Ayurveda 101 by emily penn


Ayurveda is the traditional holistic healing system of India. It is one of the three oldest surviving comprehensive herbal medicine systems. The focus of Ayurvedic medicine is prevention, balance, healing and nourishment through food and herbs. Ayurveda was developed over centuries of patient observation and experimentation - before chemistry or microscopes, which is pretty amazing!

Ayurveda focuses on longevity and good health. It incorporates diet, exercise, activities, routines, massage and botanical medicine.

The 5 Elements

First let’s get acquainted with the five elements - earth, water, fire, air, ether (space). These elements inform how Ayurveda describes certain energies - grounding, cooling, warming, moistening, drying, etc. All these elements are present in the body at all times, just in different and varying amounts. Elements can be affected by our environment, diet, exercise, and even our emotional state.

Another foundation of Ayurveda are the doshas. Doshas underlie the theoretic foundation of Ayurvedic diagnosis and therapeutics. Your dosha = your constitution - basically, your tendencies. It covers everything from your body type to your emotional disposition to your tendency toward illness. In Ayurveda, disease is believed to be caused by imbalanced doshas. Ideally, we would have equally balanced doshas. “From the Ayurvedic point of view, all functions occurring in your body at any moment are a result of the doshas. Every single action affects their balance. The three doshas are ebbing or flowing in the body at any given time.” (1)

The 3 Doshas

  • Vata - the air type. They tend to be creative, nervous, restless or spacey. Their body type tends to be thin, willowy and fragile.

  • Pitta - the fire type. Pittas tend to be fiery, passionate, colorful, argumentative, competitive, leaders, decisive, convincing. They typically have a normal build, they can be thin and have good muscle definition.

  • Kapha - the earth type. They’re considered grounded, conservative, loyal, slow, calm and steady. They tend to be a bigger build and can put on weight easily.

Some people are just one dosha, lots of people are a mix of two. Some people are tri-doshic, meaning they have a good balance of all three doshas, but most of us have a dominant dosha. We are all born under a certain dosha - with certain dominating tendencies, but our dosha can change over our lifetime if we acquire certain imbalances. For example, I’m a Kapha-Pitta but that doesn’t mean that I won’t have a Vata imbalance at some point. In this case, I would first be treated for my Vata imbalance. Ayurvedic practitioners take both of these doshas (your main one and your present imbalance) into account.

There is a huge focus on the gut and digestion in Ayurveda. In Ayurveda, digestion is thought of as a fire that needs to be continually stoked. Too many cold, damp or raw foods can make digestion challenging - which is why there’s a big focus on cooked foods and room temperature or warm beverages/foods. We want to keep the fire stoked. We’re only as good as what we can digest. This is in line with the functional and holistic perspectives in medicine that are becoming more and more prevalent in our culture’s approach to health.

Each season also has a dosha assigned to it - summer is Pitta (heat), fall is Vata (cold, dry), winter can be both Vata and Kapha (wet, heavy) and spring is Kapha (damp). Of course, this can vary depending on where exactly you live.

Here’s a good Dosha Quiz if you don’t know what yours is. I would recommend Googling “dosha quiz” and taking a few others to compare.


The 6 Tastes

Ayurveda talks about foods and herbs in terms of the 6 “tastes” - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, astringent. Let’s look at what these tastes indicate:

  1. Sweet (decreases Vata and Pitta, increases Kapha) - can literally be sugar and fruit but most grains are also considered sweet, dairy

  2. Sour (decreases Vata, increases Pitta and Kapha) - lemon, vinegars, fermented foods

  3. Salty (decreases Vata, increases Pitta and Kapha) - salt, sea vegetables, tamari, olives

  4. Pungent (increases Vata and Pitta, decreases Kapha) - hot peppers, ginger, onions, garlic, mustard, hot spices

  5. Bitter (increases Vata, decreases Pitta and Kapha) - raw green vegetables, turmeric, green, black and most herbal teas

  6. Astringent (increases Vata, decreases Pitta and Kapha)- beans, legumes, green grapes, cranberries, pomegranates, okra

Food is commonly used to help balance the doshas. By eating for your type and taking into account the season you’re in, you can tailor and shift your diet to support optimal balance. There are other lifestyle practices that can help you align with the energy of the season. For example, most of us naturally experience a slowing down and turning inward in the fall and winter, as the days get shorter and darker. You may sleep more, dial down intense exercise and spend more time nesting and reflecting. In the summer, the days are longer and you likely feel more energized. The energy is expansive - you might be spending more time being social and going to events.

