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Proceeding Paper

An Ayurvedic View on Food (Ahara)—A Review †

Sreenisha Sukesh Suni
Dhanya Soman Pillai
Vineeth Paramadam Krishnan Nair
Department of Rasashastra and Bhaishajya Kalpana (Pharmaceuticals), Amrita School of Ayurveda, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Kollam 690525, India
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Presented at the 2nd International Electronic Conference on Foods—Future Foods and Food Technologies for a Sustainable World, 15–30 October 2021; Available online:
Biol. Life Sci. Forum 2021, 6(1), 19;
Published: 14 October 2021


Food plays a crucial role in both health and disease. A healthy life starts with healthy food. One should consume food only depending on one’s digestive fire. In Ayurveda, six ritus (seasons) have been detailed, and specific dietary and lifestyle regimens are also well explained. There is a great interconnection between ahara, the gut microbiome and seasons. In Ayurveda, food supports and brings out the three qualities of mind, namely satvika (quality of purity and harmony), rajasika (quality of passion and manipulation) and thamasika (darkness, destruction). The satvik diet appears to be similar to a modern but prudent dietary pattern.

1. Introduction

Food plays a crucial role in both health and disease. A healthy life starts with healthy food. In Ayurveda, ahara comes under one of the three supporting pillars of life. One should consume food only depending on one’s digestive fire. In Ayurveda, six ritus (seasons) have been detailed, and specific dietary and lifestyle regimens are also well explained. There is a great interconnection between ahara, the gut microbiome and seasons. Espousing Ritucharya (a seasonal regimen) could provide a great opportunity to bring awarenesss to the subtleties of human gut flora and save the host from the pathological manifestations of seasonal variations and other diverse causes. Strict compliance to the seasonal regimens, resorting to seasonal foods etc., can change the gut microbiome in sync to one that is favourable to health promotion. Lifestyle and dietary factors can profoundly alter the commensal microbial communities, the dysbiosis of which can enhance pathogen susceptibility, inflammatory diseases and the current epidemic of metabolic health problems like non-communicable diseases. Modern science describes ahara as per the nutritional value of its components, including carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals. They have not described about hita-ahita (good and bad effects) or pathya-apathya ahara (things to do and not to do), among other things, for each individual. In Ayurveda, this classification is based on the biological action of the ahara and their rasa (taste). For example, on the basis of carbohydrate content, all types of rice may be treated as one group. However, Ayurveda considers freshly harvested rice to be heavy for digestion. Conversely, old rice stored for over six months is considered to be light and more useful for an average person. The entire life of an individual depends upon food. If proper food is consumed, it provides satisfaction, nourishment, firmness/steadiness of the body, strength, and immunity. In Ayurveda, food supports and brings out the three qualities of mind, namely satvika (quality of purity and harmony), rajasika (quality of passion and manipulation) and thamasika (darkness, destruction). The satvik diet is best for maintaining health, good mind, physical strength, and longevity and also helps in calming and purifying the mind. It appears to be similar to a modern but prudent dietary pattern.

2. Rasa (Taste) and Food

Healthy diet is vital for a healthy body and a healthy mind. In Ayurveda, an ideal diet incorporates the six rasas (tastes) prescribed in the classics. The word rasa refers to taste and that which is perceived through the tongue. According to acharya Vagbhata, rasas are six in number: madhura rasa (sweet), amla rasa (sour), lavana rasa (salty), katu rasa (pungent), tikta rasa (bitter), and kashaya rasa (astringent) [1].

2.1. Madhura Rasa

Madhura rasa is related to the strength and stability of the body. By birth, the human body is familiar with this taste. It is beneficial to the skin, hairs, sense organs and general growth of the body. Herbs having a sweet taste increase the breast milk, soothe a dried throat, and also help in erectile dysfunction in men. When taken in excess, they cause obesity, obesity-related diseases, and diabetes [1]. Madhura rasa increases kapha dosha. Food and herbs of sweet taste are usually rich in carbohydrates or simple sugars and provide a lot of calories when consumed. Additionally, these calories provide plentiful energy. The desired level of calorie requirement will be exceeded when these types of foods are consumed in excess, and this excess number of calories are stored as fat. This excess accumulation of fat leads to obesity. Chronic obesity causes other metabolic diseases like diabetes and also paves the way for heart disease. Milk, sugar, ghee, jaggery, sugar cane, ripe mango, and grapes have madhura rasa or a sweet taste. When ghee, milk etc. are taken in excess for a long time, it may lead to the accumulation of cholesterol. Therefore, Ayurveda acharyas suggest madhura rasa or sweet foods to those people who require a good supply of calories. These foods can be consumed in excess by those persons who have heavy physical work, kids who are active in outdoor games, lactating mothers, pregnant women, improving patients and patients who need a quick supply of energy.

