The Yogic Diet
This post investigates an alternative perspective to a healthy diet, the traditional diet of a yogi. This diet is possibly over 5000 years old and formed by some of the world’s oldest yogis. Whilst aspects of this diet are not completely matched by modern scientific evidence, there are multiple important messages that can be taken and applied to the western diet.
Differently to the western diet, which categorises food according to its components (e.g. protein, carbohydrates and fats), the yogic diet categorises food on the effect it has on the body and mind and the type of energy it gives you. It focuses on conscious eating to refine the way you eat and maximise the body and mind. The body should feel agile and alive should not feel dull and tiring. The concept behind this way of eating comes from the belief that food is a source of ‘prana’, which is a life force.
The yogic diet generally has three food categories. These are:
Saatvic – food that makes you light, energetic but calm, alert and emotionally stable
Rajasic – food that makes you restless, overactive, overstimulated and hyperactive
Tamasic – food that makes you feel lethargic, dull and tired
Saatvic food can include foods such as fruit and vegetables, grains, light spices, herbs, natural sugars and flavourings and is generally cooked with minimal oil. This food is perceived to be light on the body and provide energy for the mind . This translates into western diet perception. For example, many people claim to feel energised after having a smoothie and consider foods such as a salad to be light and digested easily. When looking at more robust evidence, food containing fibre are the most commonly recommended for easy digestion and a health gut . These foods include fruit and vegetables, wholegrain bread and grains, beans and oats. The recommendation for daily fibre intake is currently 30g per day .
Rajasic food can include fizzy drinks, coffee, tea, strong spices and foods high in added sugars. Tamasic food includes meat, fish and eggs and foods that are generally very fatty [check on the video]. Rajasic and Tamasic diet have been described as having a negative effect on the mind and body . It is very easy to imagine how this could be the case through common observations. For example, having food and drink high in sugar can make children hyperactive and loose concentration, such as fizzy drinks . In addition, having a heavy meal, such as a steak or large roast dinner could make you feel tired, lethargic and need a nap. These types of food would usually be avoided with certain exceptions. For example, in a colder climate, rajasic foods may be eaten to help the body to keep warm .
Saatvic foods are often full of colour which has a positive effect on the mind body, whilst Tamasic foods often lack colour which generally has a negative effect . This is in line with western ideas that colourful foods tend to be higher in nutrients whilst brown (more processed foods) are often lacking and higher in fats and salt .
Due to this, traditional yogis would follow a predominantly sentient vegetarian diet, containing fruit, vegetables, grains, spices and herbs without eggs and consuming small amounts of milk . [studies of vegetarian diets]. The yogic theory behind the benefits of a predominately plant based diet is based around prana. As previously mentioned, prana is the life force of all humans, animals and plants. It is believed that the sun is the main source of prana, with only plants being able to derive prana from the sun. Therefore, plants are eaten to gain the best quality and most direct source of prana. Not only does eating animals provide poor quality distorted prana, due to the fact that the animal has to be killed to be eaten (whilst plant foods are still alive), it is argued that prana is gone completely .
Further to these main three categories, there are other important aspects of the yogic diet to consider:
Food Source – eating quality local produce to appreciate nature, vitamins, minerals and prana without added flavours, preservatives and unnecessary chemicals.
Quantity of Food - listening to the body signals to pay attention to how the food makes you feel and not eating past contentment. Suggestions for this include focusing on the meal, how it tastes and smells and not watching television or taking part in other distracting activities. This is similar to western ‘mindful eating’ which is thought to have beneficial effects on weight management and eating behaviours in overweight populations .
Timing of Food Consumption – in the yogic tradition, it is believed that food should be eaten in tune with natural planet cycles and prana can be more readily absorbed in the morning. Thus, breakfast is a very important meal it is recommended to eat
high energetic prana containing foods in the morning. In addition, a heavy dinner is advised against. When looking at current scientific evidence on circadian rhythms and diet, it appears that more calories consumed earlier on this the circadian rhythm (the body's natural internal clock) is associated with less body fat percentage . In addition, larger calorie intake four hours prior to the body's 'biological night' is associated with increased. body fat percentage . This shows that there may be some modern scientific evidence linked to these ancient traditions.
Food Preparation - it is believed that if food is made lovingly and caringly, then that love and care will be imprinted onto the food. This is likened to the western belief that there is no food like mother’s food. Avoid convenience food and take time to prepare food. Providing your body and mind with good food containing all n
ecessary nutrients will improve your ability to carry out all other tasks. Batch cooking on a weekend can be an easy way to consume home cooked nutritious food that can be reheated at or after work during the week.
What can we take from this?
The Yogic Diet provides a different perspective towards eating compared to the traditional way of western food consumption. There are some important points that can be taken to improve our own diets, whether you do yoga or not. These are:
Experiment with food to see its effects on the body and mind.
Eat foods with a variety of colours.
Base your diet on plant foods, including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, light herbs and spices.
Buy local, good quality food.
Be conscious about portion sizes.
Consume most of your calories through the beginning to midway through the day, with smaller amounts towards the last four hours before sleep.
Put effort into preparing food instead of convenience food, use techniques to save time such as batch cooking and freezing food.
If you are interested in learning more about the Yogic Diet, check out the book,
Diet for health and Higher Consciousness by Dada Shiilabhadrananda.
 Dada Shiilabhadrananda (2009) Diet for health and Higher Consciousness. Ebook: Ananda Marga Publications.
 Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (2015) Carbohydrates for Health. London: The Stationery Office.
 Yu, C., Du, J., Chiou, H., Feng, C., Chung, M., Yang, W., Chen, Y., Chien, L., Hwang, B., Chen, M. (2016) 'Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Is Adversely Associated with Childhood AttentionDeficit/Hyperactivity Disorder', International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13 (7), pp. E678.
 Louzada, M., Ricardo, C, Steele, E., Levy, R., Cannon, G. and Monterio, C. (2018) 'The share of ultra-processed foods determines the overall nutritional quality of diets in Brazil', Public Health Nutrition, 21 (1), pp. 94-102.
 Warren, J., Smith, N. and Ashwell, M. (2017) 'A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms', Nutrition Research Reviews, 30 (2), pp. 272-283.
 McHill, A., Phillips, A., Czeisler, C., Keating, L., Yee, K., Barger, L., Garaulet, M., Scheer, F. and Kleemann, E. (2017) 'Later circadian timing of food intake is associated with increased body fat', The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 106 (5), pp. 1213-1219.