The Ayurvedic Perspective on Modern Diets
When it comes to food and diet, there are seemingly endless options and opinions regarding the best path towards health. With modern diet trends that come and go with the seasons, it can be difficult to know which direction to turn and which approach is truly the right fit for you.
Thankfully, Ayurveda offers a timeless philosophy of food to help us understand what may or may not work for our individual constitutions.
The traditional Ayurvedic approach to diet is understood through a lens that involves the doshas, seasons, environment, and the energetic qualities of food.
The beauty of Ayurveda is that it is adaptable—it grows and changes as the world grows and changes.
Here are some ways that Ayurveda might understand modern diets like the keto diet, the paleo diet, the Mediterranean diet, and intermittent fasting. As you consider each option, it’s helpful to know your dosha and any current imbalances you may be working with.
The Keto Diet
This high-fat, low-carb diet functions on the belief that keeping the body in a state of ketosis burns stored fat. To do this, participants in the diet are asked to consume less than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day and focus mainly on meats, eggs, cheese, fish, nuts, butter, oils, and vegetables while avoiding sugar, bread, and other grains, beans, and even fruit.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, this diet could be useful in short periods of time, especially for kapha dosha, to reduce excess weight. In particular, kapha types could use this diet at the change of seasons to support a healthy transition. Adding structured mealtimes and digestive spices like ginger, turmeric, and trikatu to help digest the heavy foods required by this diet would make it easier on a kapha constitution to benefit from a keto diet.
Keto may be challenging for pitta types who need the sweet taste of fruits and grains to help cool down their systems. It would be better for them to follow this diet in the spring or winter season, rather than the summer when pitta is already prone to accumulating.
For vata, this diet could be beneficial in the short term by increasing some of the oily foods that help to ground the flighty and mobile qualities of vata. However, in the long term, this diet may lead to depletion by overloading a vata-type agni (digestive fire), which can be delicate to begin with. Taking herbs like triphala or Vata Digest may support one’s constitution during this time.
A keto diet may be beneficial for breaking the habit of a sweet tooth that may have accumulated during the winter months when we are bundled up inside. Pairing a keto diet with Ayurveda’s wisdom of the seasons and individual constitutions can help us better understand why this diet is beneficial for some more than others.
The Paleo Diet
Similar to the keto diet, the paleo diet recommends a higher-fat, lower-carb approach to food. Paleo does not recommend eating grains or legumes.
In general, the paleo diet offers a much-needed approach to reducing refined and processed foods in our diets while increasing organic and whole foods, which benefit all three doshas.
This diet would follow similar Ayurvedic guidelines to the keto diet listed above. However, according to Ayurveda, grains and legumes are important nutrition sources for pitta types, so it would be best to consider this diet during the kapha time of year—late winter and spring.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is a flexible and balanced approach to eating. Though there is no single way the diet is defined, it is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
The focus on plant-based meals with healthy fats is very much in alignment with Ayurvedic recommendations for diet. Similarly, cutting out processed meats, sugars, and refined carbohydrates is great general advice for all three doshas.
While the Mediterranean diet recommends eating more seafood, those with high pitta or kapha should do so in moderation, since too much saltiness can be imbalancing for these doshas.
Ayurveda has long promoted the health benefits of fasting, though the method by which Ayurveda recommends fasting may be a little different than the fad of intermittent fasting we see now. Common modern intermittent fasting methods involve daily 16-hour fasts or fasting for 24 hours, twice per week.
To strengthen agni, Ayurveda suggests eating an early dinner as the last meal of the day and not eating again until breakfast time. So if you've finished dinner by 6 p.m. and avoid food until 10 a.m. the next day, you may fall into the category of intermittent fasting in a regulated and sustainable way.
It is important to know that if a constitution with high pitta were to go that long without eating, it may start to burn up the lining of the digestive tract, which could lead to imbalances down the line.
When vata types go too long without eating, they might experience feelings of anxiousness, restlessness, or sleeplessness. Intermittent fasting would be best for kapha constitutions during the winter months when digestion can become slow or sluggish.
Similarly, intentionally fasting at the change of seasons can help support the elimination of ama (toxins) and create better health for upcoming seasons. Finding the appropriate length and type of fast for your constitution is integral to fasting in a safe and supportive way.
Finding What’s Right for You
Ayurveda’s approach to diet offers us a piece of timeless wisdom that we can modify with each season and adapts to meet each person as a unique individual. Through this ebb and flow with the natural world around us, our bodies receive the nutrition they need from local, organic, well-cooked meals that suit our personal needs.
Listening to our bodies, as well as the wisdom of the foods that are grown around us, will always help us find more balance. And when in doubt, keep it simple. Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, who has studied food nutrition for over 30 years, offers us this ageless wisdom:
“Eat less, move more, eat more fruits and vegetables, and don't eat too much junk food.”