Veganism has gained momentum and popularity in the past several years, and what was once considered to be a trend is now becoming more mainstream. To choose a vegan diet means your menu is void of any animal products (including meat, fish, dairy, and eggs), and when fully adopting a vegan lifestyle, everything you purchase or use is free from animal ingredients and animal cruelty—no leather bags, shoes, or furniture, and personal hygiene products and makeup are also carefully selected. There could be many reasons for someone to choose to eat a vegan diet or live a vegan lifestyle: health, ethics, and environmental concerns lie at the top of the list. Many yogis adopt this practice in conjunction with the ethical observance of ahimsa or non-harming, and in general, both yoga and its sister science, Ayurveda, seek out a sattvic diet—a diet containing pure foods that are high in prana or energy. Still, Ayurveda views every food as having a medicinal benefit, and as such, there may be a time when healing calls for the consumption of an animal product, such as cow’s milk or ghee. So while a vegan diet is not necessarily an Ayurvedic diet, it begs the question, how can the two be merged together? The answer is “very consciously.”
The Energies and Qualities of a Vegan Diet
Keeping your constitution balanced will always circle back to the gunas (there are twenty primary gunas, or qualities, in Ayurveda) because, ultimately, it is the qualities that we are trying to prevent from accumulating. As a vegan diet omits animal products like meat and dairy, it by default removes what is naturally heavy and oily from one’s diet. This results in an increase in lighter and drier foods, or foods that share characteristics with the vata dosha. This will be especially true if beans and legumes—two examples of drying foods—are used as a replacement for animal protein.
However, it is not well-suited for vata, unless strong efforts are made to account for what may be lacking in heavy and oily qualities. Pittas could also struggle, as they may quickly fear that without meat they will go hungry, due to their strong and able digestive fire. If you aren’t sure of your dosha, including constitution and current state of balance, the Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz offers a quick way to learn more about your personal makeup.
5 Tips for Keeping Balanced with a Vegan Diet
- If you are predominately vata constitution or have a vata imbalance, increase nuts, seeds, avocados, and other healthy plant sources of fats and oils. Soak nuts to make them easier to digest. Incorporate dishes that have white basmati rice alongside mung beans or lentils into your diet to be sure you’re getting complete proteins, and cook with spices such as cumin, coriander, fennel, fresh ginger, cardamom, and asafoetida—commonly referred to as hing—to aid in digestion.
- For pitta constitutions or those with pitta imbalances, be sure that you’re eating enough. Your digestive fire is the strongest of all of the doshas and can afford the challenge of heavier foods. Without meat or dairy, you may find a need to consume more beans, legumes, and root veggies to satisfy your appetite. Don’t fear grains, as their sweetness is good for pacifying pitta. Sprinkle flax, hemp, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds onto your food, but refrain from eating an abundance of nuts. Nuts have a heating energy that can be too much for pitta to handle.
- To the kaphas and those managing kapha imbalances, this is your wheelhouse. A vegan diet will serve you right, so long as you continue to eat whole, fresh foods and avoid those foods that are mimicking meat or other animal products. Those foods can be overly processed (so they aren’t great for any of us) and contain a lot of sodium which can cause you to retain water and feel lethargic.
- Cook your veggies. Though neither a vegetarian nor vegan eats simply vegetables, they are likely to consume more than someone who is consuming meat. All constitutions will feel best if they favor cooked veggies over raw, as it makes it easier to breakdown and absorb the nutrients and less likely to interfere with elimination.
- Remember that some things can’t be replaced. Making substitutions for therapeutic reasons isn’t the same as making a substitution in a recipe. For example, if you’re making dinner with a recipe that calls for cow’s milk, it’s pretty simple to make it vegan by replacing it with almond milk instead. Cow’s milk and almond milk, however, do not have the same properties. So, if you’re looking for a replacement for ghee or bone broth, its equivalent may not exist.
The following kitchari recipe offers a delicious and vegan-friendly way to enjoy this Ayurvedic staple.
Vegan Kitchari Recipe
- ½ cup split yellow mung dal, soaked overnight and rinsed
- 1 cup white basmati rice, rinsed
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
- 1 bunch leafy greens, chopped
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon of natural mineral salt
- Pinch of black pepper
- Lemon or lime to garnish
- 4 cups water
Heat sesame oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the cumin, ginger, turmeric, salt, and pepper and stir for 30 seconds. Add the mung beans and rice, stir until covered with oil and spices (about 30 seconds to one minute). Add 4 cups of water and bring to a boil (more can be added later if it dries out before the mung beans and rice are fully cooked). Add the sweet potatoes, then reduce heat to low and cover. Stir occasionally.
After about 30 minutes of cooking, add the leafy greens, stir, and cover. When the sweet potatoes are fully cooked and the mung beans and rice are soft, remove from heat. This will have a porridge-like consistency. If there is still liquid in the mixture, leave on the heat until the water is fully cooked through. If the mixture becomes dry before everything is soft and cooked, add more water, ¼ cup at a time. Serve as is or with a squeeze of lemon or lime.