Food in Ayurveda

Classification of Food
Food is classified in many different ways; based on its source – from plant or animal; based on mode of ingestion – drinks, eatables, chewables, and lickables; according to taste – sweet, sour, pungent, bitter, salty and astringent; and in terms of physical properties -food can be heavy or light, smooth or rough, and soft or hard.

Some of the most nutritious foods are:  rakta Sali (a variety of rice), mung beans, ginger, jivanti herb (leptadenia reticulate), grapes, rainwater, sugar, rock salt, meats of deer, quail, iguana rohita fish (a fish of the carp family also known as roha or grass carp), ghee, fats from animals living in marsh lands, fat of culuki fish, fat of swan, fat of cock, and fat of goat.  Food ingredients that are not wholesome are yavaka, a variety of wild barley, black gram (urad), rainwater collected during the rain, salt collected from saline soil, mustard herb, beef, young dove, frog, cilacima (a variety of fish), milk and ghee from sheep, fats of sparrow and elephant, Nicuka or wild jackfruit, aluka tuber (dioscorea villosa), a type of wild yam, and phanita, the inspissated juice of the sugarcane.

Quantity of food
One should eat food in measured quantity so that it does not affect the natural balance of the body. This will result in health, strength and happiness. Fill 1/3 of the stomach with solid food, 1/3 with liquid food, leaving 1/3 empty to promote good digestion. After finishing a healthy meal one should not indulge in heavy foods such as rich desserts. A full stomach does not allow for proper digestion and food.

Varieties of food
Foods and drinks are categorized according of the following twelve groups: Sukadhanya (grains with bristles), samidhanya (pulses), mamsa (meat), saka (vegetables including edible leaves and tubers), phala (ripe fruits), harita (salads) madya (wines), Jala (water), gorasa (milk and milk products), ikshuvikara (jaggery and sugar), Kritanna (food preparations such as Peya (gruel), vilepi (thick gruel), manda (cooked rice) and saktu (pulverized grains) and aharayogi (ingredients such as oils, condiments, spices, and salts).

Light Foods
Varieties of rice such as sali and sastika, un-hulled mung beans, and animals such as quail, antelope, rabbit, camel, and deer are foods that are light by nature. Light foods are comparatively less harmful even if taken in excess quantity, because they also stimulate digestion.

Heavy Foods
Heavy foods are not by nature stimulants of digestion and should be only consumed in moderation. Wheat, dairy, meat of domestic, sedentary, and animals born in the marshlands, or animals that eat heavy food, pig, buffalo, black gram (urad), sesame and nuts, sugar, meat of male and big animals and new grains are all heavy. When consumed in large quantity flour, sugarcane, milk, and sesame do not stimulate digestion. Flattened rice, dried meat, dried vegetable, lotus tubers, Cheese, fish, and yogurt if taken up to saturation point also would affect digestion.  For proper digestion all of these should be consumed in moderate quantity.

The best foods to be taken regularly throughout life are rice, mung beans, rock salt, fruits, gooseberries, barley, milk, ghee, honey and meat of jungle animals. Eating dry meats, dry vegetables, stalks of the lotus plant, thickened milk, pork, beef, buffalo, fish, black gram (urad) and yavska (a type of corn) on a regular basis is unhealthy.

Effects of cooking on food
Cooking methods change the properties all types of food. Heaviness or lightness of foods depends on the main ingredient, other ingredients used to improve the taste, and processing and quantities of ingredients used. Frying makes heavy food light and also stimulates digestion. Roasted grain flour which is light becomes heavy when made into a dumpling.

Grains: Liquid gruels alleviate hunger and thirst and are good appetizers. Gruel water mixed with sour pomegranates and boiled with long pepper and ginger alleviates hunger and thirst. Flour of fried rice grains is astringent-sweet and light. Boiled rice made from well cleaned grains and drained is warm and light. Rice cooked with meat, vegetable fat, oil, ghee, marrow and fruits are called odana and they are strengthening. When odana is not well cooked or prepared with un-cleaned grains it is cold and heavy.

