What Is The Ayahuasca Diet?
The ayahuasca diet (or dieta) is a traditional part of an ayahuasca experience. It is a set of dietary and lifestyle rules that many shamans, indigenous communities, and retreat providers recommend you follow before, during, and after ayahuasca ceremonies.
However, the ayahuasca diet can vary depending on the ayahuasca retreat, while some retreats don’t have a clear recommendation to follow it at all.
It’s worth exploring the ayahuasca diet and why retreat providers place a strong emphasis on it. While there may be good reasons why aspects of the diet should be followed, some people disagree as to whether all components of it are necessary.
An Overview Of The Ayahuasca Diet
Ayahuasca-using indigenous tribes in the Amazon basin believe that you need to follow a particular diet if you want to consume ayahuasca. These tribes include the Shipibo, Yawanawa, and Napo Runa. The mestizo shamans of Peru refer to the ayahuasca diet as the dieta while the Napo Runa of Amazonian Ecuador calls it ayuno, which means “fast” in Spanish.
The ayahuasca diet does not involve complete fasting, but it does involve abstaining from certain foods and activities. Indeed, the diet is meant to encapsulate more than just the food you eat and how this makes you feel physically and mentally. You are meant to give up other habits that influence your mental state, as well. This is to prepare you for any ayahuasca dangers during an experience.
Recommended restrictions can last anywhere from 14 days before and after your ceremony to 3-5 days prior with few restrictions afterward. If you are attending a multi-day ceremony retreat in Central or South America, you will be adhering to the ayahuasca diet for the duration of your stay.
The Ayahuasca Diet: Foods To Avoid
Ayahuasca retreats may differ slightly in the foods they recommend you avoid eating before, during, and after the ceremonies. However, the list of such foods typically includes the following.
- Fermented foods (sauerkraut, fermented tofu, kimchi)
- Soy sauce
- Dry sausage
- Dried fruit
- Fruits like citrus fruits, mango, and pineapple
- Pickled foods
- Red meat
- Yeast extracts and yeast (most bread)
- Vegetables like spinach, avocados, tomatoes, radishes, leeks, onion, and garlic
- Oil and fried foods
- Chilies and spicy food
- Black pepper
The Ayahuasca Diet: Beverages To Avoid
The dieta also includes recommendations to abstain from certain beverages, including the below.
- Alcohol (beer, ale, wine)
- Any drinks containing caffeine (coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks)
The Ayahuasca Diet: Activities To Avoid
According to the dieta, you are to refrain from all sexual activity (including masturbation) when preparing for your ayahuasca retreat, as well as during and after it.
What You Can Eat On The Ayahuasca Diet
The ayahuasca diet may appear quite restrictive. You may be wondering what food and meals you can eat as you prepare for your ceremonies, as well as what meals you might be served at the retreat.
Here’s what you can eat while on the ayahuasca diet.
- Animal Proteins. Eggs (hard-boiled, poached, or scrambled), organic free-range chicken, and light, wild-caught fish such as sole, tilapia, bass, trout, halibut, or snapper.
- Grains and Legumes. Quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, beans, lentils, wheat, kamut, and spelt.
- Vegetables. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yucca, yacon, beets, jicama, carrots, broccoli, arugula, lettuces, cucumber, and powdered maca root.
- Fruits. Berries, bananas, apricots, peaches, melons, grapes, apples, and pears.
- Nuts and Seeds. Raw almonds, raw cashews, raw walnuts, chia seeds, raw shelled hemp seeds, and unsalted nut butter (except peanut).
- Seasonings. Fresh herbs (basil, thyme, oregano, dill, etc.), ginger, turmeric, and non-spicy spices like cumin and coriander.
Therefore, the ayahuasca diet involves more simple and basic meals than someone typically eats. Many may find the dieta restrictive and bland; however, it can certainly include fresh and tasty meals.
The ayahuasca diet is very clean and nutritious, so you don’t have to feel like you’re literally fasting and forgoing foods that you need for energy. By following this diet, you may actually feel much healthier and more energetic than you did before since you will be cutting out certain foods that can make you feel heavy and lethargic.
The ayahuaca diet is certainly compatible with vegetarian and vegan diets. On an ayahuasca retreat that provides meals in accordance with the dieta, often there will be vegetarian and vegan variations available. There is no requirement to eat meat or eggs.
Traditional Reasons For Following The Ayahuasca Diet
The Dieta For Shamans And Shamans-In-Training
The indigenous cultures of the Amazon basin believe in the notion of plant spirits and plant teachers. It is not just powerful psychedelics like ayahuasca that they believe have their own spirit but many other plants, both psychoactive and non-psychoactive in nature. Tobacco would be another such plant.
