Yogis believe that the yoga diet should be healthy for the physical body, the energy body, the emotional body and the intellectual body at the same time. Here lies the great difference between the yogic dietary system and many other dietary systems. The yogi considers not only the effects of nutrition on the physical body, but also on the vital energy, the emotions, and the intellectual faculties. For the yogi, man is neither the physical body nor the mind. The yogi views man as the soul, which possesses a mind and a physical body. The cause of all suffering is the false identification with these two factors that limit our consciousness. In truth, man is pure consciousness, pure bliss. The goal of life is to become aware of this pure state again. Therefore, the yogi places all aspects of his life at the service of this urgent task: to realize his self, which is identical with the universal soul. He practices spiritual disciplines such as meditation, asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises). He also adapts his daily life, his leisure activities, the attitude to his professional activity, his sleeping habits, his way of acting and his thinking to said practices -and of course, his diet as well. Thus, the yoga diet must be conducive to the attainment of this main goal and therefore, it must bring the physical, energetic, emotional and intellectual body into a state that is conducive to reaching this truth. Good for the body means healthy, nutritious, without toxins. Good for the energies means that the food gives us new strength and inner peace. Good for the emotions means that we can enjoy it, that it tastes good, that it gives satisfaction to our senses. This includes that there must be no thought, even unconscious, of killing etc. (i.e. no meat). Good for the mind means that the food makes our thoughts more subtle, increases our ability to concentrate, our memory, our intuition, and the ability to meditate.
The Three Categories of Food
According to these criteria, yogis have divided food into three categories: tamasic, rajasic and sattvic.
1. Tamasic Food
Type of food which poisons your body, paralyzes your energies, grosses your consciousness, and/or makes your mind sluggish according to the yogis. Yogis believe that they should be totally avoided.
Examples: Rotten, unripe or overripe foods. Meat, poultry, fish. Onions, garlic. Anything not lactic fermented, including vinegar. Tobacco, alcohol, drugs, many medications. Canned, frozen foods. Anything that has been overcooked. What has been reheated too often. Eating too much is also tamasic.
2. Rajasic Food
This is the type of food which makes your body, mind and emotions restless again according the yogis. They stimulate passions and make the mind difficult to control. Yogis believe that rajasic foods should be reduced to a minimum.
Examples: Eggs, coffee, black tea, hot spices (cayenne pepper, chili), anything sour or bitter, white sugar, white flour, white bread. Rajasic is also eating too hastily, chewing insufficiently, or eating too many different types of foods at one meal.
3. Sattvic Food
Sattvic foods refer to a category of foods that are considered to be pure and nourishing for the mind and body. They can be broadly categorized as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. These foods promote overall health and wellness. They are easy to digest, give energy, and make your mind clear, subtle, and peaceful being the ideal food for any yoga practitioner.
Sattvic Food Groups
All cereals made of whole grains, including whole wheat bread and pasta. Whole rice, millet, whole wheat semolina, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, spelt, green spelt, rye, barley, tapioca. Potatoes are biologically vegetables, but nutritionally they should be evaluated like cereals in the yoga diet.
Green lentils, red lentils, black lentils, mung beans, soybeans and soy products such as tofu and tempeh, field beans, shelled lentils, azuki beans, chickpeas, green peas, yellow peas and etc. Most legumes need to be well cooked to be easily digested: They should be soft, and the outer skin should be burst. Help: soak the night before.
III. Vegetables and Salads
Eat different varieties of these (cooked and raw) to get large spectrum of nutrients.
The fresher the better.
V. Milk and Dairy Products
Sour milk products are the easiest to digest: Yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, soured milk, Swedish milk. Replace with more legumes in case of milk allergies or lactase deficiency.
The yoga diet, designed to help on the spiritual path, is optimal even for modern man. You may soon realize the effects of yoga diet: a healthy and resistant body, even healing of some diseases and prevention of many others, increased vitality, a pure and subtle mind which is able to realize its capacity to a larger extent. What goes into the human body has a direct impact on how effectively the brain works. While refined white sugar has been linked to emotional instability in children, certain red food coloring has been reported to cause hyperactivity, according to recent research. These two are examples that are frequently ingested carelessly, disregarding impact thereof on the body and psyche. This does not mean that foods cannot be appealing, but they should be avoided if they have a negative effect on the mind. Hot spices, onions, garlic, salt, strong tea, coffee, and meat agitate the mind and thoughts become difficult to control as a result. There are other foods that dull the mind and plunge it into a soporific state, preventing concentration. Some examples are precooked or overcooked products and, obviously, alcohol. Drugs and cigarettes, although not food, also fall into this category and they must be avoided by all means.
