plants, precise consultation with trained specialists should always be held during treatment. A 2010 study examined the consequences of an overdose of the Ayurvedic pain reliever aconite, also known as aconite.

    ayurvedic foods

    The positive effects of Ayurvedic foods or supplements on specific disease symptoms have already been proven in individual studies. (Image Source: Katherine Hanlon / Unsplash)

    An overdose of this drug has been shown to cause symptoms of intoxication such as low blood pressure or slow heartbeat (7). Therefore, please always pay attention to the correct dosage and, if in doubt, make sure you consult an expert.

    What are the basic rules of Ayurvedic nutrition?

    There are a few principles in Ayurvedic nutrition that we would like to present here.

    1. The diet is always type-specific. There is no universal advice that applies to everyone.
    2. The menu is adapted to foods with a specific effect according to individual physical, mental and emotional needs.
    3. Ayurvedic teaching takes into account personal life cycles as well as the seasons and times of the day.
    4. Ayurvedic nutrition sees itself as medicine.
    5. Processed foods have no place in this diet. Great value is placed on self-prepared and cooked meals.
    6. The food should be taken in a calm and relaxed atmosphere and chewed well.
    7. A regular meal cycle at fixed times is also important. There should be no snacks between meals.
    8. It should generally be ensured that all flavors find their place in the diet.
    9. Hunger is the leader of the eating cycle. Eat only when you feel hungry.
    10. Warm drinks are essential to optimally support digestion.

    The many principles of Ayurveda may seem overwhelming at first, but the diet follows the concept of intuition.

    Can you lose weight with Ayurvedic nutrition?

    By optimizing digestion, improved nutrient absorption and processing can be achieved. In a pilot study by Rioux, Thomson and Howerter, the effect of Ayurvedic nutrition on the goal of weight loss was observed. An all-encompassing Ayurvedic lifestyle was established in the subjects, which included Ayurvedic nutrition and medicine on the one hand and yoga therapy on the other.

    An average weight loss of 5.9 kilograms was recorded over a period of 9 months.

    The general satisfaction of the subjects was also higher than with conventional diets. Furthermore, the modifications in everyday life were not perceived as such burdensome hurdles as with conventional diet programs. (8th)

    Conclusion

    Ayurvedic nutrition is based on knowledge that is thousands of years old. The approach is to get to know your own digestion in detail and to optimize it with specific foods. The dosha types should be brought into balance so that body and mind can lead a healthy life. Paying attention to the body's own signals and interpreting them correctly certainly takes a lot of practice at first.

    However, there is also medical evidence that Ayurvedic nutrition and certain supplements can have a positive effect on health and certain clinical pictures (1,2,3,4,5,6,7">. But it can also be the case with herbal remedies unwanted side effects can occur, which is why you should always listen to the advice of a specialist.

    In order to experience the full effect of Ayurveda, you also need to believe in this form of health science. It has not yet been sufficiently studied in terms of its medical effectiveness to be able to attribute advantages or disadvantages to Ayurvedic nutrition as a whole.

    References

    1. Chopra A, Saluja M, Tillu G, Venugopalan A, Sarmukaddam S, Raut AK, Bichile L, Narsimulu G, Handa R, & Patwardhan B ( 2011). A Randomized Controlled Exploratory Evaluation of Standardized Ayurvedic Formulations in Symptomatic Osteoarthritis Knees: A Government of India NMITLI Project. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM, 2011, 724291. https://doi.org/10.1155/2011/724291
    2. Krishna KP (2011). The efficacy of Ayurvedic treatment for rheumatoid arthritis: Cross-sectional experiential profile of a longitudinal study. International journal of Ayurveda research, 2(1), 8-13. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-7788.83177
    3. Prakash B, Parikh PM & Pal SK (2010). Herbo-mineral ayurvedic treatment in a high risk acute promyelocytic leukemia patient with second relapse: 12 years follow up. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 1(3), 215-218. https://doi.org/10.4103/0975-9476.72618
    4. Singhal HK, Neetu Kumar A & Rai M (2010). Ayurvedic approach for improving reaction time of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder affected children. Ayu, 31(3), 338-342. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-8520.77169
    5. Kumar G, Srivastava A, Sharma SK, & Gupta YK (2013). The hypolipidemic activity of Ayurvedic medicine, Arogyavardhini vati in Triton WR-1339-induced hyperlipidemic rats: A comparison with fenofibrate. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 4(3), 165-170. https://doi.org/10.4103/0975-9476.118707
    6. Patel, MV, Patel, KB, & Gupta, SN (2010). Effects of Ayurvedic treatment on forty-three patients of ulcerative colitis. Ayu, 31(4), 478-481. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-8520.82046
    7. Panda, AK, & Debnath, SK (2010). Overdose effect of aconite containing Ayurvedic Medicine ('Mahashankha Vati'). International journal of Ayurveda research, 1(3), 183-186. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-7788.72493
    8. Rioux J, Thomson C, & Howerter A (2014). A Pilot Feasibility Study of Whole-systems Ayurvedic Medicine and Yoga Therapy for Weight Loss. Global advances in health and medicine, 3(1), 28-35. https://doi.org/10.7453/gahmj.2013.084
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