2.2. Amla Rasa

Amla rasa stimulates digestive fire and salivation. It is good for the heart and increases the appetite. It is a coolant upon external application and relieves burning sensations. It brings alertness to the mind and increases attention. Brumhana (produces stoutness), indriya bodhana (stimulates sense organs), tarpana (satisfaction), rochana (improves taste), preenana (nourishment), kledana (moistness to the body), and anulomana (downward movement of flatus and faeces) are other functions of amla rasa. According to Ayurveda, any entity, when taken in excess, will have harmful effects on the body. Similarly, when amla rasa is taken in excess, it hinders the normalcy of the body, i.e., it leads to the looseness of the body, loss of strength, blindness, pallor, itching, swelling, etc. [1]. Amalaki (Emblica officinalis) is an example of an amla rasa substance. In Vedic literature, the fruits of Amalaki were considered the best among all fruits. Though all the amla rasa dravyas are said to enhance pitta, amalaki is the exception, being pitta samaka. Clinical studies and scientific literature prove that amalaki is an immune modulator, antioxidant, tonic, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, hepatoprotective and has hypercholesteremic activity [2]. It also has a proven rasayana effect. Amla rasa is very much essential for the absorption of some micro-nutrients, like calcium.

2.3. Lavana Rasa

Lavana rasa has a laxative effect and removes the obstruction from the strotas (channels of the body). It increases digestive activity, penetrates into the tissues, causes sweating and enhances the taste of food, so one can enjoy it. Five varieties of lavanas are mainly used in Ayurveda; among them, saindhava lavana is the best. Saindhava lavana is chemically known as sodium chloride/bay salt/rock salt. Saindhava is an aphrodisiac and is slightly sweet, good for the heart (or mind), mitigates all the three doshas (humors) of the body, is easily digestible, good for health, ushna (hot) in potency, does not cause a burning sensation during digestion and kindles digestion [1]. The use of rock salt in food helps in alleviating blood pressure. It also helps in controlling weight by balancing minerals that hinder cravings and remove fat dead cells. According to modern medicine, salt is considered a causative or aggravating factor for cardiac diseases and hypertension. This may be due to artificially prepared salts and lifestyle. Saindava lavana can be effectively used in such cases [3].

2.4. Katu Rasa

Katu rasa helps cure diseases of the throat, leprosy, allergic rashes and other skin diseases. Furthermore, it reduces swelling, improves digestion, improves circulation, clears the channels, encourages sweating, cleanses the blood and the muscles, and reduces cholesterol. It brings clarity of mind and perception and increases attention. When taken in excess, it causes fainting, tremors, thirst, and depletion of sperm and strength [1]. Generally, pungent substances are non-aphrodisiac except giloy, garlic, long pepper and ginger. Maricha (Black pepper) has katu rasa, and the piperine present in maricha exhibits antibacterial and antitumour activities. Its essential oils have antifungal activities, and the water extract of its leaves demonstrates insecticidal activity. Aromatic volatile oils, mustard glycosides, oleo-resins, and resins are pungent in taste.

2.5. Tikta Rasa

Tikta rasa is a therapeutically advantageous taste. It is hated by many but has plentiful therapeutic assets. It is dry, light and cool in nature, and usually has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-pyretic properties. It cures anorexia by enhancing the release of digestive secretions and enzymes. It also cures nausea, burning sensations and skin diseases and eliminates toxins from the body. It is found in alkaloids, anthraquinones, sesquiterpenes and some glycosides. The excessive use of bitter foods causes nausea, dizziness and dry mouth, as well as tissue wasting, which lead to weakness [1]. Tikta rasa has strong wormicidal effects and also helps to withhold the mind and senses from objects of desire.

2.6. Kashaya Rasa

The main effect of kashaya rasa is that it causes dryness in the throat. When used internally or applied externally, astringent herbs stop bleeding and accelerate the wound healing process. For the same reason, astringent substances are used to prepare many gum care liquids, as astringents help to reduce bleeding and gum swelling effectively. Kashaya rasa purifies the blood by its anti-inflammatory effects, causes squeezing and healing of ulcers, and is cold in potency. It also helps the mind to become collected or organized. If consumed in excess, it can cause extreme dryness of the throat, blockage of food and fecal matter in the digestive system, gas build-up in the gut due to constipation, dryness and pain in the region of the heart, obstruction of body channels, loss of vigor, virility, and depletion of the quality and quantities of body tissues [1].

