Ayurvedic Diet: Principles, Benefits, and Do's & Don'ts

Learn about the Ayurvedic diet, how it works, its pros and cons, benefits for weight loss, and foods to include and avoid, along with tips for following the Ayurvedic diet.

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by
Sarah Bullard, MS, RD, LD
— Signos
Dietitian and Nutrition Writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 23, 2024
February 16, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

The Ayurvedic diet is part of an ancient, natural system of caring for the body that began in India called Ayurveda. Ayurveda translates to the “science of life” and is believed to originate from Hinduism.1, 2 

The Ayurvedic diet tailors nutrition recommendations based on your body type and seasonal eating based on the weather.3 This diet is intended to be all-compassing, from your body to your mind and spiritual health.1, 2

This article will discuss what the Ayurvedic diet is, how it works, its pros and cons, benefits for weight loss, foods to include and avoid, along with tips for following the Ayurvedic diet.

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What Is an Ayurvedic Diet and How Does It Work?

Ayurveda is one of the oldest traditional systems of medicine, over 2,000 years old. One of the basic principles of Ayurveda is that the universe is made of five elements.1, 2

  • Vayu (air)
  • Jala (water)
  • Aakash (space)
  • Prithvi (earth)
  • Teja (fire)

These five elements are then believed to form the body's three humors (or fluid substances) called doshas.  Each dosha regulates specific functions of the body.1, 2

  • Vata Dosha: maintains cellular transport, blood and the heart, electrolyte balance, nerves, and waste elimination
  • Pitta Dosha: regulates metabolism, digestion, body temperature, optic nerves, and hunger and thirst
  • Kapha Dosha: structure, joint function, and lubrication

There isn’t a clear standard to determine your dosha, but working with an Ayurveda professional can help balance your eating choices. 

Five subgroups underneath the three humors or doshas describe different body parts and their function, such as the blood, muscles, and bones. 

Balancing the five elements of nature with the three humors or doshas of the body is believed to achieve a healthy state. On the other hand, imbalances cause illness or disease.1, 2 

The Ayurvedic food plan is based on the thought that every person has a different nature (or Prakriti), comprised of the three doshas (vata, pritta, and kapha). 

Depending on your makeup and time of year, different foods are recommended. Ayurveda balances elements of nature with the body. It can be viewed as a nature-based, seasonal eating pattern.3

Ayurvedic Diet: Pros and Cons

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An Ayurvedic diet, like any diet, has pros and cons.

Pros

1. Plant-Based Diet

The Ayurvedic diet recommends seasonal, plant-based foods regardless of your dosha. A plant-based diet is high in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and polyphenols. These plant-based components can help stabilize blood sugar and promote good gut bacteria.3

Each season encourages a focus on different plant-based foods. For example, rice, wheat, green vegetables, ginger, and garlic are recommended in winter.3

2. Preventive Health Benefits

A 2020 article focused on the Ayurvedic diet and its potential to prevent disease through epigenetics. Epigenetics is the ability for genes to turn on and off based on external factors like diet, lifestyle, stress, and the environment.1

Research supports the idea external factors affect DNA and genes and can regulate disease progression and severity. Polyphenols found in spices, plant foods, and tea can modify DNA activity positively. Curcumin, found in turmeric, can also alter gene expression.1 

Many components of the Ayurvedic diet are well-studied and beneficial for disease prevention related to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.1 

3. Improved Digestion

Consuming fiber-rich foods helps populate the gut with good bacteria and promotes optimal digestion. 

The Ayurvedic diet principles also recommend eating slowly and chewing your food well, choosing proper portions, and waiting to eat your next meal until your previous meal has been digested. Additionally, eating a larger lunch and a smaller dinner is recommended.3 

These principles improve digestion.

4. Enhanced Mindfulness

Mindfulness and mindful eating involve being aware of the present moment while eating and the effect of the food on your different senses. 

A mindful eating approach is prioritized within the Ayurvedic diet.3 Research shows mindful eating can help prevent overeating.4 

5. Possible Weight Loss

The principles of an Ayurvedic diet can help promote weight loss. Several components, including plant-based foods, high fiber, and mindful eating, can help you stay full longer and prevent unnecessary snacking and overeating.3 

Cons

1. Difficult to Follow, Confusing Recommendations

The Ayurvedic diet can be challenging to follow independently. You might need a certified Ayurvedic practitioner to understand your dosha and which foods to balance depending on the season and dominant dosha.

Recommended foods will change throughout the year based on your dominant health conditions and the corresponding season. 

Regular follow-up with a practitioner can help you identify what eating plan to follow.

