What Is the Ayurvedic Diet?

Ayurvedic diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff 

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

Ayurveda is an ancient wellness practice that originated in India about 5,000 years ago. The word "Ayurveda" is a combination of two Sanskrit words that mean life (Ayur) and science (Veda). The literal translation of Ayurveda is "the science of life."

An Ayurvedic diet provides guidelines that encourage mindful eating and consuming foods that are appropriate for your dosha, or constitutional type. The energy of each dosha helps determine what to eat to boost health, prevent or manage diseases, and maintain overall health and wellness.

Ayurvedic medicine seeks to create a healthy strong body through a series of diet, exercise, and lifestyle practices, including sleep, intuitive eating, and mindful living. If you follow an Ayurvedic diet, you'll eat primarily whole or minimally processed foods and practice mindful eating rituals, which may improve health and promote weight loss.

Indeed, emerging research shows that Ayurvedic lifestyle practices—including the diet—can potentially lead to weight loss. But evidence regarding certain aspects of the diet, such as food restrictions and meal timing, is still lacking.

What Experts Say

"Grounded in a Hindu system of medicine, an Ayurvedic diet instructs you to eat according to a dominant dosha (energy type). There is no scientific rationale for this style of eating, but experts agree the focus on unprocessed foods and mindful eating are both valuable takeaways."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

What Can You Eat?

One of the primary characteristics of an Ayurvedic diet is that you eat according to your dominant constitutional type, or dosha. You can think of your dosha as your most prominent energy. The three different Ayurvedic doshas are derived from the five elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Each element provides different qualities or attributes.

  • Vata (space and air): Vatas are often described as creative, intense, or expressive. Attributes include dry, light, cold, and rough.
  • Pitta (fire and water): Pittas are often described as intelligent, joyful, and driven. Attributes include sharp, hot, liquid, and mobile.
  • Kapha (earth and water): Kaphas are often described as calm, loving, or lethargic. Attributes include moist, heavy, soft, and static.

Once you familiarize yourself with each dosha, you may find that one sounds more like the qualities you embody. Many people find that they have two strong doshas.

What You Need to Know

Before you begin an Ayurvedic diet, you will need to learn about your dominant dosha. Many experts in Ayurvedic medicine suggest that the smartest method is visiting an Ayurvedic doctor. "An Ayurvedic doctor can advise the right combination of foods to balance the dosha and make the diet more effective," says Samantha Semmalar, an Ayurvedic doctor at Body Holiday in St. Lucia.

An Ayurvedic doctor can also help determine the best herbs for your dosha and assist with medical concerns if necessary. If you choose to visit an Ayurvedic doctor, they will interview you and make an assessment based on the information you provide. This is likely to be the most accurate method of determining your dosha.

If you don't have access to an Ayurvedic doctor, you can try an online questionnaire to help you find your dominant dosha type. But the questionnaires may not always be accurate.

Ayurvedic doctors and practitioners believe that each of us embodies all three doshas, though your prominent dosha will determine what you eat. Regardless of dosha, proponents follow basic Ayurvedic eating principles for mindful eating, including:

  • Intake of six rasas or tastes. At each meal, incorporate foods that are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent.
  • Begin your meal with sweet-tasting foods (like fruit).
  • Continue with salty foods (such as seafood) and sour ones (citrus fruit, for example).
  • Finish with pungent foods (like onions or peppers), astringent (such as green apples or tea), and bitter (celery, kale, or green leafy vegetables). 
  • Eat mindfully and with concentration. Avoid talking, laughter, and other distractions to fully appreciate your meal and the wholesome benefits it provides.
  • Eat slowly enough that you can savor the taste of the food.
  • Eat quickly enough to prevent the food from getting cold.
  • Eat the proper quantity of food. Be aware of hunger signals and signs of fullness to avoid overeating.
  • Eat only when your previous meal has been digested. The guidelines suggest that you do not eat within three hours of your previous meal or snack, but do not go without food for longer than six hours.
  • Focus on breakfast and lunch. Many Ayurvedic practitioners recommend eating a modest breakfast and a larger, satisfying lunch. Dinner may or may not be consumed, based on your hunger levels.

