If you’re into wellness (and since you’re reading this, I’m guessing you are!), you’ve probably heard the term Ayurveda thrown around. You may have even heard of it used when talking about diets and healthy eating. The Ayurvedic diet has been practiced in India for centuries but it’s only recently caught on in the U.S. While you might have heard it mentioned here and there, it’s totally understandable that you might be fuzzy on what, exactly, it’s all about.
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medical practice, and it focuses on healing the mind and body in a holistic way. The Ayurvedic diet in particular is all about finding the best approaches to food based on your body type, known as a dosha, explains Jessica Cording, author of The Little Book of Game-Changers: 50 Healthy Habits For Managing Stress & Anxiety.
Each body type has a particular name and, according to the principles of the Ayurvedic diet, following the general rules of your dosha should help make you healthy. “It’s a holistic approach to the best eating pattern for you,” Cording says.
Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, and Julia Roberts have all reportedly followed an Ayurvedic diet at some point. But what’s the deal with this diet and — more importantly — is it effective and safe to try? Here’s what you need to know.
How does the Ayurvedic diet work?
The Ayurvedic diet leans heavily into the idea that everyone has a dominant dosha, or body type. Once you figure out your dominant dosha, you can adjust your eating plan to meet your health needs, Cording explains. You can determine your dosha by taking a quiz, like this one, and these quizzes are pretty easy to find online or in books about the Ayurvedic diet.
These are the three doshas:
- Vata: Vatas tend to be thin and can even have trouble putting on weight. They’re usually cold a lot, have busy minds, and can become anxious easily. When they’re not eating the right diet, they can become bloated and constipated, Cording says.
- Kapha: Kaphas are usually the largest of the doshas, and they have wide hips and shoulders. They tend to have poor circulation and sluggish digestion, which can cause health issues for them, Cording says.
- Pitta: Pittas have a medium-sized build. They tend to have lots of energy, a fiery disposition, and good digestion, but they can have digestive problems and get angry easily when they’re out of whack, Cording says.
What foods can you eat on the Ayurvedic diet?
What you eat can help put your dosha into balance; eat the wrong stuff, and you’re not living up to your health potential.
Here’s what you should generally eat for your dosha:
- Vata: “Vatas do really well with warm and cooked foods,” Cording says. Think: oatmeal, roasted veggies, nuts, and warm milk. Things like raw veggies, crunchy foods, and carbonated drinks might not sit well with them.
- Kapha: Since Kaphas tend to have sluggish digestion, it’s best for them to have lots of fibre and incorporate plenty of different spices and vegetables in their diets, Cording says. “You want to avoid high-calorie and high-density foods, like ones that are fatty, have high amounts of sugar, and are really oily,” she says.
- Pitta: Pittas tend to be fiery, which is why the diet recommends they avoid “hot” foods like spicy stuff, alcohol, coffee, and acidic stuff, Cording says. Instead, she says it’s good for them to reach for “cooling” foods like cucumbers, lettuce, melons, and other foods with a high water content.
Are there any other rules to the Ayurvedic diet?
Well, the Ayurvedic diet isn’t just about eating for your dosha — there are some basic principles to keep in mind that apply to everyone.
The diet stresses that there are six tastes — sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent, and bitter — and that each one can impact your physiology, or your body’s ability to function properly, Cording says. These are the other principles of the Ayurvedic diet that every dosha should follow:
- Eat mindfully, concentrating on how your food tastes and makes you feel.
- Pay attention to your hunger cues, stopping when you’re full.
- Take your time to enjoy your food, eating slowly to allow for easier digestion.
- Wait to eat again until after your last meal has digested.
Where can I learn more about the Ayurvedic diet?
There’s no one manual to the Ayurvedic diet, but there are a few books and people you can look into if you’re interested in learning more.
A few books to have on your radar:
The Ayurvedic Institute, which is considered the leading Ayurvedic school in the west, also regularly offers up tips on Instagram. Looking for ‘grammable recipes? Nutritionist Rahi Rajput has got you covered.
What are the health benefits of the Ayurvedic diet?
The Ayurvedic diet recommends honouring your body’s individual needs, and that can be a good thing. “Under the Ayurvedic diet, you shouldn’t feel like you have to do the same thing as everyone else. I really appreciate that,” Cording notes.
Being more mindful of how much you eat and how quickly you eat could also help with weight loss. And some research backs this up. A review in the International Journal of Obesity showed that following Ayurvedic principles resulted in clinically significant weight loss compared to a placebo. Additionally, an Ayurvedic and yoga-based lifestyle modification program was shown to be an effective method of weight management, according to a study from the University of New Mexico and the University of Arizona. Still, it’s hard to say exactly what aspect of the diet leads to weight loss.
Sooo…should I try it?
As with any diet, the way you approach it matters. “You have to be mindful of going to extremes,” Cording says. Meaning: While it might be great for you eat to fresh veggies because you’re a Pitta, for example, only having these isn’t going to help you meet your nutritional needs.
Portion sizes also matter, Cording says, and eating too much of any food — even if it’s good for your dosha — can make you gain weight. It’s also important to recognize that your dosha is based off a self-assessment or assessment of an Ayurvedic doctor — not medical testing. That means the reading might not be accurate, and many people feel they’re a combination of multiple doshas.
Cording stresses the importance of paying attention to your body on this diet. “If you notice that you don’t feel well when you eat a particular way for your dosha, you should honour what feels good for your body and change your eating plan,” she says.
Overall, Cording recommends checking out the Ayurvedic diet—or some form of it—if you’re looking for a healthier way to approach eating. “It can be a useful tool,” she says.
The bottom line: Whether you subscribe to the concept of eating for your dosha or not, being more mindful of what foods you eat and how they impact your body and how you feel — and tweaking your diet based on that—is definitely a good thing. If the Ayurvedic diet helps you do that, that’s a win.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com