Foods that are bitter, sour, saline, excessively hot, pungent, dry and burning, are liked by the rajasic and are productive of pain, grief and disease. Bhagavad Gita, XVII, 9.
The yoga diet avoids rajasic foods because they over stimulate the body and mind. They excite the passions and boisterous tendencies, cause physical and mental stress, bring a restless state of mind and destroy the mind-body balance that is essential to happiness. Onions, garlic, radishes, coffee, tea, tobacco, and stimulants of all kinds fall into this category, as do heavily spiced and salted, chemical-riddled, convenience foods and snacks. Sattvic food taken in the wrong place e.g. eaten on the run becomes rajasic. Refined (white) sugar, soft drinks, prepared mustards, pungent spices, highly seasoned foods and anything that is excessively hot, bitter, sour, saline are all rajasic are best avoided.
Strong spices and condiments over-stimulate the mind as well as irritate the mucous membrane of the intestines. Rajasic foods increase, lust, anger, greed, selfishness, violence and egoism, which are barriers that separate people from each other and their realization of the Divine. Rajas is the energy that creates dissension in life and wars in the world.
That food which is stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten and impure refuse, is the food liked by the tamasic. Bhagavad G/fa, XVII, 10
Tamasic food makes a person dull, inert, and lazy; it robs individuals of high ideals, purpose and motivation. In addition it accentuates the tendency to suffer from chronic ailments and depression, and fills the mind with darkness, anger and impure thoughts. Abandoning tamasic food needs to be among the first positive lifestyle changes you make.
Meat, fish, all intoxicants (alcoholic beverages, marijuana, opium, etc.) are tamasic in nature. Meat-eating and alcoholism are closely allied. The craving for alcohol dies a natural death when meat is withdrawn from the diet.
Tamasic foods include all foods that are stale, decomposed, unclean, as well as overripe and unripe fruits. Also included are foods that have been fermented, burned, fried, barbecued or reheated many times; as well as stale products and those containing preservatives e.g. canned, processed and many pre-prepared foods.
Mushrooms are included in this category as they grown in darkness; and vinegar, as it is a product of fermentation and retards digestion.
Deep-fried foods are indigestible and are considered tamasic. The fat penetrates into them and the digestive juice of the stomach cannot act on them. In addition the fine, nutritive essence which is beneficial to health is destroyed by frying.
Sattvic food taken in excessive quantity (overeating) becomes tamasic.
However, remember that this division of foods into sattvic-rajasic-tamasic is a comparative one and is not absolute. It is meant to help you gain the insight to change your diet in a positive direction.
MORAL REASONS FOR A VEGETARIAN DIET
While following a vegetarian diet and eating only sattvic foods provides good health and keeps the mind calm, it also avoid taking animal life and is in accord with the yoga principle of ahimsa (nonviolence). Yoga philosophy views all life as one, and the taking of animal life contravenes that principle. Even before killing the animals, the meat industry treats its future produce cruelly. Broiler chickens live in crowded conditions and piggeries are notoriously unsanitary. Laying hens are kept in tiny cages, and veal calves are confined for their entire short lives in small crates with induced anemia to keep their flesh tender to satisfy the desires of gourmets. A vegetarian diet not only protests against the unnecessary taking of animal life, but the unnecessary cruelty practiced in the name of profits. Rachel Carson has said, "As a biologist whose special interests lie in the field of ecology, or the relation between living things and their environment, I find it inconceivable that healthy animals can be produced under the artificial and damaging conditions that prevail in the modern factory-like installations, where animals are grown and turned out like so many inanimate objects."
The practice of ahimsa toward animals also leads to the integration of ahimsa into daily life and the practice of physical and emotional non-violence in our relationships with our fellow human beings and is an important step toward understanding that the whole world is Brahman.
MACRO-ECONOMIC REASONS FOR A VEGETARIAN DIET
Most of the population of the world lives on a subsistence diet. While many Western countries produce excess grains, other nations lack sufficient arable land to support their population. Using land to raise food for cattle leaves fewer resources to cultivate food for people. It has been estimated that it takes between four to ten times more land to raise one pound of beef protein than it does to raise one pound of vegetable protein. If there is less demand for meat, less land will be devoted to cattle fodder, and the amount of food available for people will increase. A non-flesh diet is obviously an excellent way to provide low-cost food for large undeveloped populations.
