I think most would agree that an unhealthy diet is a huge factor in the cause of imbalance and disease, however, when it comes to skin care, there is a bit more debate on whether the foods we eat really have an effect.
What is your skin telling you?
Ayurveda believes that everything we put into and onto the body (this includes the foods we eat, the thoughts we think, and the skin care products we use) is ingested as food and transformed into our physical body, which is also known as annamaya kosha or quite literally, the food sheath.
Every thought we think, emotion we feel, food we eat, and environmental atmosphere we exist within, shows up on the skin. And this relationship is also reciprocal. Food not only builds, fuels, and repairs every cell in the body, but it also fuels and effects our thoughts and emotions. As you probably have experienced or witnessed, different types of food, or the lack of it, can make or break a mood. Indeed, what you eat is important to both your physical condition and your mental/emotional health.
Ayurveda is not a one-size-fits-all approach
Ayurveda does not believe there is one perfect menu suitable for everyone. Orange juice, cold cereal and skim milk, the staples of an all-American breakfast, may give energy and a “Special K” figure to some types of people, but Ayurveda predicts that the same meal will leave others with an upset stomach or late morning fatigue. No food is intrinsically good or bad according to Ayurveda, but each person depending on his or her constitution reacts differently to it.
Ok, so if no food is intrinsically bad, why do some people claim to breakout just by looking at french fries or chocolate? Ayurveda classifies all foods (and herbs) according to six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Like all of nature, the animals, vegetables and minerals we eat each contain their own unique proportion of space, air, fire, water, and earth and this is where the taste of each food is derived from, the balance of its elements. Foods with more earth and water, like grains, naturally taste more sweet; those with more air and space, like green leafy vegetables, naturally taste more bitter. Each taste affects the mind and body according to the attributes of the elements within it. Sweet tastes soothe, lubricate, ground, and nourish the psychophysiology, just as you would expect the dense, viscous earth to do. Bitter tastes lighten, stimulate and dehydrate, just as you would expect a burst of cold air to do.
So what should I eat?
According to the law of “like increases like,” the best diet for you is one that compensates for your particular dominating elements. Pitta types, for example, are better off to reduce the consumption of sour, salty, and pungent foods, all of which contain fire and aggravate sensitive, reactive skin types that are prone to allergies, rashes, and breakouts in the t-zone. The Kapha person, with a sweet, heavy earth constitution and oily skin type tends to get breakouts from anything chocolate or greasy, but can delight in hot, spicy salsa with pretzels (with relative abandon). Dry-skinned Vata types can indulge in oily foods without breaking out, although too much spice or dry, cold dishes can cause a great deal of imbalance. Keep in mind, that if the skin is in relative balance, a little bit of anything is ok – the need to eliminate something entirely from your diet comes when there is already a health or skin condition present. We can use food to regain balance and then enjoy just about anything in moderation.
Unsure of your dosha? Take our What’s your dosha? quiz to find out.
You are both flower and gardener
To look at our health and skin conditions without careful regard to diet is, in Ayurvedic terms, equivalent to tending a garden without checking soil quality or the amount of moisture and sunshine it receives. Even in the West, we would instantly fire a gardener who failed to attend such a basic principle of life. Yet for many years, we have continued to support a medical system that regularly ignores it. Thanks to the work of many people, one of them being Dr. Dean Ornish, the cardiologist who reversed the symptoms of advanced heart disease in 40 patients through non-pharmaceutical treatment, including meditation and diet, the broader medical community is beginning to recognize the therapeutic potential contained in ‘ordinary’ foods. Nevertheless, modern science still seems to be wiser about how to grow perfect flowers, than how to grow healthy, happy beautiful people.