The first thing that most people encounter when they learn about Ayurveda is the dosha questionnaire. Every website seems to have one (including mine!). While they are useful in the beginning to understand the unique makeup of your body and mind, using them to identify which foods you should and should not eat is an unreliable strategy for long-term health.
Ayurveda is intricate and holistic in its nature, just like your body. Neither are possible to understand by taking an online quiz. Eating according to a list of do’s and don’ts for your dosha can be limiting and, unless you are experiencing a significant health concern, unnecessary. Eating from a dosha list resembles a diet, and most people have great difficulty sticking to a diet for any length of time.
My advice for newcomers to Ayurveda is this: Before you do anything else, simplify how you think about food.
Many years ago, I learned a framework for eating that promotes health by giving the body what it needs at each meal. This method requires no memorization of food lists and offers a great deal of creativity in how you approach cooking. By understanding food in terms of its nature as augmenting (building) or extractive (cleansing), you can maintain balance and avoid a lot of worry.
Understanding augmenting and extractive foods
We need both augmenting and extractive foods each day. Augmenting foods build tissue, which is in a constant state of renewal in our bodies. Too much augmenting food leads to weight gain and a heavy, dull feeling. Extractive foods are cleansing in their nature. Too much extractive food overworks the detoxification function of your digestive organs and leaves you feeling unsatisfied. The key is the balance. I recommend a meal of 60% augmenting foods and 40% extractive.
With a little conscious effort, it’s easy to understand the difference between augmenting and extractive foods.
Augmenting foods have a sweeter taste. These are usually dense and heavy, the “stick to your ribs” kinds of foods. Some examples are sweet potatoes, whole grain, squash, beets and dairy.
Extractive foods have a bitter or astringent taste. These are usually light and rough in their qualities, often the “green” portion of a meal. These are foods such as celery, kale, collards as well as legumes and nuts.
Ayurvedic meal planning made easy
Building meals is easy when you come up with a template that will allow your body to maintain its proper, balanced function. I generally include four items in each meal and use the 60:40 ratio as a tool for planning. This is the same method I teach students in my Ayurvedic chef certification and what I share with my consultation clients. It’s also how I approach every meal I eat. Here’s how it works.
The variety of options that fit in these categories is beyond imagination. But don’t get caught up on filling your bowl with the exact percentages. Learn to work by intuition instead. Your body, mind and creative energies will flourish when you do.