What Is a Sattvic Diet?

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on February 12, 2024
3 min read

A sattvic diet includes foods that are light and healthy. In Ayurvedic practice, sattvic foods are thought to increase energy, happiness, calmness, and mental clarity. In practice, that means eating things that are vegetarian, nutritious, fresh, and tasty.

In the teachings of traditional yoga, foods are classified into three categories: sattva, rajas, and tamas. These are called gunas and represent the three qualities that are present in everything, including food. 

Sattva. This is the highest guna, representing balance and harmony. This is the ideal state. 

Rajas. This guna represents activity and movement. Too much rajas leads to stress, overstimulation, and overexcitement.   

Tamas. This is the base guna. It's associated with pessimism, weakness, and laziness.

When following a "yoga diet," also called a yogic diet, you typically eat more sattvic foods. Many experts recommend listening to what your body needs and eating those foods, so this may look different for different people, depending on how closely you follow it.

Many people believe that a yogic diet should be made of non-harming foods, or those that minimize harm to yourself or other living creatures. In line with this principle, many people who follow a yogic diet will choose to be vegetarian or vegan.

In general, sattvic foods are ripe, raw, or lightly cooked and freshly prepared. Foods that are old or not prepared properly are not sattvic.  The sattvic diet is high in nutrient-rich plant foods and low in processed and fried foods. Sattvic foods include: 

Foods to avoid on a sattvic diet include: 

  • Salty and sour foods
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Onions and garlic
  • Frozen food
  • Fast food
  • Microwaved foods
  • Processed foods
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Leftovers or previously prepared food

A sattvic diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, so it's very healthy. It offers the same benefits of a typical a healthy vegetarian diet, including lower risks of: 

Heart disease. People who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet have a 30% lower chance of dying from ischemic heart disease than those who eat meat. Plant-based diets are lower in saturated fat and higher in fiber.

Cancer. A vegetarian diet rich in whole plant foods also lowers your risk of cancer. Vegetables and fruits are high in phytochemicals, which may help prevent cancer. Diets high in fiber can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which can lower your odds of some cancers.

Type 2 diabetes. Keeping a healthy weight with a plant-based diet can make you less likely to get type 2 diabetes. Research also shows that people who are on a vegetarian diet are less likely to have type 2 diabetes than meat-eaters of the same weight.   

Stroke. A plant-based diet can lower your risk of having a stroke. In this context, a healthy diet means avoiding adding lots of sugars, refined grains, and potatoes while eating plenty of leafy grains, beans, and whole grains.

The sattvic diet can be very healthy, but vegans will need to supplement their diet to get necessary nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and (potentially) protein. 

It can also be hard to stick to a sattvic diet because all foods should be freshly prepared, which may take a lot of time.

It's important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to get all of the nutrients that you need for good health. It may be hard to get a wide variety of fruits and vegetables if you can't eat frozen or canned foods.

To make sure you're getting enough nutrients, reach for foods that are packed with vitamins and minerals. Many people use supplements like multivitamins to make sure they're getting all the essential nutrients. But it's better to make sure you're eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and other nutritious foods.

A sattvic diet is based on Ayurvedic principles. Ayurveda is an ancient form of Indian medicine. It can be beneficial when used in combination with conventional medicine. But Ayurveda isn't regulated in the U.S., so it’s important to look into the background of any Ayurvedic practitioner you see and talk it over with your doctor.