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"No onions, garlic, chillies, please..."

Updated: Jul 31, 2022

I found my ayurvedic teacher during an acute phase of heartburn and gastritis. I was already taking some herbal medications prescribed by my ayurvedic doctor and was warned it might take upto 6 months for me to heal. Ayurveda after all does not suppress or cover-up symptoms but removes the root cause of imbalances and mine was going on for over a decade. When my teacher presented the list of food items that aggravate the hot and fiery Pitta dosha (which causes excess heat and inflammatory conditions in the body like skin rashes, acne, heartburn, acidity, etc..) I was schocked. First, because I was having 90% of those items on a daily basis! And second because I'd gone through my diet in detail with my ayurvedic doctor and he hadn't mentioned a thing about them! (Seriously?!) Here's a list of the Pitta aggravators for you now

  • Onions, garlic, chillies

  • All types of caffeine including chocolate, matcha, green/black tea and coffee

  • Fermented food (soy sauce, vinegar, kimchi, etc.)

  • Daily consumption of yoghurt/curd

  • Adding salt and pepper to food after it is cooked

  • Alcohol

  • Refined sugar

  • Nightshades like tomato, aubergine and bell peppers

  • Excess consumption of meat, eggs and nuts

At the time I was in so much pain and discomfort that I eliminated all these items - cold turkey! And my word, was I amazed! I noticed the changes IMMEDIATELY. I had suffered from chronic heartburn for about two decades, had been running around looking for answers to heal my digestive troubles for years and I'd finally hit the jackpot. I was happy as hell. But I was also studying to be an ayurvedic health consultant. And what bothered me, was my teacher saying she doesn't recommend these food items to anybody. Now if you've ever read an ayurvedic article or spoken to an ayurvedic expert, chances are, you've heard/read "This food is good for Pitta, bad for Kapha" or Vatas can consume this but Kaphas cannot. And aren't we talking specifically about "Pitta-aggravators" here?! So why should Vatas or Kaphas not consume it??!!

Here's why:

a) We all have ALL THREE doshas in us - So just because you are not predominantly Pitta, does not mean the above items are not having an effect. It just means, you might get away with it longer.

If you have them occasionally, you might be fine but you and I both know, almost everybody consumes most of the above mentioned items almost daily. So you can imagine the cumulative effect it's having even if you are a Kapha.

b) The Pitta-aggravators tend to have an addictive quality to them - Think chocolate, caffeine, garlic, chillies, crisps or refined sugar. The more you consume, the more you want, the more you think you cannot stop. Hell, the first thing I did after the heartburn improved with Ayurveda was start eating chocolate again :D (But things went downhill again pretty quickly and I eventually gave it up for good)

The Pitta-aggravators also have extreme tastes which dull the taste buds. You then want even more of such stronger tastes.

c) They cause an imbalance in the physical body:

We've already established that the above items aggravate Pitta dosha - this can cause a host of unpleasant symptoms like

- Heartburn/acidity

- acne, skin rashes and skin conditions like psoriasis

- Migraines

- Diarrhoea/loose stools

- Excess thirst and hunger

- Heavy menstrual bleeding, mid-cycle bleeding and shorter menstrual cycles

- Endometriosis

- Anger, irritation and impatience

- Premature greying of hair and hair-loss

But they do more ;) Here are a few examples

Onions, garlic and chillies irritate the lining of the intestines and cause an imbalance in the digestive tract.

Caffeine stimulates the nervous system aggravating Vata dosha which in excess causes bloating, constipation, anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, etc. It also dehydrates the colon further and accelerates the aging process.

d) The Pitta aggravators are either rajasic or tamasic in nature causing an imbalance at the level of the mind.

Rajas and Tamas are the disease causing factors at the level of the mind. Rajas causes excess activity, disturbance and mental unrest and Tamas - lethargy, dullness and inertia.

This affects our decision-making capacity, our ability to discern the good from the bad and eventually causes more imbalance in the physical body. How many times have you noticed yourself choosing foods you know will cause problems later? Have you noticed how you feel like reaching for a bag of crisps when you are feeling lazy or bored a.ka. in a tamasic state? Or for chocolate when you are emotionally overwhelmed or in Rajas? Or how often we stay in jobs or relationships we know our not in highest good? Rajas and Tamas take us further away from our spirit/higher self and in doing so, away from true health. Consuming the Pitta aggravators only increases these qualities in us keeping us stuck in a vicious circle of excess stimulation, exhaustion and poor health.

Ayurveda is a science of direct experience. It teaches us the principle of cause and effect. It tells us what effects consuming certain foods or performing certains actions will have and in doing so, it empowers you! Why? Because if you are unhappy with the results you are getting, you simply change the action. And there is nothing more freeing than than. The fact that you can choose to feel as well as you like is empowering as hell. So if you are happy with your health, with where you are now - you can of course continue living and eating the same way.

But if you are experiencing ANY signs of inflammation, excess heat (symptoms mentioned above) or imbalance in the mind, it might be time to consider giving up the Pitta aggravators and switching to a sattvic diet (Read more about Sattva, Rajas and Tamas here)

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