Pitta is the fiery element or bile that secreted between the stomach and bowels and flowing through the liver and permeating spleen, heart, eyes, and skin; It is characterised by hotness, moist, liquid, sharp and sour, its chief quality is heat.
Pitta is balanced by a diet of fresh, whole foods (both cooked and raw) that are cooling, hearty, energizing, comparatively dry, and high in carbohydrates. These foods calm pitta by decreasing internal heat, preventing inflammation, balancing the digestive fire, grounding the body, and by absorbing excess liquid and oil. Because pitta is relatively substantive in nature, an appropriate diet is actually a very effective way to support a return to balance. What follows are some specific principles that we hope will empower you in discovering a pitta pacifying diet that works for you.
Qualities to Favor and Avoid
Pitta is oily, sharp, hot, light, spreading, and liquid, so eating foods that neutralize these qualities – foods that are dry, mild, cooling, grounding, stabilizing, and dense – serve to balance excess pitta. This section offers a closer look at the qualities of various foods. An improved understanding of these qualities can guide you in making specific dietary choices that will better support pitta.
Favor Cool over Warm or Hot
The cool quality can be emphasized by eating foods that are cool in temperature or that have a cooling energetic – and by using cooling spices generously. Most spices are heating in nature, so pay careful attention to which ones balance pitta (see our list of pitta pacifying spices). Raw foods tend to be naturally cooling, and pitta tends to be able to handle them better than the other doshas; so mixing in an assortment of raw fruits and vegetables is generally supportive – especially in the warmer months. On the other hand, it is best to avoid fiery hot dishes, foods with a sharply warming energetic, alcohol, and caffeine; all of these influences can increase heat.
Favor Dense, Grounding, and Nourishing Over Light
While the heavy quality is the true antithesis to pitta’s lightness, Ayurveda teaches us that very heavy foods (such as deep-fried foods) are not generally supportive of optimal health. It’s better to think in terms of grounding pitta’s lightness (and heat) with sustenance – eating foods that offer solid, stabilizing sources of energy and adequate nourishment to the physical body. Generally, these foods will naturally taste sweet. Most grains, milk, root vegetables, seeds, and cooling oils are good examples. But, pitta tends to have a sharp and sometimes insatiable appetite, so it’s equally important not to overindulge. Highly processed foods such as canned foods, ready-made meals, and pastries often lack prana (vital life force), are excessively heavy, and should be avoided.
Favor Dry and Dense Over Oily or Liquid
Pitta’s liquid nature and tendency toward excess oil make drying or astringent foods like beans, potatoes, corn, millet, oats, pasta, popcorn, and most vegetables very appropriate. When cooking, use a moderate amount of a high quality oil or ghee. Reduce or eliminate especially heating oily foods like eggs, hard cheeses, olives, nuts, sour cream, and the like. If given a choice between a soupy, liquidy meal and one that is denser and drier, opt for the latter. For example, have baked tofu served over steamed greens and rice, rather than tofu miso soup.
Favor Mild over Sharp
Sharp flavors like pineapple, pickles, vinegar, and sharp aged cheeses are better replaced with milder, gentler tastes, like those found in apples, cucumbers, lime juice, and soft cheeses. Similarly, stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and hard alcohol are too sharp and penetrating for pitta. Substitute more stable and sustaining sources of energy.
Tastes to Favor and Avoid
Pitta is pacified by the sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes and aggravated by the pungent, sour, and salty tastes. Understanding these tastes allows us to better navigate a pitta pacifying diet without having to constantly refer to extensive lists of foods to favor and avoid.
- Favor naturally sweet foods like sweet fruits, most grains, squashes, root vegetables, milk, ghee, and fresh yogurt.
- The sweet taste is cooling and heavy but also anti-inflammatory. It pacifies heat, satisfies thirst, benefits the skin and hair, and tends to be grounding, nourishing, strength building, and satisfying.
- Emphasizing the sweet taste does NOT require us to eat large amounts of refined sugar or sugary sweet foods; naturally sweet foods are best.
- The bitter taste predominates bitter greens – like kale, dandelion greens, and collard greens. It is also found in bitter melon, Jerusalem artichokes, dark chocolate and pitta pacifying spices like cumin, neem leaves, saffron, and turmeric.
- The bitter taste is exceptionally cooling, but also drying.
- Bitters cleanse the pallet and improve the sense of taste. They tone the skin and muscles, benefit the blood, relieve burning and itching sensations, satisfy thirst, balance the appetite, support digestion, and help to absorb moisture, sweat and excess pitta.
- The astringent taste is basically a flavor of dryness – a chalky taste that dries the mouth and may cause it to contract (picture biting into a very green banana).
- Legumes – adzuki beans, black-eyed peas, chick peas, kidney beans, lentils, pinto beans, soybeans, etc. – are classically astringent in taste. Some fruits, vegetables, grains, baked goods, and spices are also astringent in taste – things like apples, cranberries, pomegranate, artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, popcorn, rice cakes, crackers, basil, coriander, dill, fennel, parsley, and turmeric.
- The astringent taste is heavy, cold, and dry.