We have a natural inclination to seasonal foods, too. In the summer you probably eat lighter, eat more raw and cooling foods. In the winter you probably tend toward cooked foods, warm foods, soups, stews and warming spices (and yes, pumpkin spice lattes count).

By taking your own personal dosha into account, you can eat in such a way and incorporate lifestyle practices that supports balanced energies and health. For example, if you’re a Pitta and it’s summer you’ll want to focus on cooling foods like coconut water and cucumber. If you’re a Kapha and it’s winter/spring you’ll want to focus on warming and drying foods to help balance the dampness of Kapha.

This is the basic framework of Ayurveda! Once you know your dosha, you can start looking into specific foods, herbs and lifestyle practices that will help you stay balanced. It’s a totally different way of thinking and describing foods and practices, but by continuing to read and research on it, the vocabulary will come more naturally to you. I’ll be continuing to add articles with more specific recommendations and focus on foods for the three doshas. Stay tuned!

Any questions? Please leave them below!

The Good Medicine Guide to Meal Prep by emily penn

I’m going to be real with you - if you want to eat better, having a plan is absolutely key. Meal prep is a big part of that plan. Investing a little bit of time in planning and preparing your meals ahead of time is absolutely, one hundred percent worth it.

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Now, this doesn’t mean you have to cook for hours to prep your meals. There are different levels of meal prep, and I’m going to cover them in this post. We’re all different - some of us enjoy cooking, some of us really hate it and would rather do anything but cook. It’s okay - there’s strategies for all of us!

For those who like to cook…

For those of us who like to cook, there’s two main ways to meal prep. You’re either going to be preparing the whole meal at once OR you’re going to do the component method. Both are totally valid and awesome. If you don’t mind eating basically the same thing a few days in a row, the Full-On-Meal Method is probably best for you. If you like to have more flexibility with your meals, I would recommend the Component Method. I’m personally a big fan of the Component Method, and that’s how I most often meal prep.

The Full-On Meal Prep Method

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All I mean by this is that you’re preparing multiple servings of the same meal. This might look like several portions of a composed meal (ie - a veggie burger with sweet potato fries and salad) or a casserole or soup. I personally find casseroles to be one of the easiest ways to achieve the Full-On Method. This is best if you’re looking for minimal dish-dirtying and clean up and if you don’t want to have to think about your meals later on - they’ll just be ready to grab, heat and eat!

My Sage + Thyme Spaghetti Squash Bake is a great, easy example of the Full-On Method.

The Component Meal Prep Method

This is my personal favorite way to meal prep. You basically prep all the components of a meal and then when it comes time to eat, you throw them all together. I like this method because it allows for flexibility. So you can make it the same way every time or leave some ingredients out or add some new ones you get from the store mid-week. It keeps it a little more fresh and exciting. I’m also a big fan of “bowls” - aka, just throwing a bunch of stuff in a bowl and calling it a meal! It’s how I eat most often and it works for me.

