The Ayurvedic Take on Paleo, Keto, Vegan, and Raw Diets
The caveman diet. Going keto. Eating raw foods and juicing. Does it seem like there’s a trendy new diet cropping up every time you turn around? If so, you might be wondering how to keep up—which one to choose and whether you can still follow your Ayurvedic diet.
"There’s going to be a new diet literally every month, if not sooner," says Robert Keith Wallace, author of Gut Crisis. "The value of Ayurveda is that it gives you kind of a filter. It’s a long tradition. It’s not just a fad, and it gives you an idea of how your individual, mind-body type will respond to one of these new diets."
Below, we’ll give you a rundown of the Paleo, keto, vegan, and raw diet regimens, along with some Ayurvedic insights on how each diet relates to the dosha types.
1. The Paleo Diet
Much as the name suggests, the Paleo diet is inspired by the foods our caveman ancestors ate in the Paleolithic era. Proponents say going Paleo will help you lose weight and strengthen immunity. This hunter-gatherer diet generally involves eating meat, seafood, eggs, veggies, nuts, fruit in moderation, and healthy fats like olive oil. Foods to be avoided include grains, legumes, dairy, potatoes, salt, processed foods, and vegetable and seed oil.
So can you go Paleo and still eat Ayurvedically?
The Ayurvedic Take
"It’s not easy," says Wallace. "The Ayurvedic diet involves eating mung dahl, whole grains, milk, ghee, and very little meat and eggs; that’s pretty much the opposite of Paleo. So it’s hard to do it."
That being said, some dosha types do better on a Paleo diet than others, according to Wallace.
"A Pitta type would do much better on a Paleo diet, because a Pitta’s strong digestion could probably handle the meat better. Vata types have more delicate digestion, so they would have a hard time."
Wallace says that going Paleo can be helpful for some people for a period of time, because avoiding grains, dairy, and sugar helps weed out common food allergens and sensitivities.
"Ayurveda is all about easy digestion and favors well-cooked, easy-to-digest meals. Even if some nutrition is lost to heat, Ayurveda still favors well-cooked meals," says Alan Marks, CEO of vpk by Maharishi Ayurveda.
2. The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet, or keto diet, is a low-carb, high-fat diet that shares some strong similarities with the Paleo diet, the Atkins diet, and other low-carb regimens. By minimizing your carbohydrate intake and upping your fat intake, proponents say, your body enters a metabolic state called ketosis and becomes a fat-burning machine. People who eat keto favor low-carb foods like meat, fish, eggs, veggies, and natural fats like olive oil and butter. They also avoid foods full of sugar and starch, like bread, pasta, sweets, pastries, rice, soda, juice, and potatoes.
The Ayurvedic Take
"Vata types would do well with all the natural fats in the ketogenic diet," says Wallace. "Pitta types would be okay, too. But it would be really rough on a Kapha type. Kaphas have the slowest metabolism, and their constitutions are just not designed to have a lot of fats. Given that the keto diet involves 70-80 percent saturated fats, it’s just not obvious in any sense how that could be good for a Kapha person."
Wallace says the ketogenic diet does have therapeutic value; it was initially developed by the Mayo Clinic to treat epilepsy. Ayurvedic physician Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D., recommends a customized blend of keto and Ayurvedic dietary principles for patients looking to prevent and reverse cognitive decline.
"The keto diet does involve fasting, which may not be ideal for all body types," says Wallace. "When you’re ketogenic, you have an early, light dinner, and then you essentially fast for 12-14 hours," he says. "As a result, your body goes into ketosis—a metabolic process where you start to use the body’s fats as a way of surviving, and then your glucose reserves run out. This type of fasting might not be ideal for Pittas, who already have a high metabolism."
"On the other hand, the fasting aspect can be hard on Vata body types, as Vata needs heavy, regular food to ground it," says Marks. "Do you ever notice you get cold when you haven’t eaten? This is a Vata response to lack of food. Do you get low blood sugar when you haven’t eaten? This is a Pitta response to lack of food. So, following your Ayurvedic constitution can offer signals to what is appropriate for you."
