The Tamasic Diet
About the Author:
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.
The Tamasic diet consists of a list of foods that practitioners of the ancient Indian medical system of Ayurveda consider to be Tamasic–meaning that they may cause certain potentially harmful mental and physical conditions to occur. According to Ayurvedic beliefs, people wishing to become serious students of yoga should avoid Tamasic foods in their quest to achieve a healthy balance between their mind, emotions and body. Ayurveda teaches there are two other diets besides the Tamasic that can also affect this balance: Sattvic and Rajasic.
The natural medical system of Ayurveda has been practiced in India for thousands of years and bases its teaching on three gunas, or primary qualities, that are said to exist in all natural things. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Each represents a different quality: Sattva is purity, Rajas is activity or passion and Tamas is inertia or darkness. In every material object, person and action, characteristics of all three gunas are present; one, however, is always dominant. Whether a person’s diet consists of Sattvic foods, Rajasic foods or Tamasic foods will determine which guna influences their thoughts and actions.
The Tamasic diet is characterized by the following foods: meat, fish, onions, garlic, curds, mushrooms, alcohol and any other fermented foods, including vinegar, bread, pastries and cakes. Any stale, overripe or underripe, tasteless and rotten foods are also considered Tamasic, as is tobacco, any kind of drug and any foods that have been processed, including those that are preserved in any way, canned or frozen.
Ayurvedic practitioners believe that a person who eats primarily Tamasic foods is doing harm to both their minds and their bodies. Ayurveda teaches that such a person will lose Prana, or life energy, and will be filled with strong, dark urges such as greed or anger coupled with a lack of proper reasoning skills and a sense of inertia. Such a person is not thought to be capable of achieving the enlightenment needed to transcend the gunas.
A Tamasic diet is thought to destroy the body’s ability to fight disease, to disrupt the proper functioning of the immune system and to destructively alter the normal pathways of the brain. A variety of mental diseases are believed to be caused by Tamasic foods ruling the diet, and unhealthy habits, such as overeating, are classified in Ayurveda as being Tamasic behaviors.
Ayurveda specifies two other types of diets besides the Tamasic: the Rajasic and the Sattvic. The Rajasic diet, while considered somewhat healthier than the Tamasic diet, is still thought to destroy the balance between the mind, body and emotions. It consists of foods that are hot and foods that have strong flavors of either sourness, saltiness or bitterness. Stimulants such as coffee, tea and chocolate are also considered Rajasic. The Sattvic diet is the diet all yoga practitioners strive for. Ayurveda teaches that it helps calm the emotions, purify the mind and strengthen the body. These foods are whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, herbal teas, honey, milk and cheese.