This post was last updated on August 9, 2022 by Preethi Sukumaran
A common question we get asked at Krya is about healthy eating timings & habits to follow and meal choices at each time. Today, the media is charged with advice on nutrition and the importance of developing healthy eating habits. Often, these so-called studies also become quite contradictory, and we naturally start looking for some genuine and time tested guidance on on ahara (food) and ahara niyama (dietary practices to observe).
A key part of ahara niyama (or healthy eating habits) in Ayurveda is to identify the proper/healthy time to eat. This influences our capacity to digest food and extract nutrients from the food. In fact, choosing the correct time to eat each meal has the same effect on our health as choosing what to eat. In other words, we should spend the same amount of time planning when to eat as planning what to eat.
In this post, we are going to see why Ayurveda pays so much attention to meal timing and how this is a key part of developing healthy eating habits.
Planning healthy eating schedule: Different doshas influence different dayparts
Ayurveda tells us that each day is divided into 4-hour dayparts. Each of these dayparts is connected to the slow rise, peaking, and then falling of a particular dosha in our body.
The strength of the surge in the dosha depends upon the movement of the Sun. For example, if there is sunshine during the kapha period, the effect of kapha will be slightly reduced. Similarly, if there is good sunshine, say during a pitta part of the day, pitta will be much more aggravated due to the influence of the Sun.
In order to take advantage of these natural surges in a particular dosha, we are advised to do certain activities during certain parts of the day. Our body’s internal workings also take advantage of the dosha surges along the course of the day. Building healthy ayurvedic eating habits would include ensuring we do not at or sleep at at inappropriate times . Both of these tamper with the bodys internal clock. This is the importance of cultivating ayurveda approved habits like eating at the right time. This ensures our body is always working to ensure that we stay in good health and harmony.
Examples of Ayurveda approved healthy eating habits
One example of this is to utilise the right day part to do the correct activity. Waking up during the vata part of the day and eating during the pitta part of the day is an excellent thing to do. Pitta-influenced parts of the day are ideally suited to digest and process food. Hence, a pitta daypart is ideal for our heaviest / largest meal.
Similarly, waking up during the vata part of the day ensures we are able to utilize the creativity, enthusiasm, and high energy that it offers us.
This is why our Acharyas recommend waking up during Brahma Muhurtha (A 48 minute period that starts 96 minutes before sunrise). By design, Brahma Muhurta occurs after the peak surge plus a gradual drop of vata dosha. Waking up at this time, therefore, gives us high energy, mental clarity, and freshness throughout the day. In fact, many commentators say that waking up during this time allows for a “dosha re-balance” that is close to our natural state.
Choosing the correct Pitta daypart for important meal times
Pitta dosha and its various branches cover various activities; kindling an appetite, producing saliva and gastric enzymes, digesting and absorbing nutrients, and separating the food into useful and non-useful by-products that eventually leave the body.
Pitta dosha is strongly influenced by the Sun, as agni (fire) is one of the two pancha mahabhutas that make up the pitta dosha. Therefore, when the Sun reaches its peak, around noon, with maximum agni, the pitta in our body is also at its peak.
So, ideally, the correct time for our heaviest meal should be at noon. But here comes a problem. Traditionally, we ate ONLY one or two meals a day. In fact, in many Ayurvedic texts, the ideal number of meals is described as two. Connected to these two meals and the water we drink, we are also advised to have two to three bowel movements per day and six urine movements.
However, in modern times, this has been stretched to three meals a day, with a couple of snack breaks in between. Today, we usually eat breakfast around 8 AM, we eat meals like lunch around noon, and dinner again around 8 PM.
But you dont just eat your meals, do you?
We further graze on snacks, junk food, or blood sugar spiking fruit juices in between lunch and dinner. Or, if we have busy mornings, we reserve the largest meal of the day for dinner, or catch up with friends over the weekend for a heavy dinner.
When we compare what we do to shat we should be doing, we see that we may be overloading our body with unhealthy eating. This may lead to pitta imbalance. Over time this can impair digestion, resulting in a build-up of ama (undigested food) in the body. When ama builds up, it weakens the digestive fire thereby affecting energy levels, circadian rhythms, etc.
How to utilize the 2 pitta day-parts every day to pick the right times to eat ?
Ayurveda tells us that there are two parts of the day when the pitta dosha is strong; between 10 am – 2 pm in the morning, and between 10 pm – 2 am at night. The first pitta day part peaks at approx. 12 noon, and the other at 12 midnight. As the second pitta peak at midnight is dampened by the absence of the Sun, the BEST and MOST IDEALLY STRONG digestive agni occurs at noon, in the daytime.