2.7. Ahara Vidhi (Regimen of Diet)

According to Ayurveda, there is an order in which meals should be eaten: they should be started with sweet foods and then can progress to other tastes. This conflicts with what people follow but is quite effective. Because sweets are heavy to digest, if they are taken at the beginning of meals, the digestive fire will be stronger. Food will be digested easily, and it also gives nourishment to the tissues. Then lavana and amla rasa should be consumed to stimulate digestion and enhance the flavors. Katu rasa and kashaya rasa are advised to take at the end of the meal, as they trigger absorption and clear the palate [1].

3. Food and Mind

According to Karmayoga adhyaya of Bhagavat gita, creatures are born from ahara. The orgin of ahara is from rainfall; rainfall originates from sacrifice, and sacrifice has action as its origin. According to the Bhagavat Gita, Sraddha-traya-vibhaga-yoga adhyaya, food is of three kinds—satvika ahara, rajasika ahara and thamasika ahara [4].

3.1. Satvika Ahara

Satva guna is the spiritual quality. Food that augments life, firmness of mind, strength, health, happiness and pleasure, and which is succulent, buttery, substantial and agreeable are dear to those in whom sattva predominates [4]. Ayurveda suggests a satvik diet for maintaining good health, mind and longevity. Satvik foods include fresh fruit, pure fruit juices, milk, honey, sprouted whole grains, land and sea vegetables, cheese, nuts, seeds, legumes, sprouted seeds and herbal teas. Foods that do not disturb the stomach are considered satvik food [5]. Following a satvik diet helps a person lead a stress-free life and reduces a person’s risk of illness to mental disorders like depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and hyperacidity. People who eat a diet high in whole food such as fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes and unsaturated fats are up to 35% less likely to develop depression than those who eat less of these [6].

3.2. Rajasika Ahara

Rajasika guna is the quality of passion and manipulation. Foods that are excessively sour, bitter, salty, pungent, hot, dry and burning and that which produce sorrow, pain, and disease are rajasika ahara [4]. The mind-body equilibrium is ruined by rajasika ahara, and they make the mind agitated and uncontrollable. These foods make the mind anxious and hyperactive, cause a lack of concentration, affect sleeping patterns, encourage the development of insomnia, and increase urges of anger. For those who are lazy and dull, it may be appropriate to advise consuming a larger quantity of rajasika ahara. This diet may include excess salt, refined oils, refined grains, sour food, onion and garlic, deep-fried food, white rice, junk food, tea & coffee, green chilli, and pepper.

3.3. Thamasika Ahara

Thamas is the quality of dullness or inactivity, apathy, inertia or lethargy [7]. Thamasika ahara increases the inner darkness and confusion. Foods that are fried and frozen, microwaved foods, fast foods, processed foods, foods left overnight, onion, meat, fish, eggs, and alcohol are included under thamasik ahara, and these foods effect the speed of our activities. These foods slow down our activity and contribute to depressing us, numbing us and enhancing inertia. This type of food can be considered the unhealthiest food of all [8]. Thamasika ahara is better to be avoided, as it makes one dull, enhances anger and criminal tendency and hinders the betterment of society. Thamasika ahara is the most unwholesome food of all.

