Kapha Pacifying DietBy
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- February 21, 2014
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Photo from: "Eat Well, Be Well: Ayurveda Cooking for Healthy Living” by Lois Leonhardi
Kapha is balanced by a diet of freshly cooked, whole foods that are light, dry, warming, well spiced, and relatively easy to digest – ideally served warm or hot. These foods calm kapha by balancing mucous production, regulating moisture levels, maintaining adequate heat, and by supporting proper digestion and elimination. Because kapha is so substantive in nature, an appropriate diet is actually one of the most effective ways to reel it in. Kapha thrives on a fairly minimalistic diet with smaller meals, little to no snacking, fewer sweets, an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, a variety of legumes, little to no alcohol, and lighter fare all around. That said, finding a diet that is appropriately satisfying is crucial to your success; so it’s extremely important that you enjoy the foods that you do eat. What follows are some specific principles that we hope will empower you in discovering a kapha pacifying diet that works for you.
Qualities to Favor and Avoid
Kapha is heavy, cool, oily, and smooth, so eating foods that neutralize these qualities – foods that are light, warm, dry, and rough – can help to balance excess kapha. This section offers a closer look at the qualities of various foods. An improved understanding of these qualities can guide you in making specific dietary choices that will better support kapha.
Favor Light and Airy Over Dense and Heavy
Foods that embody the light quality are the antithesis to kapha’s heaviness. Lightness can be determined both by the sheer weight of a food and also by it’s density. Fruits and vegetables are typically wonderfully light, so a diet that is built around a tremendous abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably cooked, is a great start. A modest amount of raw fruit may be suitable, and, in moderation, kapha is also balanced by salads and other raw vegetables when seasonally appropriate (usually in the spring and summer months). Green or black teas are quite light, especially when compared with coffee. In general, foods that are too heavy for kapha include hard cheeses, puddings, nuts, cakes, pies, wheat, most flours, breads, pastas, red meat, and deep fried foods, which are also excessively oily (see below). Eating too much in one sitting also leads to excess heaviness, so it’s important not to overeat. A good rule of thumb is to fill the stomach 1/3 full of food, 1/3 full of liquid, and to leave 1/3 empty for optimal digestion. Very heavy meals and highly processed foods also tend to aggravate kapha’s heaviness and are best avoided.
Favor Warm Over Cool or Cold
The warm quality can be emphasized by eating foods that are warm in temperature or that have a warming energetic – and by using heating spices generously (most spices are naturally heating, and almost all of them balance kapha). Cooked foods tend to offer a warmer energetic and are typically easier to digest; so cooked food is preferable – especially in the colder months. Kapha does best to drink only room temperature, warm, or hot beverages and often benefits from sipping on hot water throughout the day, or even warm water with a dab of raw honey in it – honey is both heating and detoxifying. On the other hand, it is best to avoid foods with a cooling energetic, cold and frozen foods or drinks, carbonated drinks, and even leftovers that have been kept in the refrigerator or freezer. The cold quality is inherently increased in these foods, even if they are served hot. Consuming large quantities of raw fruits and vegetables can also be quite cooling, so it is best to enjoy these foods in small quantities and only when seasonally appropriate.
Favor Dry Over Moist or Oily
Kapha’s oiliness is offset by exceptionally drying foods like beans, white potatoes, dried fruits, rice cakes, popcorn, and an occasional glass of dry red or white wine. When cooking, it is important to use an absolute minimum of oil and, when necessary, to substitute water for oil to prevent sticking. Oily foods like avocado, coconut, olives, buttermilk, cheese, eggs, cow’s milk, wheat, nuts and seeds should also be reduced or eliminated. Also, because kapha can and does retain water easily, it is best not to overhydrate. Drink only the amount of fluid that your body requires, according to your climate and activity level. In addition, avoid especially moist foods like melons, summer squash, zucchini, and yogurt, as these can be kapha provoking.
