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.