Food plays a decisive role in every person’s life. According to ayurveda, what one eats has a huge influence not only on his physical wellbeing, but also on his thoughts, and ultimately his emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
Based on its effect, Ayurveda categorises food as satvik, rajasic and tamasic. Rather than categories, consider each of these as a cluster of tendencies and you’ll intuitively know which foods are good for you, and which aren’t.
To a great extent, our mothers [or others who are in charge of feeding us when we are babies] are responsible for developing our satmya or food-lifestyle.
We as babies too display preference for certain foods or tastes. Such a preference is determined by our prakruti or inherent traits.
For optimum health a person should consume all six tastes—bitter, sweet, sour, salty, pungent and astringent—in varied proportions.
Food that is freshly-made or organically-grown in a farm or field is satvik. Beverages and edibles that don’t aggravate your anger or that make you feel more cheerful and calm are satvik.
Milk [preferably cow’s milk] ghee, honey, butter, fresh fruits like apples, grapes, pomegranate, dates, coconut, figs, nuts [especially almonds, raisins] green gram, coriander, cumin, turmeric, fennel, fenugreek, cardamom, fresh sweets in small quantities, freshly-made warm khichadi without excessive spices, porridge, kheer made of dairy products are all satvik foods.
Food taken in serene atmosphere and in limited quantity is also satvik. However, stimulants like coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco are not.
The place and time of eating, also affects a food’s satvik quality. For instance, if a satvik food is consumed in excess, frequently or around midnight, it becomes less satvik. Satvik food bestows positive qualities on a person.
It increases feelings of joy, contentment, kindness and is good for intelligence, wisdom and memory. It also aids in decreasing fear, lust, greed and such other negative emotions.
This is why spiritual gurus and saints eat satvik food. Buddha and Mahavira are two examples. Satvik food helps in one’s spiritual journey. Hence, an elephant or a cow that relishes fresh lush grass is gentle and docile.
It includes spicy food and food that gives a lot of energy. Fish, meat, eggs, garlic, onion, egg plant, chillies, fried food, beverages and edibles that are consumed more than needed, excessively salty, sour, pungent or hot foods are classified as rajasic. Rajasic food promotes enthusiasm, creativity and productivity. Excessive Rajasic food fosters negative emotions like lust, jealousy malice and makes a person vain, avaricious, and pompous.
Rajasic food was recommended for warriors because they required the qualities that it develops. In the animal kingdom too, tigers and lions feed on rajasic food—flesh and blood, and hence are aggressive.
Excess food and food that makes one lethargic and dull are all classified as tamasic food and is not advisable. Preserved, frozen, junk and stale food, curds, jams, jellies, beef, excessive spices that in turn increase appetite and induce overeating are tamasic too.
Consuming tamasic enhances feelings of fear and inferiority in a person. Such food can even give rise to criminal tendencies. Crocodiles or foxes eat rotten flesh and are dull, lethargic and cunning.
This was first published in the July 2011 issue of Complete Wellbeing.