You’ll want to consider the following components - a protein - cooked and ready to go, 2-3 vegetables - cooked/prepped and ready to go, greens - washed, chopped and ready, grain or bean (optional), a healthy fat - avocado or nuts/seeds, and a dressing/sauce (the dressing could also be your healthy fat). So let’s look at some examples:

  • black beans + roasted sweet potatoes + salsa + avocado dressing + fresh cilantro

  • baked chicken + roasted broccoli + carrots cut into matchsticks + bok choy + almond butter ginger sauce

  • cooked ground beef + sautéed onions and peppers + chopped, washed romaine + creamy cashew ranch dressing

  • chicken sausage + cucumbers + tomatoes + olives + mixed greens + hummus

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Another way I like to use the Component Method is by creating a simple soup or salad base that I can then change up each time I eat. For example, I love making a totally veggie chili (no meat or beans) and then throughout the week I can eat it as is if I want a light meal, add some avocado on top, top with a sausage or a fried egg, or serve with tortillas or chips. Same thing with a salad - I can make a kale salad with a tahini dressing and then roast some vegetables and a rotisserie chicken and then change up what I top the salad with all week.

For those who would rather not cook…

Don’t worry - you’re not doomed. With food brands becoming more and more conscious of health and ingredients, there’s plenty of good options. Grocery stores also provide pre-chopped vegetables which can be really helpful since chopping vegetables is often the most time consuming part of meal prep. Places like Whole Foods have hot bars where you can buy pre-cooked veggies. I would say reserve this for special circumstances because 1. it’s expensive and 2. as of now, Whole Foods still uses mostly canola oil to roast the vegetables for their hot bar, which is an inflammatory oil :( I do, however, fully endorse Whole Foods organic rotisserie chickens - which don’t use any oil.

Let’s look at some examples of some seriously minimal meal prep:

  • Siete Foods tortillas + Whole Foods organic rotisserie chicken and/or Better Bean Black Beans + mixed greens + organic salsa + guacamole (salsa and guacamole can be bought pre-made!)

  • Pre-zoodled zucchini noodles + organic marinara sauce + grass-fed ground beef or organic tempeh (all you have to do is brown the meat or tempeh in a pan, add sauce and zoodles!)

  • Organic chicken sausage + pre-chopped veggies + Primal Kitchen dressing (add sausage and veggies to a pan, sauté until brown and cooked, top with dressing)

  • Hope Hummus + pre-cut crudite + pita or tortilla chips (the ultimate lazy person’s dinner)

  • Amy’s Organic Soup + chopped avocado (so easy!)

Hopefully that gives you an idea of the types of foods to have on hand and how to easily prepare it! It’s more like “assembling” a meal from other healthy ingredients, and there’s no shame in that!

Other tips

Here are some other meal prep tips to help keep you on top of your food game:

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  • Whenever you cook, make more than you need. I see no sense in cooking only two portions when it hardly takes any extra effort to cook four.

  • Freeze it! Make a huge batch of soup and freeze some extras for those busy weeks. You can also freeze casseroles pretty easily.

  • I love roasting a bunch of sweet potatoes to have on hand. You can bake them whole, in half or my personal favorite - in large coins. They’re super versatile - you can top with avocado or hummus for a savory snack or almond butter and banana for a sweet version. They also provide complex carbs and valuable nutrients. They can be the base of your meal or just bulk it up. Basically - just have some sweet potatoes around.

  • Chop vegetables ahead of time - even spending just 20 minutes or so chopping up onions, carrots, whatever else you have on hand - can make it so much easier to throw together a quick meal on even the busiest of nights. If you can’t stand chopping, look for the pre-cut stuff at Whole Foods or Trader Joes.

  • Know what you have - one of the biggest issues I see is that people forget about the food they prep! I highly suggest storing your prep in clear containers, with labels if that helps, in plain view in your fridge. If your fridge makes that hard to do, then keep a list on the outside of the fridge with a list of what you prepped that week.

  • No shame in frozen veggies - they’re awesome to have on hand for emergencies!

  • Make a glorified snack plate - honestly, one of my favorite ways to eat! Just make a big plate with your favorite snacks - maybe some deli meat, crackers, cut up veggies, dip, dried fruit and nuts. Any snack can be a meal if you eat enough of it :)

  • Canned fish - another one of my favorite staples. Mix a can of wild-caught salmon with some avocado and dijon mustard and it’s basically a meal! It also bulks up any salad.

