By Laura Lynch
As per Ayurveda, all foods have their own taste (rasa), heating or cooling energy (virya) and post-digestive effect. If these effects are too much in combination it can result in toxin (ama) accumulation in the body and can lead to other imbalances. For example, milk should not be combined with fruit, specially sour fruits. According to Yoga, the simplest diet is best for the body and mind. This is why a sattvic diet is recommended to those who follow the path of Yoga.
Sattva is one of three gunas – sattva, rajas, tamas. The gunas are essentially the aspects or qualities of form. Sattva is an energy or quality that is balanced and in harmony. The rajas guna has the qualities of passion, over-excitement, anger, and anxiety. The tamas guna has the qualities laziness, dullness and ignorance.
When sattva is present, it feels light, grounded and peaceful. The qualities of sattvic foods are light, fresh, easily digested and calming. Sattvic foods are full of prana, which is the driving force for bodily actions, the nervous system and thought patterns. A lack of pranic foods can create an imbalance in the body and mind. Therefore, sattvic foods help to increase energy and can give the consumer a more positive outlook on life. It can sharpen the mind and can increase intelligence and focus.
What are Sattvic foods?
A sattvic diet has sattvic energy – light, grounded and peaceful. It is a vegetarian diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts and due to this, it is rich in fibre and low in fat. Foods included in a sattvic diet are organic and mostly unrefined. Freshly cooked simple foods are best for a sattvic diet and meals should be prepared and consumed with gratitude and love. To avoid wasting food, only cook what can be consumed.
Sattvic foods list:
- Fresh and lightly cooked fruit/ vegetables; fresh fruit/ vegetable juices
- Dairy and non-dairy products, for example warm milk and ghee is very sattvic
- Beans and legumes
- Sprouted whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Spices, for example, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, turmeric, ginger and coriander
Why to avoid rajasic and tamasic foods?
Rajasic foods are those which create too much excitement, overly flavoured, bakery products, eggs, tea, coffee and alcohol. All these foods stimulate the nervous system making them rajasic in nature.
Foods that are derived from animals are not permitted to be consumed in this diet. A sattvic diet does not contain dead foods (meat, fish etc), processed foods or foods that are chemically or biologically altered. Overcooked, stale or reheated foods are considered tamasic. Packaged food is also not recommended as it reduces the freshness and nutritive quality.
Tamasic foods include:
- Processed foods
- Artificial sugar
- Meat, poultry, fish
- Onion, garlic
- Overly cooked and fried foods
- Added sugar
- Alcohol – it dulls the mind over time
What are the benefits of sattvic foods for the body and mind?
Based on yoga philosophy, there is an internal connection between the foods we eat and the condition of our mind. A sattvic diet is said to increase energy, give calmness, happiness and mental clarity.
High vitamin and mineral content
With the variety of foods available on a sattvic diet and the way that they are prepared, these foods can give considerable health promoting benefits. For example, fruits, vegetables and fresh fruit/ vegetable juices have many micronutrients present, such as vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Beans, legumes, whole grains and pulses have both soluble and insoluble fibre, which help to feed friendly gut bacteria, maintains blood sugar levels and helps to fight constipation. Nuts and seeds are high in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, which are important in fighting inflammation, promoting brain health and reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, while increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Nuts and seeds are also high in minerals, for example, Brazil nuts have calcium, magnesium and vitamin E. They also contain high amounts of selenium, which is an important antioxidant required for a healthy immune system. Eating 1-2 nuts per day can easily meet the daily requirement of selenium. Spices, like turmeric and ginger, are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties, while cinnamon contains magnesium, calcium and helps to reduce and maintain blood sugar levels.
Weight loss promotion and cardiovascular health
Due to the high fibre content from many plant foods, the diet can promote weight loss and can also improve cardiovascular risk factors, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and being over weight.
The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication network between the gut and the central nervous system. This impacts the autonomic nervous system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis the and nerves within the gut. The foods we eat can impact our hormones, emotions, mood, mental health and cognition. Due to this, a sattvic diet is associated with a decreased risk of depression, can boost the mood and bring clarity and lightness to the mind.
Consumption of foods with a low glycemic index helps to slow supply of energy to the body regulating blood sugar levels. These foods reduce spikes in blood sugar level, helping to balance the release of energy from foods preventing a slump in energy after a heavy meal.
Mindful preparation, cooking and consuming is an essential part to gain the benefits of a sattvic diet. Give time and patience to do each of these processes, while being thankful to the people and plants who have put time and energy into getting this food to your plate.
Laura is from Dublin, Ireland but currently living in Dharamsala, north India. She obtained her BSc degree in Nutritional Science and then went to study her 200hr Yoga Teacher Training in Rishikesh and Ayurvedic Therapist Training in Bhagsu, Dharamsala. She hopes to set up online Ayurvedic Workshops and one-to-one consultations.