- Pitta benefits from the compressing, absorbing, union-promoting nature of the astringent taste. It can curb pitta’s tendency to spread, tone bodily tissues, prevent bleeding disorders, thwart diarrhea, absorb excess sweat and utilize other fluids in the body.
- Pungent is a spicy, hot flavor like that found in chilies, radishes, turnips, raw onions, and many especially heating spices.
- The pungent taste is particularly hot and light, both qualities that disturb pitta.
- Too much pungent taste can cause excess thirst, burning sensations, bleeding, dizziness, and inflammation (especially in the intestinal tract).
- Minimize sour foods like vinegar and other fermented foods, hard cheeses, sour cream, green grapes, pineapple, grapefruit, and alcohol (an occasional beer or white wine is often ok).
- Pitta is aggravated by the hot, light, and oily qualities of the sour taste.
- Too much sour taste can increase thirst, disturb the blood, create heat in the muscles, cause suppuration in wounds, and give rise to burning sensations in the throat, chest, or heart. It can even promote sour feelings like jealously or envy.
- An occasional squeeze of cooling lime juice as a garnish is the best way for pitta to include the sour taste.
- The salty taste is almost singularly derived from salt itself.
- Much like the sour taste, it is salt’s light, hot and oily nature that aggravates pitta.
- The salty taste can disturb the blood’s balance, impede the sense organs, increase heat, aggravate the skin, intensify inflammation, lead to the rupture of tissues, or cause water retention, high blood pressure, intestinal inflammation, ascites, grey hair, wrinkles, and excess thirst. It can also intensify our desire for stronger flavors, which can provoke pitta even further.
How to Eat
When it comes to pacifying pitta, how we eat is surprisingly important. As most people with pitta digestion know, pitta’s sharp appetite can lead to a general intolerance for skipping meals. For this reason, pitta does well to stick to a regular eating schedule and to eat at least three square meals each day. Eating at consistent times from one day to the next further helps to balance an overactive digestive fire. It is also very important to eat in a peaceful environment and to give your full attention to the act of being nourished so that your body registers satisfaction. This will help to prevent overeating, which is a common side effect of pitta’s voracious appetite. Hot, spicy foods, extremely sour foods, and overly salted foods are especially pitta provoking. And while it may be impossible to avoid all pitta-provoking foods, in a pinch, the detrimental potential of these foods can be minimized by making sure they are taken in small quantities and served with cooling herbs and spices (cilantro, coriander, cumin, fennel, mint, etc.). Lastly, if you feel the need to do a cleanse, a short fruit or juice fast (think apple or pomegranate), or a longer mono diet of kitchari can be very supportive.
Breakfast is usually not to be skipped when pitta is elevated. Workable choices are sweet, high in carbohydrates, and yet offer sustained energy. Consider:
- A hearty fruit salad (apples, pears, red grapes, and blueberries), garnished with raisins and shredded coconut. This lighter meal will probably work better in the warmer months than in the dead of winter.
- Oatmeal made with hot milk and garnished with raisins or chopped dates, chopped almonds (soaked and peeled), ghee, and maple syrup.
- An egg white and vegetable omelet, served with avocado and whole grain toast.
Ideally, lunch is the main meal of the day, meaning it’s the largest and the most nourishing. A wide variety of appropriate grains, beans, and vegetables are great building blocks for lunch, and can be complimented with suitable meats, if you eat them. Try something like:
- Seasoned tofu and steamed collard greens over wild rice. Sauté the tofu in sunflower oil and stir in some of your favorite pitta pacifying spices. Garnish the greens with olive oil, freshly squeezed lime juice, ground coriander, and black pepper.
- Split pea soup with buttered whole grain bread (use unsalted butter), sautéed purple cabbage, and a green salad. Add vegetables like carrots, celery, and onion to your soup. Sauté the cabbage in ghee with cumin, coriander, turmeric, lime juice, and a splash of maple syrup.
- Whole wheat pasta, pesto, and fresh vegetables (like bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, celery, green beans, mushrooms, zucchini, or black olives). Garnish the pasta with crumbled chèvre, olive oil, and cilantro. Serve with a small green salad and soup.
Dinner is ideally a bit smaller and lighter than lunch, but it also needs to sustain pitta’s active metabolism. A simple but nourishing meal, or a slightly smaller serving of lunch can work well. Try:
- Mung dal with roasted asparagus and basmati rice.
- Veggie (or Turkey) Burgers with sautéed mushrooms, goat cheese, lettuce, avocado, and a side of home fries.
- Kidney bean curry, sauteed green beans (cooked with cilantro and coconut), and quinoa or flatbread.
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This article is not intended to take the place of a competent nutritionist or doctor. It is solely intended to educate people on the vital and perhaps underestimated importance of this nutritional element.
The information in this site is presented for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or prescribe.
In the event the reader uses the information for his own health, he is in fact prescribing for himself, which is his own constitutional right, and for which the author assumes no responsibility.
If you suffer from a medical condition, consult your doctor. If you have questions as to the application of this information to your own health, you are advised to consult a qualified health professional.