What’s your favorite way to meal prep? Do you have a go-to recipe? Let me know below!

Loaded Burger Fries by emily penn

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Sounds like a meal that would be inherently unhealthy, right? But guess what?! It’s not!

What I want to highlight in this recipe is this: QUALITY OF INGREDIENTS MATTERS. Can you eat fries that are healthy? Absolutely. And can you make a burger that’s nourishing and nutrient-dense? Heck yes you can! Here’s the deal:

Fries that you order at a restaurant are likely not organic and are most definitely fried in unhealthy, inflammatory oils. On the other hand - if you make fries at home with organic potatoes and roast them in the oven in a healthy oil like avocado or olive - this has a totally different effect on the cells in your body. The fries go from inflammatory to nourishing. And despite the white potato fear, they do have valuable nutrients.

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Conventional beef is raised with antibiotics and growth hormones and fed a grain-based diet - which is not what cows are meant to be eating. Organically raised, grass-fed cows are allowed to roam a pasture and eat grass (what they’re meant to do) and are raised without antibiotics. The result is a totally different nutritional composition in the meat. For example, grass-fed beef has 5 times the omega-3s (an anti-inflammatory fatty acid) and contains a compound known as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which is anti-inflammatory, boosts the immune system, supports fat burning and even strengthens bones! Grass-fed beef is also richer in vitamin A and vitamin E and tends to be richer in antioxidants (1).

I think it’s interesting to note that when I was younger (before I was vegan) I didn’t care for beef very much and often found that it hurt my stomach. After reintroducing meat into my diet after being vegan, I only ate grass-fed beef and woah - what a difference! It has never made my stomach hurt and has felt very nourishing.

In this recipe, I’ve forgone any sort of bun. While delicious, most buns are made with refined white flour and don’t offer a whole lot of nutrition. Instead I’ve opted to serve the beef over the fries and greens to make it more of a “bowl” situation with a nutrient-dense bottom.

Then of course you’ve got chopped onions (raw or grilled - your choice!), pickles, mustard, ketchup and any of your other favorite burger fixings! I’d recommend finding a ketchup with no sugar added or making some of your own at home for max health benefit. I recently made this fermented ketchup that turned out awesome (I skipped the honey).

Feel free to make this totally your own - you could add avocado, bacon or a fried egg to make it even more hearty!

It’s amazing that by just focusing on the quality of ingredients we can turn what sounds like an unhealthy meal into something totally nourishing and good for you!

Loaded Burger Fries

serves 4 / total time 45 minutes

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4 medium sized potatoes (russet or yukon gold), cut into fry shape
3 tbsp avocado or olive oil
1 pound grass-fed ground beef
1 onion, diced - raw or grilled
4 large handfuls of greens (I used butter lettuce)

fried egg


  1. Preheat oven to 400. Toss potatoes in 2 tbsp of the oil and season with salt and pepper. I also love seasoning my fries with garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, and my favorite/weirdest one - celery seed (just trust me). Feel free to use some of these or none at all. Divide fries onto two sheet pans. Place in oven for a total of 30-40 minutes, checking on them after 20 minutes and giving them a stir and switching their position on the racks.

  2. While the fries are roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil on a large skillet on the stove. Add the ground beef and cook until no longer pink, stirring every minute or so. It should take about 10 minutes.

  3. If you’re serving your onions raw, skip this step. If you’re grilling your onions, then transfer beef to a bowl and set aside. In the same pan, cook onions for about 10 minutes until golden and translucent. Season with a little salt. If onions start sticking, add a splash of oil.

  4. Push onions to one half of the pan and add beef to the other half, turn heat to low to keep warm until the fries are done.

  5. Once the fries are golden and crispy, remove from oven. Get your serving bowls ready. Add a large handful of greens to each bowl and top with a quarter of the fries, a quarter of the beef, and a quarter of the onions.

  6. Top with desired toppings/condiments and enjoy!