An Ayurvedic diet is an eating plan that provides guidelines for when you eat, what you eat, and how you eat to boost your health, prevent or manage disease, and maintain wellness. If you follow an Ayurvedic diet, you’ll eat primarily whole or minimally processed foods and practice mindful eating rituals.

What Experts Say

“Grounded in a Hindu system of medicine, an Ayurvedic diet instructs you to eat according to a dominant dosha (energy type). There is no scientific rationale for this style of eating, but experts agree the focus on unprocessed foods and mindful eating are both valuable takeaways.”

Background

Ayurveda is a wellness practice that originated in India and is about 5,000 years old. The word “Ayurveda” is a combination of two Sanskrit words that mean life (Ayur) and science (Veda), so the literal translation of Ayurveda is “the science of life.” Ayurvedic medicine seeks to create a healthy strong body through a series of diet, exercise and lifestyle practices, including sleep and mindful living.

How It Works

If you follow an Ayurvedic diet, you’ll incorporate many different practices into your eating routine. These practices help you to benefit from the different qualities of food.

One of the primary characteristics of an Ayurvedic diet is that you eat according to your dominant constitutional type or dosha. You can think of your dosha as your most prominent energy. There are three different Ayurvedic doshas that derive from five different elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Each element provides different qualities or attributes.

  • Vata (space and air): Vatas are often described as creative, intense, or expressive. Attributes include dry, light, cold, and rough.
  • Pitta (fire and water): Pittas are often described as intelligent, joyful, and driven. Attributes include sharp, hot, liquid, and mobile.
  • Kapha (earth and water): Kaphas are often described as calm, loving, or lethargic. Attributes include moist, heavy, soft, and static.

After reading descriptions of each dosha, you may find that one sounds more like the qualities you embody. Many people find that they have two strong doshas. Those who practice an Ayurvedic lifestyle believe that each of us embodies all three doshas. Your prominent dosha will determine your eating style.

What to Eat
Once you have determined your dominant dosha, you can create meals around foods that will help nourish your body and balance your energy. You’ll find more extensive guides for dosha-based eating online at sites including The Ayurveda Institute, but it’s helpful to scan a few of the foods suggested by the organization for each dosha

Whole Food Focus

Some Ayurvedic practitioners urge their students to eat only local food. While this is impractical for many people, it might prompt you to eat more whole, unprocessed foods, which tend to be more healthful than processed ones.

Mindful Eating

Ayurvedic practices suggest eating mindfully and intuitively. That means paying attention to your food and to your body’s messages about it. It means taking the time to savor your food, to eat when you are hungry and to stop when you are full.

Health Benefits

Even though Ayurvedic medicine has been practiced for thousands of years, much of the evidence to support its effectiveness is observational. However, as interest in the approach increases, more researchers are conducting high-quality studies that support using the system for improved health.
  • Researchers from Harvard conducted a study supporting the possible use of holistic health interventions including Ayurveda to help people stick to new and healthy behaviors.1
  • A pilot investigation found that Ayurvedic practices appear to improve psychosocial health among both overweight/obese yoga students. These researchers cautioned, however, that results must be interpreted with caution due to problems with study design and other issues.2
  • A study conducted in Sweden found that Ayurvedic medicine improved outcomes for some study participants with respiratory, musculoskeletal, circulatory, tumor, and cutaneous illnesses.3

Weight Loss Benefits

It’s not clear whether any weight loss resulting from the Ayurvedic diet comes from eating by dosha, or from the focus on whole foods and mindful eating. But some research has shown its effectiveness nonetheless. A review published in the International Journal of Obesity reported that a trial of Ayurvedic preparations for weight loss resulted in clinically significant weight loss as compared to placebo.4 And researchers from the University of New Mexico and the University of Arizona published a study which reported that an Ayurveda and yoga-based lifestyle modification program is an acceptable and feasible approach to weight management.5While there is some evidence of the potential health and weight loss benefits of an Ayurvedic diet, it is hard to identify which factors in the Ayurvedic lifestyle are delivering the most benefit. Still, there are also some potential drawbacks to this diet and lifestyle.

Determination of Dosha
Keep in mind that the process of finding your dosha is subjective—even if you visit an Ayurvedic doctor. It is not based on objective data, like a blood or urine test. For that reason, it may not be perfectly accurate. Your dosha may also be a combination of more than one type. You may need to make some adjustments along the way.It’s also important to remember that an Ayurvedic doctor may not be a licensed medical doctor in the United States. In the U.S., no states license Ayurvedic practitioners, although a few have approved Ayurvedic schools. The National Institutes of Health provides guidelines for selecting a complementary care provider, such as an Ayurvedic doctor. They also recommend that you communicate with your primary care physician about the use of alternative health practices

Complicated Rules

Even if increasing evidence supports an Ayurvedic diet for weight loss or wellness, no eating plan will work if you don’t stick to it for the long term. Both Dr. Maha and Dr. Sam acknowledge that some people have a hard time maintaining the program. Dr. Maha says that the limited food choices and even food taste may be difficult for some when they begin.Aside from taste, the complexity of an Ayurvedic diet may be intimidating for some. If following the dosha eating plan seems too confusing, some experts suggest simply using basic eating principles.Rudman says that adopting a comprehensive Ayurvedic lifestyle that is tailored to your personal needs will yield results without restriction, starvation, or that feeling of being trapped in a diet.

How It Compares

You’ll notice that the Ayurvedic diet shares some qualities with other diets that incorporate lifestyle elements and a philosophy of wellness. However, since it is so personalized by dosha, it is tough to compare it with expert guidelines on nutritioThe United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines suggest filling your plate with a balanced combination of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. While Ayurveda also emphasizes balance, it does not offer guidance on food groups or macronutrients (like how much protein to eat). Instead, the focus is on which foods to eat within a category based on your dosha.

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