The three gunas or qualities of Nature are sattva (purity or transcendence), rajas (activity and distraction), and tamas (inertia or ignorance). These qualities are present in all foods and have a profound influence on the mind and spiritual development.
Tamasic foods are processed, artificial, devitalized, overcooked, or putrefied. Not only do they destroy physical health, they also promote spiritual unconsciousness, psychological unhappiness, and violence. Examples include canned foods, white sugar and flour, alcohol, and factory meat and dairy.
Rajasic foods are stimulating and develop active qualities. These foods are not necessarily harmful, and are often strengthening and useful for the body. In excess, they can create disturbance in the mind and emotions and desire for worldly things. Examples include spicy foods, garlic, and meat.
The sattvic diet promotes and peaceful, clear mind. As things that are similar in nature increase one another, the foods that make up the sattvic diet are themselves peaceful (non-stimulating) and clear (free from impurities). Sattvic foods are properly prepared according to traditional methods. Many modern methods of food preparation have effects on food that make them rajasic or tamasic and deteriorate health.
The sattvic diet emphasizes whole organically grown foods that are raw or freshly cooked (not micro-waved), as well as “raw-cooked” or lacto-fermented foods. Preferably, the diet will include many locally produced foods, especially foods that you have personally played a role in producing and that therefore strengthen your attunement with your natural environment.
It is predominantly a lacto-vegetarian diet that highly values dairy, but avoids other animal products including eggs, fish, and meat. A sattvic diet excludes artificial food processing and altering as much as possible. Unfortunately, this includes a disturbing percentage of modern food staples.
It should be noted that though pure, the avoidance of meat means that this is not necessarily the greatest physical strength-promoting diet, nor is it intended to be, as its focus is primarily spiritual, not physical. The exclusion of animal products apart from dairy also excludes some important nutrients obtainable exclusively from animal products. For this reason, it will not be right for all people all of the time, but can generally be safely followed with wonderful benefits for shorter or longer time periods for different constitutions, especially in conjunction with spiritual retreat or seclusion.
Whether meat is included in the diet or not, everyone will reap physical and spiritual benefits from including a greater amount of fresh, local, organically and sustainably grown foods, preparing foods properly, and avoiding commercially produced and processed foods.
Categories of Sattvic Foods
Paramhansa Yogananda on processed white flour: “Ã¢Â?Â¦there is no excuse for any sane and intelligent person killing himself or dragging about half alive due to the consumption of devitalized or wrongly selected food.”
Whole grains are generally quite sattvic, but should be soaked to neutralize unhealthy and devitalizing factors (mainly phytic acid) and make them easier to digest. In the case of flour, grains are best freshly milled to avoid rancidity. The flour can then be soaked with the wet ingredients, or flour from sprouted grains can be used. Slow cooking is generally preferred, and pressure cooking is not recommended as the high heat may overly denature proteins.
Cold breakfast cereals and granola should be avoided as their cooking and manufacturing processes render the grains somewhat toxic and indigestible.
Soaked porridge is an excellent way to prepare grains. Rinse and soak the grains at least overnight in pure warm water with a little organic yogurt, kefir, whey, or buttermilk. The cooking time will depend on hardness of the grain. The porridge can be served with flax seeds or nuts, raw butter or cream, and a natural sweetener. Homemade bread is also wonderful.
Sattvic dairy foods include: raw milk, cream, butter, ghee (clarified butter), soft raw-milk cheeses, and fermented dairy such as yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, or whey.
Dairy is a very spiritual food with wonderful health benefits for body, mind, and soul. In its natural state it can be taken abundantly. Its qualities are changed dramatically by modern practices however, and turn a sattvic food into a tamasic food with deleterious effects on health. These practices include torturous environments for cows, grain and chemical feed, additional growth hormones, pasteurization and homogenization. The consumer then takes in the physical, emotional, and spiritual toxins associated with these practices.
The very best source of milk is from organic pasture fed cows, especially in the spring and fall seasons when the cows feed on the fast-growing grass. It should be taken raw, but if raw milk is not tolerated, it is also excellent cultured.
Of all dairy products, ghee (clarified butter), is especially important. It is the most refined essence of milk, and the transformation from milk to ghee is likened to the transformation from rasa (plasma) to ojas (vital spiritual force). Ghee serves as a vehicle for many medicines in Ayurveda, carrying their qualities deep into the tissues. It is especially rejuvenating for the brain and nervous system, contributing to spiritual practice and development. Ghee is one of the four mahasneha (great fats) revered in Ayurveda. Sneha, or fat, is a synonym of love, and ghee nurtures the quality of our love and devotion.