So we should schedule lunchtime for the heaviest meal, as close to noon as possible. At this time, if we eat the right ahara for our prakriti, there is the greatest chance for this food to be well digested and properly absorbed with high nutrient retention inside the body.
What happens during the second Pitta daypart at night?
In normal circumstances, the body utilizes the pitta peak at midnight to “tune-up” pitta organs like the liver and spleen. This repair , maintenance, resting and renewing activity is ONLY done if digestion is fully complete. And, it takes the body 3-4 hours to digest a single meal completely.
So, if we have a heavy meal, a meal improper for our prakriti or rtu, a meal with high amounts of Guru foods (like sweets, curd, and red meat), or if Agni is impaired from following the wrong ahara niyama, this maintenance activity becomes impaired. Habitually following such practices will impair your metabolic health , put the organs under severe strain, and the body in an unhealthy state.
Since the ability of the body to digest is weakened severely post sunset, we are advised to have the lightest meal of the day as dinner, and NOT the heaviest as is ritually the case with many of us. It is also wise not to eat out for dinner, experiment with new cuisines (which may be heavy/difficult to digest) or eat socially (as we tend to overeat in these situations). Instead, we can reserve these activities for noon, when our digestive fire is at its peak and our body has the ability to digest such experimental meals.
When to eat breakfast – utilising the morning Kapha period
In the normal course of events, we have only one pitta rich daypart to eat and digest a meal properly. Our other two meals of breakfast and dinner are BOTH in kapha dominant dayparts. They occur at 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. , and 6 p.m – 10 p.m. , respectively.
Kapha aggravation can produce mandagni (reduced digestive fire), tamasic thoughts especially when food is tamasic, sloth, laziness, and weight gain when ahara is improper.
In cases of mandagni, the agni is in a doused and weak condition. Its ability to digest food and absorb nutrients is extremely poor. So even if we design a meal plan and eat the healthiest and best food , when we are in a state of mandagni, it will be of little use to us. The food will only be partially digested and the body will generate ama. Ama will putrefy inside the system and cause bloating, inflammation. It will also reduce the appetite and increase the heaviness in the body.
The evening kapha period when we have dinner is far worse than the morning kapha period when we have breakfast. The morning kapha period is weaker because of the presence of the Sun and increased activity on our part. That’s why we have less trouble digesting our breakfast compared to digesting our dinner.
Ahara Niyama (Eating Guidelines) as per Ayurveda
Here is an Ayurvedic recommendation for meals:
Breakfast moderately, lunch well and eat dinner very sparingly.
To repeat: Eat a moderate breakfast, a good lunch, and a sparing dinner.
Avoid any fruits, or even healthy snacks between meals, unless there is good hunger and appetite. Do NOT eat because you have read that eating 6 small meals is healthy or that it is good for you “to graze”. Grazing animals have a completely different digestive system – we cannot follow their method of eating throughout the day.
Ayurveda tells us that ideally all meals should be freshly made and hot. However, because both our breakfast and dinner are eaten during a kapha surge, please eat food that is freshly cooked and hot. At these meals, the body’s ability to digest stale meals is impaired. Stale meals are heavier according to Ayurveda. So they are more difficult to break down and can quickly aggravate kapha.
Eat a light breakfast within 9 am everyday. This can help you maintain a healthy gap between breakfast and lunch, allowing the body time to process the meals well.
During breakfast and dinner, avoid kapha rich foods like sweets, cakes, sweet fruits, meats, and curd. Also, avoid cold/ refrigerated food and cold drinks. If you’re using leftover rice from the morning, we advise that you re-wash and re-steam the rice to remove some of its gurutva (heaviness). This can help your body digest the food better. Ensure you add a small amount of high-quality, healthy fats into every meal for enhancing digestion.
Avoid difficult-to-digest food like raw food, highly complex cereals, and heavy lentils like rajma and channa for dinner. You can eat them in very small quantities occasionally at breakfast, only if the digestive fire is good and the activity level is high.
Choosing healthy eating timings: Recommendations by Prakriti
Healthy eating habits for Kapha leaning prakriti
If you have a kapha leaning prakriti or kapha aggravation, (weight issues, poor hair growth), we suggest that you eat dinner as early as possible within the evening kapha cycle.
