Our entire physical body is made up of the food we eat. So it makes sense that we look to the diet for answers to how to optimise our overall health, taking our bodily constitution into account.
Kapha is comprised of the earth and water elements. It is characterised by the qualities: oily, cool, heavy, and smooth. Symptoms of kapha imbalance in the digestion include:
- Frequent, sticky stools
- Sluggish digestion
- Sense of heaviness in both body and mind
- Weight gain
- Intense sweet cravings
- A greedy personality
- Emotional eating
- Excessive mucus production
1. Develop Awareness by Tracking Symptoms
One of the symptoms of kapha imbalance is stubbornness and resistance to change. Kapha types tend to be creatures of habit and may find comfort in certain routines, even if they know something is not in their best interest.
For this reason, the first place to start when making changes to your diet is to become clear and motivated as to why change needs to be made, how to implement it, and what your long term dietary goals are. Find ways to hold yourself accountable for your new patterns and practices. For instance, you could start a daily journal, or you could share your goals and experiences with a friend or family member.
2. Favour Qualities that Oppose Kapha
Eating foods that are warm both in temperature and energetically brings balance to kapha by negating its cool quality. Warming foods support the body’s ability to digest, particularly if you incorporate generous amounts of digestive spices.
Most spices are heating and supportive of kapha, such as:
- Black pepper
Light and Airy Foods
To balance the heaviness and density of kapha, try to incorporate more lightweight foods into your diet. Most fruits and vegetables are very light in nature, particularly when cooked. Therefore, they should provide the main bulk of a kapha balancing diet. Herbal and green teas are also light and warming, therefore these are doubly supportive for kapha.
Eating a lighter diet also refers to portion sizes. The general rule of thumb when considering quantity for a meal is to eat one third of the stomach’s total capacity in solid foods, another third in liquids, and leave a third empty. This helps kapha’s slow and steady digestive system keep up with your intake.
Dry and Rough Foods
Dry and rough foods are the antithesis of kapha’s moist and smooth qualities. Drying foods can help clear up excess oiliness. This includes foods such as:
- Rice cakes
- Dried Fruits
- Puffed rice
The fibrous structure of fruits and vegetables gives them a very rough texture, which is also helpful in balancing kapha. Especially favor the following:
- Dark leafy greens
- Dried tomato
- Fennel stalk
Freshly cooking and adding digestive spices to these vegetables will assist the system in metabolising without losing their rough quality.
3. Avoid Qualities that Increase Kapha
As kapha is naturally cool and heavy, consuming raw, cold, or energetically cooling food can cause digestive aggravation and increase sluggishness. Frozen foods or left-overs are best minimized. Although these foods can be reheated, the refrigeration process still gives them innately cooling properties that can cause imbalance to kapha dosha. In addition, large quantities of raw fruits and vegetables are best limited, and they should only be consumed during the warmer months when it is seasonally appropriate.
Heavy and Dense Foods
Kapha is heavy, lethargic and bulkier by nature, therefore it is best to avoid these qualities in the diet. Heavy foods, such as the following, are generally very aggravating:
- Most flours (except buckwheat)
- Sugar / syrup
Moist, Oily, and Smooth Foods
The same applies for any foods that are excessively oily, such as deep fried foods or heavy dressings. Foods that are high in naturally occurring oils also aggravate kapha and should be minimized, such as:
- Coconut oil
- Cow’s milk (unless taken hot and with kapha-reducing herbs / spices)
- Nuts & seeds
It is also beneficial to be aware of your hydration levels. In general, it is easy for kapha to over-hydrate and retain excess water, causing swelling and puffiness.
4. Gravitate Towards Balancing Tastes
Favour pungent, bitter and astringent
Pungent taste (katu) is composed of the fire and air elements and is light, hot, and dry – all opposing qualities to kapha. This makes it very effective for balancing kapha aggravation. The pungent taste stimulates the digestive fire, thins the blood, encourages sweating, and clears the bodily channels.
Pungent foods are characterised by a hot or spicy flavour, such as that found in:
- Heating spices (i.e. cardamom, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric)
Bitter taste (tikta) is made up of air and ether, resulting in rough, drying and light qualities that are very beneficial to the reduction of symptoms of kapha imbalance. Bitter foods improve digestive capacity as well as cleansing the skin, and aiding in the absorption of moisture, adipose tissues and sweat. However, bitter is also cooling so it is best to incorporate warming spices.
The bitter taste is mostly found in a number of foods and spices, such as:
- Collard greens
- Bitter melon
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Dark chocolate
Astringent taste (kashaya) comprises of air and earth. It is drying, rough and light. Like bitters, it also has a cooling effect and therefore is best eaten with warming spices.
Astringent foods are excellent for absorbing excess fluid and compressing inflammation. They are recognised by the dry, chalky texture they leave behind in the mouth, for example:
- Most legumes
- Rice cakes
- Brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower)
Minimise Sweet, Salty, and Sour
Sweet flavour (madhura) is made up of the earth and water elements, giving it the same elemental composition as kapha dosha. They share the qualities of coolness, heaviness, and stickiness, aggravating kapha’s tendency towards weight gain, lethargy, and inflammation.
Refined sugars should be eliminated from the diet, and consumption of naturally sweet foods should be reduced, including:
- Sweet potatoes
- Most fruits
- Cooked grains
- Root vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Fresh dairy products
Salty taste (lavana) is composed of the water and fire elements. It’s moist and oily nature is very aggravating to kapha, particularly as it retains water, increases blood pressure and intestinal inflammation.
Salt can also impede the senses making us desirous of stronger flavours and ultimately triggering insatiability and greed. The salty flavour is almost exclusively derived from salt.
Sour taste (amla) is comprised of fire and earth. It is aggravating to kapha due to its oily nature. Sour foods increase thirst and aggravate water retention and swelling. Kapha predominant body types should minimise sour foods, such as:
- Lemons and limes
- Green grapes, oranges, and pineapple
- Sour cream
- Processed cheeses
5. Periodically Give the Digestive System a Break
Kapha can be prone towards excess and overloading the system. While kapha does benefit from three regular meal times per day, it is important that you actually feel hunger before sitting down to a meal. By keeping portion sizes small and incorporating digestive aids, such as chewing a piece of fresh ginger 30 minutes before eating, the body will be better prepared to assimilate the next meal.
Cleanses or fasts can be beneficial for balancing kapha as they reboot the sluggish digestive system, prompting a healthy burning of the digestive fire (agni). Kapha types tend to be able to maintain energy for long stretches between meals, making them more agreeable to fasts than the other dosha types. A short fruit or juice fast (preferably with astringent fruits such as apples or pomegranates) or a slightly longer mono-diet, such as a kitchari cleanse, can be very helpful in resetting the metabolism and flushing through any ama (toxin) that has accumulated.
Overall, kapha benefits from a diet that promotes drying, lightening and warming qualities within the body. Warming digestive spices can support the metabolism, and choosing smaller portions of freshly prepared food will prevent the system from becoming overloaded.