According to Ayurveda and yogic philosophy, all of nature (prakriti) is characterized by the three gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas. Sattva is light, clear, and luminous. Activity and turbulence characterize rajas. Tamas is heaviness, darkness, and inertia. For those who practice Ayurveda and yoga, you may be curious about a sattvic diet—how to eat to support a more clear, light, and pure state of being. Here are some Ayurvedic guidelines on sattvic diet.
Who Is A Sattvic Diet Good For?
Before understanding the underpinnings of a sattvic diet, it may help to first contemplate who is a fitting candidate for a sattvic diet. Ayurvedic practitioner, author, and scholar Dr. David Frawley writes, “The Sattvic diet was originally devised for the practice of yoga and the development of the mind…However…it may not be nourishing enough for those who do physical labor.” (1) For those who practice yoga and who engage in a lot of mental activity, a sattvic diet can help purify and clarify the body and mind. On the other hand, if you work with your body in a strong way, you may require some more heavy, energy-building foods that a sattvic diet will not provide.
What Characterizes a Sattvic Diet?
To understand the foods that are considered sattvic, consider the qualities of sattva. When sattva guna is predominant in a person, they will be tranquil, peaceful, wise, luminous, and content. Therefore, sattvic foods are light, mildly cooling, and they do not disturb or agitate the mind.
Fruit and Grains
Ayurveda classifies food as having six tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, pungent, and astringent. For health, it is wise to have a balance of the six tastes in one’s diet. For instance, a balanced meal contains all six tastes. However, when it comes to eating a sattvic diet, it is best to favor the sweet taste. This does not mean cookies, cakes, and ice cream. Fruit (which is light and sweet) is generally sattvic. Also, cooling, easy-to-digest grains such as white basmati rice are part of a sattvic diet. In general, foods in a sattvic diet should not be overly spicy, sour, pungent, or bitter. However, some bitter herbs, such as gotu kola, help cool and purify the mind and are considered sattvic. (1)
As living and eating in a sattvic way requires engaging in non-violence and minimizing harm to other beings, a sattvic diet is largely plant-based. Therefore, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains form the foundation of sattvic eating. Steamed vegetables and green juices fit well into a sattvic diet. However, some say that mushrooms are too tamasic to support meditation. Also, many strict vegetarians avoid mushrooms as they are a fungus, not a plant, and are in many ways closer to animals than they are plants.
Beans And Legumes
Split yellow mung dal is one of the best protein sources for a sattvic diet. This is because split yellow mung beans are easy to digest, slightly cooling, nourishing, and appropriate for all three doshas. The famous Ayurvedic one-pot meal, kitchari, is perfect for sattvic eating. Kitchari is made of basmati rice, split yellow mung dal, spices, and ghee (or other oil).
One of the best sattvic foods used in Ayurveda is Ghruta (Ayurvedic ghee). Ghruta is Ayurveda’s favorite fat as it is tridoshic (meaning it balances all three constitutions), nourishing to all tissues, and rich in digestible, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, including Omega 3s, and trace minerals. It maintains a high smoke point, making it fantastic for cooking and easy to incorporate into meals.
This post is simply an introduction to sattvic foods. Other sattvic foods may include rasayana herbs such as those found in Chyawanprash. In thinking about what makes up a sattvic diet, always come back to the qualities of sattva. The qualities of lightness, purity, freshness, and the principle of non-harming will guide the way.
(1) Frawley, D. (2000). Ayurvedic healing: A comprehensive guide. Lotus Press.
Greta Kent-Stoll is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner (NAMA), as well as a writer, editor, and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher. Her Ayurveda practice is based in Asheville, North Carolina and she is the co-owner of Iyengar Yoga Asheville.