Let’s ruffle some feathers now. If you were to ask 100 different curanderos, shaman, ayahuasqueros, or vegetalistas about what to eat in preparation for work with Ayahuasca, you might get 100 different responses. In recent years, however, a de facto consensus has developed as to what the “proper” Ayahuasca diet contains, and doesn’t contain. Let’s take one example.
The following comes a Google search for “Ayahuasca Diet” and the first hit is from a popular retreat center called Soul Quest, Church of Mother Earth. See https://www.ayahuascachurches.org/dieta-guide/.
Here is what they say:
Aya Nutritional Diet
The recommended dieta, or diet, for Ayahuasca is one that is light and healthy, with minimum or zero products of animal origin. These are healthy dietary principles that follow guidelines from the native Peruvian Ayahuasca tradition, and they are especially important to cleanse the body before and after the Ayahuasca ceremony. Are there foods contraindicated with Ayahuasca? What is better to avoid? What is the best to eat before and after the Ayahuasca ceremony? The most important things to avoid in an Ayahuasca dieta are pork and alcohol. The basic guidelines and recommended lengths to alter your diet are as follows:
NO red or heavy meats (pork, beef, sheep, tuna, eel) – One (1) week before and after
NO strong alcohol, beer, wine – One (1) week before and after
NO hot food such as chilies or red pepper – Two (2) days before
NO fermented food (pickles, herring, anchovies, old cheese) – One (1) day before and after
Moderate consumption of salt and sugar/honey – Three (3) days before and after
You CAN and SHOULD eat lots of:
Fresh or cooked vegetables
Legumes, beans, and peas
Rice, buckwheat, oats, barley, or other cereals
Fresh fruits and juices
Olive oil or ghee instead of other cooking oils, and avoid fried food altogether
Some fresh organic eggs, but not on the day of ceremony
The simplest diet is to eat light vegetarian food for three days before and after the Aya ceremony, with moderate to low levels of salt, sugar, and fat. Eating only raw food on the day of the ceremony is most recommended.
Most people would simply nod their heads and think—“Sure, that makes sense.” But, let’s dig deeper, one at a time.
First of all, in the first category of foods to avoid, they place special and heavy emphasis on avoiding products of animal origin. This would rule out eggs, butter, milk, meat, and maybe even honey. But why? They provide no explanation other than these come from the “Native Peruvian Ayahuasca tradition.” Bullshit. There is no single Ayahuasca tradition in Peru—as I mentioned, 100 curanderos would have 100 differing opinions.
In fact, I spent significant time on dieta with a Shipibo lineage in Peru and we ate hardboiled eggs nearly every day, some days chicken, and some days fish. And, this was on an extended dieta working with Ayahuasca but also other plants. In my experience, even those who arrived in the jungle as vegetarians were ravenous for the eggs and little meat provided several weeks into the dieta (nutrient starvation does amazing things to change peoples’ beliefs).
This recommendation to avoid animal foods is ubiquitous though, and appears to be mostly based on the fact that it is often repeated. But abiding by dogma without critical thinking and feeling does nothing to benefit anyone. From my experience, I have been on both ends of the spectrum during my time working with Ayahuasca—for a time I ate a solely vegetarian diet because that was what everyone suggested. During that time, which lasted a couple of years, my health continuously declined and my work with the medicines almost had to come to a halt. Later, after realizing I needed a change, I swung in the opposite direction and ate solely as a carnivore eating only animal foods. If anything, my connection to the medicines, to Spirit, and to myself were much stronger on the carnivore diet. It was my personal experience of eating as a carnivore while working with Ayahuasca that initially got me questioning the dogma about avoiding animal foods. After several years of researching this both with my head, but also with my body and lived experience, I have failed to find any compelling basis for this recommendation. It is dogma, plain and simple, and not very helpful dogma at that.
Note: There is an aspect to the liver/gallbladder cleansing properties of Ayahuasca that might benefit from limited proteins and fats around the time of working with the medicine, but this is not true for everyone. Not everyone experiences these cleansing effects, especially those who have significant experience with Ayahuasca. So, I don’t find this reason alone compelling enough to make it a blanket rule.
