Eating for balance: Sattvic foods

When people first learn about Ayurveda they are drawn in by the feeling of peace that surrounds everything about this ancient science. This peace is far different from the way much of the world operates these days, one that fluctuates between extremes of too-much-to-do-too-little-time and “vegging out” in front of the television with a dinner of microwaved leftovers.


The peace you feel when you sit down to meditate or eat a freshly cooked Ayurvedic meal has a word - sattva. It translates as balance, harmony and light, and is what guides everything we do at Hale Pule.

Sattva in your life

Ayurveda was originally grounded in the idea that we can experience freedom from suffering by coming into harmony with the four pillars of health, which include:

Ahar: Eating foods that nourish our bodies and minds

Vihar: Living in alignment with nature's rhythms

Nidra: Appropriate sleep

Brahmacharya: Management of our energy, particularly sexual energy - both in our physical actions and in our minds.

We come into balance in these four areas of life by increasing sattva. This guide aims to provide information on ahar - eating sattvic foods that connect you with your higher consciousness. Sattvic foods are grown with mindful practices (organic, non-GMO, ideally from your own garden). They digest easily and provide the strength and vitality you are meant to naturally have.

The three gunas

Ayurveda and Yoga are built on the philosophy of the three gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas. These concepts represent the qualities that are present in food, nature and actions, as well as our body and mind.

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Tamas is inertia, darkness and dullness. When a seed is resting inert in the darkness of the earth, it is in a state of tamas. When we sleep, it is tamas.

When tamas is dominant in our lives, there is heaviness, sleeping too much and eating leftovers, meat and deep-fried foods. It leads to lethargy, lack of purpose and depression.

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Rajas is activity and movement. When a seedling cracks through the endosperm and pushes through the earth to reach the sun, it is in a state of rajas.

When rajas is dominant in our lives, it looks like stimulation, stress and overexcitement. Too much rajas imbalances the body and mind, leading to anxiety, disturbed sleep and overindulgence.

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Sattva is balance and harmony. When a seedling has turned into a beautiful flower, unfurling its petals to soak in the beauty of the sun, it is in a state of sattva.

When sattva is present, it looks like lightness and grounding, peace and serenity in the body and mind. This is our ideal state, one that defines true health.

Sattvic foods

Sattvic foods are balancing and harmonious, and they are plentiful; this is only a partial list to have you think about the qualities and how they make you feel. Sattvic foods can be loosely categorized as most fresh fruits and vegetables, most whole grains, legumes and nuts. How they are eaten, for example cooked versus raw, can make a difference in whether they add sattva or rajas to the mind and body. A vegetable may have all of the possibility of sattva but if it is eaten raw then it may be rajas for the body and mind.  Many fruits are also sattva for the body and mind when cooked lightly with ghee and spices. 

In all cases we are assuming food that is fresh, not genetically modified and without chemicals in the process of growing and delivery.

Fruits - apples, apricots, berries, dates (fresh), dragonfruit, feijjoa, figs, grapefruit, grapes with seeds, longons, lychee, kiwifruit, mangoes, melons, nectarine, oranges, peaches, pears, persimmon, pineapple, plums, pomegranates, prunes, starfruit, tangerines (sweet), raisins

Legumes -  adzuki beans, anasazi beans, black beans, black eyed peas, broad beans, brown lentils, cannellini beans, edamame beans, fava beans, green lentils, lima beans, mung beans, fresh snap peas, split mung beans, split peas

Nuts - almonds, brazil nuts, cashew nuts cooked, chestnuts, coconut, filberts, gingko, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachio, tahini, tiger nuts

Oils - almond oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, ghee, macadamia nut oil, mustard seed oil, sesame oil, olive oil

Other - honey, maple syrup, raw milk, raw sugar cane, watercress,  fresh wasabi, rose petals, lavender flowers, fresh almond milk, fresh rice milk, fresh coconut water

Spices -  anise, basil, black pepper, brown mustard seeds, cardamom, carob, cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, dill, fennel, ginger, mint, lemon grass, sesame seeds, sorrel, turmeric, vanilla bean

Vegetables - artichokes, asparagus, bamboo shoots, beets, bitter gourd, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, burdock, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, corn, courgette (zucchini), cucumbers, daikon, fennel bulb, flowers (edible), green beans, dark leafy greens, jerusalem artichoke, kohlrabi, lotus root, okra, parsnips, snow peas, spinach, summer squash, sweet potatoes, turnips (sweet), yacon, yams

Whole grains - amaranth, barley, rice (high quality, basmati, jasmine…), buckwheat, cornmeal, farro, kamut, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, spelt, teff, wheat, wild rice, fresh pasta, fresh noodles


Rajasic foods

Rajasic foods are stimulating and contribute to physical and mental stress. Small amounts of rajasic foods are not a problem in an otherwise balanced life, but a diet made up of too many rajasic foods overstimulates the body and mind andwill lead to circulatory and nervous system disorders.

Fruits - dates (dried), bottled juices, guava, lime, lemon, passion fruit, papaya, soursop

Legumes - kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, red lentils

Nuts and seeds - hemp seeds, peanuts, sprouts, sunflower seeds

Oils - avocado oil, hemp oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil 

Other - fresh cheeses, avocado, cottage cheese, egg, all fermented foods, ice cream, miso, molasses, sucanat, olives, salt, vinegar, yogurt, commercial almond, hemp or rice milk, all caffeine (including cacao, chocolate, coffee, caffeinated teas, decaf tea and coffee)

Spices - asafoetida/hing, cayenne, chili pepper, fenugreek, garlic, excess of any spice

Vegetables - eggplant, onions, capsicum (bell peppers), leeks, hot peppers (chilis), potatoes, radishes, sea vegetables, sprouts, tomatoes

Whole grains - Commercial rolled oats, parboiled grains

Tamasic foods

Tamasic foods are impure, rotten, or dead and create heaviness and lethargy physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.Eating tamasic food leads to dullness, lack of motivation and purpose and negativity.

Fruits - all over-ripe fruits, bananas

Grains - all exposed to light or more than one year old, extensively refined grains,  dried and packaged pasta

Legumes - all canned, older than 2 years, garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

Nuts and Seeds - all old or exposed to light, chia seeds

Oils - all older than 1 year or rancid, canola oil, vegetable oil, rapeseed oil, safflower oil

Other - alcohol, all animal flesh (beef, chicken, fish, fowl, goat, lamb, pork, rabbit, shellfish, turkey, venison), artificial sweeteners, barbecued or blackened foods, food with preservatives or synthetic ingredients, deep fried foods, frozen foods, leftovers, margarine, condiments, all refined sugar, old tea bags, smoked food, microwaved food

Spices - all old or stored in the light

Vegetables - all mushrooms, pumpkin, winter squash


Study Ayurveda online

Guide your community to a state of health and balance through our online Ayurvedic certification programs.

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