In Ayurveda, emphasis is placed on diet as a therapeutic and preventative health measure to manage one’s state of health. Following an Ayurvedic diet most appropriate for your body type is beneficial for mind, body and emotional health. Here we examine the Pitta diet, a diet best suited to those with a Pitta imbalance or Pitta body type.
The Pitta Diet + The Doshas
Pitta pacifying foods help balance Pitta in its aggravated state. On the other hand a depleted state of pitta, which is generally seen in Kapha and Vata aggravation and can concurrently happen in a Pitta body, may demand use of foods that increase the properties of Pitta. In such cases heating and light foods are used for a short period of time until the Pitta regains its strength.The Pitta balancing foods calm Pitta by cooling and hydrating the tissues, balancing moisture, and maintaining optimum temperature, all the while supporting proper digestion and elimination. There are specific simple principles that are to be followed while discovering a Pitta pacifying diet that works for you.
Pitta Diet Food Choices
What determines the choice of foods for a Pitta type? The basis of any Ayurvedic diet and therapeutics is the rule of opposites and similarities.
Pitta is hot, sharp, fluid, sour and pungent, so eating foods that neutralize these qualities can help to balance excess Pitta. These are foods that are cold (in property not in temperature necessarily), subtle, binding, bitter, and sweet. On the other hand, if Pitta needs to be strengthened, foods with similar properties to Pitta have to be included in the diet until the pitta comes into a balanced state. Pitta is pacified by consuming juicy, cooling foods with high water content. Avoid hot spicy, fried foods, sour foods like tomatoes, yogurt, vinegar and fermented foods like sour cream and alcoholic drinks. Foods should be fresh and organic, if possible. Avoid packaged, canned or bottled foods as well as processed foods whenever possible. Pitta is very sensitive to chemical preservatives and artificial additives.
Having known the broad guidelines about the Pitta diet, let us analyze what exactly these guidelines mean and the Ayurvedic principle behind the choices.
What exactly does the term cold food mean? Cold food typically refers to the temperature of the food. In Ayurveda however the hidden message is to use food laden with cooling and hydrating properties. Cold antagonizes hot and the hydrating property antagonizes the drying tendency of fiery Pitta if it goes out of balance. Some foods like coconut milk and spices like fennel seeds make even the pitta aggravating foods (like tomatoes) congenial to a Pitta prakriti or Pitta body type. So adding coconut milk to a spicy curry makes it digestible and assimilable for a Pitta prakriti person without aggravating the Pitta, which can cause acidity.
On the other hand, if we need to pacify an aggravated Pitta, it is best to avoid foods with hot and sharp properties like ginger. Even Pitta types though should not eat hot foods direct from the stove top. Ayurveda insists that even if hot foods (temperature wise) are not liked by the Pitta it is not healthy to eat food that has completely cooled down or is chilled. It is best even for a Pitta person to eat warm food.
Many foods which do not appear hot and sharp to taste can still aggravate pitta if taken in excess. Examples are fish and nuts. These foods have a property called ‘potency’ or ‘Virya’ as it is called in Ayurveda, which is hot. As such it aggravates Pitta. On the other hand, fennel seeds when chewed give a sharp taste in the mouth but due to its cooling potency, pacifies Pitta.
What happens when you eat foods with cooling and hydrating properties in order to counter the hot property of pitta? Overeating foods with cold properties like cold milk-based beverages do pacify aggravated pitta for the moment. If consumed in excess for a long time however, they disturb the optimum level of Pitta that is needed for maintaining the digestion and cause indigestion. So caution is to be exercised to not overeat such foods.
Tastes That Pacify Pitta Dosha
Our diet has six tastes in all.
Pitta is pacified by the sweet, astringent and bitter tastes. It is aggravated by the pungent, salty, and sour tastes. Knowing about these tastes allows us to design a Pitta pacifying diet without having to constantly refer to extensive lists of foods to favor and avoid. Use these taste guidelines to create your own quick Pitta pacifying recipes.
The Sweet Taste
Sweet is cooling and grounding and in moderation, promotes longevity, strength, and healthy bodily fluids and tissues. Its heavy, oily, moist qualities tend to slow down digestion. It’s often suggested in Ayurveda to eat dessert first as an appetizer when the digestive or metabolic fire is at its peak. The sweet taste is found in foods like most fruits, most grains, root vegetables, milk, ghee, fresh yogurt, eggs, nuts, seeds and most oils except mustard. The sweet taste due to its cooling, grounding, nourishing, strength building, and satisfying properties is the most important constituent of a Pitta pacifying diet. Please note that when we talk about the sweet taste we are talking about foods with a naturally sweet taste, and/or a sweet post digestive effect. These include sweet potatoes, white rice and wheat. Sweet desserts and confectionary when taken in excess tend to cause indigestion.
Constitutionally the sweet taste has the elements of Kapha, water and earth, and hence aggravates Kapha the most.
