Purity of diet purifies the antahkaran (heart): A purified antahkaran stabilises the mind which aids meditation and after mastering meditation, the baser instincts are instantly eradicated – Chhândogya Upanishad
According to Ayurveda, India’s classic medical science, food has a prominent role in achieving balanced body-mind-soul consciousness. It is said that the nature of food a man prefers reflects his nature or temperament.
The Three Food Types:
Any food you eat can be categorized as either sattvic, rajasic and tamasic (foods in the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance) according to its character and effect upon the body and the mind.
Sattva is that which makes us curious, thoughtful, and alert.
Sattvic food is always freshly cooked and simple, juicy, light, unctuous, nourishing, cooling and refreshing to mind and body. It increases the energy of the mind and produces cheerfulness, serenity and mental clarity. Sattvic food is highly conducive to good health.
Foods: Milk, butter, ghee (clarified butter), fresh ripe fruits, almonds, dates, moong (green gram) sprouts, barley, wheat, cereals, tomatoes, plantains etc., are sattvic.
The spices commonly used in sattvic cooking are turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, fennel and cardamom.
Rajas are invigorating and mentally stimulating and make us active, giving us the desire to work, push, and manifest.
This is food that is fresh but heavy. The rajasic diet is also cooked fresh and is nutritious. It may contain a little more oil and spices compared to sattvic food. Rajasic foods are bitter, sour, salty, pungent, hot and dry. It stimulates aggression, passion, fire, imbalance of the emotion, energy, alters the consciousness, and creates depression.
Foods: It includes non-vegetarian food like meat, fish, eggs, and chicken, all whole pulses and dals (not sprouted), hot spices like chillies and pepper, curd, brinjal (egg plant), carrots, onions, garlic, lemon, tea, coffee, betel leaves, tobacco are rajasic.
Tamas gives us the desire to stop, slow down, and rest.
Tamasic foods cause lethergy, inactivity, mental block, severe anger, darkness, ignorance, and no control of self. These foods are considered to be highly detrimental to the body, mind and soul.
Foods: Fast food, fried foods, frozen foods, microwaved foods, processed foods, condiments, leftovers, alcohol, drugs, chemicals, onions,mushrooms, margarine, meat, fish and poultry, and stale foods are tamasic.
Onion and Garlic: Rajasic and Tamasic Foods
Onions and garlic are botanical members of the alliaceous family (alliums) that includes leeks, chives and shallots. These foods are considered as rajasic and tamasic foods creating imbalances in the functioning of the liver, spleen, lungs, kidneys, and heart. Specifically, onions are harmful to the lungs, garlic to the heart, leeks to the spleen, chives to the liver and spring onions to the kidneys.
Ayurveda mentions that these pungent vegetables produce offensive breath and body odour, and induce aggravation, agitation, anxiety, and aggression. Thus they are harmful physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. In fact garlic and onion are avoided by spiritual adherents because they stimulate the central nervous system, and can disturb vows of celibacy.
The Ayurvedic perspective on Onion and Garlic:
Ayurveda promotes garlic as a natural aphrodisiac that also stimulates the central nervous system. It is used as tonic for loss of sexual power from any cause, sexual debility and impotency. Onion and garlic have been recommended as powerful home remedies to improve immunity, increase white blood cells count etc.
So, from an ayurvedic perspective, even though they are rajasic and tamasic, using onions and garlic in culinary and medical uses, in moderation, is acceptable. As per Ayurveda these foods help trigger certain bodily functions necessary to maintain the right balance, preventing an excess of any specific food type.