According to their worldview, you can communicate with these spirits, which they see as providing knowledge, teachings, and healing to people.
People belonging to these cultures believe that following the dieta puts a curandero (healer/shaman) or student of curanderismo (healing/shamanism) on good terms with these spirits. In return for the sacrifices made following the dieta, plant spirits agree to teach, guide, protect, strengthen or endow special abilities to the person.
How To Approach The Dieta
Traditionally, the dieta is done in near isolation, so that the person in question avoids any temptations that come from interacting with people who are not doing the dieta or who do not understand it. In some indigenous groups, such as the Shipibo, people doing dietas have their faces, hands, and feet painted with a dye made from a fruit called huito. This means anyone who encounters them knows to treat them appropriately.
The terms of the dieta, such as how long to follow it and how strict it is, are negotiable. The curandero or student claims to communicate with plant spirits in order to agree on these terms.
In this case, the dieta will last longer than if you were just joining an ayahuasca retreat. For a healer or shaman apprentice, the dieta can last for months or even years.
For shamans and shamans-in-training, the point of the ayahuasca diet is to form relationships with plant spirits that make it possible for the healer to facilitate powerful transformations for others. The sacrifices help gain a rewarding relationship with these spirits.
The Ayahuasca Diet For Everyday People
Assuming you want to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies but not become a shaman, there are still traditional reasons given for following the diet. It is believed that eating certain types of food and avoiding others (as well as abstaining from sexual activity) allows your body to become more sensitive to working with plant spirits.
By following the dieta, it shows the spirit of ayahuasca that you are serious about the experience. This comes from the self-discipline and sacrifice.
Many people find that this influences the depth and clarity of their ayahuasca journeys. Many practitioners believe that the dieta physically and emotionally “cleanses” you. This helps to be more fully open to the insights of the ayahuasca experience.
Claims say that ignoring the dieta creates more layers of resistance in the form of additional mental and physical purging.
Are There Good Scientific Reasons To Follow The Ayahuasca Diet?
If you are not someone who believes in plant spirits and diet affecting your relationship with them, you might be wondering if there are scientific reasons to follow the ayahuasca diet.
Many of the foods to avoid are high in tyramine. This is a compound that stimulates the release of norepinephrine — a hormone that increases blood pressure and heart rate. Ayahuasca contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), found in Banisteriopsis caapi, a vine used in the preparation of the hallucinogenic brew. However, MAOIs can block norepinephrine’s absorption.
So, if you eat foods high in tyramine and consume ayahuasca, it is believed that this can cause a surge in norepinephrine, resulting in hypertension (high blood pressure). The symptoms of this reaction include nausea, occipital headache, and even intracranial hemorrhage. Foods particularly high in tyramine include those that are fermented, desiccated, aged, or overripe.
However, it is not certain that tyramine and the harmala alkaloids in Banisteriopsis caapi (which act as MAOIs) interact in a way that could lead to a hypertensive crisis (blood pressure surging to an unusually high level, resulting in a high risk of complications).
For example, members of the ayahuasca church União do Vegetal don’t follow these dietary restrictions. This is because the church doesn’t believe the risk is significant.
Risks To Be Aware Of
It’s worth emphasizing that some types of antidepressant MAOIs do not require any dietary restrictions due to tyramine. The risk depends on which MAO enzyme the MAOIs act on.
There are two types: MAO-A and MAO-B. Etzel Cardeña and Carlos S. Alvarado state the following in Altering Consciousness: History, Culture, and the Humanities:
“A common misconception regarding the use of harmala alkaloids is that foods containing tyramine (such as red wine, broad beans, hard cheeses and other fermented products) are contraindicated, as their consumption together with MAOIs may lead to a hypertensive crisis. An excess of tyramine in the body may indeed lead to this condition; however, tyramine is degraded primarily by MAO-B, while the harmala alkaloids inhibit primarily the A-isoform of this enzyme (MAO-A)…there is no in vitro or other empirical evidence to support the current cultural myth that consumption of Ayahuasca in conjunction with tyramine-rich foods can, in and of itself, lead to a hypertensive crisis.”
There are many ayahuasca retreats that don’t require or recommend following the ayahuasca diet at any point. Based on the evidence we have, it seems that ignoring the dieta may not put you in harm’s way.
However, the diet can still help you eat clean and nutrient-dense foods. This, alongside the self-discipline and self-sacrifice involved, may personally help you prepare for an ayahuasca ceremony.