Which foods are tamasic, and why do I care?

tamasic foods1 prison yoga practice

Tamasic means having tama guna.  It is one of the three gunas (tendencies) discussed in the last post.  Something tamasic makes the body and mind sluggish and slow, leading to torpor.

The tamasic foods include meat, fish, onions,  garlic, mushrooms, alcohol.  In addition fermented foods, including  vinegar, bread, pastries and cakes are tamasic. Stale, overripe or underripe, tasteless  and rotten foods are also tamasic.  Processed foods are tamasic, including those that are preserved in  any way, canned or frozen.  Overeating is also tamasic.

Remember the satvic foods and  how good they are for the body and mind.  This was summed up in the Bhagavad Gita:

When light which is wisdom streams forth from all the doors of the body, then it may be understood that the pure-clear modality (satva) is predominant. – Bhagavad Gita (14:11)

Yogic philosophy does not categorically rule out eating tamasic foods or using them as medicines.  It is recommended to follow a satvic diet but some tamasic food may be introduced to the diet if it is particularly cold or the person is doing hard physical labor.

Tamasic food can destroy the body’s ability to fight disease and disrupt the proper functioning of the immune system.  It can destructively alter brain function.

So what does this have to do with our modern situation?  We have a vast array of good tasting preparations that contain many of the tamasic foods available to us at any time.  Canned and frozen foods are convenient.

Well, consider that the doctors who warn against too much fructose in the diet say that it must be processed in the liver and that too much will cause fatty liver.  Then the endocrine system is disrupted, weight is gained, and physical and mental torpor sets in.  Sound familiar?  In yogic terms, high fructose corn syrup is a tamasic food.  It will make you sluggish.  It will shorten your life.  How can this be?  Isn’t fructose the sugar in fruit?  Isn’t fruit satvic?  Well, remember that overeating is also tamasic.  Instead of eating three or four or five pieces of fruit a day, one large Coke at McDonald’s has enough fructose that it puts you into overeating territory.  And there is another thing.  Fructose is not the only tamasic thing that you may have in your diet.  The thing to examine is the total load of these things.

If you like, write a list of all the things you eat today that may be tamasic.  Share it here on the blog.

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About sordog1

Shiva Steve Ordog is a Yoga Instructor certified by Yoga Alliance - RYT 200, a Thought Field Therapy Practitioner (TFT-Algo) and a Zen practitioner. He is the author of a book on meditation, mindfulness, and yoga called "Hey, Yoga Man!: Yoga Practices for Everyday Life from a Prison Yoga Practice"
This entry was posted in food issues, health, high fructose corn syrup, satvic, sugar, tamasic, yoga and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Which foods are tamasic, and why do I care?

  1. Rob White says:

    Hi. From reading other Yoga and Ayurveda texts, i was under the impression that most’s meats and fish were Rajasic, with the exception of really heavy fatty meats like lamb and certain cuts of beef.

    Generally speaking, there seems to be a lot of discrepancies about categorisation of Rajasic and Tamasic foods. for example, in numerous books and websites on this subject the following foods have been labelled Rajasic in some places, and Tamasic in others:

    – Eggs
    – Lean meat (e.g. poultry, game, etc.)
    – Fish
    – Young / sweet onions like scallion or shallot
    – Cheese
    – Yogurt
    - Certain Asian medicinal mushrooms
    - Lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut, kim-chi, umeboshi
    - Offal
    - Certain types of vinegar, like apple cider vinegar
    - Avocado’s

  2. sordog1 says:

    Great questions, and worth talking about. Tama guna is the static force. The mental color is black. The feeling is one of sluggishness and heaviness. Raja guna is the active or mutative force. The mental color is red. Anything that is rajasic tends to stir up the body and emotions. Think amphetamines. Anything that is tamasic weighs you down and makes you sluggish. The final judge of whether a food is tamasic, rajasic, or satvic is how it affects the body and the mind. Some foods are considered both. An example would be onions and garlic. They have the effect of stimulating the body and dulling the mind. So onions and garlic could be considered tamasic for the mind and rajasic for the body. Hot chili peppers are generally considered rajasic.

    In addition, any food that is old, stale, or any food eaten in too great a quantity is considered tamasic. This is where sugar moves from being satvic to tamasic. A small amount is satvic, but when enough is eaten to make the body sluggish then it is tamasic. This amount is relatively small by the way. Don’t order the coke with your meal at McDonald’s because it is tamasic. Oh, yeah, so is the rest of the meal there too.

    In introducing these concepts, it is not my purpose to be definitive on what is tamasic and what is rajasic, but to introduce the concepts and give some general directions. Generally, by shifting to a greater amount of satvic foods and eliminating rajasic and tamasic foods, you can improve your health and meditation.

    Oh, and on the list above, I would question avocado. I think those may be satvic. And also, do not reject any food out of hand. Asian mushrooms might be a good medicine even though as a food they are tamasic. Some higher amount of tamasic food might also be indicated for people who are doing heavy work or in the colder weather. However, considering that new studies have been released on red meat saying that people who eat it have a higher chance of death from disease, I think you might want to start there at replacing some amount of this food with satvic foods.

  3. Andy says:

    Today I ate pizza and butter.

  4. Kapil Agarwal says:

    Rajas, Sattva and Tamas , define energy and passion , goodness and ignorance respectively in order. These three gunas are essential for a a human bieng. A person should have all the three gunas just in right quantity to make him a sthitapragya purush meaning a stable person. These three gunas belong to trinity gods of Shri Brahma, Shri Vishnu, and Shri Mahesh. The trident of Lord Shiva signifies these gunas.the middle one being the sattva.Out of these three the most important is sattva. Sattva guna helps you meditate and find eternal bliss. The four varnas or class of the Santana dharma or Hinduism needs the foods for specific purposes. Like the sages and seers will never have tamasic or rajas food and have only satvic food because they only meditate and preach the disciples , so they posses the goodness. The second varna khastrya needs all the three types of food because they are the prctors of society, kings, able administrators, fighters and decision makers.so they will require to have all the three foods. The third class in the system the vyshas are traders and they only can have sattvic and rajasic food because they are the pillars of the society. Thier actions can only be good like charity, yagya, oganizing pujas. The fourth class Shudra can have all the three foods too as they have to go through hard labour and are less learned. But a person can be born in any varna but his action and intellect defines what he wants to achieve.

    All these thoughts are purely mine with help from scriptures.

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