According to Ayurveda and yogic philosophy, three attributes, or qualities characterize all of nature (prakriti). These are known as the gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas. Sattva is described as illuminating and pure. A person with a predominance of sattva guna exhibits clarity, wisdom, and peace. Rajas is turbulent and active. A rajasic person will be energetic, willful, and possibly tense and restless. Tamas is darkness and inertia. It manifests as lethargy, or even violence, cruelty, and ignorance (1). Though sattva, rajas, and tamas exist within all of us and all of nature, as practitioners of yoga and Ayurveda, the aim is to move toward a more sattvic (pure, clear) way of being. Eating sattvic foods and engaging in sattvic activities help to guide us to this state of greater clarity and illumination.
What Are Sattvic Foods?
To understand which foods are sattvic, it is helpful to return to the characteristics of sattva: pure, light, clear, and luminous. Therefore, sattvic foods are fresh, light, wholesome, and have a mildly cool energy (2). Also, sattvic foods are considered rich in prana, or life force. Foods that are fresh, organic, and in (or close to) their natural form are generally the richest in prana. Here are some examples of sattvic foods:
Fruit, being light and sweet, and generally possessing a fair amount of ether, is sattvic (2). Ayurvedic author, scholar, and practitioner Dr. David Frawley writes,
“[Fruit] harmonizes the stomach, relieves thirst, calms the heart and improves perception” (2). Having a clarifying effect on the body and mind, fruit is a staple in the sattvic diet.
Some examples of fruits for a sattvic diet include apples, apricots, berries, coconut, dragonfruit, figs, grapefruit, grapes with seeds, lychee, kiwifruit, mangoes, melons, nectarine, oranges, peaches, pears, persimmon, pineapple, plums, pomegranates, prunes, and raisins.
Most vegetables are also considered sattvic. Examples of sattvic vegetables include artichokes, asparagus, bamboo shoots, beets, bitter gourd, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, burdock, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, corn, zucchini, cucumbers, daikon, green beans, dark leafy greens, kohlrabi, okra, parsnips, snow peas, spinach, summer squash, sweet potatoes, and yams.
Since a sattvic diet is vegetarian or primarily vegetarian, grains offer important sustenance in the sattvic diet. Rice, which is light and gently cooling is a sattvic food. Ayurvedic cooking favors organic basmati rice, which along with mung beans, forms the base in the famous one-pot dish, kitchari. Whole grains and whole grain bread also afford a slow, steady release of energy which is helpful in balancing the brain and nervous system. This is helpful for maintaining a sense of contentment, evenness, and clarity (2). Other grains to include in a sattvic diet include amaranth, barley, buckwheat, cornmeal, farro, kamut, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, spelt, teff, wheat, and wild rice.
Legumes are another type of food that is generally conducive for sattvic eating. Examples of sattvic legumes include adzuki beans, anasazi beans, black beans, black eyed peas, broad beans, brown lentils, cannellini beans, edamame beans, fava beans, green lentils, lima beans, mung beans, fresh snap peas, split mung beans, and split peas.
Nuts, Seeds, and Fats
Many nuts and seeds are considered sattvic. For instance, almonds help build ojas (vitality), which is important for cultivating a sattvic state. For sattvic eating, it is best to eat raw or lightly roasted and lightly salted nuts and seeds (2). Other options include brazil nuts, cashew nuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachio, and tahini.
In terms of oils, Ayurveda prizes ghruta (or Ayurvedic ghee) as being the most sattvic oil, but other options include almond oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, macadamia nut oil, mustard seed oil, sesame oil, and olive oil.
To eat in a sattvic manner, one should avoid large amounts of hot spicy foods, such as chilis. Ayurveda considers hot spices to be rajasic, as they can be overly heating and agitating. That said, some individuals may require a small or moderate amount of warming spices to stimulate circulation and digestion. This is particularly during colder times of the year. That said, Ayurveda considers ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, basil, fennel, and coriander to be sattvic (2). Other sattvic herbs include anise, black pepper, brown mustard seeds, carob, cilantro, cumin, dill, fennel, mint, lemon grass, sesame seeds, sorrel, turmeric, and vanilla bean.
This is not a complete list of all sattvic foods. Although, hopefully you now have a sense of the direction to head toward if you are wishing to cultivate a sattvic diet. If you would like to explore sattvic eating, focus on foods that are light, fresh, organic, and wholesome, and that will be a great start!
(1) Iyengar, B.K.S. (1966). Light on yoga. Schocken Books.
(2) 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.