Favor Rough Over Smooth
There’s a reason that fruits and vegetables are sometimes called roughage; their fibrous structure gives them a very rough quality. This is why kapha responds so well to eating large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables. That said, these foods are often much easier to digest when cooked, so be careful not to overdo raw foods and use the seasons as a guide for if and when raw is appropriate at all. Some foods, like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, dark leafy greens, and many beans are exceptionally rough and are therefore wonderful for countering kapha’s smooth, oily nature. Conversely, eating foods and preparations that are smooth in texture – things like bananas, rice pudding, hot cereal, milk, cheese, and the like – can quickly aggravate kapha.
Tastes to Favor and Avoid
Kapha is pacified by the pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes and aggravated by the sweet, sour, and salty tastes. Understanding these tastes allows us to better navigate a kapha pacifying diet without having to constantly refer to extensive lists of foods to favor and avoid. Emphasize
- Pungent is a spicy, hot flavor like that found in chilies, radishes, turnips, raw onions, and most spices. In fact, most spices are tremendously kapha pacifying – see our list of foods to favor and avoid.
- The pungent taste is light, hot, rough, and dry – all beneficial for kapha. In essence, if you like spicy or fiery hot, go for it. And even if you don’t, favor a wide variety of milder spices in your dishes – things like cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, garlic, paprika, and turmeric.
- The pungent taste cleanses the mouth and clarifies the senses. It stimulates digestion, liquefies secretions, clears the channels of the body, encourages sweating, and thins the blood.
- The bitter taste predominates bitter greens (like kale, dandelion greens, collard greens, etc.), and is also found in foods like bitter melon, Jerusalem artichokes, burdock root, eggplant, and dark chocolate.
- The bitter taste is rough, drying, light, and generally reducing – all qualities that benefit kapha, but it is also cooling, so it’s important to add some warming spices to bitter foods.
- The bitter taste cleanses the pallet and improves the sense of taste. It tones the skin and muscles, improves appetite, supports digestion, and helps to absorb moisture, lymph, muscle fat, adipose tissue, and sweat.
- The astringent taste is basically a flavor of dryness – a chalky taste that dries the mouth and may cause it to contract (picture biting into a very green banana).
- Legumes are classically astringent in taste – adzuki beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, soybeans, etc.
- Some fruits, vegetables, grains, and baked goods are also astringent in taste – things like apples, cranberries, pomegranate, artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, rye, rice cakes and crackers.
- The astringent taste is dry, rough, somewhat light, and it reduces kapha. But like the bitter taste, it is also cold, so it’s best to add warming herbs and spices to astringent foods. In some cases (as with pomegranate), simply enjoying these foods in the warmer seasons makes more sense.
- Kapha benefits from the compressing, absorbing, nature of the astringent taste, which also helps to tone bodily tissues and utilize fluids.
- The sweet taste is cold, heavy, moist, oily and very aggravating to kapha.
- Eliminate the intake of refined sugar and sugary sweet foods as much as possible.
- In addition, reduce your reliance on naturally sweet foods like fruits, grains, root vegetables, milk, ghee, yogurt, eggs, nuts, seeds, oils, and kapha-aggravating meats (see our list of foods to favor and avoid).
- Sweet foods tend to aggravate kapha’s tendency toward heaviness, obesity, lethargy, and excess sleep. They can also cause excessive mucus, aggravate colds and coughs, and depress the appetite in an unhealthy way.
- Minimize sour foods like vinegar, cheese, sour cream, green grapes, oranges, pineapple, and grapefruit. An occasional squeeze of lemon or lime juice is the best way for kapha to ingest the sour taste.
- The moistening and oily qualities of the sour taste aggravate kapha.
- The sour taste can increase thirst, create heaviness in the eyes, cause laxity in the body, and aggravate water retention or swelling.
- The salty taste is almost singularly derived from salt itself.
- Much like the sour taste, it is salt’s moist and oily nature that aggravates kapha.