Of course, a good portion of the above items are on most people’s list of preferences. It is not to be expected that everyone will be able to make a radical and immediate change and turn into yoga diet, but those who are sincerely interested in yoga should begin promptly to exclude meat and cigarettes (Hatha Yoga will help to make this easier). If the goals are clear, many of the harmful habits will disappear over time, simply due to the change in consciousness that occurs during yoga practice. You may start with shopping and cooking more carefully. There are many natural foods that are easy to cook and others, such as fresh fruit or nuts, which are as easy to find. Just read the composition on the labels and avoid, as far as possible, those items that contain additives, as well as processed, precooked and canned foods. Shop at natural food stores. Buy some nutrition and vegetarian diet books for yourself. In a few months an amazing change will take place. In the past, vegetarianism was, in a sense, a marginal and strange practice. Vegetarians used to be regarded with some curiosity, if not suspicion.
Today, the situation is very different. Vegetarian health food stores and vegetarian restaurants selling food suitable for yoga diet can be found even in small towns. There is a growing consensus that what we eat has an impact on our health. There is a chance that certain diseases can be cured with a change of diet or a short period of fasting, without any medication at all. This statement encompasses not only physical disorders, but also a wide range of mental disorders. Contrary to popular belief, it is not vegetarians who do not ingest enough protein, but rather carnivores who ingest too much. Uric acid, which is a nitrogen compound similar to ammonia, is present in high quantities in animal protein. It is not water soluble and the liver cannot get rid of it. Thus, while a small portion of uric acid is excreted, the majority of it is deposited in the joints. The result of this accumulation is known as arthritis. Arteriosclerosis and cardiac disorders are two of the most common diseases in the West, which is where most meat is consumed. The culprit is cholesterol, which also cannot be eliminated by the body and forms fatty deposits in the arteries, thickening their walls until they harden and become obstructed.
The main source of cholesterol is the dozens of kilograms of meat that each person consumes annually. Heart disease, arteriosclerosis and arthritis are common diseases, but the one that arouses the greatest fear among people is of course cancer. Many cancer-causing substances have been discovered in animals. Although the results seem to indicate that the amount consumed by the average individual is insufficient to cause cancer, what is not revealed is that the accumulation of these substances over the years are capable of producing it. And what are these substances? The animals are fed and injected with countless chemical products; this makes them gain weight and thus obtain more money per carcass. When the animal arrives at the butcher’s shop, its meat contains, among other chemicals, nitrites, dyes, artificial hormones and even arsenic. These substances, along with many other chemicals consumed by individuals in an industrialized society, build up in the body and eventually accumulate in the tissues. As a result of consuming various chemicals and substances present in an industrialized society, the human body is prone to accumulation of these substances in the tissues over time, due to the inability to effectively eliminate them. Cancer is caused when cells react to this excessive amount of toxins and reproduce uncontrollably.
But in addition to the horrors of the meat industry, there are other interesting physical and spiritual reasons not to eat meat. One is that it takes four times more grain to feed animals than man will consume on a daily basis. This leads to a moral question, in terms of sharing our natural food sources with the poorest. Through photosynthesis, plants store the energy from the sun and are the initial source of energy for all living things. Vegetarians not only take their food from the original source, but their diet is more economical in terms of cost and the best possible utilization of resources. It is also important to note that man does not have the same digestive system as a carnivore. His teeth are suited for biting and grinding vegetables and not for tearing meat; for this reason man processes, tenderizes and cooks. Human livers cannot filter animal poisons because they are proportionally smaller than those of carnivorous animals. Likewise, the intestines, which are short in carnivorous animals, in order to quickly expel poisons from the body, are longer in man as well as vegetarian animals. However, the fundamental idea of ahimsa, or non-violence, is the main reason that yogis avoid meat and follow a yoga diet: You are not to kill.
Animals have feelings and consciousness, just like human beings. In India for example, cows are treated with great respect for the invaluable services they provide to man. They work in the fields, give milk and all its by-products, and even their excrement is used as fuel and in the construction of houses. An Indian farmer would never consider consuming their cow for food. There is no doubt that “you are what you eat”. A small portion of what is ingested contributes to the formation of consciousness. Animals live, eat, sleep and procreate. The scope of their consciousness is not much higher than these functions. The vibrations of a plant are very subtle and those who change from a carnivorous to a vegetarian diet experience a corresponding refinement of consciousness, which is, of course, extremely favorable for facilitating yoga practices. The mind is easier to control when the diet is purer.