The Three Gunas are qualities in food (and all material things for that matter) which affect the mind and body. The Three Gunas are: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, ordered from “best” to “worst“. Ayurveda is always striving to boost Sattva.
Foods are in one of those states depending on their preparation and promote the according state in the mind.
So Gunas can be seen as grades with a recommendation for a food guide pyramid having Sattvic foods as the base, Rajasic foods if needed and reducing Tamasic foods as far as possible.
“The mode of Goodness“, is the neutral force (0), it means balance and is the calm anchor to the energy currents. Sattvic food promotes a clear mind and is mainly fresh, juicy and nourishing vegetarian fare, either cooked or raw but always easy to digest and made with love. It is also free of additives and preservatives. This can include legumes, vegetables, fruit, ghee and fresh milk.
The mind in the Sattvic state shows the best traits possible: it is happy and at peace; effectively dealing with the outside world.
“The mode of Passion“, means motion and is seen as the positive (+), fiery, outgoing principle. Rajas can be compared to the masculine Yang energy in the Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Rajasic foods usually come to play with hard labour as they support physical endurance and a resolute state of mind. They contain garlic, chile, caffeine (from coffee, black tea and chocolate), eggs, high quality meat, alcohol and fermented or freshly canned foods. Foods made in anger, fried foods or over-cooked Sattvic foods also get Rajastic qualities.
The mind in the Rajasic state is fierce and passionate, putting all its force into something but can easily be frustrated if the goal isn’t accomplished.
“The mode of Ignorance“, means resistance and describes the idea of negative (-), cool watery and inward principle. Tamas is similar to the feminine Yin energy in Chinese Medicine.
Tamasic foods require a lot of energy to digest and have a grounding effect but usually raise inertia and can dull the mind. To these belong onions, mushrooms and meats as well as leftovers, microwaved and frozen foods. The long term effects of alcohol and food made with indifference also have tamasic qualities.
The mind in the tamasic state shows the most negative traits: lethargic, depressed, hateful or even murderous, suicidal and thieving.
The preparation of food plays an important part in determining which Guna it promotes. Fresh vegetarian food is usually Sattvic and becomes Rajasic by adding chiles, frying or over-cooking and Tamasic by cooking in advance and keeping it for too long.
For instance a potato is a perfectly fine Sattvic food when baked or cooked freshly with relatively low heat (compared to frying). As freshly made French Fries or made as salad with heating spices like chili, pepper and mustard it becomes Rajasic.
However frozen French Fries or old potato salad are Tamasic. In general Ayurveda suggests to feed on mainly Sattvic foods and amend with Rajasic foods if the energy is needed while Tamasic foods should be reduced.
The western culture relies heavily on mass produced frozen fast foods as quick fix for our busy lifestyles. Our tastes have adjusted to them and we’re eating very little fresh things to compensate although common sense is telling us that this can’t be healthy.
Just try and listen when your body is craving something fresh rather than the next quick fix.