The Sattvic diet is a diet based on foods with the sattva quality (guna). In Yoga and Ayurveda literature, the Sattvic diet is said to restore and maintain a sattvic or sentient state of living. In the Sattvic system of dietary classification, foods and drinks that have destructive influence on the mind or body are considered Tamasic or course, while those that neither lead to better health nor are destructive are considered Rajasic or mutative.
The Sattvic diet is a regimen that places emphasis on seasonal foods such as fruits, dairy products, nuts, seeds, oils, ripe vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and non-meat based proteins. Some Sattvic diet suggestions, such as its relative emphasis on dairy products, are controversial.
The diet is sometimes referred to as Yogic diet in modern literature. In the ancient and medieval era Yoga literature, the diet concept discussed is Mitahara, which means "moderation in eating".
Sattvic is derived from Sattva (सत्त्व) which is a Sanskrit word. Sattva is a complex concept in Indian philosophy, used in many contexts, and it means one that is "pure, essence, nature, vital, energy, clean, conscious, strong, courage, true, honest, wise, rudiment of life".
Sattva is one of three gunas (quality, peculiarity, tendency, attribute, property). The other two qualities are considered to be Rajas (agitated, passionate, moving, emotional, trendy) and Tamas (dark, destructive, spoiled, ignorant, stale, inert, unripe, unnatural, weak, unclean). The concept that contrasts with and is opposed to Sattva is Tamas.
Yoga includes recommendations on eating habits. Śāṇḍilya Upanishad and Svātmārāma both state that Mitahara (eating in moderation) is an important part of yoga practice. It is one of the Yamas (virtuous self restraints). These texts while discussing yoga diet, however, make no mention of sattvic diet.
The application of the Sattva and Tamas concepts to food is a later and relatively new extension to the Mitahara virtue in Yoga literature. Verses 1.57 through 1.63 of Hatha Yoga Pradipika suggests that taste cravings should not drive one’s eating habits, rather the best diet is one that is tasty, nutritious and likable as well as sufficient to meet the needs of one’s body. It recommends that one must “eat only when one feels hungry” and “neither overeat nor eat to completely fill the capacity of one’s stomach; rather leave a quarter portion empty and fill three quarters with quality food and fresh water”. Verses 1.59 to 1.61 of Hathayoga Pradipika suggest that the ‘‘mitahara’’ regimen of a yogi avoids foods with excessive amounts of sour, salt, bitterness, oil, spice burn, unripe vegetables, fermented foods or alcohol. The practice of Mitahara, in Hathayoga Pradipika, includes avoiding stale, impure and tamasic foods, and consuming moderate amounts of fresh, vital and sattvic foods.
The Indian text Bhagavad Gita links sattva, rajas and tamas to food in verses 17.8 through 17.10. It states that those who are in the Sattva state of mind prefer foods that are life giving, purifying to one's existence and that give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Sattva-oriented foods are juicy, oily, wholesome, and pleasing to taste. Non-Sattva oriented foods are too bitter, too sour, too salty, too spicy, too pungent, too astringent, stale, tasteless or decomposed. Non-Sattvic foods cause distress, disease and disorders.
In the context of Yoga, attention to one's diet is essential for good health of body and mind, and the virtue of Mitahara is one where the yogi is aware of the quantity and quality of food and drinks he or she consumes, takes neither too much nor too little, and suits it to one's health condition and needs.
The Sattvic diet places emphasis on lacto-vegetarian ingredients that are fresh, seasonal, and naturally sourced (non-processed). Grains, well ripened vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes that are well prepared and freshly cooked are favoured. Oils and spices are considered sattvic, if naturally sourced and used in moderation. Milk and milk products are emphasized in many forms.
Moderation is considered a key practice in sattvic lifestyle and yoga, which implies not over-eating.
In Ayurveda and Yoga, Sattvic foods are considered as those that help restore and maintain harmony and balance in one's body and mind. Given Yoga's emphasis on virtuous living based on Yamas and Niyamas, the diet consists of food that empowers virtues such as ahimsa (non-injury to all living creatures) and others. Sattvic foods thus place emphasis on vegetarian foods, thereby minimizing injury and harm to animals and ocean life. Raw and cooked ripe, seasonal foods are preferred, including fruits, seeds, vegetables, herbs, whole grains, milk among others. Processed foods are considered tamasic. Stale food, overcooked or over-spiced foods are also considered inappropriate. All six flavors - sweet, salt, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent is preferably present in a Sattvic diet, at least on rotational basis, as each of these tastes are considered vital. Extreme emphasis or over-eating one or few flavors is considered Tamasic.
Gerson, in his review of Caraka Samhita, states that Yogic diet should include primarily freshly prepared and warm, be slightly unctuous (moist, oily) on palate, in small portions, eaten at a moderate pace (not gulped, nor very slow) and started when hungry (not as habit). Further, a Sattvic diet pays attention to one's particular physical and biological needs (there is no one diet is right for all, according to the Indian text Caraka Samhita). Food must be combined to get nutrients from a variety of sources. Gerson states, that Sattvic diet recommends the preferred sequence of food variety eaten, and what sorts of food should not be eaten at the same because they react and cause adverse effect on one's body and mind. Protein-rich salty and fibrous foods are considered ideal at the start of a meal, followed by ripe vegetables (salad), and then fruits is a preferred sequence in a Sattvic diet.
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