Vata Dosha

What to Eat
  • Sweet fruit such as cooked apples or cherries

  • Cooked vegetables like asparagus or beets

  • Grains including quinoa or rice

  • Red lentils

  • Dairy products (in moderation)

  • Beef

  • Eggs

  • Fish

  • Black pepper

  • Coriander leaves

  • Vinegar

  • Peanuts and pecans

  • Chia or flax seeds

  • Beer or white wine

  • Sesame oil and ghee

What Not to Eat
  • Dried fruit

  • Raw apples and watermelon

  • Frozen, raw or dried vegetables

  • Potatoes

  • Barley

  • Corn

  • Chickpeas

  • Split peas

  • Yogurt

  • Lamb

  • Turkey

  • Red wine

  • Chocolate

Pitta Dosha

What to Eat
  • Raisins

  • Watermelon

  • Sweet or bitter vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower

  • Dry cereal

  • Pasta

  • Black beans

  • Unsalted butter

  • Chicken (white meat)

  • Egg whites

  • Almonds

  • Beer

  • Dry white wine

  • Coconut

What Not to Eat
  • Apricots

  • Avocado

  • Pungent vegetables like onion or raw leeks

  • Sour fruits

  • Spinach

  • Bread made with yeast

  • Quinoa and brown rice

  • Rye

  • soy sauce

  • Salted butter

  • Sour cream

  • Beef

  • Chicken (dark meat)

  • Chili pepper

  • Red or sweet wine

  • Seafood other than shrimp

  • Chocolate

Kapha Dosha

What to Eat
  • Astringent fruit like applesauce or prunes

  • Pungent or bitter vegetables like celery or carrots

  • Granola

  • Polenta

  • Lima beans

  • Buttermilk

  • Cottage cheese

  • Shrimp

  • Turkey

  • Dry red or white wine

What Not to Eat
  • Sweet or sour fruits like grapefruit or figs

  • Sweet or juicy vegetables like cucumber or zucchini

  • Cooked oats

  • Rice

  • Pasta

  • Pancakes

  • Wheat

  • Kidney beans

  • Soft or hard cheese

  • Duck

  • Tofu

  • Freshwater fish

  • Ketchup

  • Hard alcohol

  • Chocolate

Sample Shopping Lists

The foods you buy on the Ayurvedic diet will depend on your dosha as well as how closely you are following your recommended protocol. The following shopping lists include some of the best foods for each dosha. Note that this shopping list is not all-inclusive and there may be other foods that you prefer.

Vata

  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Whole grains (quinoa, brown or white rice)
  • Red lentils
  • Milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Lean cuts of beef 
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Nuts (peanuts, pecans)
  • Seeds (chia seeds, flaxseeds)
  • Seasonings and spices (black pepper, coriander leaves, vinegar)
  • Sesame oil
  • Ghee

Pitta

  • Raisins
  • Watermelon
  • Broccoli, cauliflower
  • Dry cereal (corn flakes)
  • Pasta (whole grain)
  • Black beans
  • Unsalted butter
  • Chicken breast
  • Eggs (eat the whites only)
  • Almonds
  • Coconut

Kapha

  • Applesauce
  • Prunes
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Granola
  • Polenta 
  • Lima beans
  • Buttermilk
  • Cottage cheese
  • Shrimp
  • Turkey

Sample Meal Plans

Once you have determined your dominant dosha, you can create meals around foods that will help to nourish your body and balance your energy. Your prominent dosha will determine your eating style and serve as a guide for the specific foods you should try to avoid. Remember, the lists of recommended foods do not indicate that you are to restrict all other foods. They are simply foods that you would benefit from getting more of in your diet according to your dosha.

The following three-day meal plans offer suggestions for each dosha to get started on the Ayurvedic diet. Whether you drink wine or beer is your choice, and you may also choose to follow your evening meals with a glass of warmed milk with spices such as chai.

Note that these meal plans are not all-inclusive nor do they strictly follow the Ayurvedic protocol. If you choose to follow the Ayurvedic lifestyle or you have two dominant doshas, you might find other meals that work better for you.

