We become what we eat. The energy and qualities of the foods we put into our system become part of us. This includes the elements and qualities of the foods themselves, in addition to the energy and qualities of the production and processing of the food before it reaches our plate. We are consuming the intention and mind-state of the beings who grow and harvest the food, the manner in which animal and human workers are treated, and the emotional state of the person preparing the food. The relationship we have to what we consume and the attention we bring to meal-time is equally important. The confluence of all of these factors, including our physiological and emotional needs at the time of consumption dictate how the foods will act upon the body-mind-spirit.
Ritual and mindful attention around eating supports complete digestion, bringing brilliance and clarity of mind. Food has the ability to nourish the body as well as the mind and soul. It also has the ability to act as a poison. Giving honor and gratitude to the food, processes, and all beings involved offers benefit to ourselves and the world.
Considering the five elements (ether, air, fire, water, earth), and remembering that like increases like and opposites balance, we know that foods with more earth element will promote the qualities of the earth element (heavy, slow, stable, dense) in our own body-mind-spirit. Likewise, foods with more air element will promote those qualities (cold, light, mobile, dry, rough) in us. Below are some examples of food in relation to the five elements. All foods contain all five elements, and just as our own constitution is more dominant in some elements than others, the same is true for all substances.
Ether: Sprouts, lettuce and lighter greens, carbonated beverages. Tobacco and psychotropic drugs.
Air: Rough vegetables like salad greens, kale, collards, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower. Nightshades like tomato, eggplant, potato. Beans such as black, pinto, kidney.
Fire: Chili peppers, garlic, onion, and fermented foods. Sharp or pungent spices like ginger, black pepper, curry. Citrus or tart fruits like lemon, lime, grapefruit, cranberries, rhubarb. Alcohol and tobacco.
Water: Juicy fruits and veggies like summer squash, cucumber, coconut, water mellon, tomatoes. Milk.
Earth: Heavy or sweet grains like wheat, spelt, and oat. Seeds and nuts, mushrooms, meat, root vegetables, winter squash.
In addition to the five elements, we identify the three great qualities of mind as we consider food substance and the manner in which we consume it. These qualities, as discussed in last months’ article, are referred to as Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. We see the five elements as the fundamental building blocks and nutrients in food and the great qualities of mind as a more subtle effect the meal will have on our body-mind-spirit. (Read Last months’ article here.)
As we look at Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas in relationship to food, Sattvic food will promote clarity of mind and a sense of calm. The energy of Rajas is frenetic, active energy. Foods that enliven and invigorate are considered Rajasic in nature. Tamas is dull, dark, heavy, and inert. Eating foods with this quality will promote these same qualities in body-mind-spirit.
Examples Of Sattvic Food Practices:
- Pesticide and chemical free produce.
- Ripe, sweet fruits such as mango, coconut, dates, pears, peaches, figs.
- Raw cow or goat milk.
- Smaller beans such as mung and lentils.
- Cold pressed, unrefined oils.
- Herbal tea such as chamomile, rose, lavender, tulsi, licorice.
- Warm food, freshly prepared with gratitude and love.
- Mildly spiced meals with herbs such as turmeric, cardamom, coriander, cumin, fennel.
- Offering honor and gratitude before eating.
Examples Of Rajasic Food Practices:
- Onion, garlic, chili pepper, potato, tomato, and other pungent or sour veggies.
- Sour fruits such as apples and citrus.
- Larger beans such as pinto, kidney, lima, black.
- Hot and pungent spices such as cayenne, black pepper, chili, curry.
- Fermented foods including cheese, sour cream, pickles, krauts.
- Lighter animal protein such as seafood and poultry.
- Caffeine and carbonated beverages.
- Fried and oily foods.
- Cooking or eating in a chaotic or loud environment.
Examples Of Tamasic Food Practices:
- Heavy animal protein such as eggs, beef, pork, lamb, venison.
- Homogenized milk and processed dairy products such as cheese and ice cream.
- Mushrooms and root veggies in excess.
- Heavily sweetened foods. (These will first be rajasic and lead to tamas.)
- Alcohol, marijuana, and most other drugs. (Especially long term use.)
- Cold, canned, frozen, or re-heated food.
- Any food that is old, rancid, or sitting around for too long.
Āyurvedic nutrition recognizes six main tastes; sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Each taste is composed of two of the five elements, and affect the body-mind-spirit accordingly. Sattva is associated with sweet taste (water + earth), as it brings a sense of calm, love, satisfaction, and contentment. Excessive sweet however, leads to Tamas, which looks like lethargy, depression, and dullness. Sour, salty, and pungent tastes all have the fire element in common, and are hot, sharp, and penetrating. These tastes are associated with Rajas. We need these tastes to help engage the mind, assist the memory, and wake us up when we are down. Excessive consumption of sour, salty, and pungent tastes lead to unhealthy cravings, addiction, and over-stimulation. Bitter and astringent tastes share the element of air. Their lightness can help lift the heavy veil of imbalanced Tamas. They help bring new perspectives to life and cleanse the mind.
Understanding these energetic and elemental forces in relationship to what and how we eat is a journey. I encourage you to see these as points of entry for engaging new information. Utilize the principles and practices that you are most drawn to, or find easier to understand at this moment, and leave the rest aside. Slow, one percent shifts make lasting and impactful change. Remain curious, and I assure you, more will be revealed.