Diet for a Healthy Mind

Yoga Which foods to avoid?

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When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”----Charaka Samhita

The concept of diet in yoga:

The science of yoga, which originated over 5000 years ago, describes ways of right living. Proper diet combined with yoga practices has been vital in this context. The yogic concept of diet stresses the harmony of physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions of human existence. It aims to reduce the risk of disease, make the body healthy, balance the vital energy-prana, induce tranquility, enhance the clarity of mind and improve total well-being.


The Mind–Food Connection:

We are conditioned by the type of diet we eat. Our temperament, thoughts, moods, and nature are determined by food. Psychological changes also result from the absorption of food vibrations. Food can trigger negative emotions like anger, lust, irritability, and depression. It can also promote positive feelings of calmness and peacefulness. "Jaisa ann vaisa man," which means "you are what you eat," supports this philosophy!! Food recommendations that are conducive to health and a calm state of mind are given in the classic yoga scriptures. It is believed that food, when consumed, is processed into 3 parts. The gross particles of food become excrement, the middle ones become flesh and the fine ones become the mind. At a subtle level, food affects the vibratory state of the mind and body. Absorbed vibrations of food can influence psychological states to stimulate anger, irritability, lethargy, dullness, or to improve feelings of peace, calm, and focus. Also read... MediYoga - Yoga and Mental Health

Yogic Diet:  What to eat? 

· It is the sattva, or sattvic food, that makes up the yogic diet. Sattva is the quality of purity, clarity, goodness, lightness, and a positive flow of energy. It is easily digestible, smooth, and pleasant. It promotes strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction. According to modern dietetics, it is a Lacto-vegetarian diet. Although nonvegetarians can still practice meditation, vegetarian diets are recommended since they maintain an optimum level of harmony with our own natural state. Sattvic diet enhances mental refinement and a subtler experience that is required for intellectual work or meditation practices.

· Sattvic diet is a bland diet of simple vegetable proteins, low in salt, moderately rich in cereals, milk products, vegetables, and fruits that are adequate in minerals and vitamins. Fruits of all types, especially those that are naturally sweet, all vegetables, except onions and garlic, whole grains, especially oats, wheat, and rice, dairy products, especially milk, ghee, green gram dal, beans and lentils, whole grains, plant-based oils, nuts and seeds, honey, herbal teas, spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, mint, basil, turmeric, ginger, cumin, fennel are conducive to the practice of yoga.

· Which foods to avoid?

· Rajasic foods such as hot and spicy food have agitating and stimulating effects on the mind and body. Tamasic foods such as stale food and frozen food are believed to promote laziness, inertia, and fatigue. These foods should be avoided or minimized in the diet. Meat, fish, eggs, processed or canned foods, junk food, animal fats, margarine, fried foods, garlic, onions, spicy foods, stale or overcooked foods, microwaved foods, alcohol, tobacco, and stimulants are not compatible with the spirit of yoga. Also read... Mindful Yoga !

· When to eat?

· Eating only when truly hungry is recommended. It is essential to be aware of false hunger, which often arises because of boredom or food cravings. When angry, upset, or disturbed, eating in a hurry should be avoided. Listening to the body is vital to avoiding overeating. Eating meals late at night should be avoided. Also read...Pranayama for Inner Peace

· During Meals:

· Taking meals in a relaxed frame of mind is essential to receive nourishment. Meals should be taken without multi-tasking and distractions such as talking, checking the phone, or watching TV. Irrespective of our stress, chewing food thoroughly, slowing down, breathing between bites, and taking a note when feeling full is the essence of mindful eating.

· How much to eat?

· Mitahara“ which means eating less, is recommended in which three fourth of hunger is satisfied with food, and eaten with the offering of it to Shiva. It is believed that filling the stomach about three-quarters during a meal leaves enough room for digestive enzymes to break down food. The stomach should be half filled with food, one-fourth with liquid, and the remaining one-fourth empty. Overeating food is to be avoided strictly. Even with sattvic foods, moderation and balance is the key.

Benefits of yogic diet:

The high fiber in fruits and vegetable-based diets improves bowel movements and digestion. It boosts the metabolism resulting in optimum body weight. This provides the body with antioxidants and micronutrients. As a result, our energy levels are high and we are at a reduced risk of lifestyle-related disorders. A firm and sound foundation of yoga practice is based on the yogic principles of the diet. Practicing yoga regularly helps develop an awareness of what is good for the body, what to eat, and how much to eat. This helps to regulate dietary patterns.

Modern Versus Yogic concept of diet:

The diet–mind inter-relationship concept of yoga has been supported by recent research too. It is observed that diet has a significant impact on mental status. An interesting study investigated the similarities and efficacy of the modern versus yoga concepts of diet on physical and mental health. Modern science recommends a diet rich in micronutrients, and low in fats and cholesterol for better health. It was found that sattvic food is high in micronutrients and low in fat content, while tamasic food is low in micronutrients and high in fat content. Scientists have identified an association between tamasic foods with an increase in anxiety levels. Eating plant-based food has been linked to a reduced risk of depression.

According to the science of nutrition, our brain must be supplied with fuel, which is provided by food. The food we eat directly affects how our brain works and ultimately how we feel. Modern research is exploring the gut-brain connection and the impact of food on emotions.

Studies in the last decade have concluded that gut bacteria can influence our cognitive capabilities, brain health, emotions, and even our personality. The findings suggest that some of these gut bacteria produce the “love hormone” oxytocin, which is typically linked to warm feelings, regulation of emotional responses, positive communication, and pro-social behaviors. They also produce substances that are associated with a calmer state of mind under stress.

Furthermore, most of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate moods, is produced in the digestive tract, so it is not surprising that a person’s digestive system is also used to digest food and regulate emotions.

Final thoughts:

The aim of a healthy diet should not be limited to losing or gaining weight. It should also nurture a healthy mind and enhance vitality. “Looking good” should not be the only focus of dietary practices, but it should also make us feel good!! Our diet is not just the carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals for the body, but something which nourishes the mind and soul.

Dr. Anjali Joshi

Dr. Anjali Joshi works as a yoga therapist at HCG NCHRI Cancer Center, Nagpur.
As a researcher, she focuses on the psychosocial and emotional well-being of cancer patients.
In recognition of her contribution to yoga, health, and wellness, she has received many awards and honors.
Her articles on yoga, a healthy lifestyle, and wellness have been published on many platforms, reflecting her love of writing. Her holistic health philosophy is based on her 23 years of dedicated yoga practice.