What to Eat: An Ayurvedic Perspective

Ayurvedic diets are everywhere these days. This is great! It’s building awareness of Ayurveda in the population; offering different ways to think about food in our culture, and in general, it’s helping people consider the way they uniquely show up when choosing what to eat. 

However, one issue I see often is using those extremely helpful “doṣa” eating guides as the end-all-be-all of dietary choice. In Dr. Lad’s book Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing, he has a note in his food guidelines:

“NOTE: guidelines provided in this table are general. Specific adjustments for individual requirements may need to be made, e.g. food allergies, strength of agni, season of the year, and degree of dosha predominance or aggravation”1

The food guides were not meant to be used by everyone, forever. They are an entry point into eating Ayurvedically. Eating is a nuanced thing as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Even people who share similar prakṛti (birth constitution) may not digest the same due to satmya (that which is wholesome for the individual) or their ahara śakti (capacity to eat and digest. We’re a mixed bag, to say the least! 

Eating with the Seasons

My nadī parikṣa (pulse diagnosis) teacher at Kripalu, John Douillard, shared a fascinating story with us from the book The Forest Unseen, “If a deer is fed corn or leafy greens in the middle of winter, its rumen will be knocked off balance, acidity will rise uncontrollably, and gases will bloat the rumen. Indigestion of this kind can be lethal.” 2 This illustrates the importance of eating with the seasons. And Ayurveda is replete with seasonal dietary guidelines. 

I have often found that following a seasonal eating approach over doṣa food guideline has been very beneficial in maintaining health. Obviously, as Dr. Lad notes above, there are adjustments that need to be made for every individual. Diets should change seasonally and for each person.

What I would offer as a suggestion as you start out, would be to pair your doṣa eating guideline with an eating-seasonal approach. These two combined with the tips in my previous blog posts (here, and here) will help you set up a foundation for health throughout the whole year. And always, always, always make sure to check in with how you’re digesting food (more on this in a later blog post!)

How to: The Seasonal Approach

Ayurveda is said to be anadī (without beginning or end).3 It’s a wide-open landscape. It takes everything into consideration. If we desire, the wisdom of Ayurveda can make its way into every pore of our existence. Simply put, our job as humans trying to live healthy and fulfilling lives is to understand and use this timeless wisdom (as well as that of other holistic health traditions) to adapt skillfully. Seasonal eating is one step toward that. 

Vāgbhaṭa, in his classic, the Aṣṭāñga Hṛdayam states that “he who constantly examines how is day and night are passing will never become a victim of sorrow.”4 He’s encouraging us to contemplate our actual experience and to adapt to the situation. 

Seasonally, this can be summed up as what grows locally and seasonally and making adjustments based on your constitution, which often times requires professional help. When I lived in Maine, during the summer, the local options were overflowing with fruits, veggies, and all kinds of various herbs (nettle, dandelion, lemon balm, etc.). In the winter, though, it’s pretty much meat, dairy, dry grains, and root veggies. Now that I’m in California it’s a whole new game. This place is overflowing with foods Maine never had the joy of growing.

As a general rule, eating lighter in the summer and heavier in the winter is recommended. This is because in the summer, the sun dominates and it makes us weaker and our digestion becomes impaired. 5 In the winter, however, the moon rules, and we’re said to be stronger and stouter in this time. Our digestive fires are stronger and we can eat and digest heavier foods (think Thanksgiving feast).6 In fact, this is almost a necessity in order to build us up for the coming summer which tends to have a depleting quality. 

NO information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.

  1. Lad, V. (2009). Ayurveda: The science of self-healing. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
  2. Haskell, David George. The Forest Unseen. Penguin Books, 2012. Retrieved from https://lifespa.com/stanford-study-backs-seasonal-eating-for-healthiest-microbiome/
  3. Sharma, R. K., & Dash, B. Agniveśa’s Caraka Saṃhitā: Text with English Translation & Critical Exposition Based on (Cakrapāṇi Datta’s Āyurveda Dīpikā). Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office; Reprint Edition. 2016. Ca. Sū. 30/42
  4. V. (1991). Aṣṭāṅga Hṛdayam: Text, english translation notes, appendix and indices: Vol. 1 Sūtra Sthāna and Ṣārīra Sthāna (10th ed.). Varanasi: Krishnadas Academy. Ah.Sū.2/47
  5. Sharma, R. K., & Dash, B. Agniveśa’s Caraka Saṃhitā: Text with English Translation & Critical Exposition Based on (Cakrapāṇi Datta’s Āyurveda Dīpikā). Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office; Reprint Edition. 2016. Ca. Sū. 6/6
  6. Sharma, R. K., & Dash, B. Agniveśa’s Caraka Saṃhitā: Text with English Translation & Critical Exposition Based on (Cakrapāṇi Datta’s Āyurveda Dīpikā). Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office; Reprint Edition. 2016. Ca. Sū. 6/7

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