This is part 7 of a 7 part series on Misconceptions of Ayurveda and Yoga.
To read the Introduction, click here
First off, it’s difficult to determine what
Ayurveda’s stance actually is on raw food. If we go back to the Charaka
Samhita, the only surviving text on Ayurveda, the author suggests that everyone
should eat “only well-cooked food”. The idea behind his recommendation is that
the introduction of fire energy to food increases the “digestive fire” and
allows for better digestion and assimilation. However many modern authors,
writing on Ayurveda and raw food, support the inclusion of raw food with cooked
food, mostly grains and dairy. They note that raw foods are beneficial for
short term detoxes, but don’t think raw foods diets are healthy long term.
Others propose that raw food is only beneficial for those with pitta dominance, and that vattas should definitely cook most of
their food and eat ghee for its grounding properties. And yet other Ayurvedic
sources claim that raw food is good for everybody, with certain modifications
made for the different doshas. Some other Ayurvedic experts discussing the
difficulties that people may experience on raw food diets mention that many of
these maladies are dispelled with daily exercise, such as yoga, running, or
To read the Introduction, click here
While vegan and raw food diets are becoming more popular among yogis, mainstream yoga culture is more likely to promote an Ayurvedic diet that includes cooked food and animal products, especially dairy. Ayurvedic advocates may claim that they are unable to eat raw foods due to their dosha, and may even say that a vegan diet is unhealthy since it excludes the all-important ghee.
Most yogis who come to a raw food diet do so because raw food has a reputation as being almost miraculously easy on the body. The healing powers of raw food are touted by every raw food guru on the planet. And if we look at most of the ancient texts on yoga, raw food is acknowledged as being high in prana, or life energy, and a “light” or sattvic food. In Hinduism, raw food is so pure that it can be shared freely between all caste members. But at the same time, many Ayurvedic practitioners claim that raw food is too difficult to digest, and recommend their clients cook most of their food.
So which is it – are raw foods difficult or easy to digest? Can raw foods heal everyone, or only those hardy pittas with an intestinal fire like an incinerator?
|The sage Charaka, 2nd century BCE|
Remember from my first article that an Ayurvedic diet is not the same thing as a Yogic diet, and that those who practice Ayurveda do not necessarily practice yoga, or do any type of exercise at all. This detail is extremely important to note, as exercise creates health and a vigorous metabolism that may stoke the “digestive fire” required to absorb nutrients and pass our food through and out of the body.
This Ayurvedic practitioner believes that the practice of yoga increases our digestive abilities to the extent that yogis can digest raw food no problem, while normal sedentary people can’t.
Raw foods are rich in prana (life energy), which the yogi is seeking for cleansing of the nadis (channels) through increasing prana. The correct practice of yoga, particularly Pranayama (breathing practices), increases digestive fire (Agni, see Concept of Agni), so one is able to digest raw food. With a higher internal heat and pranic fire the yogi can handle raw foods, extreme temperatures, little sleep and other physical imbalances that ordinarily cause disease.
Ayurveda, however, is designed for ordinary people with regular digestion, which may not have the power to handle raw food for long periods of time. Yet most people can benefit from periodic raw food diets for detoxification purposes, particularly in late spring time, when nature itself is cleaning up. See full article here
Ayurveda assumes that most people have “weak” or compromised digestion. Remember that Ayurveda was created as a healing system for sick people, not for health maintenance. This may be why the Yogic diet is supportive of raw food, and the Ayurvedic diet is not.
The catch is that most people coming to a raw food diet do not have 100% healthy digestive tracts. For whatever reason, the diet they were on before raw food wasn’t working out for them. Whether it’s IBS, fatigue, constipation, bloating, in some way almost everyone who embarks on the raw food journey has compromised health. And while not all of Ayurveda’s tenets are spot on, it’s best not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s true that everybody’s body is different, and some people will have more trouble digesting certain raw foods than others. This is why it is important to modify your diet, any diet, to what works for your body.
One way of doing this is to apply the “Eat for your dosha” rules to a raw food diet. Many people have written about applying the “Eat for your Dosha” dietary guidelines to a raw food diet. Here’s a run-down on how you can eat for your dosha, raw-style.
Vatta – Vattas have the weakest constitution of any of the doshas, and are said to have the most trouble digesting raw food. For this reason the raw Vatta may want to avoid nuts, sprouted grains and beans, and the more hardy vegetables. Vattas should make good use of their blender. They may want a slightly higher amount of dietary fat than the other doshas, but sticking mainly to easily digestible sources such as avocados or coconuts. Some sources also recommend that Vattas use stimulating spices and herbs, such as ginger. Vattas also have a tendency to have trouble maintaining their body temperature in cold climates, and should only eat room temperature or slightly warmed foods.
Kapha- Kaphas should follow a low fat diet, staying away from nuts, oils, and other heavy foods. Kaphas should also avoid cold or refrigerated food, allowing their food to return to room temperature or warming slightly in the dehydrator.
Pitta – Interestingly, the diet prescribed for Pitta imbalance is a raw diet - fresh, cooling, and juicy. Pittas do well with raw veggies and should eat a lot of salad. Because of their imbalance in the fire energy, they need to avoid stimulants and irritants, such as spicy foods, onion, garlic, chocolate, alcohol, and coffee. Some sources suggest that Pittas should also not eat sour food, such as lemon.
There are many other more detailed suggestions out there, going to such lengths as listing specific fruits and vegetables appropriate to each dosha, but I personally find this ridiculous.
A simpler way of making sure your raw food diet is easily digestible is to apply the Yogic Diet to raw food. The Yogic diet is designed to be appropriate for everyone who is involved in the physical practice of yoga, and includes only foods that are supportive of health, vitality, and a clear mind, - the sattvic foods. These foods are easy to digest, dense in calories, sweet, cooling, and vegetarian.
The diet recommended by texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is by no means raw, but its tenets are easily applicable to the raw food diet. In many other yoga texts, fruit is heralded as the most perfect food for yogis, and there are accounts of yogis going for weeks or months eating only fruit and honey. Foods that are difficult to digest are simply not eaten. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika recommends that yogis avoid cruciferous vegetables, bitter greens, mushrooms, onions, and most beans. These are the foods that are most likely to cause digestive woes in their raw form, as well as cooked.
Interestingly, the Yogic Diet excludes all foods that may cause problems for any of the three doshas. Spices, salt, and onions, which are problematic for pittas, are excluded. The diet is low in oils and fat, which can be hard for kaphas. And the diet avoids tough, fibrous, or otherwise difficult to digest foods for those weakling vattas. The Yogic Diet could be said to be the universal diet – appropriate for everyone.
Whether or not you decide to follow Ayurvedic recommendations is up to you. Personally, I pay no attention to Ayurveda in my own diet. I’ve been told I am vatta dominant, and should not eat raw food. I’ve been told my yoga practice will suffer if I don’t eat ghee. Three years down the raw rabbit hole, and nearly five years vegan, I have no digestive problems and do not feel “ungrounded” or strung-out. I continue to make progress in my practice.
From my research I’ve come away feeling confident that whether or not Ayurveda approves of raw diets is irrelevant, as Ayurveda is not designed with yoga in mind. However, if you feel that Ayurveda’s recommendations can help you with whatever health problems you are currently experiencing, you don’t have to give up raw foods. Instead, enjoy the best of both worlds by applying some easy Ayurvedic practices. For additional reading on Ayurveda and raw foods, enjoy some of these links: