Ayurveda has always classified food in terms of its positive and negative attributes, which are now being recognised by modern nutrition studies. According to the holistic approach adopted by ayurveda, apart from food, lifestyle also influences one’s thoughts, behaviour, physical appearance and actions.
Food is seen as prana, the carrier of life force, and is judged according to how it affects the conscious self. Based on its inherent qualities food is catergorised into — Sattva (purity), Rajas (activity, passion, the process of change), and Tamas (darkness, inertia).
This kind of food is always freshly cooked and simple. It is food that can be digested easily and puts one’s mind in a state of balance. It helps build immunity and improves the health of those who are ill. It includes foods closest to their natural forms like milk and milk products, fresh and dried fruits, and fresh vegetables (except onion, garlic, and chives). All whole grain cereals, most lentils, sprouts, natural sweeteners like jaggery and honey, and natural oils like homemade ghee, butter and cold-pressed oils are considered sattvic.
Such food is lightly cooked with moderate spices (no chillies and black pepper) and has less fat. The spices commonly used in sattvic cooking are turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, fennel (saunf) and cardamom.
It’s important to note that raw foods are not sattvic as they harbour parasites and microbes and are believed to weaken digestion and reduce ojas (vital energy) on which the proper functioning of the mind and spiritual development depends.
While ghee is allowed ( it helps the development of the mind), oily and fatty foods should be eaten sparingly.
The sattvic personality
People who follow the sattvic way of eating are known to be clear-minded, balanced, and spiritually aware. They usually avoid alcohol, stimulants like tea, coffee, tobacco and non-vegetarian food.
This is food that is fresh but heavy. It includes non-vegetarian food like meat, fish, eggs, and chicken, all whole pulses and dals (not sprouted), hot spices like chillies, pepper, and all vegetables including onion and garlic. The rajasic diet is also cooked fresh and is nutritious. It may contain a little more oil and spices compared to sattvic food. It benefits those who believe in action and aggression in a positive way such as business persons, politicians, and athletes.
The rajasic personality
This diet is linked to sensual stimulation. Rajasic people are usually aggressive (in a positive way) and full of energy. They are interested in the four Ps — power, prestige, position and prosperity. But they are quite in control of their lives and aren’t obsessed by any of the above. They are go-getters and know how to enjoy life.
This includes foods that are not fresh, overcooked, stale and processed — foods made from refined flour (maida), pastries, pizzas, burgers, chocolates, soft drinks, rumali roti, naan, tea, coffee, tobacco, alcohol, canned and preserved foods like jams, pickles and fermented foods, fried foods, sweets made from sugar, ice creams, puddings and most ‘fun foods’ are included in this list. All spicy, salty, sweet and fatty foods form part of the tamasic diet. Overeating is a tamasic trait. However, overeating sattvic food too brings on tamas in an individual.
The tamasic personality
Tamas brings about stagnation leading to degeneration of people’s health. Such individuals suffer from intense mood swings, insecurity, desires, and cravings and are unable to deal with others in a balanced way. They have little regard for the welfare of others and tend to be very self-centered. Their nervous system and heart do not function optimally and such individuals age fast. They usually suffer from conditions like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and chronic fatigue. They usually lead a sedentary lifestyle. Such individuals would benefit from switching to a sattvic diet. Others, who live life in moderation and are into politics, business, defence or into athletics would do well by following the Rajasic way of life.
Sattvic, rajasic and tamasic are more than just qualities in food — they are a way of life.