ARE HUMANS SUITED TO BE VEGETARIANS?
The question of whether humans are meant to be vegetarians is a topic that has been discussed is a wide range of disciplines. From an anatomical viewpoint it appears that humans are more similar to vegetarian animals than carnivores. For example, carnivores possess a digestive tract only three times the length of their bodies, and are thus capable of rapidly eliminating fast-decaying substances (such as meat). Their stomachs are rich is hydrochloric acid which enables them to digest bone and tough fibrous tissue found in animal muscle. However the intestinal canal of humans and other vegetarian animals is ten to twelve time the length of their bodies, forming a winding intricate route poorly adapted to the digestion and elimination of flesh foods. The digestive system of natural omnivores (flesh and plant eaters, such as the bear, raccoon and wild boar) lies between these extremes.
Along with sharp claws, all carnivores are endowed with powerful jaws, long fangs and sharp, elongated canine teeth for spearing and tearing flesh. The so-called 'canine teeth' in humans (termed thus because of the relative position in the mouth) have no resemblance to those found in the dog, cat or even omnivorous bear. On the other hand, vegetarian animals are well-equipped with sharp incisor teeth for biting into fresh fruits and vegetables, and, unlike meat eaters, possess well-developed molar teeth for grinding and chewing vegetables, fruits and nuts. The French naturalist, Baron Curier noted that fruits, roots and succulent parts of vegetables appear to be the natural food of humanity. Our hands afford us the facility in gathering them. Our short, comparatively weak jaw and short canine teeth, one not passing beyond the common line of the other, permit us to neither feed on herbage nor devour flesh, unless those items were previously prepared by culinary processes. Being mainly nocturnal hunters, carnivores sleep through the heat of the day. Vegetarian animals normally function during the day.
It seems that humans are natural vegetarians. One theory is that the scarcity of fruit and vegetables during the Ice Age forced the northern tribes of humans to adapt to eating meat to survive. Unfortunately this practice was not renounced when no longer necessary.
THE FOOD CYCLE
From food all beings are born. Having been born, they grow by food. Food is eaten by all beings and it also eats them. Taittiriya Upanishad, 11.2.1
We go in the circle of birth and death constantly. The body is born, grows, changes and decays, dies and is born again. Death means we now have to leave this physical body because of some karma (past action). This body came from food and goes back to the food chain.
Swami Sivananda often used this illustration: "For example, I eat a nice red juicy tomato and my body grows. What happens to the tomato? It changes into my body. And my body itself is constantly changing. One day it will die. Perhaps when you bury me you will put a tomato plant over my body. The tomato plant will say "You ate my cousin once upon a time. Now I am going to eat you". Then beautiful tomatoes will grow. In this case, the destruction of my body is construction of the tomato - and you will all enjoy a nice tomato sauce!"
GUIDELINES FOR A HEALTHY DIET
A diet which is not in accord with the principles of satisfactory nutrition lead to impaired physical development, ill-health and untimely death. A high standard of health, vigour and vitality can be achieved through a well-balanced diet. Such a diet will enable you to develop your inherited capacities to the full extent.
A well-balanced and adequate diet must yield enough calories, as well as supply the various food constituents in sufficient quantities. We need both an energy source for our day-today functioning, and vitamins and minerals to stimulate the production of particular hormones and to prevent debilitative diseases.
Water is also a necessary part of the diet. About 70 percent of body weight is water. There is daily loss of about 2.5 liters (4 pints) of water through the skin, lungs, kidneys and the alimentary canal. Water has a greater cleansing action on the tissues than other beverages. It dissolves and distributes food. It is necessary for digestion, and removes impurities from the body. It keeps the body temperature stable through evaporation from the skin in the form of sweat.
Make all changes to your diet gradually. If something disagrees with you, reduce the quantity or eliminate it completely. With practice, you will develop an inner voice to guide you in the selection of a diet suited to your temperament and constitution; one that will maintain your physical efficiency, good health and mental vigour.
Simple and natural, non-stimulating, tissue building, energy producing food and drink keep the mind calm and pure and help the yoga practitioner attain the goal of life. A healthy diet means not only eating the proper foods, but eating them in proper proportion, under the proper circumstances, with the proper attitude.