The Bitter Taste
The bitter taste is cooling, rough, drying, light, and generally reducing. It possesses all the qualities that tend to pacify Pitta. It is generally lacking in our diet due to its unpalatable taste. Hence it can come in handy when there is aggravation of Pitta due to several reasons. The bitter taste is beneficial when excess of Kapha causes indigestion. It’s useful when there is a production of acidity or amla (pronounced ‘umla’) Pitta, Pitta gone amla or sour. It’s also useful when Pitta aggravation affects the blood and causes inflammatory disorders. Spices like turmeric and fenugreek seeds/ leaves, bitter gourds (in small quantities) can add the bitter taste to our food whenever needed.
The Astringent Taste
The astringent taste is dry, cold, heavy in nature and thus pacifies Pitta. A raw banana, beet root, artichoke, or jack fruit are examples of the astringent taste.
The Sour Taste
The sour taste awakens the mind and senses, stimulates digestive juices, improves digestion, eliminates excess wind but aggravates Pitta if taken in excess. Lemon juice, tamarind, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar and sour sweet fruits like orange, pineapple and kiwi are a few examples. Sour foods, due to their appetizing effect, can be included in the diet in forms that do not aggravate Pitta. A mint coriander dip made sour with pomegranate juice or amla (Indian gooseberry) is a good example.
The Salty Taste
The salty taste stimulates the appetite and digestion. It helps retain moisture and supports proper elimination. It also improves the flavor of many foods. The main source of the salty taste is salt in its various forms – sea salt, rock salt and common table salt. It is to be used in very small quantities. Constitutionally it is composed of fire and water and hence can aggravate Pitta moderately. It can alter the properties of the foods and can make Pitta Pacifying foods, Pitta aggravating as salads dressed with lots of salt do. So, the salty taste should be consumed in moderation by Pitta Prakriti people.
The Pungent Taste
Many spices are of the pungent taste and due to their hot property they are Pitta aggravating. The drying qualities of the pungent taste can antagonize the fluid property of Pitta, as dried ginger powder does. But as the pungent taste is majorly hot it has the potential to aggravate Pitta if taken in excess. A small quantity though is good to aid digestion in a Pitta person.
The Pitta Diet Rules To Follow
As a Pitta person you might have experienced that even after following a Pitta pacifying diet you at times still encounter a Pitta disorder. The reason could be wrong eating habits! When it comes to pacifying Pitta, how and when you eat may be just as important as what you eat.
Pitta gets pacified if you make it a point to eat in a peaceful environment, allowing enough time to chew the food. Also keep a balance between hydrating and drying and cooling and heating foods. Eating three meals at regular intervals further reduces Pitta and helps to calm the fiery digestion. Sometimes it is impossible to avoid all Pitta aggravating foods. When that is the case simply cook them in Pitta pacifying mediums or combine them with appropriate Pitta pacifying foods and spices. Use tastes like the sweet taste to help digest them properly without aggravating Pitta.
Being a Pitta Prakriti person (Pitta body type), an occasional fasting on water and fluids having sweet properties like coconut water or thin moong dal soup, or fasting on raw fruits and vegetables could be beneficial for you if Pitta is aggravated. But you have to avoid doing it for prolonged periods of time as the strong Pitta will start consuming your tissues.
The Pitta Diet: Meal Suggestion
Still not clear what you can have to tame Pitta? Well here are a few meal suggestions which you can follow to calm Pitta dosha.
Pitta time starts at mid morning but breakfast is usually not to be skipped when pitta is elevated. Use of grains and dairy with sweet nuts like almonds and raisins are good options. The carbohydrate punch should provide a sustained release of sugar in blood. Hence barley, oats and whole wheat are good choices. Egg whites can also be taken along with bread but meats are better reserved for lunch. If you are not that hungry a platter of sweet fruits is just fine.
Ideally, lunch is the main meal of the day for the Pitta in terms of quantity and richness as pitta is at its peak and more so in a Pitta prakriti. A wide variety of appropriate grains like barley, quinoa, wheat and rice can be used in various forms. Beans and vegetables also make a main contribution to a Pitta lunch, and can be complimented with suitable meats if you eat them. Salads can also be taken liberally as side dishes. However spices that are pungent should be avoided or used in very small quantities.
Dinner is ideally a bit smaller and lighter version of lunch, but it also needs to sustain pitta’s active metabolism. A simple but nourishing meal like a kitchari, pasta or a slightly smaller serving of lunch can work well. Soups and boiled vegetables can be taken as starters so that it satisfies the Pitta digestive fire and also keeps the calorie intake low if one is watching one’s weight.
Deepak Bhanot, BAMS
qualified Ayurvedic practitioner with 20 years of experience. He specializes in dietary and lifestyle consultation as per one's Prakriti. He has an advanced specialization in Nutrition and Health Education as well as Preventive and Promotive Health Care. He is a certified Panchakarma and Ayurvedic Acupressure therapist