A sattvic diet, also referred to as a yoga diet or sentient diet, is a diet based on foods that—according to Ayurveda and Yoga, are strong in the sattva guna, and lead to clarity and upeksa (equanimity) of mind while also being beneficial to the body.
Such foods include water, cereal grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, unpasteurized and unhomogenized fresh milk and fresh milk derivatives (mostly ghee, but also butter, cream, fresh or cottage cheese (paneer), and yogurt (lassi)), and raw honey.
Foods that this system considers neither positive or negative are rajasic, while those that harm the mind or body are tamasic.
Foods that are kept overnight (leftovers) are considered tamasic, as they lose their vital essences and may have grown microorganisms. Any foods that involve the harm of another being are also considered tamasic, and overly-sweet foods are considered rajasic. Too much spice, sugar, or salt may render what was a sattvic food to become rajasic or tamasic.
Foods that are considered the most sattvic of all are fresh milk from a happy cow (see the dairy section), and fruit fallen from a tree. This is because there is absolutely no harm done to the organism from which the nutrients came, but the organism gave the food willingly and with blessings.
Nuts, Seeds, and Oils
Fresh nuts and seeds that have not been overly roasted and salted are good additions to the sattvic diet in small portions. Choices include almonds (especially when soaked in water overnight and then peeled), hemp seeds, coconuts, pine nuts, walnuts, sesame seeds (til in Nepali), pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. Oils should be of good quality and cold-pressed. Some choices are olive oil, sesame oil and flax oil. Most oils should only be eaten in their raw state, but some oils like ghee, sesame oil, palm oil, and coconut oil can be used in cooking.
Fruits are the major part of the sattvic diet and a maximum number of fruits are sattvic
The milk must be obtained from an animal that has a spacious outdoor environment, an abundance of pasture to feed on, water to drink, is treated with love and care, and is not pregnant. The milk may only be collected once the mother's calf has its share. Dairy products like yogurt and cheese (paneer) must be made that day, from milk obtained that day. Butter must be fresh daily as well, and raw; but ghee (clarified butter) can be aged forever, and is great for cooking. Freshness is key with dairy. Milk that is freshly milked from a happy cow, still warm, is nectar to man and woman. Milk that is not consumed fresh can be refrigerated for one to two weeks in its raw state, but must be brought to a boil before drinking, and drunk while still hot/warm. Pasteurization, homogenization, and the use of GMOs and pesticides are all considered poisonous to humans—as is the consumption of milk from cows that are treated poorly, and consuming cold milk. As finding milk that surpasses these standards is extremely rare, people in western countries often choose to follow a vegan Sattvic diet.
Most mild vegetables are considered sattvic. Pungent vegetables like hot peppers, leek, garlic and onion are excluded, as are gas-forming foods such as mushrooms (tamasic, as are all fungi) and potatoes. Some consider the Solanaceae family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes) as not sattvic, but most consider the Allium family (garlic, onion, leeks, shallots), as well as fungus (yeasts, molds, and mushrooms) as not sattvic. The classification of whether something is sattvic or not is defined largely by the different schools of thought, and - even then - individually, depending on the understanding and needs of practitioners. Sometimes the given nature of certain foods can be neutralised by careful preparation. A practice is to drink freshly made vegetable juices for their prana, live enzymes, and easy absorption.
Whole grains provide nourishment. Some include organic rice, whole wheat, spelt, oatmeal and barley. Sometimes the grains are lightly roasted before cooking to remove some of their heavy quality. Yeasted breads are not recommended, unless toasted. Wheat and other grains can be sprouted before cooking as well. Some preparations are kicharee (brown or white basmati rice cooked with whole or split mung beans, ghee and mild spices), kheer (rice cooked with milk and sweetened), chapatis (non-leavened whole wheat flat bread), porridge (sometimes made very watery and cooked with herbs), and “Bible” bread (sprouted grain bread). Sometimes yogis will fast from grains during special practices.
Mung beans, lentils, yellow split peas, chickpeas, aduki beans, common beans, organic tofu, and bean sprouts are considered sattvic if well prepared. In general, the smaller the bean, the easier to digest. Preparations include splitting, peeling, grinding, soaking, sprouting, cooking and spicing. Legumes combined with whole grains can offer a complete protein source. Some yogis consider the mung bean to be the only sattvic legume.
All spices are considered as either rajsik or tamsik. However, over time certain Hindu sects have tried to calassify a few spices as Sattvic. It is however considered as inappropriate by purists.
Sattvic spices are mild spices including basil (Tulshi), cardamom (Sukumel in Nepali), cinnamon (Dalchini in Nepali), coriander (Dhaniya in Nepali), cumin (Jeera in Nepali), fennel (Soph or soop in Nepali), fenugreek (Methi in Nepali), fresh ginger and turmeric (Besar in Nepali). Rajasic spices like black pepper (Marich in Nepali) and red pepper are normally excluded, but are sometimes used in small amounts, both to clear channels blocked by mucus and to counter tamas. Salt is good in strict moderation, but only unrefined salts, like Himalayan salt or unbleached sea salt, not iodized salt.
Other herbs are used to directly support sattva in the mind and in meditation. These include ashwagandha, bacopa, calamus, gotu kola, gingko, jatamansi, purnarnava, shatavari, saffron, shankhapushpi, tulsi and rose.
Rajasic (stimulant) foods
Stimulant foods, also called mutative foods, mutable foods or rajasic foods, are foods that often provoke mental restlessness. They are not completely beneficial, nor are they harmful, to body or mind. Foods that cannot be categorized as either sentient or static are classified in this food group.
These foods are thought by some to cause aggressive and dominating thoughts, especially towards others.
Stimulant foods energize and develop the manipura (navel) chakra and body but do not promote advancement in the higher chakras.
Tamasic (sedative) foods
Sedative foods, also called static foods, or tamasic foods are foods whose consumption, according to Yoga, are harmful to either mind or body. Harm to mind includes anything that will lead to a duller, less refined state of consciousness. Bodily harm includes any foods that will cause detrimental stress to any physical organ directly or indirectly (via any physical imbalance).
They are, however, sometimes necessary during times of great physical stress and pain. They help dull the pain and lower consciousness, allowing the body to repair itself. Such static foods may be deemed necessary in times of war or great distress.
Static foods stimulate and strengthen the lower two chakras, but will not assist in beneficial development of the higher chakras. In fact they are usually detrimental to the advancement of the higher chakras.
In Patanjali's Yoga sutra, in the section on niyama, there is a word called tapas. Tapas here includes ahara niyama—right food but in limited quantity. So, niyama, which is a personal discipline, includes regulation of food habits. In other texts, like Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the author, before talking about pranayama, insists on proper food habits.
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- The Sattvic or Yogic Diet at Yoga Chicago
- Food and its Effect on the Mind at IVU.org