Sattvic Diet 101: An Ancient Guide To A Balanced Diet

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A Sattvic diet is a key aspect of living like a yogi or following a yogic lifestyle. The benefits we receive from Karma Yoga or asana practice are also received by eating nutritiously according to the Ayurvedic principles of Sattva.

Sattva is a wide description of lots of different qualities, characteristics, behaviors and, in relation to food, nutritional value.

In this article, we will explain the basics of a Sattvic diet and the framework on which it exists.

We’ll cover the below:

  • What Are The Gunas?
  • What Are The Gunas In Relation To Food?
  • What Is A Tamasic Diet
  • What Is A Rajasic Diet
  • What Is A Sattvic Diet
  • Sattvic Diet Food List
  • What Is A Sattvic Lifestyle
sattvic diet food bowl

What Are The Gunas?

To understand a Sattvic diet, we have to go to the root of the philosophy:

Sattva is a guna, one of three gunas, namely: Sattva, Rajas, Tamas. In ancient Eastern scripture and belief systems, the concept of “gunas” is fundamental. 

Gunas are essentially three categorizing qualities or attributes that make up the manifestation of all things, including human beings.  They inherently also influence our behavior, nature, and overall constitution.

They are the amalgamation of essence within matter.

According to the Indian spiritual frameworks, the gunas are integral to understanding human psychology, spirituality, and the functioning and energizing mechanisms of the universe. 

The best way to describe the gunas is in relation to human characteristics and behavior. 

Before we dive into all things Sattvic, see an outline for each of the three gunas here:

woman meditating at her desk

#1: Sattva


Sattva in terms of characteristics is linked to one’s purity, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, compassion, and harmony with their environment. It is an embodiment of the qualities that create balance, peace, and serenity.


When Sattva is the predominant guna within a person, they exhibit calmness, peacefulness, and compassion. They make ethical and moral decisions and are on a path toward spiritual growth. Activities like meditation, yoga, and spiritual study increase this guna within a person.

#2: Rajas


Rajas in terms of characteristics is linked with qualities like passion, desire, restlessness, ambition, and activity. It represents the active and dynamic aspect of nature.


When Rajas is the predominant guna within a person, they may be driven by desires and ambitions. They are restless, competitive, and constantly seeking sensory pleasures.

Activities like heavy exercise, work, and entertainment can increase this guna within a person.

#3: Tamas


Tamas in terms of characteristics is linked with qualities like ignorance, laziness, confusion, delusion, and darkness. It represents inertia and heaviness within nature.

man being lazy in front of the TV


When Tamas is the predominant guna within a person, they may feel lethargic, apathetic, and confused. They are prone to negative emotions and ignorance in their daily lives and in relation to other people.

Activities (or maybe better described as lack of activity…) like overindulgence in sleep, inactivity, and negative social behaviors can increase this guna within a person.

The interplay of these three gunas is believed to influence an individual’s personality, behavior, and overall state of mind. The goal in many spiritual and philosophical traditions is to cultivate Sattva and reduce Rajas and Tamas to attain a balanced and enlightened state of being.

It’s important to note that these gunas are not just theoretical concepts but have practical applications in various aspects of life, including diet, lifestyle, and spiritual practice. 

Understanding one’s dominant guna and working towards a Sattvic state is often seen as a path toward self-realization and spiritual growth.

An excellent way to focus on balancing the gunas, and working towards that Sattvic state, is by managing diet. 

So, what are the gunas in relation to food?

woman practicing yoga

What Are The Gunas In Relation To Food?

The main school of thought and instructional knowledge when we apply gunas to food is the practice and wisdom of Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is an ancient “alternative” scientific knowledge system. We mean alternative in relation to conventional, modern means of biology and medicine.

You may have heard of doshas, which is also a group of three constitutions that represent elemental qualities (earth, water, fire, air, and ether).

Gunas are also three constitutions that exist in Ayurveda, which make up the constitution of the food we consume, affecting the constitution of our mind, body, and emotions. Both are elements to be balanced, through the guidelines of Ayurvedic knowledge.

Simply put, gunas can be applied to describe the qualities of different groups of foods.

There are groupings that formulate Tamasic, Rajasic, and Sattvic diets.

So, what are these diets?

person doing a strong pose

What Is A Tamasic Diet?

In Ayurveda, a Tamasic diet consists of foods that align with the qualities of Tamas, representing darkness, inertia, and heaviness. 

So, a Tamasic diet is characterized by the consumption of heavy, often stale, and processed foods that align with these qualities.

These foods have a physically heavy quality that can make the body feel sluggish and weighed down. They may lack freshness, having been stored for extended periods, leading to a loss of nutritional vitality.

Examples of Tamasic foods include highly processed and fast foods, leftovers, deep-fried and greasy items, overly sweet or sugary foods, alcoholic beverages, and red meat. 

Consuming these foods in excess can have undesirable effects on both physical and mental well-being, including digestive disturbances, lethargy, and a sense of disconnection from one’s higher self or spiritual purpose.

What Is A Rajasic Diet?

A Rajasic diet is characterized by the consumption of foods that align with the qualities of Rajas, one of the three fundamental gunas in Ayurveda. These foods possess stimulating and active qualities, often leading to heightened energy levels and desires for intense experiences.

Rajasic foods usually incorporate spicy and salty tastes and produce invigorating effects on the senses. 


These foods are recognized for their capacity to ignite desire and ambition, yet they may also induce restlessness and excessive activity, propelling individuals to be guided by their passions.

A Rajasic diet may encompass items such as coffee, tea, spicy dishes, fried food, chocolate, and foods with potent flavors and stimulants. 