Sattvic natural sweeteners include: raw honey, jaggery, dehydrated cane sugar, stevia, date sugar, molasses, malted grain syrups, and sorghum syrup.
The above sweeteners should still be used in moderation so as to not upset blood sugar levels, a prime cause of mental and emotional instability. As with all foods, choose organic sources for your sweeteners.
The following sweeteners are rajasic or tamasic and should be avoided: white sugar, brown sugar, concentrated fruit juice, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.
Healthy Non-Animal Fats
Sattvic non-animal fats include: extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil or butter, palm oil, flax oil, and sesame oil.
Avoid the use of safflower, cottonseed, sunflower, canola, soy, cottonseed, and corn, and especially hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated trans fats. These oils all contribute to a number of health challenges.
Fruit is particularly sattvic, as fruit, along with flowers, are the most evolved parts of the plant kingdom. Fruit helps develop the spiritual heart. It is best to focus on locally grown and in-season produce, as this serves to help connect you with the rhythms of Nature in your local environment.
The spiritual master, Paramhansa Yogananda, attributed specific spiritual qualities to certain fruits:
Peaches – selflessness
Oranges – reforming zeal
Grapes – spiritual love
Banana – humbleness
Apple – self-control
Pineapple – courage
Cherries – joy
Fruit should be eaten fresh, freshly cooked, or lacto-fermented as chutney. Canning increases the tamasic quality, as does freezing, though to a lesser degree.
Most vegetables are fairly sattvic. It is great to have some raw, but lightly cooked may be best (steamed, blanched, baked, or stir fried in butter, olive oil or coconut oil) as many vegetables contain harmful substances that affect digestion, assimilation, and cellular functions, and these substances are neutralized with cooking. Cooking improves the digestibility of vegetables, but at the same time destroys enzymes and certain nutrients.
So, what to do?
Raw-cook your vegetables! Include some lacto-fermented vegetables (such as sauerkraut). This process actually increases nutritional value, and adds greatly enhanced enzyme activity and friendly bacterial flora, optimizing digestion and assimilation of nutrients.
Raw onions, leeks, and garlic have more of a rajasic quality, and though they have much medicinal merit, mushrooms are considered tamasic. Canned, frozen, or reheated vegetables also increase the tamasic quality.
Nuts and Seeds
As with the grains, nuts and seeds are generally sattvic, but require some preparation to neutralize harmful substances.
Start with raw organic nuts. These can be sprouted, or soaked overnight with a little natural salt (Celtic sea salt if the very best) and then eaten wet or dried in the oven at a low heat (less than 150 degrees), or in the sun, for 12 to 24 hours.
Nuts prepared as above can then be eaten by themselves (chew well) or cooked with food. They can also be blended to create wonderful nut butters.
“Beans, beans, the magical fruit.
The more you eat, the more you toot.
The more you toot, the better you feel.
So, let’s eat beans for every meal!”
– My Elementary School
Legumes are known for their challenges with digestibility, but many traditional societies have largely subsisted on beans without challenge. This again, is mainly due to the method of preparation.
Soak all legumes in pure water with whey, lemon, or lime juice and leave them in a warm place for 24 hours. Next, pour off the soaking water and rinse well. Cook the beans until they are soft and skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Finally, rinse the beans again and add appropriate spices and natural salt, lemon juice or liquid from lacto-fermented vegetables, and raw butter or olive oil.
The most sattvic legumes are mung beans and aduki beans. Small amounts of tofu are all right, but soy should otherwise be taken only in fermented form such as miso, tempeh, and natto, as these preparations neutralize naturally-occurring harmful substances.
Improperly prepared beans are irritating and rajasic, and canned beans increase tamas.
The most sattvic spices are mild and tend to be sweet with pungent and bitter notes. They can be taken liberally as they help in the digestion of other foods and have numerous health benefits. These spices are numerous, but a few examples include: cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, fennel, ginger, and turmeric.
Very pungent spices such as hot peppers or chilies and garlic are more rajasic and stimulating, and spices that have been irradiated are lifeless and tamasic.
Unfortunately, the bulk of modern beverage choices are unhealthy. Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks are overly stimulating and rajasic. Pastuerized juices, soda pop, and alcohol have an overall tamasic quality. Even the modern “health drink” soy milk has some health challenges because it has harmful substances and not neutralized in its preparation.
Sattvic beverage choices include: pure spring water, raw milk, sattvic herb teas such as chamomile and mint, sattvic fruit and vegetable juices diluted with pure water, properly prepared seed, grain, or nut milks (see related sections above), and lacto-fermented beverages made from dairy, grains, fruits, and nuts.