3. The Vegan Diet
Once just a fringe diet, the vegan approach to eating is now fairly mainstream. Vegans eat wholesome, plant-based foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds, while avoiding animal products like meat, seafood, dairy, and eggs. People may come to veganism for ethical or environmental reasons, or in an attempt to improve their health. Veganism is often the next step for vegetarians who may be lactose intolerant.
The Ayurvedic Take
There are many parallels between Ayurvedic eating and the vegan diet, but the biggest difference is that Ayurveda recommends certain types of dairy, whereas vegans avoid it altogether. In Ayurveda, dairy is considered sattvic (life-giving to body, mind, and spirit); foods like ghee, warm milk, fresh paneer (cheese curds), and lassi (a yogurt beverage) are part of the daily diet.
"Vegans also tend to go for more of a raw diet, which wouldn’t be good for Vata types, because they don’t do so well with cold or raw foods," says Wallace. "But a Pitta person could do it, and a Kapha person could, too."
For dosha types who can tolerate it, the vegan diet may be helpful for intestinal health. Wallace says: "You’re eating a lot of vegetables, and vegetables have fibers, which are like a prebiotic; they feed the gut bacteria. It seems like people who have a high fiber diet have a much greater diversity of gut bacteria, and experts believe that that’s better. It’s not known for certain, but that is the theory."
4. The Raw Food Diet
As you’d expect, the raw food diet involves eating copious quantities of raw foods! Cooking foods destroys their natural enzymes, proponents say, so raw foodists juice, puree, soak, and sprout their meals, or cook them below 116-118 degrees Fahrenheit. On the menu: raw fruits, veggies, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and raw coconut oil or butter. To be avoided: anything cooked or processed. It’s worth noting that some raw advocates even consume raw fish and meat.
The Ayurvedic Take
"Generally, cooked food is easier to digest," says Wallace, "so all those raw vegetables would be a little tough on a Vata person. But if you are a Pitta or Kapha person with a healthy gut, raw food is fine. You could handle it very easily."
Sprouts are common in both raw food and vegan diets, but Wallace recommends that Vata types eat theirs with a little oil to help counter Vata dosha’s cool, drying influence. He also says most raw foodists and vegans should probably take vitamin B12 supplements, as people who don’t consume meat, dairy, or eggs tend to become deficient in that vitamin over time.
Some raw foodies do eat raw fish and meat, though neither are generally recommended by Ayurveda. There are some exceptions, though.
"Here’s where the Ayurvedic concept of okasatmya comes in," says Wallace. "That means, if your grandparents gave you raw fish—like if you grew up in Japan—it’s part of your tradition, and it’s soothing to you."
Adapting Ayurveda for the Modern World
It’s a brave new world here in the West for Ayurveda, as Ayurvedic practitioners scramble to keep pace with dietary trends and new research.
"They’re trying to be adaptable," says Wallace. "That’s why we’re now seeing recommendations like different types of meat or fresh juice for different dosha types, though this isn’t in the traditional literature."
Not sure what’s right for you? Wallace recommends starting off with a Rest and Repair diet and eliminating your intake of wheat, sugar, and dairy for a few weeks to heal your gut. Then, take vpk’s Dosha Quiz to learn your Ayurvedic makeup and dietary recommendations.
"Ayurveda is a fabulous resource because you have a thousand-year-old tradition that offers individualized recommendations. I think that’s where many of these diets are lacking; they don’t take into account our individual makeup. We’re all very, very different, and there’s no real one-diet-fits-all approach. Ayurveda is a really great way of filtering everything."
Marks adds: "Ayurveda is truly personalized healthcare, as it recognizes the unique qualities of each person and applies this understanding in a practical, quantifiable manner. This is the beauty of the Ayurvedic diet: it recognizes differences and is self-referral, allowing for subtle changes in our day-to-day lives, suited best for each of us."
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