While this diet can deliver sudden vitality surges, it might also result in fluctuations in mood and energy level.

A Rajasic diet can have both positive and negative effects. It can enhance productivity and motivation, making it suitable for individuals with demanding lifestyles, which might sound familiar in the West. 

However, overindulgence in Rajasic foods can lead to imbalances, including restlessness, irritability, and an inability to relax.

What Is A Sattvic Diet?

A Sattvic diet is characterized by the consumption of foods that align with the qualities of Sattva, representing goodness, harmony, and peace. 

These foods are considered pure, clean, and harmonious, promoting physical, mental, and spiritual balance.

bowls of nuts and seeds

It represents a holistic approach to nourishing the body, mind, and spirit. At its core, this dietary practice revolves around purity, balance, and reverence for the life force inherent in all living things.

Here we list the fundamentals of a Sattvic diet:

#1: Freshness

Sattvic foods are celebrated for their purity and freshness, unspoiled by artificial additives or preservatives. They are considered carriers of vital life energy, known as “prana.” 

#2: Generally Plant-Based

This diet predominantly features plant-based foods, offering a vibrant spectrum of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. 

These natural ingredients provide a rich array of essential nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants.

#3: Portion Control

Embracing moderation and balance, Sattvic eating encourages portion control and a harmonious combination of ingredients in each meal. 

This approach ensures that the equilibrium of the body is preserved, free from excesses or deficiencies.

#4: Lightness

Another hallmark of a Sattvic diet is its lightness on the digestive system. It facilitates efficient nutrient absorption while avoiding discomfort or sluggishness. 

salad bowl of sattvic food

Foods are preferred in their minimally processed, natural state, with minimal use of spices, salt, or heavy seasonings.

#5: Promotes Physical And Emotional Health

On the physical front, Sattvic foods are allies in maintaining a balanced body weight and sustaining energy levels. They encourage healthy digestion and overall physical well-being. 

Emotionally, this dietary practice often reduces negative emotions while promoting positive ones, such as compassion, love, and contentment.

#6: Fosters Mental Wellbeing And Spiritual Growth

The benefits of a Sattvic diet extend beyond physical nourishment. It is renowned for fostering mental clarity and emotional stability, ushering in a sense of tranquility that reduces mental agitation and restlessness. 

In many spiritual traditions, Sattvic eating serves as a path to spiritual growth, enhancing awareness and connecting individuals with their inner selves and higher consciousness.

Sattvic diet food list

  • Fresh fruit
  • Fresh vegetables (except pickles, radishes, mushrooms, turnips, onions, garlic, and chilies)
  • Whole grains
  • Sprouted whole grains
  • Fresh fruit juice
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Ghee
  • Honey
  • Basmati rice
person meditating with hands on knees

What Is A Sattvic Lifestyle?

If you are looking to embody a yogic lifestyle, it is about cultivating peace internally, and cultivating peace externally.

You may also call a yogic lifestyle a Sattvic lifestyle, the terms are interchangeable.

A Sattvic diet is just one component of this lifestyle and undoubtedly contributes to the cultivation of the aforementioned internal peace. However, what other steps can we take to create this balance in life? 

We can’t solely rely on dietary improvements and expect our own lives, as well as the lives of those around us, to automatically improve. 

While creating optimal physiological conditions through nutrition and mindful consideration of gunas is an excellent starting point, let’s explore what else aligns with a Sattvic lifestyle:

  1. Physical Activity: Regular asana practice and general activation of the temple of your body is highly recommended, to keep it healthy, flexible, and free from tension.
  2. Mindfulness and Meditation: Practicing meditation is central to a Sattvic or yogic lifestyle. This is your worldly instrument to establish self-inquiry.
  3. Karma Yoga and Positive Relationships: Recognise and carry out good karma. Cultivating positivity through interpersonal relationships through kindness, compassion, and empathy is crucial.
  4. Ethical Living: Following the yamas and niyamas is a great start, and living with an eco-conscious attitude is integral to a Sattvic lifestyle. Treat others (satya, ahimsa) and the environment correctly is key to cultivating inner peace.

Further Information

If you’ve enjoyed reading about the Sattvic diet, why not check out our other articles:

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Born and raised in London, Luke is a passionate writer with a focus on travel, yoga, philosophy, and meditation. As a certified yoga teacher having studied under a swami in Rishikesh, Luke now lives in India pretty much just practising yoga, meditating and writing articles! Luke's life arc has gone from somewhat turbulent to peaceful, and he considers yoga and meditation direct methods to sustain introspective insight to manifest peace and happiness, despite life's challenges. Luke's passion for meditation has led him to complete multiple meditation retreats, where he spent almost 40 days in silence in the last two years. He practices various meditation techniques such as Vipassana, Anapana, and Metta Bhavana, each adding to his knowledge and experience of the true self. Most recently he meditated in Jaipur, India, and before that lived for a short spell in a monastery with forest monks in Northern Thailand. To Luke, yoga is more than just a physical exercise; it's a way of life that helps him cultivate a stronger mind-body connection. As a young man with arthritis, Luke understands the importance of observing and controlling his body, and yoga has been a vital tool in his journey to better health and well-being. The practice of yoga has not only helped him manage his symptoms but has also given him a new perspective on life. Luke's love for yoga and meditation is not limited to a single tradition or practice. He's fascinated by the spiritual teachings of all types of religious philosophy, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity for their essence and wisdom. His passion for spirituality is what drives him to continue learning and growing, and share his knowledge with other people. Luke in his spare time is an avid chess player, cyclist and record collector. He also has experience with addiction, and so sponsors multiple people from different walks of life in their recovery programmes.

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