- The salty taste can cause water retention, high blood pressure, intestinal inflammation, ascites, grey hair, wrinkles, excess thirst, and it can impede the sense organs. Further, it tends to spark a sharp desire for stronger flavors and can similarly trigger emotional greed.
How to Eat
When it comes to pacifying kapha, how we eat can have a profound impact on our degree of success. Kapha does well to stick to three square meals per day, and sometimes just two meals are sufficient. It’s also best to eat your meals at consistent times from one day to the next. You can further kindle a sluggish digestive fire about 30 minutes before lunch and dinner by chewing a slice of fresh ginger (about the size of a nickel) with a pinch of sea salt, a few drops of lime juice, and about ¼ teaspoon honey. This helps to prepare the digestive system to receive food and to process it effectively. During meals, it is very important to eat in a peaceful environment and to give your full attention to the act of being nourished so that your body registers satisfaction. This will help reduce overeating and emotional eating, which often plague kapha. Fast foods, sweets and excessive amounts of bread and other comfort foods can be especially kapha provoking. Nevertheless, it may be impossible to avoid all kapha-aggravating foods. In a pinch, the detrimental potential of these foods can be minimized by making sure that they are served warm, with the support of heating herbs, and taken in small quantities. Lastly, because kapha digestion is generally sluggish and tends to sustain energy with or without food, periodic fasts or cleanses can be very helpful. A short fruit or juice fast (think apple or pomegranate), or a longer mono diet of kitchari can be very supportive.
Breakfast is often somewhat optional when kapha is elevated. Kapha benefits tremendously from the unforced, overnight fast between dinner and breakfast. If the appetite has not returned upon waking, it’s likely that a light breakfast of fresh fruit or tea will suffice. If breakfast does feel important to you, consider: A substantive serving of fresh fruit: stewed apples, a fruit salad, a fruit smoothie, or some freshly juiced fruit. Need something more? Hot cereals, like grits, millet, or hot barley cereal, are excellent choices. You can even add a little dried fruit or a dab of honey to the mix, if you like. Another option would be muesli with warm rice milk and a slice of rye toast. Add herbal, green, or black tea to any of these breakfasts but be careful not to over-decorate them; a dab of honey and/or rice milk is likely enough.
Ideally, lunch is the main meal of the day, meaning it’s the largest and the most nourishing. Build your lunches around consuming lots of steamed and sautéed vegetables, and compliment them with beans, appropriate grains, non-yeasted breads, a suitable meat, or an occasional egg. Try something like: Lentil vegetable soup, corn bread, and a side of steamed kale. Include vegetables like onions, garlic, broccoli, celery, carrots, green beans, or asparagus in the soup. Garnish the kale with olive oil, lemon juice, and black pepper. Whole chickpeas and sautéed cabbage over quinoa. Sauté cooked chickpeas with a bit of ghee, a variety of spices, and some diced tomatoes. Cook the cabbage with a splash of sunflower oil, cumin, coriander, a medley of other spices, and lemon juice (if necessary, add water to prevent sticking). After cooking, add a dab of honey and salt to compliment the other flavors. Green chile soup (non-dairy) with black bean tacos. Include black beans, sautéed onions and bell peppers, shredded romaine lettuce, cilantro, salsa, and a squeeze of lime juice and serve over steamed corn tortillas.
Dinner is ideally significantly smaller and lighter than lunch. Soups and stews are often a wonderful choice because they are warm and nourishing, even when light. A smaller serving of lunch can often work, too. For some, especially when weight loss is indicated, it’s best to forego dinner altogether in favor of a healthy breakfast and lunch, or to eat a more substantial breakfast and make dinner the ultra-light meal of the day. Try: Dal soup with sautéed asparagus, and a small serving of basmati rice. Split pea soup and rye toast. Potato leek soup with a small salad and a stimulating dressing – like tamari ginger.
Specific Kapha Pacifying Foods
To view a detailed list of foods to favor and avoid when pacifying kapha, please click here.