Sweet fried confections made with barley is good for cough and throat disorders. Wheat cooked with addition of fat or cooked in fat are heavy but edibles made with flour made from wheat is light because of processing. Dishes made of rice flour are the heaviest. Flattened rice is health promoting but heavy. It should be taken in small quantity. Sprouted grains and fried grains are also heavy.

Legumes: Mung beans are the best among legumes. Black gram (urad) is sweet, hot and heavy and strengthening. Kidney beans are rough, heavy and astringent. Horse gram is hot and astringent, chickpeas, peas and lentils are light, sweet, cold and slightly astringent. Sesame is hot, sweet, bitter, pungent and astringent.  Boiled and spiced legumes, wheat and barley are heavy foods. Rice cooked with black gram (urad), mung beans, sesame and milk are heavy but strengthening.

Meats, Vegetables, and Fruits: Dishes made with meats, fruits, fats, vegetables and sesame paste and honey are strengthening.  The meat of the animals which are young and freshly killed and cleaned is the best. Goat meat is a favorable meat. Mutton is sweet, cold and heavy, peacock meat is excellent for vision, hearing and intellect, partridges and swan are heavy, hot and sweet, quail is astringent-sweet and light, pork promotes strength, buffalo is hot, sweet and heavy, fishes are heavy, sweet and hot, tortoise promotes vision, strength and memory, and eggs are sweet and strengthening. Animal meats are heavy hot and sweet. Animals and birds living in forests are light, cold and sweet and slightly astringent.

Most vegetables are cold and slightly astringent. Fruits are light and sweet. Both are healthy foods. Leaf vegetables should be boiled and then some fat should be added before eating. Sweet potato is nourishing and strengthening if over cooked. It will be heavy if mildly cooked.

Vegetables that are infested with insects, exposed to wind and sun for a long time, dried up, old and unseasonal are not healthy. Fruits that are old, unripe, afflicted by insects, exposed to snow or sun for long, growing in the land and season other than the normal habitat and time are all also unhealthy.

Diary and Sweeteners: Edibles prepared with jaggery, sesame, milk, honey and sugar are exceedingly heavy.

Cooking Oils: Sesame oil is hot and sweet- astringent and it is readily absorbed. Castor oil is sweet and heavy and mustard oil is pungent and hot. Linseed oil is sweet-sour and priyala (buchanania lanzan) oil is sweet and heavy and safflower oil is hot and heavy. Marrow and animal fats are sweet and aphrodisiac. Their coldness or hotness depends on the source of the animal.

Spices: Dry ginger is appetizing and relishing. Green long pepper is sweet and heavy while dry long pepper is pungent and hot. Black pepper is light, relishing and appetizing. Asafetida is pungent, hot, light and appetizing.

Spicing and Salting: Preparations of legumes should be seasoned with spices. In un-spiced and spiced soups, mildly and heavily spiced meat soups and soured and un-soured pulses the heaviness increases in progressive order. Spices make these foods heavier and souring makes them lighter. Meat soup is lighter than soup made with pulses. Rock salt is best among salts. Salt should be taken in small quantity to bring out the taste in food. Both fat and salt should be taken in small quantity.

Drinks and Fermented Liquors: Anupana or drinks which accompany meals or after meals are refreshing, nourishing and satisfying. Among all types of anupanas, clear water kept in a pure vessel is the best. Water helps digestion and proper assimilation and instant diffusion of the food consumed. Wine is exhilarating, nourishing, removes fear, grief and fatigue, enhances confidence, energy and imagination and adds to strength and weight. If used according to satvic code it is like nectar.


