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Healthy Eating for Body-Mind-Spirit

A diet in support of a healthy body, mind and spirit rests in the balance and wisdom of the 3 gunas (the three spiritual paths and temperaments).

Sattva is purity. A Sattvic diet is said to go beyond the veils of normal earthly life and take us closest to the spirit world. This is often the choice of eating as a way of life of those who undertake a spiritual and holistic lifestyle, provide spiritual service in the world, and who are called to a life of disciplined spiritual practice and leadership. Sattvic food is the natural, pure and wholesome foods of nature that include no meat.

The next guna would be Raja, which is the royal path of the warrior and supports the vital lifestyle of survival and the continuation of man. This is a hearty diet that includes meat, spices, and lots of hot and cold variations.

The third guna is called Tamas, which are processed, dry, dessert/snack-like foods that contain little nutrition or life force. When consumed primarily or often, tamasic food is considered harmful and depressing to the body, mind and spirit.

Sattvic food is that which is pure, clean and wholesome, rich with the life force (prana) that gives peacefulness, strength, energy, courage and self-determination. Sattvic foods are light (as opposed to heavy) in nature, easy to digest, mildly cooling, refreshing and not disturbing to the mind. They are best prepared with love and awareness. These are the foods that are taken in babyhood, and in the last days of life, which represent closest proximity to the portals of the spirit world. Just as our food affects our mind, our thoughts and emotions also affect our food. You can consume high-quality food, but if it is prepared or eaten in anger, it will have a disturbing effect. On the other hand, you can sometimes take less than pure food and bless it to overcome its impurities. The idea ultimately is to absorb that which is nourishing and eliminate that which is not–and to keep our thoughts positive, especially when eating or preparing food.

Fresh Organic Fruits: Most fruits, including apples, apricots, bananas, berries, dates, grapes, melons, lemons, mangoes, oranges, peaches and plums, are considered especially sattvic.

Fresh Organic Dairy: Dairy is considered controversial these days, but tradition insists on the value of a wholesome food freely given by the symbol of motherhood, the cow. We need to use the highest quality organic fresh dairy to benefit from its sattvic qualities. Milk, butter, clarified butter (ghee), fresh home-made cheese (paneer), whey and fresh yogurt (especially lassi) are all recommended. They benefit from careful preparation, and the extra effort to learn the recipes is well worthwhile. For example, milk can be diluted and warmed with mild spices (i.e. fresh vanilla, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg) and served with raw honey to overcome any mucus-forming tendencies. Traditionally, if one is doing advanced body-mind-spirit practices, dairy provides needed lubrication, grounding and nourishment. In fact, dairy along with fruit have been described as the epitome of the sattvic diet.

Nuts, Seeds and Oils: Fresh nuts and seeds that haven’t been overly roasted and salted are good additions to the sattvic diet in small portions. Good choices are almonds (especially when peeled and soaked in water overnight), coconut, pine nuts, walnuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. Oils should be of highest quality and cold-pressed. Good choices are olive oil, sesame oil and flax oil.

Organic Vegetables: Most mild organic vegetables are considered sattvic, including beets, carrots, celery, cucumbers, green leafy veggies, sweet potatoes and squash. Pungent veggies like hot peppers, garlic and onion are excluded, as are gas-forming veggies such as mushrooms and potatoes. They are considered rajasic and tamasic respectively. Sometimes the shortcomings of these foods can be overcome by careful preparation. An excellent practice is to drink freshly made vegetable juices for their prana, live enzymes and easy absorption.

Whole Grains: Whole grains provide excellent nourishment when well cooked. Consider 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. Favorite preparations are kitcharee (basmati rice cooked with split mung beans, ghee and mild spices), kheer (rice cooked with milk and sweetened), chapathis (non-leavened whole wheat flat bread), porridge (sometimes made very watery and cooked with herbs) and “Bible” bread (sprouted grain bread).

Legumes: Split mung beans, yellow split peas, organic tofu, bean sprouts and perhaps lentils and aduki beans are considered sattvic if well prepared. In general, the smaller the bean, the easier to digest. Strategies include splitting, peeling, grinding, soaking, sprouting, cooking and spicing. Legumes combined with whole grains offer a complete protein combination.

Sweeteners: Yogis use raw honey (especially in combination with dairy) and raw sugar (not refined).

Spices: Sattvic spices are the mild spices including basil, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, fresh ginger and turmeric.

Supplemental Protein: Those eating a completely purist sattvic diet do not to indulge in flesh foods. It is said that the fear and anger of the animal being killed can be transferred to the person eating the flesh. There are practices, however, in Native American and other cultures that traditionally performs blessings for the sacrifice of the animal and thus removes any negative byproducts of the animal. Fresh meat is considered rajasic, and can be elevated for the sustenance of the warrior and continuation of man. Old processed meat is considered tamasic. In the case of a cow, giver of milk and thus life, how can one eat the flesh of one’s (symbolic) mother? Therefore eating beef in Eastern belief, is harmful.

A moderate sattvic approach allows for high-quality fish, poultry or eggs. Even then for those with an disciplined body-mind-spirit practice, it is recommended to abstain from those animal foods a minimum of three days a week with at least two prolonged periods of abstention from all animal foods (with the exception of dairy) every year. Sattvic Purists rely on dairy for supplemental protein as it is given freely and is considered non-harming.

So how can we tell the positive effects of eating a Sattvic diet? The true test of our food comes when we meditate. All meditators know that there are two main obstacles: One is falling asleep (born of eating foods empty of the life force like boxed, processed dead food). The other is an over-active mind (born of eating foods that are hot, spicy, and meaty). If we want to be able to quiet the mind and maintain our alertness to explore our subtle nature, we follow the sattvic diet. “When sattva predominates, the light of wisdom shines through every gate of the body” (BG 14: 11).


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