Our dietary choices have a huge effect on both the gross and subtle bodily systems. Ayurveda teaches that eating in alignment with our constitution can optimise our health and wellbeing. This is done by balancing out the qualities of our predominant dosha.
How to Recognize a Vata Imbalance
Vata is characterised by the qualities: light, dry, cold, subtle, clear, rough, and hard. Symptoms of vata imbalance in the digestion include:
- Dry, hard stool
- Gas pains and bloating
- Changeable/unreliable metabolism
Here are five things you can do to pacify vata and restore balance to your system:
1. Gradual Implementation of Change
Vata’s enthusiastic and excited nature can result in attempts to make drastic changes all at once. However, nearly all bodies initially resist change. Just as it takes a day or two for the body to acclimatize to a new environment when we travel, we need to make time allowances to adapt to new dietary habits.
When we attempt too much change all at once, we are more likely to become overwhelmed and end up slipping back into old practices. It is much more effective to take small steps of improvement rather than aiming for perfection in one jump.
2. Favour Qualities that Oppose Vata
Warming Foods and Spices
Eating foods that are hot, freshly-cooked, and energetically heating will combat vata’s innate quality of coolness. An excellent way to support the healthy functioning of the digestive fire is to incorporate a generous amount of vata-pacifying digestive spices, such as:
- Black pepper
- Hing (asafoetida)
- Chili and cayenne pepper (in moderation)
Nourishing and Grounding Foods
Favouring meals that will keep the body stabilized and nourished will combat vata’s lightness. However, it is important to bear in mind that vata’s digestive constitution is delicate. Avoid overloading the system with very dense, heavy foods by eating too much in one sitting.
Vata benefits from regular, wholesome sustenance. Aim for foods that are grounding and nurturing rather than purely substantial. Some examples of grounding and nutrient rich foods are:
- Roasted or mashed root vegetables
- Spiced milk
- Cooked and spiced grains
- Stewed fruits
Smooth, Oily, and Moist Foods
Choosing freshly-cooked foods over raw, and using generous quantities of high quality oils or ghee will keep the system lubricated, offsetting vata’s dryness. Vata types are also encouraged to keep themselves well-hydrated by drinking lots of warm fluids (no colder than room temperature).
Eating hydrating fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy products, are another way of increasing moisture content in the body. For example:
- Whole milk (non-homogenized if possible)
- Fresh cheeses
Any meal with a smooth consistency will also be beneficial to the pacification of vata, such as ripe bananas, rice pudding, and thick soups.
3. Avoid Qualities that Increase Vata
Cold or Raw Foods
It is best to minimize the amount of cold foods in your diet as they will exacerbate the cold and rough qualities of vata. This includes not only foods cold in temperature but also energetically cooling foods, such as:
- Raw fruits and vegetables
- Chilled drinks and juices
- Frozen foods (even when reheated they retain a cooling energy)
Light, ‘Airy’ Foods
While attempting to balance airy vata, you should also limit the consumption of foods that would compromise vata’s need for stability. This includes:
- All stimulants (caffeine, alcohol, nicotine)
- Raw leafy greens
- Carbonated drinks
It is also best to avoid highly processed ready-made meals and canned foods as these tend to be incredibly dense and lacking in prāna (life-force energy). This can aggravate vata, as such foods are difficult to digest and are not particularly nutritious.
Dry or Rough Foods
Anything with a high fiber content tends to be very rough in consistency, and this aggravates vata. Raw vegetables are very fibrous and can be rough for the system, particularly:
- Brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower)
- Beans (aduki beans, black beans, chickpeas, fava beans, lentils)
- Snow peas
This does not mean that all of these foods must be cut out of the diet. However, when you do eat them make sure they are freshly-cooked and accompanied with digestive spices and generous amounts of butter, oil, or ghee.
4. Gravitate Towards Balancing Tastes
Favour Sweet, Sour, and Salty
Sweet is the predominant taste for vata pacification. The sweet taste, known as madhura in Sanskrit, is composed of the earth and water elements, the perfect balance for vata’s air and ether composition.
Naturally sweet foods are grounding, stabilising and nurturing in quality. However, it is very important to emphasise that these are naturally sweet foods. It’s best to avoid refined sugars as much as possible, since these can exacerbate the symptoms of vata imbalance.
Examples of naturally sweet foods include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Most fruits
- Cooked grains
- Root vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Fresh dairy products
Sour taste, known as amla, is composed of the fire and earth elements. It balances vata through its heating and grounding quality. The sour taste improves the digestive system and prevents gas and bloating. It tends not to be the main focus of a meal but can provide a highlight or seasoning, such as a squeeze of lemon or a splash of vinegar. Examples of sour foods include:
- Lemons and limes
- Green grapes, oranges, and pineapple
- Sour cream
Salty taste (lavana) is composed of the water and fire elements. This balances vata’s cool and dry qualities of vata dosha. The salty taste comes almost exclusively from salt itself.
In the Western world, our food tends to be heavily salted already, so I would not necessarily encourage you to increase your salt consumption. Instead I would suggest improving the quality of the salt that you use. High-quality sea salt or mineral salt (such as pink Himalayan salt) is much more potent than a regular table salt. Salt supports the digestive system by stimulating agni (the digestive fire), helps the body to retain moisture, and encourages healthy elimination.
Minimize Pungent, Astringent, and Bitter
Pungent (katu) foods are composed of the elements fire and air. This makes them hot, dry and light in quality. Pungent foods aggravate vata by exacerbating its roughness and significantly increasing dryness. Pungent foods are spicy and hot, and you should avoid eating too many of them. For example:
- Raw carrots
However, some pungent spices can be lightly incorporated into meals to aid in digestion (see list of vata-pacifying spices above).
Astringent (Kashaya) foods are made up of the air and earth elements. These foods are very drying to the system and are characterized by a chalky after-taste in the mouth. Examples include:
- Rice cakes
Bitter (tikta) is composed of the air and ether elements. It is cooling, rough, drying, and light — all qualities that are hugely aggravating to vata. Examples of bitter foods include:
- Collard greens
- Bitter melon
- Jerusalem artichoke
5. Stick to Regular Meal Times
To stabilise and ground vata, it is helpful to stick to a predictable daily routine. Try to keep your meal times consistent so that you’re eating at around the same time each day. Excessive fasting is not recommended for vata types, as they require regular nourishment. It is also beneficial to eat in a calm and relaxing environment, taking time to fully focus on the taste of your food and its nourishing qualities. This will strengthen your delicate digestive system and pacify any symptoms of imbalance.
Overall, vata benefits from regular, warm and nourishing meals. The initial stage of any healthy diet is the cultivation of a mindful approach to eating and taking care of your body.