In Sanskrit, the word “Guna” means thread, virtue, quality or attribute, and is generally defined as “that which binds”. In Yoga and Ayurveda, the Gunas relate to all matter and energy describing the qualities of nature, and states of consciousness.
They are generally defined as:
Sattva: lightness, balance, harmony, purity, wellbeing, goodness and harmony.
Rajas: heat, activity, passion, restlessness, turbulence, stress and anger or confusion.
Tamas: heaviness, lethargy, dullness, ignorance, delusion, darkness or destructiveness.
Our individual natures have a proportion of each Guna for instance without Tamas we would not sleep, without Rajas we would lack dynamism and without Sattva life would be uninspiring, without the higher consciousness.
When relating these attributes to food and health Ayurveda utilizes the Gunas to understand the individual energetics of foods, spices, herbs, and beverages and how they affect individual constitution and imbalances, and overall health and well-being.
In addition to looking at the Gunas of food, Ayurveda also looks to eating proper quantities, following an organic seasonal diet, having regularity of meals so the body has effective digestion, assimilation and elimination processes, our state of minds while preparation of foods instilling consciousness, and following proper food combining making sure that what we eat are compatible to not create Ama or disease.
According to Ayurveda these gunas have the following effects on our health:
Sattvic food are those that purify the body and calm the mind bring presence and raising our consciousness. These foods include fresh fruits, level vegetables, nuts, grains, fresh milk and dairy products and spices like fresh ginger, fresh or dried turmeric, coriander, cardamom, and fennel. A sattvic diet includes preparing foods with love and full awareness and eating food within 6 hours of preparation before they lose their energy. Pungent and Astringent foods and spices can be non-sattvic and include onion, garlic, red chilis, black pepper.
Rajasic food stimulates the body and mind into action but in excess can cause hyperactivity, restlessness, anger, irritability, and sleeplessness. These foods included overly spiced foods, onions, garlic, tea, coffee, fried foods, excessively sugary foods, chocolate, and soft drinks.
A rajasic person might eat on the run and experience poor digestion and health and is usually aggressive and overflowing with energy. According to Ayurveda, this can be beneficial if used wisely, and it can lead a person towards prosperity, power, and prestige.
Tamasic food is referred to as dead foods, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, stale foods including frozen, reheated foods, sugary foods, oily and heavy foods, and foods that are processed or have preservatives.
Alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs also fall into this category. All of these substances do nothing to lift our energy and consciousness, and if fact they pull us down into a state of laziness, dullness, careless and unaware ourselves and others. Living tamasically can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart, and liver disease. We will feel unmotivated, careless, and oblivious of ourselves and others.