Food interacts with us on the physical (body) level, the emotional (mind) level, and also the energetic and spiritual levels. Ayurveda realises how food and other lifestyle factors influence your physical appearance, thinking process, behaviour and actions.
According to Ayurveda, there exists three gunas, which should essentially be in equilibrium with each other.
Food is seen as the prana, the life-force carrier, and is judged by its quality and how it affects the conscious self. Based on a food’s inherent qualities, it is categorised as sattva (purity), rajas (activity, passion, the process of change) and tamas (darkness, inertia).
This is the purest of all diets and aids in nourishing the body and maintaining a peaceful state of mind. This diet also enables the body to function at its maximum potential.
Sattvic foods get digested easily, help build immunity and improve the healing response in those who are ill. Sattvic foods include whole grain cereals, fresh fruit and vegetables, pure fruit juices, milk, ghee, legumes, nuts, seeds, sprouts, honey and herb teas.
Foods that are very hot, bitter, sour, dry or salty are rajasic. They are fresh, but heavy to digest. Those who indulge in heavy physical activity should eat this type of food. It includes non-vegetarian foods such as meat, fish, eggs and chicken, and all whole pulses and dals (not sprouted), hot spices like chillies, pepper, onions and garlic.
Too much rajasic food is said to over-stimulate the body and excite passions, making the mind restless. Eating in a hurry is also considered rajasic. A rajasic personality is considered to be interested in the four Ps — power, prestige, position and prosperity.
This includes all foods that are overcooked, stale or processed. All spicy, salty, sweet and fatty foods form part of the tamasic diet. They include foods made from refined flour (maida), pastries, pizzas, burgers, chocolates, soft drinks, stimulants like tea, coffee, tobacco, and intoxicants like alcohol.
Most canned, preserved and fermented foods come in this category. Fried foods, sweets, ice creams, puddings and most modern-day fast foods are also on this list. These foods perpetuate laziness and people eating these are characterised by a rough temperament. Overeating is regarded tamasic too.