The Ayurvedic reason you might be craving sugar

I’ve shared on oodles of occasions how Ayurvedic healing is, in my opinion, the most grounded wellness approach around. You can catch up on my previous posts here and find out which dosha you are here. And if you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know my dosha is, yeah, vata. I’m a poster child for the category!

If you’re not vata yourself read on anyway, because vata energy actually controls all the doshas – if your vata is out of whack, all the doshas become unbalanced.

Photo by Ceppas Photography
Photo by Ceppas Photography

The thing is, Vatas need “sweet” foods

Vata energy actually needs sweetness to balance and pacify. This is because the energy in vata comes in bursts, so calls for energy stabilisation after a burst. Which is why vata types crave sugar. Because it’s sweet, yes, but also because it’s a stimulant. And for vata types – which sees energy move through our bodies and minds like wind through a tunnel – we feel we need those stimulants to replace the lost energy.

Where does this leave things? We need “sweet” foods, but sugar is surely an issue? I asked Ayurvedic consultant Nadia Marshall to share some of her tips and tricks on the topic. Nadia is director of The Mudita Institute near Byron Bay. She lives and breathes this stuff. 

So what does Ayurveda have to say about sugar?

Nadia deals it straight: From an Ayurvedic perspective, refined sugars are considered both stale and over-stimulating. They are difficult to digest so can create disturbance and waste in the body (known as “Ama” in Ayurveda and considered to be the root cause of all disease). Refined sugars actually aggravate vata but also kapha, leading to fluid retention, weight gain, mental agitation or dullness (or both… swinging between the two) and physical exhaustion. They also weaken the pancreas and the liver, which in turn can aggravate pitta in the body.

Refined sugars produce the disease-causing agents in the body and mind, simultaneously weakening the immune system.

So what to eat to pacify vata if you don’t eat sugar?

Set us straight Nadia:

1. Go for warm and slightly oily foods. Eating foods cooked with warming spices (turmeric, ginger, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, cloves etc… not chilli) and good quality oils (ghee, coconut, extra virgin olive etc) will encourage the winds in your body to move with grace, ease and purpose.

[In Ayurveda, nothing is ever “bad”, it’s about balance. Thus, working with our natural “wind” is great… so long as it doesn’t tip over into gale force strength – Sarah.]

2. Choose salty (water and fire) and sour tastes (earth and fire) to combat vata’s air. Add one of the below to your meal to pacify vata:

  • a sprinkle of unrefined salt
  • a splash of umeboshi vinegar
  • a dollop of sauerkraut
  • a spoon of lime pickle
  • a sip of yoghurt lassi

[I add capers, olives, yoghurt, fermented foods etc to most meals – Sarah.]

3. Still go for sweet tastes. 

Nadia again: All of our tissues (apart from bone tissue) are predominant in the earth and water elements, so are primarily nourished by the sweet taste. The subtle essence of our immune system, known as “Ojas” in Ayurveda, is also nourished by the sweet taste. The sweet taste, as we all know, also has a direct effect on the mind. In the right dose, it promotes happiness, contentment, calmness, cheerfulness and love.

Naturally sweet foods that pacify vata:

  • Seeds. Try pumpkin, safflower, sesame or sunflower.
  • Herbs and spices. All spices pacify vata because they’re gently heating… but not all are sweet. The sweet ones include basil, bay leaf, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, fennel, garlic, mint, nutmeg, poppy seeds, rosemary, saffron, tarragon, vanilla.
  • Oils. Almond, avocado, coconut, ghee, olive, peanut, sesame.
  • Nuts. They all pacify vata because they’re heating and have a sweet post-digestive effect.
  • Legumes. Steer towards mung beans, split mung daal and urad daal.
  • Grains. Basmati rice is favoured in Ayurveda because it’s light and easy to digest. Also try amaranth, cooked oats and quinoa.
  • Dairy. All dairy helps pacify vata because it’s sweet or sour… Sweet ones include cow’s milk, ghee, goat’s milk.
  • Animal foods. Beef, dark chicken meat, duck, eggs, freshwater fish, dark turkey meat.
  • Vegetables. These sweet-tasting veggies pacify vata: asparagus, beets, cooked carrot, cucumber, fresh corn, fresh fennel, green beans, cooked leeks, okra, black olives, cooked onion, parsnip, sweet potato, summer squash.
  • Fruits. All ripe fruits pacify vata, except for: raw apples, cranberries, green mangoes, raw pears (cooked are fine), persimmons, pomegranates, un-soaked raisins, raspberries, strawberries and watermelon.

Are there other ways to pacify vata?

Yep! I share some of my tips here and here. And if it interests you, I might ask Nadia to share further tips and tricks in a future post on the site.

Do you follow Ayurvedic principles in your own life? Got any questions for me or Nadia? 

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