The main tenet of Ayurveda is to treat individuals based on their unique mind-body type; this is governed by three cosmic forces, gunas, which exert their influence on the physical elements – earth, wind, water, fire and ether.  These elements are combined in three life forces or doshas (known as Vata, Pitta and Kapha) and it is the relative balance of these three doshas that determine body type, mental disposition and even susceptibility to certain illnesses.

Everyone is made up of all three doshas but in some people one will strongly predominate.  In others, two doshas combine with equal strength and in a few rare cases all three doshas are equally represented.  Whatever the combination, this creates our basic prakriti, which is present from birth.

Ayurveda believes that good health relies on maintaining this specific doshic balance and avoiding cumulative imbalances, which are thought to lead to disease.  Many factors are thought to influence this balance including the seasons, lifestyle and diet.  In addition age and environment can play a part; for example it is believed that Vata increases with age and is also aggravated by windy weather.  This means that maintaining and, if necessary, restoring balance is central to both the lifestyle and dietary approaches of Ayurveda.

“the distinction between health and disease arises as the result of the difference between wholesome and unwholesome diet… disease is the result of faulty nutrition”.

Just as Hippocrates said, “Let food be your medicine and medicine your food”, Ayurveda makes no distinction between food and medicine, believing that food is therapy.  However emphasis is placed on the belief that different foods suit different people and Ayurveda provides a framework for understanding how each individual can get the maximum benefit from the food they eat.  The key principles are:

  • Understanding the nutritional meaning of taste
  • Eating according to your dosha and digestive capacity
  • Knowing how to eat – when and where

Eating according to Dosha

Ayurveda advocates following a bespoke diet tailored to suit the individual and which is guided by the predominating dosha.  The underlying concept is that food can aggravate or soothe the predominating dosha.  The following tables provide examples:

Food Property Doshic Impact
Rice Cakes Dry and cooling Increases Vata’s dry qualities and tendency towards being cold.

Cools Pitta and helps Kapha by drying out congestion and mucous.

Black Pepper Hot Increases Pitta’s tendency towards inflammation and anger.

Stimulates and energises Kapha.

Cow’s Milk Heavy, mucous producing Increases Kapha’s heaviness and tendency towards sluggish metabolism and congestion.

Soothes Pitta and nourishes Vata, especially when warmed.


The Six Tastes

Ayurveda recognises six tastes or rasas (each one made up from the five elements) and attributes therapeutic properties to each of them.  The following table provides some examples:

Table 1: Therapeutic Effects of the Six Tastes

Taste Elements Therapeutic Effects Examples
Sweet Earth & Water Nourishing, anabolic, rejuvenating.

Decreases Vata & Pitta

Increases Kapha


rice, wheat, corn and lentils

milk, cream, butter and ghee

potatoes, carrots, beetroot

grapes, mango, dates and figs

Sour Earth & Fire Aids digestion, reduces bloating and flatulence.

Decreases Vata

Increases Kapha & Pitta

lemons, limes

yoghurt, sour cream and whey

wine, vinegar, soy sauce sauerkraut

Salty Water & Fire Water-retaining and aids digestion.

Decreases Vata

Increases Kapha & Pitta

sea salt, rock salt, table salt

seaweed, anchovies

Bitter Air & Ether Detoxifying and drying.

Decreases Pitta & Kapha

Increases Vata


rhubarb, grapefruit, olives

rocket, spinach, chicory, aubergine

cabbage, Brussels sprouts, courgette

turmeric, fenugreek, coffee

Pungent Air & Fire Catabolic, improves circulation and reduces mucous.

Decreases Kapha

Increases Vata & Pitta

cumin, black pepper, mustard seeds

garlic, onion

radishes, chilli, ginger

Astringent Air & Earth Healing and purifying.

Decreases Kapha & Pitta

Increases Vata

Honey (this is not considered sweet)

walnuts, hazelnuts, cashew nuts

asparagus, okra

chickpeas, alfalfa sprouts

most raw vegetables