The Ayurvedic reason you might be craving sugar

Posted on March 24th, 2015

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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  • randerae

    I am Vata also and would love it if you did more posts like this! Very helpful!

    [Reply]

  • Angelika

    I loved reading this post first thing this morning, thank you Sarah, and Nadia for the tips. I am a very strong vata type and would love to know what Ayurvedic tips you have for tea and coffee drinking. I’ve changed my routine over the years with different herbal blends and noticed that I prefer some more than others – some depending on the season and weather. Which tea/coffee (black, white, chai…) would you recommend for vatas? Thank you so much xx

    [Reply]

    muditainstitute Reply:

    Generally a nice homemade chai is recommended for Vatas… using sweet
    and warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, pepper, star
    anise and liquorice root.

    Use freshly ground, whole spices if you
    can or a good quality blend… boil the spices for about 3 minutes in some hot water then add some milk (cow, fresh goat
    or almond), bring to the boil again and turn off. You can add a little black tea at the same time as adding the milk if you like – the milk helps
    to reduce the astringent effect of the tea and the cardamom helps to
    antidote the toxic effects of caffeine.

    It is great to have a warming,
    grounding chai in the afternoons at about 2-3pm… which is
    ‘Vata-time’… when we’re most craving something sweet to ground our
    Vata. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Angelika Reply:

    Wonderful! Thank you so much, I’ll give it a try this week 🙂

    [Reply]

  • Sarah

    Have you considered trying panchakarma for your auto-immune disease?

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    I’m looking into it right now – have been mulling it over for years. Have you done it?

    [Reply]

    Sarah Reply:

    I am going for a consultation this afternoon! I have been vigorously reading testimonials over the past week from many people with auto-immune diseases and truly feel it is the key to preventing and curing all disease. Definitely worth a shot anyway!

    [Reply]

    Kimiko67 Reply:

    Hi Sarah, I’ve done panchakarma in India four or five times. It’s the most amazing gift of time and rebalancing you could ever give yourself. I have a rare neurological condition that also negatively impacts the immune system and regular panchakarma has stabilised it and restored my everyday function. I used to take a lot of western medications that made me feel like a space cadet – after doing panchakarma and continuing to follow ayurvedic principles (including sadhana) upon my return home I am able to stay free of them! Its certainly not for everyone, but could not recommend highly enough.

    [Reply]

    Libby Reply:

    If Bali isn’t too far away, I’ve just finished Panchakarma with Amrtasiddhi Ayurvedic Health centre in Ubud. Consultations, all the treatments (shirodhara, pizychil, elakili…), steam bath, food, yoga, meditation, supplements are all tailored to your ‘out of balance’ dosha. Fantastic support and experience, I’ve come away a new person!

    [Reply]

  • Jess

    Thanks for sharing this Sarah, love your work! Do you know of any books or websites that are particularly good for more information about Ayurveda? I’ve found a few websites but they’re all a bit wishy washy! Would love to find out more.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    A good basic overview is Perfect Health be Deepak Chopra. Nadia might have other ideas…

    [Reply]

    muditainstitute Reply:

    “Prakriti” and “Ayurveda for Women” by Robert Svoboda are favourites of mine. Anything by Svoboda, Dr Vasant Lad and Dr John Douillard are great. As for websites, check out ‘Everyday Ayurveda’ and ‘Lifespa’, Dr Douillard’s site. We have loads of articles on our site too. Happy reading x Cheers Nadia

    [Reply]

  • Hayley

    I’m vata too and this all rings true to me because I constantly crave the foods you exactly wrote on this post….so weird to see! Please post more!!

    [Reply]

  • Leonie

    Interesting read! I don’t suppose you could do a similar article for other doshas? I’m a pitta of the body, and vata of the mind according to the Chopra test you linked to (and it sounds about right to me).

    [Reply]

  • Mae

    This is great! So interesting!

    [Reply]

  • Would love to know more about how to discover which dosha I am, and how to use it in my life, what do you recommend as a starting point?

    [Reply]

  • LAuren Late

    Yah! More Ayurveda please!!

    [Reply]

  • Megs

    I am predominantly kapha and find it hard to lose weight. I eat whole foods in sensible portions, I exercise most days and sleep well. I’m stumped!

    [Reply]

  • Long tall Sally

    I’m interested in knowing why strawberries, watermelon etc are the exception for pacifying vata when other fruits work? Just curious….
    thanks, LTS 🙂

    [Reply]

  • Lauren Tober

    Great post Nadia! I love your cooking your kicharee recipe when I’m feeling a little vata imbalanced, it really helps to ground me.

    [Reply]

  • Sebastian Crangle

    Loved this article; so interesting to read about how to use Ayurvedic principles to manage my cravings for sweetness! Thank you Sarah and Nadia.

    [Reply]

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