7 thoughts on “Food in Ayurveda

  1. Hello, thanks for the enlightening information! Would you perhaps know of an herbal formulation which will assist in improving one’s vision? As well as how many times a day one should take said formula? Thank you

    • There are many things that can be diagnosed for vision and it needs that. Ayurveda is not allopathy where you just take something. Wrong science. I would recommend you read books that are out there on exercises to improve ones vision. They work. As far as herbal support, i would recommend that you get a personal diagnosis from a real Ayurvedic doctor in person and also advise you to not go around the internet looking for something to take or someone to recommend something. There are simple things that are balanced that one can do for eyes like a triphala eye wash but without knowing what the problem is, once again, this is not advised.

  2. Thank you for another informative article. Can I ask you about the affect of environment on an individual in relation to diet? I’m aware even before I ask that the answer is really ‘it depends’, as I know there are so many factors to take into account when considering the individual, but if you can offer any insight or if you have an article you could direct me to I’d appreciate it.
    So, I live in the UK. If I eat foods that are native to my area, grown with care and are in season (assuming also that they are properly prepared, in correct quantity etc), then I should be off to a good start right? But I’m not about to stop eating certain staples that I know could never be grown locally (such as rice). What affect could it have if I consume foods that are not native, and how might this impact on an individual when travelling?
    You’ve mentioned before that you spend time in India and the US. Do you adjust your diet to suit your environment or could this be detrimental?

    • Hi Louise.
      What you ask is a very good question. It is a good question because it speaks to a larger predicament of the time we live in and how life is because of it. In general what you stated first is correct and we would only eat what is locally grown due to the imbalance that food from elsewhere would create due to the qualities that those foods have just because of being grown elsewhere. The short answer is that you do your best. The UK is certainly not india where there are different foods grown in different regions. I would look to the seasons and eat to them first off. Eating to balance those with the qualities of the foods that are available. Focus more on the food that is locally grown when possible. Look into eating native foods and applying ayurvedic principles as you go. Nothing in any of these sciences are black and white like we like or would like to have it. Everything is organic and flowing with nature. It is understanding those flows and how to work with them.
      The effect of having a food from another desha will be that those qualities of the other desha are in the food so it will also create tissues of those qualities. With travel it becomes even more challenging. In the texts it is stated about ones who travel and the disease it brings. Just travel alone. There are even slokas about different methods of travel for different seasons. So all of this knowledge goes into every aspect, not just food. For my travels, I do my best to eat what is normal to me. Fortunately, I have been eating and cooking an Indian like diet for many years. Living off dahl and rice has been the staple for over a decade. Everything else turns around that. So for me it might be a little easier. I make all of my food when I am in the US and not at all when i am in India so my choices are made from the season and my digestive capacity first and foremost. Sometimes it is impossible to eat according to the seasons so i choose from the meal at hand what to eat appropriately. The main problem is that the seasons are backwards for me with the actual temperature. The summers are not to warm where i am and it is colder than the winters where i am in india for part of the time. This has its effects on my system and is causing disease that I can see and follow. I do my best and am wise of what is going on. Much like someone that has a nightshift job, what are they going to do? The best that they can if they have the knowledge.
      So the diet is adjusted to the environment around you at all times. No matter where you are. The diet is surrounding you as an individual where you are and the qualities of the environment on this planet.

      We can even take this a step further an see how foods are not seasonal anymore and like an apple, you can get it all year around. What does this do to the being? This is the direction that our world is headed. Homogenization. It is in the detail of knowledge that wisdom lies though.

      So fundamentally it works this way:

      Eat to ones digestive capacity
      when one has hunger and digestive fire
      and after the last meal has been digested
      According to balance the seasonal vagarities
      Keeping in mind the weather or environment of the time of day
      and activity of the individual

      That is fundamentally it.

    • Thank you for responding so soon and in such detail. I see there are certainly many considerations to be made and a degree of intuition, or being in tune with our bodies, can help navigate that. I will heed your advice and do my best 🙂

    • Welcome. it is all much less intuition and more about knowledge. They are in a way opposite of each other. Then yet, with knowledge comes greater intuition. Interesting. I have found, as well as my teacher makes fun of, the whole modern world and its “intuition” or laying heavy on ones intuition. There needs to be a basis for that to happen from.

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