2. Herbs and Supplement Safety

Several herbs and supplements are key components of the Ayurvedic diet. Many are safe and helpful for managing health conditions, such as garlic, cumin, turmeric, and guggulu.1, 5  

On the other hand, using herbs such as ashwagandha without guidance can be dangerous. Ashwagandha is generally safe and tolerated for up to three months per the National Institutes of Health.6 

However, some individuals with certain health conditions (liver or thyroid issues) or taking diabetes, blood pressure, immunosuppressants, and sedative medications may have adverse side effects.

Ashwagandha is not recommended during pregnancy as it can cause a miscarriage for women who are breastfeeding.6

3. Unclear Benefits

There are limited research studies on the Ayurvedic diet and its potential benefits. Research is also small, theoretical, or narrative.  Due to the individualized diet, each person follows a slightly different Aruvedic diet, limiting the ability to conduct large, randomized trials. 

Components of the diet, such as polyphenols, certain spices, and fiber, have been researched extensively and are beneficial for overall health.1, 3

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href="moringa-powder">Moringa Powder: Benefits, Uses & Ways to Fit it Into Your Diet</a>.</p>

Ayurvedic Diet for Weight Loss: Explained

A study from 2014 included 12 adults classified as overweight or obese to identify any improvements in weight after following a three-month eating, activity, and lifestyle Aruvedic program.7 

Average weight loss was 3.54 kg (7.8 pounds) at three months, 4.63 kg (10 pounds) at six months, and 5.9 kg (13 pounds) at nine months. Participants reported program satisfaction above 90% at all follow-up time frames.7 

Most individuals were classified as kapha or partially pitta-dominant. The diet interventions focused primarily on kapha. 

Participants attended a 1.5-hour initial session and twice monthly individual follow-up visits for the three-month program. The Aruvdedic clinician tailored the plan for each individual at each session. 

Participants also attended three 75-minute yoga sessions weekly and were encouraged to perform yoga three times a week at home.

Results from this intensive Aruvedic program show significant weight loss and maintenance. At nine months, participants lost, on average, 6% from their baseline weight. High adherence to the program led to a loss of 11.6% of their baseline weight by nine months.7 

Other research trials indicate that achieving 5 to 10% weight loss can significantly improve metabolic health conditions.7 

Diet, lifestyle, and exercise changes from following an Ayurvedic diet can result in significant weight loss. 

Ayurveda Foods to Eat and Avoid 

Some general recommendations for foods to eat and avoid exist. 

However, food recommendations are based on the season (winter, spring, summer, rainy, fall, and late fall) and dominant dosha.3 It can be difficult to determine what foods to choose and avoid. 

Vata

Foods to Eat

In winter, Vata is increased, so a wholesome recommended diet is as follows to reduce Vata.3 

Freshly cooked, whole foods that are soft, a balance of protein and fat, served warm. Moist, soft dishes and food are ideal.8 

  • Rice, wheat, and flour products 
  • Milk and milk products (ghee, butter, milk, yogurt)
  • Fats and oils
  • Green vegetables
  • Spices and herbs: cardamom, ginger, sesame, garlic, myrobalan, and long pepper
  • Fruits: fully ripe, sweet, heavy fruits like bananas, grapefruit, mangoes, peaches, and plums

In summer, add mango, watermelon, fruit juices, coconut water, buttermilk, curd with pepper, meat soups, jaggery, and fennel. Add barley, mung beans, rice, wheat, meat and vegetable soups, chavak, zinger, and rock salt in the rainy season. 

Foods to Avoid

  • Raw fruits and vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage
  • Cold foods or beverages
  • Frozen or refrigerated leftovers
  • Dry foods like popcorn, crackers, chips, and dried fruits
  • Bitter or astringent herbs like parsley, thyme, and coriander seed

Pitta

Early fall aggravates Pitta, so easily digestible foods are recommended.3 

Foods to Eat

Fresh, whole foods (cooked or raw) that are hearty, cooling, dry, and high in carbohydrates are recommended.8

  • Grains: barley, oats, basmati rice, wheat
  • Legumes and green gram
  • Fruits: sweet, fully ripe fruits like melons, bananas, pineapples, pears, and oranges
  • Vegetables: sweet and butter veggies like cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, zucchini, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, pointed gourd and squash
  • Goat, chicken, and rabbit
  • Spices and herbs: small amounts of black pepper, fenugreek, Indian gooseberry, and date

Foods to Avoid

  • Overeating warm, hot, or spicy foods
  • Alcohol and caffeine
  • Canned and processed foods or pastries
  • Soupy or liquid meals
  • Sharp or sour flavors 

Kapha

In the spring, Kapha is increased, and the following foods are recommended.3

Foods to Eat

Choose light, warm, dry, and fiber-rich foods. Mostly cooked foods with a small amount of raw foods. 

