The Gunas and Food: Maximizing a Sattvic Diet
In yoga and Ayurvedic practice more broadly, there are three gunas that make up the shifting energies of the universe: sattva, rajas and tamas. The gunas also manifest themselves in our individual constitutions, and their balance or imbalance can impact our emotional and physical well-being. Sattva, representing harmony, knowledge and balance, is the guna one should strive to maximize for a healthful life and constitution.
In order to fully maximize Sattva, it’s important to understand how one’s diet can impact the presence of the gunas in our lives. Before diving in, it may be helpful to know which guna might predominate in your constitution, and where you might be experiencing imbalance, in order to understand which foods to prioritize and which to avoid. We have a series of blogs breaking down the signs of imbalance (and how to remedy them) for each guna:
Here, we go over the basics of each guna and what foods are associated with them.
As mentioned earlier, Sattva is guided by harmony, tranquility, goodness and mental clarity.
Sattvic foods are foods that are fresh, nourishing, and veggie-forward. They can be prepared either raw or cooked, though the mode of preparation that is most maximal will also depend on your doshic constitution. (To read more about the doshas and diet, check out our blog here.) Sattvic foods also include nourishing fruits, legumes, ghee, milk, nuts, honey and cheese. It’s important that these foods are prepared without additives, preservatives and excess oil to maintain their balancing benefits.
Furthermore, even the emotional state in which one prepares the food can impact the gunas: Sattva becomes maximized when it is prepared with care, love and intentionality.
Rajas is characterized by motion, passion and heat.
While rajasic foods can provide one with a quick boost of energy, in excess they bring poor digestion, anxiety, irritation and a lack of focus. Rajasic foods include coffee, alcohol, spices, chocolate, eggs, meat, garlic and fermented or canned foods. Eating rajasic foods amplify the body while stultifying the mind, leading to feelings of chaos and stress and physical inflammation.
Even when Sattvic foods are prepared under conditions of anger, irritation or duress, they can become rajasic in nature. Furthermore, foods that are fried, over-spiced or overcooked/burnt can also gain rajasic qualities.
Tamas is characterized by inertia, sluggishness and mental stagnation.
Tamasic foods are foods that are difficult to digest and that dull the body and mind, such as mushrooms, meats, onion, fish, garlic, alcohol and fermented foods. Foods that are tasteless, underripe or overripe and rotten are also Tamasic in nature. Eating an excess of Tamasic foods not only induces mental stagnation, depression and laziness, but it also prevents the body from effectively fighting off disease.
In addition, foods that are prepared without care, such as frozen foods and leftovers, and foods that have gone stale also increase Tamas.
Overall, to maintain a healthy internal balance, it is essential to prioritize a Sattvic diet and to minimize the amount of Rajasic and Tamasic foods you consume. A Sattvic diet will bring tranquility to the mind, health to the body and balance to the emotions.