4. Seasonal Regimen and Gut Microbiome

As per ayurvedic classics, depending on the direction of the movement of sun, the year is classified into two ayanas: uttarayana (northern solstice) and dakshinayana (southern solstice). This is again classified into ritus; three ritus constitute one ayana. Six seasons constitute a year, namely, Shishira (winter), Vasanta (spring), Grishma (summer), Varsha (monsoon), Sharat (autumn), and Hemanta (late autumn). The first three are included under uttarayana and the last three under dakshinayana [1]. The above seasonal changes are observed predominantly in the Indian subcontinent, as Ayurveda has its origin in India. During Uttarayana, the seasonal changes from Shishira (winter) to Vasanta (spring) and to Grishma (summer) can be compared to mid-January to mid-July, when the warmness and dryness in the weather increase. It has an overall debilitating effect on the environment, of which human beings are also a part. During Dakshinayana, the season changes from Varsha (monsoon) to Sharat (autumn) and to Hemanta (late autumn). This is comparable to mid-July to mid-January, when the cool sets in, and due to which anabolic activity dominates over catabolic activity in the environment. For each season, a specific diet and regimen were also well explained in the classics. These seasonal changes also influence gut microbiota.
At birth, the human gut microbiota colonisation is initiated. It is established by one year of age. This is mainly based on the mode of delivery and the method of infant feeding but continues to be influenced by diet, lifestyle, living environment, age, antibiotics and time. However, diet is known to be the most significant factor in human gut microbiome composition. The gut microbial population of the individual regulates the nutritional value of food consumed, thermoregulation, the immune system and physiological functions. A healthy microbiota with beneficial strains dominating harmful ones aids provides metabolic homeostasis, whereas dysbiosis triggers disease-inducing potential. The human gut is mainly occupied by Actinobacteria, Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, Verrucomicrobia, and Bacteroidetes, and also has sparse populations of Cyanobacteria, Spirochaetes Saccharibacteria and Fusobacteria [9].
Diet modulates the gut microbiota composition in two ways by including viable microorganisms that resist digestion, colonise the gut and beneficially modulate the microbial composition (probiotics) and by providing non-digestible substrates that feed the intestinal flora and particularly nourish the growth and activity of beneficial microbes (prebiotics).
In the case of Hemanta and Sisira ritu, as the temperature decreases, the digestive fire gets flared up, and the hunger and longing for ahara increases. People will have strong digestive power, and hence, the food eaten should be quantitatively and qualitatively rich, which otherwise could consume the bodily dhatus (tissues) itself. Hence, in Hemanta and Sisira (early and late winter), it is advised to take snigdha ahara (fatty foods), taila (oil), sura (fermented products) from jaggery, vasa (muscle fat), foods prepared out of nava annam (freshly harvested grains), masha (black gram), ikshu (sugarcane) and godhuma (wheat) [1]. The phylum Firmicutes is composed of typical Gram-positive bacteria, the overgrowth of which is directly involved in obesity. Therefore, during these seasons, it is advised to practice swedana (sudation), abhyanga (oil massage), vyayama (exercise), udvartana (powder massage), and atapasevana (basking in the sun) [1]. These practices can rightly balance the gut flora changes and health consequences, as it is proven that, despite a high-fat diet, regular exercise can prevent obesity by changing the population ratio of major bacterial phyla, protecting the intestinal morphology and integrity, and thereby reducing inflammatory infiltrates. By following the proper regimen outlined for each season, the gut microbiota can also be properly maintained.

5. Conclusions

The root cause for the strength, complexion and vitality of living beings is ahara (food). It has the ability to control the disease pathology and promote health as well [10]. When consumed in a proper way (samyak yoga), ahara maintains the body, while ati (excess), mithya (improper), and hinayoga (inadequate manner) lead to awful effects on the body. The cautious incorporation of each rasa (taste) should be done in ahara in order to get the best benefits out of these rasas. Health is the supreme foundation of virtue, wealth, enjoyment and salvation. Ayurveda gives the highest importance to the maintenance of health and to promoting positive health rather than curing disease. The goal of Ayurveda is more on prevention rather than curing diseases; thus, Ayurveda emphasizes the ideal food to be consumed to attain and sustain good health. Food is essential for a good life, and the same food, if taken improperly, becomes the root cause of many diseases. All human beings should have proper information about food and its importance to obtain better benefits from it.

Author Contributions

S.S.S. is the main author. V.P.K.N. and D.S.P. directed and gave suitable suggestions for and encouraged the completion of this work. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

The data is found from major textbooks of Ayurveda, including the Sushruta Samhitha, Ashtanga Hridaya and Ashtanga Sangraha, and by reviewing original research and review articles from PubMed and Scopus.


I express my sincere gratitude to my beloved HOD Ramesh Narve Venkatesha, Guide Vineeth Paramadam Krishnan Nair, Co-guide Dhanya Soman Pillai, and my parents B. V Sukesh and M. Suni for their moral support and inspiration to complete my work.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Sukesh Suni, S.; Soman Pillai, D.; Paramadam Krishnan Nair, V. An Ayurvedic View on Food (Ahara)—A Review. Biol. Life Sci. Forum 2021, 6, 19.

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Sukesh Suni S, Soman Pillai D, Paramadam Krishnan Nair V. An Ayurvedic View on Food (Ahara)—A Review. Biology and Life Sciences Forum. 2021; 6(1):19.

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Sukesh Suni, Sreenisha, Dhanya Soman Pillai, and Vineeth Paramadam Krishnan Nair. 2021. "An Ayurvedic View on Food (Ahara)—A Review" Biology and Life Sciences Forum 6, no. 1: 19.

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