Sattvic Food For Healing The Gut

A clean, healthy and nutritious diet is an essential part of Ayurvedic philosophy. A sattvic diet is a part of that ancient tradition, deriving its name from the Sanskrit word Sattva (true essence). According to a 2012 paper by Mahendra P. Sharma et al, published in the journal Psychological Studies, “A three-dimensional personality theory based on the Sankhya school of Hindu philosophy postulates human personality in terms of three gunas or factors namely sattva, rajas and tamas (SRT). Disequilibrium in any one of these factors has an adverse effect on one’s health and psychological well-being”.

The three gunas represent different facets of human personality—as a 2015 study in the International Journal of Yoga points out. Sattva stands the tallest for being a state of pure harmony, Rajas is a state of activity, anger and stress and finally, Tamas is a base state—harbouring lethargy and ill health. Essentially, the goal of a sattvic diet is to include foods that will increase the levels of sattva in our bodies from healthy, environmentally clean and natural sources.

There are a variety of sattvic foods—mostly items that are plant-based and easier on the stomach. They are supposed to make the consumer physically and psychologically more enriched. The following foods, as published in a 2019 article by the Journal of Ethnic Foods, are part of an ideal sattvic diet—though their benefits are proven by scientific research as well.

Related story: How to Eat Like a Yogi: An Introduction to Ayurvedic Nutrition

Sattvic foods for better gut health

  1. Fruits and veggies: Most fruits (like apples, bananas, mangos, lemons, papaya) are considered sattvic due to their nutritional content and natural sweetness. In terms of vegetables, most greens (spinach, celery, broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower) are said to help raise sattva levels, along with potatoes, carrots etc. Rajasic and tamasic vegetables include garlic, onion, some chillies, mushrooms etc and are avoided.
  1. Dairy substitutes: In tandem with vegan diets, sattvic foods also encourage plant or nut based milks, dairy-free cheese, tofu. However, animal-sourced dairy is allowed at times, though only when it is high quality and ethically sourced—in simple words, the cows have to be raised in a natural and comfortable environment and their calves should not be in want of milk. Most importantly, it has to be fresh and as non-processed as possible.

Related story: Is Plant-Based Milk Good For You? Here are Seven Nutrition-Packed Varieties to Consider

  1. Legumes and grains: Though yeasted grains are a no-no, sattvic diet is all about whole and sprouted grains (like barley, millet). Paired with legumes like lentils, chickpeas, bean sprouts, mung beans—they make up filling and nourishing meals full of protein, fibre, and several micronutrients including iron and zinc, says a 2012 paper of the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.
  1. Nuts and seeds: Almost all nuts and seeds are considered to be sattvic—so long as they are fresh, and minimally roasted/salted. Walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, coconuts etc are all great sources of unsaturated fatty acids and protein, and nut consumption can reduce risks of heart disease, obesity, inflammation and even cancer—says author Emilio Ros in a 2010 Nutrients paper.

Related story: Seven Healthy Super Seeds You Should Be Eating Right Now

  1. Non-caffeinated beverages: Like other foods, drinks in a sattvic diet are also as natural as possible. Acceptable ones include fruit juices, non-caffeinated beverages like herbal teas—and best of all, water. A 2020 Nutrients and Food Science study concluded that most herbal infusions could benefit certain aspects of health, including “sleep quality and glycaemic control (German chamomile), osteoarthritis and hormone control (spearmint), oxidative stress (lemon balm) and primary dysmenorrhea (rosehip)”.

Are there any drawbacks to a sattvic diet?

As it is apparent, sattvic diet is a predominantly plant-based approach—focusing on nutritionally dense and minimally processed meals, which can promote our body’s immunity and functionality by providing us with a number of minerals, vitamin, protein, antioxidants—according to a 2017 report by the European Journal of Nutrition.

However, another aspect of this diet is what it restricts or forbids—all the foods that fall under the Rajasic or Tamasic category. The 2019 Journal of Ethnic Foods paper mentions that these foods include ultra-processed and refined foods (fried food, frozen meals), candy or soda with high white sugar content, all kinds of meat, fish and eggs, alcohol or caffeine as well as certain strong or pungent vegetables like garlic, durian, onion, pickles etc.

While it makes sense to moderate the intake of some of these hyperpalatable foods, as a 2018 Nutrients study suggests that “decreasing the dietary share of ultra-processed foods may substantially improve the nutritional quality of diets and contribute to the prevention of diet-related non-communicable diseases”—it also seems to forbid certain food items that have significant proven health benefits.

Meat, poultry, seafood and eggs are primary sources of protein and healthy fats for many, and a cup of black tea or coffee falls safely under the recommended dietary intake (within 400 mg of caffeine per day, as per the Food and Drugs Administration, USA). Moreover, vegetables like pepper, mushroom, radish, garlic and onion provide many essential macro and micronutrients but are simply excluded from the list of sattvic foods due to their rajasic and tamasic values.

Nowadays, thankfully, sattvic diets have become more versatile and accommodating—as it is important to make sure that our eating habits are catered to our needs and aren’t too restrictive.


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