Vata

Day 1

Day 2

  • Breakfast: 1 1/2 cups mixed fruit bowl (bananas, oranges, strawberries); 1 cup lemon tea
  • Lunch: 1 1/4 cups Beef, Brown Rice, and Mushroom Soup
  • Dinner: 1 1/2 cups spinach and tofu curry; 6-ounce glass of dry white wine (optional)

Day 3

Pitta

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

  • Breakfast: 1 cup cubed watermelon; 1 cup shredded wheat cereal with 1/2 cup milk; 1 cup peppermint tea
  • Lunch: 1/2 cup steamed asparagus served with 1 cup cooked couscous
  • Dinner: 3 ounces baked chicken breast; 1 cup steamed broccoli; 6-ounce glass of dry white wine (optional)

Kapha

Day 1

  • Breakfast: 1 cup warm granola breakfast bowl topped with 1/2 cup cooked apples; 8 ounces apple lassi
  • Lunch: 1 cup Summer Corn Soup
  • Dinner: 1 1/2 cups turmeric-spiced kitchari (Ayurvedic porridge) with brown rice and mung beans; 6-ounce glass of dry white wine (optional)

Day 2

Day 3

Find more guides for dosha-based eating online at The Ayurveda Institute. You can also check out cookbooks like "Ayurveda: A Life of Balance," "The Tastes of Ayurveda," and "The Modern Ayurvedic Cook Book" for more ideas on how to eat according to your dosha.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Whole food focus

  • Generalized nutrition

  • Mindful eating

  • Supports wellness

  • May promote weight loss

  • Flexible and sustainable

Cons
  • Determining dosha may be difficult

  • Complicated, sometimes restrictive rules

  • Some herbs may cause side effects

Pros

The Ayurvedic diet advises avoiding certain foods depending on your dosha. But as with any regimented eating plan, there are benefits and drawbacks. Reviewing the pros and cons can help inform your decision about whether you should try the Ayurvedic lifestyle.

Whole Food Focus

Some Ayurvedic practitioners urge their students to eat only local food. While this is impractical for many people, it might prompt you to eat more whole, unprocessed foods, which tend to be more healthful than processed ones.

Generalized Nutrition

The Ayurvedic diet does not restrict any one group of foods. Instead, it offers lists of foods to favor and to avoid based on your dosha. In this way, it can offer balanced nutrition as you make healthful choices about what to eat.

Mindful Eating

Ayurvedic practices suggest eating mindfully and intuitively. That means paying attention to your food and to your body's messages about it. It means taking the time to savor your food, to eat when you are hungry, and to stop when you are full.

Supports Wellness

The Ayurvedic lifestyle encourages balance in body and mind through diet, exercise, and adequate sleep. While Ayurvedic medicine has been practiced for thousands of years, much of the evidence to support its effectiveness is observational. However, as interest in integrative approaches to health like Ayurveda increases, more researchers are conducting high-quality studies that support using the system to provide new insights into its effects.

May Promote Weight Loss

It's unclear whether any weight loss resulting from the Ayurvedic diet comes from eating by dosha, or from the focus on whole foods and mindful eating. But some research has shown its effectiveness when combined with exercise such as yoga.

Flexible and Sustainable

Careful adherence to the rules is not required; those on the Ayurvedic diet can make their own choices about what works best for them and their body. If following the dosha eating plan seems too confusing or limiting, some experts suggest simply adopting the basic eating principles.

Sarajean Rudman, MS, MA, is an Ayurvedic practitioner, clinical nutritionist, and certified yoga instructor. She doesn't suggest dosha-specific foods, but rather foods that aid in digestion, and lifestyle practices that emphasize coming into balance by listening to your body, eating intuitively, and getting enough exercise.

Instead of focusing on weight loss, Rudman says to focus on wellness. She suggests choosing nutritious whole foods instead of processed foods, ignoring calorie counting, and eating intuitively to manage portion sizes.

Adopting a comprehensive Ayurvedic lifestyle that is tailored to suit your personal needs will yield results without restriction. This adaptability could help make the Ayurvedic diet more sustainable for the long-term.

Cons

For proponents of Ayurveda, this is a lifelong way to eat (and live). But not everyone who tries this diet may want to continue it forever.

Dosha May Be Hard to Determine

The process of finding your dosha is subjective—even if you visit an Ayurvedic doctor. It is not based on objective data, like a blood or urine test. For that reason, it may not be perfectly accurate. Your dosha may also be a combination of more than one type, and you may need to make some adjustments along the way.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides guidelines for finding and choosing a complementary care provider, such as an Ayurvedic doctor. In general, the NIH recommends that you talk to your primary care physician about using alternative health practices.

Rules Can Be Complicated

Some people may have a hard time maintaining the Ayurvedic diet. The limited food choices and even food tastes may be difficult for some when they begin. Aside from personal tastes and preferences, the complexity of an Ayurvedic diet may be intimidating for some people.

