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How Food Affects the Mind in Terms of the 3 Gunas

Everyone wants to be happy and peaceful. For this you meditate, get massages, burn sage, and practice various self care rituals. But unless you’re taking what you eat into consideration, you’re missing a very big piece of the puzzle—food.

You find calm and peace in part, at least, through your food. Food is not just numbers. It’s not merely a conglomeration of proteins, fats, and vitamins. And food is certainly not an enemy.

Food is energy, and it affects the mind. It affects way more than the body alone. Once you understand food’s profound impact on your being, you can use it to uplift our mood and emotions.

This teaching has been helping yogis to elevate their minds for thousands of years. They view foods not in terms of their nutritional profiles, but in terms of the three gunas, or qualities inherent in all of nature.

The highest of these three gunas is called sattva: that which is calm and peaceful. There’s rajas: that which is active and restless. And finally there’s tamas: that which is dull and dark. All foods can be categorized as sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic, helping you to understand how they affect your mind and emotions.

Whether or not you are a yogi, adopting this yogic view of food can help us to create more peace and calm within yourself. It can help move beyond nutritional profiles, which overlook a food’s more important energetics.

Yogis teach that most of the food you eat should be sattvic. Sattvic foods lift you up, making you feel light and emotionally nourished. They’re real, whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Dairy products such as milk and ghee are also sattvic foods if they’re sourced from well-treated, happy cows. In general, sattvic foods are freshly cooked, made with love, and eaten mindfully.

Rajasic foods have a stimulating effect on the mind. They make you feel agitated, unsettled, and even irritable. Obviously, these are foods to reduce. Yogis are always looking to calm the mind in pursuit of a meditative state, and rajasic foods stand in the way. They’re known stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, but also include hot and spicy food, fermented food, onions, garlic, and meat.

The least desirable are tamasic foods, and they should be avoided or eliminated completely. Tamasic foods have a dulling effect on your bodies and minds, making you feel lethargic and clouded. They stand in the way of your peace and purity. Meat is sometimes put in this category, but more fitting are foods which lack prana—”dead” foods which are processed, canned, or leftover, and food eaten in excess.

While yoga explains this concept, you only have to tune in to your own human experience to understand it. How does your body and mind feel when you eat a bag of “dead” chips, whether or not they’re organic? How do you feel when you eat old, leftover lasagna? On the other hand, how do you feel when you eat a bowl of freshly cooked organic veggie soup made with love? There’s a stark contrast.

When you eat sattvic food, you feel sattvic. You feel calm and nourished. When you eat tamasic food, you feel tamasic—dull, lethargic, and mentally clouded.

Choose to be uplifted. Forget about nutritional profiling meals and instead, eat real food: that which is from the earth, freshly cooked, mind with love, and mindfully eaten. This food gives the calm and peace that your looking for.

julie bernier
Julie Bernier
Julie Bernier, a registered Ayurvedic Practitioner and Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist with the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA), offers holistic wellness solutions rooted in Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of healing. Certified as a Massage Therapist, Julie specializes in restoring balance for women facing various health challenges such as hormonal imbalances, period problems, digestive troubles, skin conditions, anxiety, depression, and pre/postnatal care. Her expertise combines traditional teachings learned directly from the source in India with modern understanding gained through studies in the US. Julie's personalized approach to wellness empowers women to reclaim harmony in their bodies and lives through Ayurvedic principles and practices.