Diets and Ayurveda
How do we go about with the latest diets and how can we translate them in Ayurvedic terms?
This article wants to be more of a generic approach to diet, nonspecific to any diet.
There have been many diets promoted over the years. You might recognise some or even have tried them, here some of the most popular:
Alkaline diet, Cabbage soup diet, Dukan Diet, Fruitarianism, Juice fasting, KE diet, Paleolithic diet, South Beach Diet, Superfood diet, Low-carbohydrate diet, Atkins diet, High carb/ low-fat diets, Dr. Dean Ornish: Eat More, Weigh Less, The Good Carbohydrate Revolution, The Pritikin Principle, Liquid diets Slim-Fast, etc.
Do they work, do they fail?
The one and only and easiest diet to follow that will work, it will also improve your health is: avoid processed foods, eat natural food predominantly plants based, associated with exercise and time to relax and good sleep; live in tune with nature and be happy with who you are.
This diet is uncomplicated, cheap and available to all, yet is the one that many people don’t follow and instead are willing to try ‘new’ miracle diets or pills that will give an instant fix to whatever problem one might have. This without going into discussing the impossible image of the perfect healthy body portrayed by society.
All these ‘Fad’ diets have some validity in their concepts, however, are used in a selective way and can present severe health risks especially when these diets are followed for weeks or months.
I don’t want to discuss what each diet claim and whether it works or not, what I would like to discuss is how can we translate this diets in the Ayurvedic terms to predict their outcome.
In Ayurveda, a balanced diet does not revolve around fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. There is no concept of calories, vitamins, and minerals.
According to Ayurveda, each person has his own individual constitution (like genetic code), that is a combination of the Doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The food you eat has the power to increase/decrease these elements in the body, hence can potentially nurture and bring balance or act the opposite way, bring unbalance and eventually disease.
Initially, it will be difficult to see things the Ayurvedic way, it takes some time to retrain your mind not to think in terms of calories, fat, carb, etc.
To make this “translation” easier, notice what food is in this ‘fad’ diet, and what is excluded.
The keto for example, , is high-protein, no-carb diet. How does this translate in Ayurvedic terms?
What are the qualities of carbs, what Dosha increase and which one pacifies? Carbohydrates are heating, sweet (this will pacify Vata), some are particularly drying (good for Kapha). Each carbohydrates will have slightly different qualities, which Ayurveda recognise. Rice for example is tridoshic, however in excess can be too drying and aggravate Vata (causing constipation, etc. Vata disorders. Potatoes aggravate Vata, while Sweet potatoes pacifies Vata, this is just to show how grouping food this way it will not be useful in Ayurveda.
Keto diet promote an increase of fat and protein to lose weight. Fat has oily, sticky qualities that will help balance Vata, however too much will put Kapha and Pitta out of balance.
Proteins are of different types: animal, from nuts, from vegetables, legumes and grains grains (however those are considered carbs in the keto diet), etc.
Just by looking where the proteins come from, there is a great variety and each has it’s own specific characteristics that can either help with health issues or do exactly the opposite.
I am not going to mention the Doshas here, because each one, depending on taste, qualities (dry, oily, heating, heavy, etc.) will have a different effect on the doshas.
How about the duration of a diet, can you do it for a long time, weeks or months?
In a simplistic way, a diet that has strong Vata pacifying characteristic, might actually help in bringing Vata back to balance, however what does it do to the other Doshas? Are you swapping an imbalance for another one?
The thing is, you will not know, until it becomes evident and then you have to work the opposite direction, possibly causing another imbalance.
This is very obvious, when people coming off a strict diet, put the weight back very quickly, or they go from one diet to the next one.
HOw can we predict the effect of a diet?
Any Ayurvedic passionate will have the Ayurvedic list of food combination and food qualities according to the Doshas. This list is just a quick way to get used to see food for their qualities and not in terms of calories, fat, etc.
If you don’t have this list ( and you would like to understand how food influences the Dosha, look at the gunas (qualities).
Think about the Ayurvedic qualities of that food: heating, cold, moist, dry, rough, smooth, etc. The Doshas have qualities too, if food has the same qualities of that Dosha, same qualities will increase and provoque that Dosha. Also notice the taste of that particular food, each taste will have qualities too: sweet has heavy and fluid qualities (earth and water), and will pacify Vata and Pitta, for example.
When you then want to apply the diet to a person, you need to know their Prakruti (individual constitution - genetics and predispositions), and Vikruti (current state of health) to predict how this diet will affect this person.
If the person has a chronic disease, the person is weak, has an illness or taking medications/drugs, if is a young person or pregnant, this becomes way more complicated, that is foolish to even try any of this fad diets, because can put the health of this person (and unborn if pregnant) at serious risk.
Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras says, "...take only those foods which are pure and produce a clear mind. Take them all in moderation."
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