Food and Consciousness

In Ayurveda, foods are categorized by the degree they enhance or hinder physical energy and spiritual development

BY: Harish Johari


Excerpted with permission from "Ayurvedic Healing Cuisine" published by Healing Arts Press, a division of Inner Traditions International.

In Ayurveda, sattva, rajas and tamas are not creations of the human mind but rather are three modes of primordial nature--pure, undifferentiated, universal Consciousness. Known as gunas, these three fundamental attributes present the natural evolutionary process through which the subtle takes form, or through which energy becomes matter, and also through which different types of food becomes classified.

  • Sattva, which means Essence, corresponds to Pitta.
  • Rajas, which means Activity, corresponds to Vata.
  • Tamas, which means Inertia, corresponds to Kapha.

    Sattvic, Rajasic, and Tamasic Foods

    The main consideration when categorizing foods as sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic is their effect on the human organism. Do they create heat or dryness in the body? Do they create extreme cold? Do they stimulate the human organism--including the glandular secretions and the psychic centers (chakras)? Do they have an extended nourishing effect? What are the aftereffects? Are the foods readily digestible, or do they take some time and energy to digest? Do the foods disturb the doshas: wind (vata), bile (pitta), and/or mucus (kapha)?

    Sattvic Foods

    Sattvic foods are fresh, juicy, light, unctuous, nourishing, sweet, and tasty. Because these foods give necessary energy to the body without taxing it, they are helpful in achieving a balanced body chemistry--the foundation of higher states of consciousness, in which sattva predominates.

    The psyche (chilla) is brought to a centered state by sattvic foods, because they bring readily digestible and nourishing food materials to the system. For aspirants of sattva and for spiritual growth and development, seasonal fruits, grains, and vegetables that are juicy, light, fresh, and sweet, as well as easily digestible, are the only diet. To eat only fruits, such as oranges, apples, bananas, grapes, and mangoes that are juicy (not pulpy), is ideal. If vegetables, grains, beans, and pulses are to be eaten, then wheat, cracked wheat cereal, bread made from freshly hand- or stone-ground flour (coarsely ground and with the wheat kernels), barley, moong (mung) beans, yellow split peas, rice, leafy vegetables, squash, milk, and butter are very good.

    Wheat and barley are sattvic grains. As we have mentioned earlier, when cooked with excessive butter and spices, their sattvic nature is converted to rajas. Roasted garbanzo beans (chick peas) are sattvic, but when eaten frequently, they produce gas and thus become tamasic. If garbanzo beans are sprouted and eaten raw, they are sattvic. Fried moong beans also produce gas when eaten frequently and, therefore, give tamasic energy. Split peas are good if boiled with a little salt, turmeric, and coriander powder. They can be flavored with a small amount of cumin and asafetida once cooked.

    Fresh fruit juices from sweet, ripe fruits are the best sattvic foods.

    Almonds, as well as sunflower, cucumber, pumpkin, and honeydew melon seeds, are very nourishing. Almonds are rendered more sattvic when soaked overnight, peeled, and ground into a milky substance. In winter, a milky paste made from 7 almonds can be gently boiled with 1 cup of milk. Dates or raw sugar and ground anise seeds can be added, to taste. Ground seeds of the green cardamom pod or a pinch of saffron can be added to improve the digestion and give a pleasant aroma. In summer, water instead of milk can be added to the paste, which is then strained through a fine strainer. Anise or fennel seeds with cardamom and a little honey can be added. Although rose petals also can be added to these drinks, rose petals are best taken in cold drinks in the summer. After honey, raw cane sugar (jaggery) is the best sweetener, and, like honey, it is sattvic.

    The goat, sheep, water buffalo, camel, and cow all give nourishing milk. Of these, cow's milk is the most sattvic. However, four hours after milking, cow's milk becomes rajasic.

    Kheer (rice cooked in milk) is sattvic. Fresh buttermilk and lassis (liquified yogurt with raw sugar) are also sattvic. The guna category for certain foods, such as lemons, black peppercorns, carrots, and sweet potatoes, is not so clear-cut. Because lemon is sour, it is not regarded as sattvic, but as a purifier, it is sattvic in nature. Black peppercorns are hot and dry but are considered sattvic. They provide energy to the stomach, increase the appetite, and clean and purify the chest region.

    Carrots are roots and nearly all root vegetables are tamasic, yet carrots are sweet, cold, and unctuous, and they are easily digested. They cure excess heat in the body, help clean the lower digestive tract, cure diseases caused by gas and mucus, create more blood, make more urine, and thus clean toxins from the body. Carrots increase the digestive power of the stomach; they give energy to the brain and help in the maintenance of celibacy, and thus are classified as sattvic. Sweet potatoes, beets, and turnips are also roots, yet they, too, are sattvic and provide complete nourishment.

    Mountain salt (rock salt) is sattvic and therefore recommended above sea salt, which is rajasic.

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