What is an Ayurvedic Diet?

Ayurveda is one of the oldest healthcare systems to originate from India. Ayurveda focuses on eating in a way that we can prevent diseases and promote longevity. It’s a living science that honors your age, your doshas, your geographic location, your agnibala (strength of digestive fire), your metabolism, season, your prakruti (constitution), your vikruti (doshic imbalances), your physical needs, and much more before recommending what are the best foods for you. An Ayurvedic diet is an intuitive way to eat and nourish your body. And, ahara (diet), is considered one of the three pillars of health in Ayurveda.

Important elements of an Ayurvedic Diet

  • Rasa or taste (a single taste or a combination of different tastes).
  • Effect on each of the doshas—pacifying or aggravating.
  • Virya or temperature (whether the substance is heating or cooling in nature in terms energetics). For example, cayenne pepper is heating.
  • Vipaka or post-digestive effect (affects the excreta and nourishes individual cells). Ayurveda recognizes three types of vipaka: sweet, sour, and pungent.
  • Prabhava is the unexplainable effect—sort of like a hidden superpower of a food (i.e. ghee is cooling and yet it kindles the digestive fire. Cilantro is a great digestive. However, unlike most digestives which are hot, cilantro is cooling.
  • Gunas or associated qualities. So, if a person has high pitta and is prone to classic pitta imbalances like heartburn or acid reflux, we will conclude he/she has too much of the “hot” ushna guna circulating in the body. To treat “hot,” we would employ the “cold” or sita guna and give foods, herbs, yoga poses, breath and/or lifestyle habits to cool the excess heat. Things like aloe vera, amalaki, mint tea, coconut, grapes, shitali pranayama, and trikonasana.

Role of Ayurvedic Tastes and Doshas in an Ayurvedic Diet

According to Ayurvedic cooking and Ayurvedic Diet, a balanced dish combines the six tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Did you know that health issues can arise from an imbalanced palate? The three doshas of vatapitta, and kapha are connected to the five elements of ether, air, fire, water, and earth. These doshas can be brought back into balance by certain tastes and get aggravated by other tastes.

Taste Element Effect on Dosha
Sweet Earth + Water VP-, K+
Sour Fire + Earth V-, KP+
Salty Fire + Water V-, KP+
Pungent Fire + Air VP+, K-
Bitter Ether + Air V+, PK-
Astringent Air + Earth V+, PK-


Relationship between rasa, virya, vipaka, and prabhava 

Have you developed acne after the holidays and can’t figure out why? Was it the diet? Any emotional stress? Was it a hygiene situation? Using the rasa, virya, and vipaka classification system, you can easily identify oily foods based on your experience. I would say look at cheese, junk food, fried foods, desserts. They might be worth examining if you have oily skin, to see if they are compatible with you.

Rasa, virya, and vipaka help you predict the therapeutic qualities of food. Prabhava reveals special qualities about a food or herb for unique clinical situations. We talked about ghee and cilantro above. It is important to note that each rasa is correlated to certain viryas and vipakas. The effects at each stage are determined by the effects in the previous one—rasa determines virya, and virya determines vipaka.

Taste Virya
Sweet Cooling
Sour Heating
Salty Heating
Pungent Heating
Bitter Cooling
Astringent Cooling
Taste Vipaka
Sweet Sweet
Sour Sour
Salty Sweet
Pungent Pungent
Bitter Pungent
Astringent Pungent

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Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained Ayurvedic coach, contact me.