  • Rice, wheat, maize (corn), barley
  • Fruits: apples, blueberries, pears, pomegranates, cherries, and dried fruit
  • Red or green gram (legumes), lentils
  • Honey
  • Spices and herbs: khadir, cocograss, ginger, turmeric, tulsi (holy basil), and neem

In summer, add mango, watermelon, fruit juices, coconut water, buttermilk, curd with pepper, meat soups, jaggery, and fennel. 

Foods to Avoid

  • Too much raw fruits and vegetables
  • Heavy foods like cheese, puddings, cakes, pies, deep-fried foods, red meat, and oils
  • Overeating cold foods. Cooked foods are preferred, especially in the winter
  • Cold foods or beverages
  • Frozen or refrigerated leftovers
  • Smooth foods

8 Tips for an Effective Ayurvedic Diet

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Incorporating some or all of the components of an Ayurvedic diet can help you consume more whole foods and less processed food

The Ayurvedic diet combines your dosha and the time of year to determine the best foods to balance your body and prevent disease. 

This eating style can be confusing and requires continued assessment by an Ayurvedic practitioner to identify your current eating plan. There is little research to support an Ayurvedic diet due to the custom nature of the eating style. It is easier to follow and maintain with assistance. 

  1. Determine your dosha and learn its dietary requirements.
  2. Avoid raw foods and opt for freshly cooked meals. 
  3. Focus on eating less at breakfast and dinner and the largest meal at lunch. 
  4. Choose seasonal foods to match the season and optimize nutrients. 
  5. Choose fresh over processed foods.
  6. Chew your food well to promote digestion and fullness. 
  7. Focus on enjoying and savoring your meals; be mindful. 
  8. Consider working with a certified Ayurveda practitioner for success.

Learn More About How to Improve Blood Sugar Health with Signos’ Expert Advice

A Signos continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can help you track blood glucose levels discretely while experimenting with an Ayurvedic diet. 

You can see immediately how different foods and drinks affect your blood sugar. This tool (CGM) can help you make practical changes to help you feel your best. 

A Signos’ CGM can help you improve your health while trying to prevent or manage type 2 diabetes and other health conditions. Work with a healthcare professional to improve your health and identify any medications to assist. 

Learn more about nutrition and healthy habits on Signos’ blog. Take a quick quiz to determine if Signos fits your needs.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="autoimmune-protocol-diet">Autoimmune Protocol Diet: A Beginner's Guide</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Jaiswal, Y. S., & Williams, L. L. (2016). A glimpse of Ayurveda - The forgotten history and principles of Indian traditional medicine. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine, 7(1), 50–53. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.02.002
  2. Sharma, H., & Keith Wallace, R. (2020). Ayurveda and Epigenetics. Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania), 56(12), 687. https://doi.org/10.3390/medicina56120687
  3. Chauhan, A., Semwal, D. K., Semwal, R. B., Joshi, S. K., Adhana, R. K., & Goswami, M. S. (2022). Modulation of gut microbiota with Ayurveda diet and lifestyle: A review on its possible way to treat type 2 diabetes. Ayu, 43(2), 35–44. https://doi.org/10.4103/ayu.AYU_7_20
  4. Warren, J. M., Smith, N., & Ashwell, M. (2017). A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition research reviews, 30(2), 272–283. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954422417000154
  5. Gyawali, D., Vohra, R., Orme-Johnson, D., Ramaratnam, S., & Schneider, R. H. (2021). A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Ayurvedic Herbal Preparations for Hypercholesterolemia. Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania), 57(6), 546. https://doi.org/10.3390/medicina57060546
  6. National Institutes of Health. (October 24, 2023). Ashwagandha: Is it helpful for stress, anxiety, or sleep? https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Ashwagandha-HealthProfessional/
  7. Rioux, J., Thomson, C., & Howerter, A. (2014). A Pilot Feasibility Study of Whole-systems Ayurvedic Medicine and Yoga Therapy for Weight Loss. Global advances in health and medicine, 3(1), 28–35. https://doi.org/10.7453/gahmj.2013.084
  8. Bayan Botanicals (2024). Ayurvedic recipe library. https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/diet/

About the author

Sarah Bullard is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in research and clinical nutrition, personalized nutrition counseling, and nutrition education.

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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