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Diet Based on Individuality or Constitution

Ayurveda insists on using a lifestyle and diet together. If this is done then the results are balanced and rapid.

Each person has a different need of nutrients and a different capacity to absorb and assimilate those nutrients. A healthy food for one person can be a disease-causing factor for another. In order to use the Ayurvedic system we need to look at food and food classifications differently than we are used to in the biochemical nutritional model. The Ayurvedic view of food is based on our Agni and how well we can digest the food and access the nutrients inside.

First, we can begin to view foods not as separate categories per se. Instead we can shift our point of view to seeing food according to the person who is going to eat it. This requires a paradigm shift in the way we normally look at food. The prime difference is looking at food according to the metabolism (Dosha and Agni) of the person rather than according to the nutrient content in the food or broad food groups.

Instead of saying, “Eat an apple a day because it has vitamin X”, the new viewpoint is, “What shall I eat today to keep my Doshas in balance.” This is an individualistic approach that requires the person to have a minimum understanding and responsibility for their own health.

It should be clearly understood that people using Ayurvedic nutrition are doing so because they want to take control over their life, health and empowerment. Ayurveda is a patient friendly system that encourages participation. Only you are capable of restoring your own health because it is you who is lifting your hand to your mouth and putting in the basic supply of health (food) into your body. No one is force feeding you food.

Eat According to Your Metabolic Capacity

An effort has been made to distinguish between very aggravating and mildly aggravating foods as per constitution. This also applies to the opposite situation of very beneficial and mildly beneficial foods. In both cases an attempt has been made to show the variegated qualities of food in relation to an individual. The headings, Best, Medium, Mixed, Sometimes, Rarely and Worst have been chosen to give an indication of food actions on any given constitutional type. For the mathematical minded I have also included a percentage indication to show the percentage of use that is beneficial for any given type. This would mean that a food in the ‘Best’ column could be used 100% of the time by the person corresponding to the chart. By the same token a person choosing a food in the ‘Rarely’ column would use the food only 20% percent of the time.

The following chart will clarify the percentage idea. However, I have adjusted the number of times per week to correspond to the amount needed to aggravate a person. Hence, 20% is 1-2 times per week instead of four as eating a lemon four times a week is enough to aggravate a Pitta type, but not 1 or 2 times. The following chart can give you an idea as to the amount needed to disturb you. Note that almost no food is listed as 100% because it is possible to overeat or consume any food to the point of aggravation. Also note that almost no food is listed as ‘Worst’ or 0% because in most cases eating a food once per week will not aggravate your constitution. Therefore, we see that the majority of foods fall into a general use area for all of the constitutions.

100%21 times in the week

80%16-18times in the week

60%8-10 times in the week

40%3-4 times in the week

20%1-2 times in the week

0%0 times in the week

It should be pointed out that a variety of foods need to be eaten in a week’s time. If you eat a certain kind of food every day, day in and day out, it will have greater power to disturb you and cause disruption in your metabolism. It is far better to eat a variety of foods during the week.

The Vata/Pitta type of person will tend to have a light but regular digestive capacity. In general, this type does not have extreme digestive traits. They tend to be medium eaters with regular appetites. Having regular meals three times a day is very important and to avoid snacking between meals is also important. Their Pitta side can easily become disturbed by eating too much acidic, fermented and pungent foods; all of which are good for the Vata side in small amounts. Food in general is more important to favor their Pitta side and use the lifestyle and regularity to control more their Vata side. This type can favor a Vata diet from 1st of August to the end of January and favor a Pitta diet from the 1st of February to the end of July (Northern Hemisphere).

In the table below a summery is given on the effects of food groups on the Vata/Pitta type of person. This is a general guide to show how groups of foods affect these people. The foods are grouped according to their general action on the metabolism of the Vata Pitta type and judge nutritional value accordingly

Summary of Vata Pitta Type Food Groups

TYPE OF FOOD Effect of food on constitution
Percentage 100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0%
Best Medium Mixed Some-

times

Rarely Worst
Fruits X
Vegetables X
Grains X
Beans X
Nuts & Seeds X
Dairy X
Oils X
Animal Products X
Sweeteners X
Spices X
Beverages X
Vitamins & Minerals X

Dual or mixed types should be put together. Generally dual types will tend to have some of both types and not have any clear-cut distinction between the two. The traditional way Ayurveda worked with these types was to have them change the kinds of foods they eat according to the seasonal changes in year. 

Quality of food should be made a priority: organic, local, and seasonal when possible. All mixed or dual types should use a seasonal diet as per Dosha to keep the Doshas balanced.

Vata / Pitta diet

A Vata Pitta type should eat in a calm and relaxed environment and avoid the tendency to rush through meals. To balance out hot, oily, sharp, light, dry and penetrating qualities (Gunas) Vata Pitta types will benefit from including cool, slightly oily, a bit heavy, dense qualities in their meals in moderate amounts. Pitta has a strong metabolism (Tikshna Agni) and Vata has a variable digestion (Vishama Agni) so this type can’t ignore hunger or skip meals without having a drop of blood sugar and energy. The Vata Pitta type should prioritize neutral, bitter and salty tastes and reduce sour, astringent and pungent tastes. Vata Pitta types should also limit the consumption of hot drinks, especially in summer. Vata Pitta types are also a bit sensitive to acidic, sour and fermented food that increase acidity in the blood so these should be taken in moderation. The Vata Pitta type may be attracted to hot spices, but they should only be used is small amounts or irregularly. This type should also follow a seasonal diet with half the year favoring Vata and half the year favoring Pitta.

Outline of Lifestyle (Dinacharya) for Vata Pitta Prakriti

  • Wake up early in the morning, before sunrise when possible
  • Go to the toilet to remove waste (stool, urine, etc.)
  • Drink 500ml of warm water
  • Clean or scrape the tongue, then gargle with Sesame oil (Gandusa)
  • Put 1 or 2 drops of oil in each nostril (Snehana Nasya)
  • Do Abhyanga (apply sesame oil all over the body, or a Vata Massage oil in the fall and winter and Pitta Massage oil in the spring and summer)
  • Do Yoga Asana or exercise for 20 to 30 minutes, end with 5 minutes of Nadishodhana (alternate nostril breathing)
  • Meditate for 5 to 10 minutes
  • Take a hot shower or bath to remove oil from Abhyanga
  • Get dressed
  • Eat a medium Breakfast
  • Go to work
  • Eat a medium Lunch with some cooked food
  • Take a short walk to digest and relax
  • Go back to work
  • Exercise (optional: depending if there was morning exercise)
  • Eat a medium Dinner with mainly cooked food
  • Relax
  • Optional Abhyanga if needed, with optional 5 minutes of Nadishodhana (alternate nostril breathing); follow with hot shower. Do this if one has had a very stressful day
  • Massage the bottoms of the feet with oil, put socks on (to protect the sheets).
  • Go to bed by 10 pm and sleep by 11 pm

Vata Pitta Prakriti needs three meals a day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner should be about the same size and this will vary from person to person; medium to large depending on age, sex and profession. The Vata Pitta type should not eat too much or too little; if they are hungry three hours after eating the meal was too light; if they are hungry six hours later the meal was too heavy. Regular meals times is very important for this type. Snacking should be avoided between meals. It is better to eat substantial meals and avoid snacking altogether. This type should eat a Vata diet from late summer to the end of winter and from Spring to late summer a Pitta diet.