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Ayurveda Life: Raw Food vs. Ayurveda

Monday, November 17th, 2014

We are excited to bring you another post in a comprehensive series on the practice of Ayurveda. ‘Ayurveda Life’ is a weekly series of posts from some of the most influential Ayurvedic authors and organizations. We are proud to partner with Banyan Botanicals and hope that you enjoy and share these posts with your communities.

Ayurveda Life: Raw Food vs. Ayurveda via prAna Life

Raw Food vs. Ayurveda

I began my serious studies of Ayurveda in California before the raw foods movement hit full swing. There were rumblings of raw rippling through the yoga studios in San Francisco… but in the late ‘90’s they were just rumblings.

I was taught traditional Ayurveda in Ayurveda school. Traditional Ayurveda frowns upon a raw foods diet as too cold, too rough, and too rajasic. In Ayurveda we diagnose just about everything in the material world in terms of innate qualities. Rough vs. smooth, cold vs. warm, rajasic or active vs. calm or peaceful. When your foods are cold and rough and rajasic your digestive fire can be taxed. Bad digestion = bad tissue formation = bad health. That is the argument.

During my studies as an Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher – first Iyengar, then Anusara – I’ve had a foot in both communities. The San Francisco yoginis weren’t dissuaded from raw foods like my Ayurvedic buddies. The yoginis were slugging green juice, green smoothies or kombucha at rates that would alarm my Ayurvedic teachers.

Ayurveda Life: Raw Food vs. Ayurveda via prAna Life

And yet…and yet the green juice slugging yoginis seemed to be thriving, despite the massive forewarnings of my Ayurvedic practitioner/teachers.

I started exploring living foods Ayurveda. I began interviewing the living foods Ayurveda experts – those who had been following the principles of Ayurveda and applying them to the living foods diet for decades. Here is what I discovered:

Raw Foods Tips from an Ayurvedic Perspective
(note: most people in Ayurveda prefer the word “living foods” to “raw”. I’m using “raw” so that the raw foods people can tap into applying Ayurvedic principles to their diet for better body balance.)

1. Ayurveda First, Raw Second

Learn about your constitution and your type of agni, or digestive fire tendencies. Does your digestive fire burn hot and fast, or slow and deep? Do complex food combinations easily overload your belly? You need to know this first to optimize your digestion and nutrient absorption – regardless of your raw or cooked food diet.

Ayurveda Life: Raw Food vs. Ayurveda via prAna Life

Part of my “Ayurveda First Tip” is to know your constitution. If you are Vata-Pitta with a history of gas, bloating, and constipation… and you want to thrive on a raw food diet you will need to follow all of the principles of the Vata-Pitta diet as applied to living foods.

What does this look like? (1) Your food needs to be warm, moist, slightly oily and nicely spiced. Also, for one-pot meals it’s better to combine foods outside the body before inside the body. For example, for you to make a warm chia porridge with soaked almonds and cinnamon for breakfast would be better than a cold green smoothie and raw buckwheat toast. The chia seeds are high in omega 3 fatty acids, and give your body the oily quality. The almonds when soaked overnight and peeled in the morning become soft and digestible. Cinnamon is a warming spice that boost digestive fire (agni) and warms your blood. The food is combined before touching your tongue.

2. Raw ≠ Cold

Living foods are not brought above around 115’ – give or take a few. I like the finger test. Warm your chia porridge on your stove and stir it with your finger. When the porridge starts to overheat your finger- you’re in the range to eat your warmed chia. Higher temperatures will burn your skin and incinerate the enzymes in your porridge. Enzymes are awesome. Many people on heavily cooked foods diets use enzyme supplements to empower digestion. Living foods nuts, like myself, respect the enzymes that are naturally arising in plants, seeds, roots, fruits, legumes, etc.

Ayurveda Life: Raw Food vs. Ayurveda via prAna Life

Besides stove-top warming there are other ways of eating a warm foods diet with the benefits of raw. A few I use regularly are:
(1) Soup in my high-speed blender
(2) Dehydrator
(3) Fermentation or marination
(4) Spice

3. Fermented foods are essential

For anyone really paying attention to Ayurveda or even a traditional whole foods diet, you know that this tip is really part of #1. I’m giving it special status to put your attention into action. If you’ve been paying attention to the wave of health nuts lately you know you need fermented foods. Your grandmother also knew this – which is why she canned pickles, or concocted yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, cheese, sourdough bread, mead, miso, tofu, sauerkraut, kimchi or other pickled vegetables… depending on which part of the planet she lived.

Ayurveda Life: Raw Food vs. Ayurveda via prAna Life

Fermented foods are rich in enzymes and bacteria that help break down food and make the nutrients available for absorption in the small intestine. People who eat a raw foods diet without fermented foods often experience more gas and bloating.

Fermented foods all have a warming virya or warm the belly, and also have a pungent vipaka, or warming effect in your colon. For my example above, the person with the Vata-Pitta constitution, she may start her day with a bowl of miso soup, as is customary in Japan. At breakfast she may prepare a salad for lunch, and massage in mineral salt, lemon juice and olive oil. By dressing her salad in the morning and letting it sit until lunch, the process of marination, a first step of dehydration, begins. At dinner, she may make a living coconut curry carrot soup, and enjoy that with the buckwheat crackers covered in avocado and sauerkraut, with a sprinkle of black pepper.

The take home lesson

Before I close, I want you to know I’m not all raw. I’m probably an effortless 80/20 raw to cooked. I’ve been 100% raw – and found it amazing… and a bit of a hassle. I’m not into hassle. I respect the people who are. For me, I’m not obsessed about diet. I’m more into lifestyle. I want to thrive each day. If I become too preoccupied with food – other parts of my life suffer.

I hope you have a blast exploring your digestion optimization. You’ll have more energy, less stress. Take time to learn the principles of Ayurveda – you can apply them to your diet no matter what you’re currently eating.

~Cate Stillman

Cate Stillman is the founder of, certified yoga teacher, clinical Ayurveda & Pancha Karma specialist. She helps people who dig yoga take the a giant leap forward in their wellness trajectory with Ayurveda. If you want to learn more about Ayurveda, take her free training at