Ayurveda, which translates as “the science of life”, is an ancient healing system from India that emphasizes eating in accordance with your individual body type and the seasons. There are three mind/body types (or doshas) called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each mind/body type has certain qualities and it is recommended that each eat certain foods and restrict others to come into balance and health. The Ayurvedic system is more complex than just knowing which mind/body type you are and so consulting an Ayurvedic practitioner can be helpful in understanding this system.
The qualities of vata as seen in nature are cold, dry, rough and constantly moving. The vata body type is what we imagine when we think of our contemporary notion of beauty: thin-boned, tall and skinny, or short, slim and petite. Vatas have sharp minds and a tendency to worry. They are light sleepers and have nervous dispositions. These people usually have a fast metabolism and don’t gain weight easily. The wintry vata requires highly nutritious food, with an abundance of cooked vegetables and whole grains to promote healthy assimilation and bowel function. Vatas need regular exercise to release nervous tension and they do best with more meditative, calming practices such as yoga.
The pitta body type embodies the qualities of fire. Their bodies and temperaments both tend to be hot. They also tend to have a strong, athletic constitution. Pittas tend to be leaders, are well-organized, intelligent, charismatic, emotional, competitive and passionate. Pittas benefit from seeking balance in eating, avoiding hot spices and too much animal food. They should emphasize sweet vegetables like squash and pumpkin, and whole grains like barley and oats. They should avoid eating excessively and include regular exercise each day.
Spring is the kapha season. It is rainy, bringing on allergy season and potential congestion. Kapha body types are big-boned, full-bodied, and physically strong with tendencies to gain weight. Their skin color is pale and cool, and their eyes are large and often dark. They tend to be easygoing, slow, methodical types with peaceful temperaments. Kaphas have slow metabolisms and should avoid overeating because their main health concern is the danger of obesity. They should eat lots of vegetables and light foods, including a wide range of grains. Their primary animal food should be eggs. All spices are good for kaphas, but they need to restrict intake of oil as much as possible. Regular, non-strenuous (walking) physical exercise suits them best.
In the Ayurvedic system, a basic meal should have something warm, something with protein, a salad and/or vegetables with good oil, spices and flavorings, a small sweet for dessert, walk and rest. Each meal aims to cover all six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent and bitter. Foods that are restricted are: heavily processed foods, excess sugar and caffeine and large amounts of animal protein.
Sample Daily Menu
Breakfast: hot cereal with walnuts, honey and spices
Lunch: Portobello mushroom curry with basmati rice, mung bean dahl and sautéed spinach
Snack: almonds, Eater’s Digest tea
Dinner: tandoori salmon with yogurt, turmeric and pineapple chutney, broccoli salad with sesame oil and sesame seeds
Dessert: rice pudding with cardamom, cinnamon, honey and almond milk
Ayurvedic beliefs are that if the body, mind and spirit are properly balanced by correct eating, exercise and mind-set, the person will be personally and socially healthy and able to maintain that health.