According to Ayurveda, every food has an innate potency, hot or cold, that plays a key role in its impact on the body. Foods like onions, tomatoes, ginger, peppers, mustard and ghee are hot. They improve digestion and circulation. Foods like asparagus, melons, coconut, cauliflower, pumpkin and most sweet fruits are cold. They provide nourishment and strength.
The great seers of Ayurveda proclaimed the existence of certain properties associated with each nutrient – Rasa or taste, Virya or power and Vipaka or digestive action.
Potency or Innate Nature Of Food
Foods can be broadly classified based on their potency (Virya) into two types: Ushna (hot) and Shita (cold).
The hot or cold nature of food is essentially determined by its impact on the body; different body types, namely Vata (wind predominance), Pitta (bile predominance) and Kapha (mucus predominance), are affected in diverse ways. Each ingredient in a recipe has cooling or heating effects that directly affect the digestion process and metabolism. Hence, while preparing a meal, it is important to balance the hot and cold aspects, while keeping in mind the requirements of the body type and seasonal changes.
There is a common misconception that freshly cooked food is hot, while refrigerated food is cold. However, there is no correlation of potency (Virya) with the prevailing temperature of the food. For example, ice cream, despite being cold, induces heat in the body.
Hot foods with the Usna potency generally depict properties of combustion and digestion, and impart a feeling of lightness to the body and mind. Hot foods also lead to purging, vomiting and are said to destroy semen. Usna foods subdue Vata and Kapha, and promote Pitta. They are good for digestion but if consumed in excess can provoke overheating maladies like gastritis, ulcers, rashes etc. Hot foods can increase one’s appetite, resulting in gluttony and heartburn.
Usna foods generally include spicy or hot foods, but there are certain exceptions as well. For example, honey has a sweet taste but has a hot nature or potency.
Some common Usna foods are onions, artichoke, garlic, ginger, kohlrabi, tomatoes, peppers, mustard, cumin, ghee, dates and pickles.
Cold foods with the prevailing Shita aspect encourage nourishment, strength and steadiness. They also play a role in aiding body fluid buildup. They create a sense of heaviness. Cold food has a refreshing effect on the body when the outer environs are hot, but they are generally harder to digest. They can restrict digestion and make the immune system less active.
Cold foods like asparagus, cucumbers, melons, coconut, cauliflower, oranges, lychee, pumpkin and fennel are great for calming Pitta dosha body types.
Most sweet fruits are Shita virya while sour fruits are of the Usna type; lemon is an exception, sour in taste but sweet in potency.
Sub-categories: Dry-Moist and Light-Heavy
Food is also further categorized into sushk (dry), isnigdh (moist), laghu (light) and finally guru (heavy).
- Most dry foods are hot while unctuous foods are cold.
- Most heavy foods which are generally bitter, sour or pungent in taste, are cold.
- Most light foods which are salty, sweet or astringent in taste, are hot.
On Food Temperature
The seminal Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita recommends that food should not be left for a long time after cooking and should be eaten when hot. Cold food is difficult to digest and assimilate. Debris and residue are also more in cold foods.
Choosing The Right Foods For Your Body Type
Different types of food are recommended for different body types.
- Consume warm, cooked, and nourishing food. This is easily digested.
- Add dairy products like milk and ghee to your diet.
- Consume vegetables like cauliflower, beans, zucchini, broccoli and sweet potatoes.
- Some good fruit options include plums, rhubarb, kiwi, nuts, cranberries, grapefruit and bananas.
- Avoid fried and spicy food.
- Mangoes, cherries, melons and avocados are great for Pitta types.
- Salads with greens like kale, arugula and dandelions are recommended.
- Mint, melon, cucumber smoothies and coconut puddings can be enjoyed too.
- Light, warm and spicy foods are best suited for Kapha types.
- Dishes can be spiced up with ginger, cumin, black pepper, sesame, turmeric etc.
- Fruits like apples, pears, peaches, figs and pomegranates are good for the constitution.
- One can also try bitter dark greens, beans, pulses etc.
- Drinks such as tea with dried ginger and lemon flakes or hibiscus tea with lime and honey are suggested.
While medicines help prevent diseases and disorders, food plays an equally important preventive and curative role. Proper consumption is very significant for sustenance and well-being and so care must be taken on a daily basis.