Written by John Immel,
A common assumption is that Ayurveda is a vegetarian system. That is simply not the case. In Ayurveda, a little of anything is considered medicine and too much is considered poison. This rule stands for meat as well. In the ancient texts of Ayurveda, each animal product is defined by quality and meat is recommended as therapy for many ailments. One example is that bone marrow broth is helpful for rehabilitation after extended illness. In general, meat strongly nourishes rakta - the red part of the blood.
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Of course, there are guidelines for eating meat, especially as food practices become more complicated (GMO, pesticides, hormone use, etc.). Choose quality over quantity. A meatball size portion of meat (1/4c) eaten daily with vegetables and grains is an appropriate amount that your body can process fully. Choose organic, hormone-free meat whenever possible. In spending more money on less meat, you will find greater satiation because the food will have a richer nutritional profile. Think of meat as a flavoring, rather than the main dish, and you will do fine.
When to Eat MeatThe best time of day to eat meat is lunch. Agni, the digestive fire, is strongest between 11am and 2pm. Your body can handle the heavy nature of meat most efficiently at this time of day. A simple dinner of vegetables and grains, with occasional light protein such as fish or chicken, will help you have a comfortable night's sleep, and you will wake up ready to hop out of bed in the morning.
How to Eat MeatMeat is heavy, so spice it while cooking to aid your body in digestion. Marinate with different vinegars, cooking wine or citrus to help tenderize and 'pre-cook' meat. Sprinkle your meat with aromatic rosemary, parsley, sage, thyme, cinnamon before popping it on the grill or into the oven. Aromatic spices aid protein digestion. Digestive spices like cayenne and black peppers. That is why we like it when meat is tender and dislike a dried out steak or chicken breast.
Vegetarian DietsVegetarian foods often leave fewer residues than animal products after digestion and for some help increase vitality. A vegetarian lifestyle is more environmentally friendly. However, humans have consumed meat for millennia, and a small amount may be necessary for your health. Many vegetarians become anemic and protein deficient. Adopting a vegetarian lifestyle needs to be a good fit for the individual. In general, Vata types have the hardest time staying healthy with a vegetarian diet. However there are exceptions! Kapha people, on the other hand, often need less meat than they think.
Some recommendations for vegetarian based proteins sources include sunflower seeds, hemp seed, quinoa, mung beans, and tofu. Beans are an excellent source of protein in general but may provoke Vata. Cheese is a great protein source but is more difficult to digest and Kapha provoking.
Transitioning to a Vegetarian LifestyleSuddenly adopting a vegetarian diet can cause irrepairable damage to intestines. The transition to a vegetarian diet can take years, even generations. Start slow to keep your metabolism stable and cravings at a minimum. For example, trying cutting out red meat gradually (over a year). See how you feel. Try reducing the quantity and frequency of other meats slowly, instead of cutting them out 'cold turkey!' For example having a piece of chicken once a week and then once a month might be a more stable way to transition.
Vegan DietsVegans are vegetarians who don't eat dairy products or eggs. This diet is especially challenging to Vata individuals, and often healing for Kaphas.
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda biocharacteristics. His approach to Ayurveda is clinical, yet exudes an ease which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda, offering professional clinical training in Ayurveda for over 15 years.
John's interest in Ayurveda and specialization in digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, as well as public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well. Outside of work, John enjoys spending time with his wife and 6 kids, and pursuing his love of theology, philosophy, and language.
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Very helpful article; thank you. I would be interested in knowing a bit more about those exceptions mentioned about vata types having a harder time staying healthy with a vegetarian diet.
Really enjoyed ready this article.
Good information for those who are confused about diet with all the bad advice out there these days. keep up the good work
I was labeled a Kapha by an Ayurvedic nutritionist. I tried removing meat from my diet and experimented with a vegetarian, then vegan, diet. I gained weight. I never felt worse. My B-12 which was never low in previous blood-tests, was almost non-existent, so I had to get 6 weekly B-12 shots. It was never explained to me why all of this happened. I went back to eating meat, and my B-12 went back to normal. Why, if I'm truly a Kapha, did this happen? I'm afraid to try this way of eating again.
Carol - everyone's body is different, and some kapha's can benefit from a vegan diet while others just need meat. Many people struggle to maintain a vegan diet for a long period of time, especially if they are not supplementing with B-12 (because this is not naturally found in vegan diets). You may be kapha, but you may also need meat - those two things are not necessarily at odds.
I'm playing with the slow transition to a mostly vegetarian diet. It took about a year for me to give up most red meat. I like the idea of cutting back the amount of meat to a small amount.
Pitta does best with white meat or freshwater fish.
Here's a list of recipes that are Kapha pacifying, avoid heavy foods and are vegan: https://www.joyfulbelly.com/Ayurveda/recipes/avoid/Non-Vegan/dosha/Kapha/guna/HeavyIn general, Ayurveda recommends lighter oils for Kapha such as sunflower oil or mustard oil. Geenrally Kapha can use ghee and coconut oil, but should do so in smaller amounts.