For example, eating at 7 p.m. means that only one hour has passed in the kapha cycle of four hours. But, eating at 9 p.m. means that the body has had three hours to accumulate kapha. Eating your meals at the right time, not only helps you digest your food. It also ensures you avoid any blood sugar spikes, heaviness or bloating.
Apart from eating as early as possible, give your body light, well cooked and warm food. It should be devoid of kapha aggravating foods like oils, nuts and seeds, and sweet foods.
Deepana & Pachana herbs that are recommended for Vata prakriti can also be used for those with kapha prakriti.
In addition, mildly sour foods can help you feel hungry and reduce mandagni. To add sour taste, flavour our food with kokum, lemon, a small amount of ripe tamarind, and such. Well churned, well-diluted buttermilk can also be taken at night.
Further tips to help Kapha prakriti: the body responds well to activity and movement – this further positively impacts digestion and absorption.
Healthy eating habits for Vata leaning prakriti
Vata leaning and vata aggravated individuals have vishama agni (inconsistent agni). Often, they also have weak and dry hair, and poor skin texture. They suffer from bone and joint aches, abnormal skin darkening, gas, bloating, and such. Their appetite and ability to digest food vary greatly from day to day. So, apart from ensuring that dinner is eaten early, these individuals must avoid vata aggravating foods like breakfast cereals, granola bars and millets that are dry, crisp and light. Most importantly, those with vata prakriti also need to train their agni and bring it under control.
Such individuals need to eat deepana (appetite kindling) and pachana (digestive) spices. They can have include maricha (black pepper), pippali (long pepper), sunthi (dry ginger), jeera (cumin), curry leaves, hing (asafoetida), black salt (in small doses), and saindhava lavana (rock salt) in their diet.
Their evening meal should be freshly cooked, hot, light, and appetizing. They must eat this food at the same time every day as a habit. If they follow these practices, their vishama agni will be under control.
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Healthy eating habits for Pitta leaning prakriti
Pitta aggravated/ pita leaning individuals are very sensitive to changes in eating timings. They are most affected by improper dinner timings. Such individuals suffer from premature greying, hair thinning, gastritis, acidity, anger management issues, blood pressure, acne, skin sensitivity, and sunburn.
Why is late dinner so problematic for pitta-leaning individuals? We often find that such individuals never have a problem with appetite, but when they eat late, they develop gastric, acidity, and sour belching. This is because of two reasons;
- The later they eat in the kapha cycle, the more they need to utilize the pitta energy to combat Kapha upsurge. This is already high in pitta-leaning people, so they will extract MORE pitta energy simply to digest their food.
- After the kapha cycle, the second pitta cycle begins around 10 PM. If pitta-leaning individuals eat at, say 9.30 PM, the body will use the second surge in pitta for digestion. And, the repair and regeneration of important pitta parts like the liver and spleen will not take place.
Pitta leaning/ aggravated individuals do very well when they have a fresh, warm meal around 8PM. It also helps if they avoid any pitta aggravating dravyas like fried/ oily food, sour food, salty food and such.
They can follow this up with a glass of hot water around 30 minutes before sleep. This will clear the stomach and aid in the elimination of toxins from the body. However, remember that hot water should not be had very late in the night and strongly into the Pitta night period. This can re-stimulate the pitta dosha. We suggest doing this at the beginning of the pitta daypart or earlier, depending upon your eating timing.
To sum up: healthy eating habits & timings for all based on Ayurveda
We hope you found this post on choosing healthy eating timings as per Ayurveda useful. We also hope that this post gave you easy-to-implement practices in both your selection of food and meal times based on your prakriti. Food is key to all health and well-being in Ayurveda, and eating the right food can nourish and support you.
An ideal suggestion as per Ayurveda is to eat by 7 PM, and go to sleep BEFORE the second pitta surge starts at 10 PM. This is most ideal for rest, recuperation, good sleep, and energy the next morning. If this is not possible, we must at least avoid eating close to 10 PM and try to complete dinner around the halfway mark of the Kapha period, which is 8 PM.
Apart from when to eat, and what to eat, another important part of eating is how to eat. Watch out for this in an upcoming post.
We often say that Ayurveda is a holistic, health-giving science. As we can see in this post, the Acharyas have thought through every aspect of human existence and have given painstakingly accurate, logical, and holistic suggestions to maintain health and well-being. If you have any questions on this please email us. If you need help selecting the right Krya products for your ayurvedic skin or haircare journey, do contact us by clicking on the link below.