Herbs May Cause Side Effects

The NIH cautions consumers that certain Ayurvedic products, herbs, or herbal combinations may cause side effects and can be harmful if used improperly. If you take prescription medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking herbal preparations, as interactions may occur.

An Ayurvedic doctor may not be a licensed medical doctor. In the U.S., no states license Ayurvedic practitioners, although a few have approved Ayurvedic schools.

Is the Ayurvedic Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The Ayurvedic diet shares some qualities with other diets that incorporate lifestyle elements and a philosophy of wellness. Similar diets promote whole foods over processed ones, avoid calorie counting, and suggest that what you eat can help you achieve wellness.

For instance, the goal of the macrobiotic diet is to find balance through food. This diet is also personalized based on factors such as age, sex, and climate. On a whole foods diet, the goal is to eat whole foods only—nothing processed is allowed.

Because the Ayurvedic diet is personalized by dosha, it's tough to compare it with expert guidelines on nutrition. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's current dietary guidelines suggests filling your plate with a balanced combination of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products for a well-balanced diet. While Ayurveda emphasizes balance, it does not offer guidance on food groups or macronutrients (like how much protein to eat).

While the USDA suggests calorie ranges for weight loss and weight maintenance, the Ayurvedic diet emphasizes mindful, intuitive eating—listening to your body to determine what you need to eat, when, and how much.

If weight loss is your goal, you may need to combine calorie counting with Ayurvedic advice on which foods to eat (perhaps until you learn what portion sizes work best for you and how to interpret your body's hunger cues). If you're interested in determining your individual calorie needs, you can do so with this calculator.

Though the Ayurvedic diet restricts many healthy foods recommended by the USDA for a well-balanced diet, the protocol encourages healthy lifestyle habits that encourage well-being.

Health Benefits

While research is limited, there is some evidence that following an Ayurvedic diet may improve health.

Encourages Healthy Long-Term Habits

Researchers from Harvard conducted a study supporting the possible use of holistic health interventions including Ayurveda to help people stick to new and healthy behaviors for the long term. Preliminary results suggested that these interventions may help people learn and stick with "new and healthier behavior patterns."

Improves Well-Being

A pilot investigation found that Ayurvedic practices appear to improve psychosocial health among both overweight/obese yoga students. These researchers cautioned, however, that results must be interpreted with caution due to issues with the study's design and other factors.

May Help Manage Chronic Conditions

A study conducted in Sweden found that Ayurvedic medicine improved outcomes for some participants with respiratory, musculoskeletal, circulatory, tumor, and cutaneous illnesses. Other studies have demonstrated that Ayurveda may be helpful in managing coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and improving sleep quality and duration.

Supports Weight Loss

A 2005 review published in the International Journal of Obesity reported that a trial of herbal Ayurvedic preparations for weight loss resulted in clinically significant weight loss as compared to placebo.

Promotes Weight Management

In 2014, researchers from the University of New Mexico and the University of Arizona published a study reporting that an Ayurveda and yoga-based lifestyle modification program is an acceptable and feasible approach to weight management.

Health Risks

While emphasizing whole foods and eating mindfully are generally healthful, safe practices, there are some risks of using Ayurvedic herbs.

Side Effects

The National Institutes of Health cautions that some Ayurvedic products, herbs, or herbal combinations may cause side effects.

  • Triphala: Diarrhea and abdominal discomfort when taken in high doses
  • Guggul: Headaches, stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, loose stools, diarrhea, hiccups, and belching
  • Boswellia: Stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and an allergic rash (when applied topically)
  • Gotu kola: Upset stomach, nausea, light sensitivity, and an allergic rash (when applied topically)

Drug Interactions

Some Ayurvedic herbs may also interact with prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Talk to your healthcare team about any medications you're taking before trying any herbs associated with the Ayurvedic diet.

In rare cases, the NIH indicates that some Ayurvedic herbs may cause arsenic poisoning. Avoid side effects and interactions by checking with your doctor and making sure you're taking the herbs as instructed.

A Word From Verywell

The Ayurvedic diet has been practiced by millions of people for thousands of years and is accepted in many parts of the world as a method for improving overall health and wellness. There are also elements of the Ayurvedic diet that overlap with nutrition fundamentals practiced by Western medical and health experts.

If weight loss is your goal, you're likely to see results if you adopt an Ayurvedic diet and build meals around whole, unprocessed foods and mindful eating practices. Always discuss any major dietary changes or herbal medicines with your healthcare provider to make sure they don't interfere with current medications or with the management of any medical conditions.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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