The Yoga of Food: Foods to Enjoy & Avoid

"You are what you eat" -- what does that statement mean to you? To most people, it simply means that the vitamins, carbohydrates, and proteins in food build cells, blood, and bones in the body. In yoga, however, "You are what you eat" has a far more subtle and powerful meaning. Food is known to directly influence consciousness and feelings. It can induce bliss or anger, contentment or restlessness, thoughts of the sacred or the profane. The quality of the food you eat literally creates your state of mind, emotions, and consciousness. The teachings of yoga advocate a vegetarian diet with special emphasis on foods that bring peace to body, mind, and spirit.

The highest form of duty to oneself is the partaking of foods that are directly beneficial to health. “What” you eat and the “state of mind” you eat in have direct impact. The state of your health is dependent not only on what you choose to eat but also on what you choose not to eat. Being aware of the types of foods you consume—in terms of both benefits and ill effects—is very important.

Fundamental Yoga Food Distinctions: Sattvic, Rajasic, and Tamasic Foods

Sattvic Food (Eat the most)

Sattvic means “pure essence.” A Sattvic diet includes the consumption of pure foods that lead to the essence of true health. This is the purest form of the yoga diet and most suitable for serious yoga followers. It not only nourishes the body but calms and purifies the mind to maintain a peaceful state, enabling the body to function at its maximum potential while attaining spiritual growth. This type of food is all natural and easily digestible. It generates vitality, vigor, energy, and mental alertness; increases strength; eliminates fatigue; and enhances spirituality, peace, and tranquility. The human body has fundamental requirements: fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, fiber, and water. The Sattvic diet satisfies these requirements by including the majority of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds, therapeutic spices, herbs, milk and natural sweeteners.   

Rajasic Food (Eat moderately)

Rajasic food signifies the “can-do” attitude, and provides that extra stimulation the body needs at times. It is believed to generate ambition, anger, greed, lust, and egotism. However, it also generates excitement, fantasies, sensuality, sexuality, and the energy we need to accomplish, create, and achieve. We require a certain amount of Rajasic energy to survive; it enables us to keep pace with the changing world around us. For understandable reasons, Rajasic foods are recommended for only moderate or occasional consumption. These include all spicy, hot, bitter, sour, gaseous, and pungent foods, which are not as easily digestible as Sattvic foods. Examples include too salty, bitter, sour, and gaseous foods such as toor lentils, white urad lentils, black and green gram, chickpeas, soybeans; hot spices such as chilies and black pepper; and stimulants such as onion and garlic, tea, coffee, tobacco, soda, chocolate, and refined sugars.

Tamasic Food (Eat less)

Tamasic foods are known to benefit neither the mind nor the body. Under their influence, the body’s resistance to disease is destroyed, and the mind is filled with pessimism and the negative emotions of greed, anger, and impure thoughts. This type of food is very difficult to digest and generates the least amount of energy, often leading to dullness and lethargy. Tamasic foods enhance laziness, compulsion, suffering, depression, and dullness of the mind. Tamasic foods are impure, stale, fermented, highly processed, and addictive. They include meat, fish, eggs, intoxicants, alcohol, stale food (food kept for more than twenty-four hours). Processed, canned, and frozen foods are Tamasic, as well as foods containing preservatives, chemical additives, artificial flavors and colors, and reheated and deep-fried foods. These foods consume large amounts of energy while being digested and are believed to create antagonistic feelings. The body feels heavy, and the mind unfocused and uninspired. Tamasic foods are anathema to the basic goal of yoga: the union of mind and body.

The yoga diet’s potential for physical and mental transformation and its accessibility make it an ideal diet for people who want to be healthy and happy. And who in the world would want anything different.

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