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According to Ayurvedic wisdom, food is medicine, and we can use it to avoid illness and cure almost any ailment. We are nature. Food is nature. When we look at the fundamental qualities of our natural environment, we can better understand ourselves and how our diet impacts our experience in life.

Ayurvedic nutritional wisdom offers us the foundation upon which we begin to learn about our individual bodies on a personal level. In the ancient medicine of Ayurveda, the one-size-fits-all approach that dominates the allopathic medicine system of the West does not exist. Instead, Ayurveda teaches us how to cultivate a balance with individualized, self-healing lifestyle practices. One of these practices is a diet that includes both hot and cold attributes, known respectively in Ayurveda as ushna and shita.

We Are What We Eat

In his book, Inner Engineering, world-renowned yogi Sadhguru reminds us that when we eat, a part of the planet becomes a part of us–we assimilate its energy, and it moves through our bodies. Food affects every part of our biological and meta-body and its subtle energies. For example, when we eat the flesh of a cow that was exposed to squalid living conditions and fed synthetically-grown, nutrient-deficient food, we absorb that tainted energy. Conversely, when we eat organic vegetables cultivated in nutrient-rich soil and clean water, the elements interact harmoniously with our inherent nature, affecting pure, positive energy within us.

Through the principle of hot and cold foods, Ayurveda paves the way for our understanding of how to in harmony with the world and balance the elements found in our natural environment with those comprising our biological body. Then, we can develop a diet that supports our healthiest self.

What Are Hot And Cold Foods?

In Ayurveda, hot and cold refer to the heating or cooling qualities of different foods and their energetic effect on the body. Every substance has attributes–the natural properties of every known substance. Understanding these attributes as they pertain to what we eat is the key to unlocking the power of nutritional health.

In Ayurveda, there are 10 pairs of basic attributes, which contain a certain energy. Each attribute has a subtle effect on the doshas, either assisting or impeding a balance of the doshas (vata, pitta, or kapha). A proper balance of our energy creates health. An imbalance creates a manifest physical, mental or emotional condition, eventually leading to disease if left unchecked. For a greater understanding of the attributes and their corresponding elements, click here.

When I first heard of this concept of hot and cold foods, I had an image of a bowl of steaming pumpkin soup or a dish of frozen gelato. But the Ayurvedic concept of hot and cold has no correspondence to temperature. Whether a food is hot or cold is determined by the presence of specific properties or elemental qualities. Hot and cold denote the heating or cooling effect, what Ayurveda refers to as virya, of a food after we have consumed it. Ice cream, for example, though cold, has a heating effect on the body. An icy cold beer, while refreshing, incites heat in the digestive body. Pumpkin, even when served up hot, is cooling.

Stay with me–this concept is a bit tricky to grasp at first, but it will become crystal clear. Once we can wrap our heads around these fundamental Ayurvedic concepts, we’ll have greater clarity to create a diet that is best for our individual health and well-being.

The Impact of Hot Foods

Vata (–); Pitta (+); Kapha (–)

  • Increase the appetite and stimulate digestion.
  • Promote cleansing and expansion.
  • Give a light feeling to the physical and psychic body (associated with the light attribute).
  • May cause heat-induced conditions like inflammation, anger, gastritis, ulcers, and rashes if eaten in excess.
  • Sour, salty, and pungent tastes have a heating virya.
  • Common ushna foods are onions, artichokes, peppers, mustard, cumin, ghee, pickles, dates, ginger, kohlrabi, and cinnamon.

The Impact of Cold Foods

Vata (+); Pitta (–); Kapha (+)

  • Soothe and help to clear toxins.
  • Have a refreshing effect on the body in hot weather but are harder to digest.
  • Restrict digestion and make the immune system less active.
  • Lead to a feeling of heaviness in the physical body (associated with the heavy attribute).
  • May create numbness, unconsciousness, contraction, fear, and insensitivity when eaten in excess.
  • Sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes have a cooling virya.
  • Common shita foods are aloe vera, asparagus, cucumbers, melons, coconut, cauliflower, pumpkin, and fennel.

How Do We Know What To Eat?

When planning meals, we should consider the prerequisites of our Ayurvedic body type (vata, pitta, or kapha) and the current season. Both affect how our bodies absorb and metabolize substances. Knowing the attributes of what we’re eating is not enough. We must also know the attributes and elemental qualities of our own constitution to understand how our diet interacts with our doshas.

For example, pitta is composed of fire and water and has the hot attribute. Eating foods that have a hot virya, such as garlic and chili peppers, will inherently increase the pitta quality. If pitta is your dominant dosha, a diet that regularly includes heating foods will create an excess of pitta, leading to conditions like rash, inflammation, and fiery emotions, such as irritability. Sorry pittas, hot spicy Indian curries are not your best friends.

Kapha and vata, on the other hand, both have the cold attribute. An overabundance of the cold quality will lead to vata and kapha type conditions, such as constipation and hypertension, and lethargy and sluggish bowels, respectively.

But wait–this doesn’t mean you should eat an abundance of cold foods to stabilize an excess of pitta either. If you continually consume a diet with attributes opposite to those inherent in your body, those attributes will become dominant and alter your natural constitution.

We want to work with nature, not against it.

Instead, pay attention to what you eat and note how seasonal changes affect your constitution. For example, As an evenly split vata-pitta type, I find myself craving hot, fiery delights like garlic and chilis in the colder months (Indonesia’s sambal sauce is a favorite), an indication that my body is attempting to restabilize its inherent fire element.

Don’t worry–you don’t have to rule out hot or cold. We need a balance of both in our diet to maintain a healthy constitution. Knowing the attributes of different foods guide our eating habits so we can support our vital energy and experience a long healthy life.

With summer approaching, we naturally want to indulge in cooling foods and drinks. Check out these 7 cooling drinks for a delicious, Ayurvedic way to chill out during the hot season.

Toward Creating a Warm Relationship With Nature

Food has a preventative and curative effect on the body. When we interact naturally with our food by knowing its composition and origin and by understanding how it affects our body, we deepen our connection to nature and support a harmonious relationship between ourselves and the world. Ayurveda teaches us how to do this through the 10 attributes of nature, specifically ushna and shita.

So, how do hot and cold foods impact your body? First, discover your Ayurvedic constitution and its elemental constituents. Then, research the virya of different foods, starting with your favorites. Love avocado? Its cooling nature is a delicious pitta pacifier. This information will guide you toward a diet that is not only conducive to your body’s physical health but also increases your knowledge of the more subtle aspects of your relationship with nature.

 

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Ayurveda is a profound science of health and healing. Many of it's principals and practices are quite simple and can be easily integrated into everyone's daily lives. 8 Days To Ayurvedic Health is a basic introduction to some of the fundamental principles of Ayurveda, led by Jiva Botanicals.

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