However, this issue is much more nuanced and that might be why so many people just write all animal foods off. Fatty fishes are probably not the best choice as they contain mostly Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) that have a detrimental impact on one’s health and minerals. However, this doesn’t have anything to do with Ayahuasca specifically. The heavy metal content of seafood would also prove problematic as Ayahuasca is a master detoxifier (and chelator of metals) and will attempt to purge heavy metals from the system. In my experience, it’s probably best to avoid as many heavy metals as possible in your diet, and if that means eliminating fish, I would agree. But beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, deer, elk, bison are all quite compatible as long as they are not processed, fermented or aged. Fresh meats are usually very low in tyramine, which is the one compound that you really want to avoid when working with Ayahuasca.
This is not to say that eating a vegetarian diet is not helpful in connecting with the medicines—it very well can be. But, for extended periods of time, such a diet is deficient in certain nutrients that can really only be found in animal foods, and this is the main issue. Eliminating animal foods for a few days for ceremony is quite fine, but over lengthy periods of time can deplete one of essential nutrients. More on that another time.
This is one that will require an entire post about another time, but none of this has anything to do with compatibility with the medicines. In fact, I would not recommend westerners eliminate salt prior to working with Ayahuasca unless they have exceptional mineral status on par with the people of the jungle. For most westerners, eliminating salt can be detrimental because a lot of people are suffering from adrenal fatigue. Salt and potassium are critical for maintaining adrenal function. This in mind, there is a benefit in eliminating salt for some people, and it relates to the cleansing process. When salt is eliminated, water is also shed from the body, and with that water can go lots of toxins. But, guess what also goes with that water—your valuable minerals. So, it’s not necessarily going to be helpful for people who have not been working to mineralize their bodies.
Now this is a no-brainer, or is it? Alcohol contains tyramines, which are not compatible with Ayahuasca. Alcohol also causes magnesium to be excreted by the kidneys, and a whole host of other damaging effects. However, I will say that I personally have witnessed very experienced curanderos with 40+ years of working with Ayahuasca three times a week, drink several beers the day of ceremony. Apparently the rules only apply to Westerners, not to the Shipibo themselves! But, it is wise not to just copy the indigenous people of the jungle because their physiology and mineral status is quite different.
Fermented, Pickled Foods, etc.
This is really the only category of foods that should ever be viewed as prohibited when working with Ayahuasca. Fermented, aged, and overripe foods all contain tyramine, and tyramine is not compatible with this medicine. This is also why alcohol is not compatible and fruits like raspberries that are almost always rotten/mushy. Most places would benefit from simplifying their diet guidelines to simply state: “Avoid tyramines for 1-2 days prior to and 1-2 days after ceremony.” This would also apply to aged meats, cheeses, etc, all of which contain tyramines.
Now we arrive at a recommendation that is quite helpful and that is to eliminate spicy foods like chili and pepper. I would go further and advise people to eliminate onions and garlic, both of which can reduce the brain’s ability to get into Alpha brainwave states. It is well-recognized in the meditative traditions too that spices can lead the mind to be overactive. In Ayurveda, onions and garlic are often said to cause chitta vrti or mind agitation. And, there is something to be said of this in practice. Part of the issue is that these plant foods contain a lot of plant defense molecules. What we taste as spice are chemicals in the plant designed to prevent predation. Stupid humans we are to ignore the warnings! So, eating plant defense chemicals can complicate working with Ayahuasca in a sense because these chemicals prevent our minds from settling down. While the interaction is not one to be concerned of from a health standpoint, it’s probably better not to spend an entire ceremony trapped in mind loops if it can be avoided by eliminating these foods.
The recommendation to eliminate sugar is one I see a lot, and again, this one is nuanced. Processed and refined sugars are incredibly destructive to magnesium. But sugars like honey and molasses do not have this effect. It is also possible that this recommendation is provided out of a belief that people are addicted to sugar and that by making a sacrifice of sorts, they will be rewarded by the medicine. Giving up addictive habits is certainly something to consider pre-ceremony, but that would apply to many vices, not simply sugar.
Yet another belief is that by consuming sugar one will mute the effects of the medicine. There is some truth to this as well, but the timing is important, and a little honey or molasses the day of ceremony likely won’t have any noticeable effects. The bottom line is that processed and refined sugars are the culprits here and they should most definitely be eliminated because of their impact on magnesium (and iron). But fruit, honey, and molasses are quite compatible.
Foods to Eat
Now let’s look at the foods they recommend. The top three recommendations are to eat lots of: Fresh or cooked vegetables; Legumes, beans, and peas; Rice, buckwheat, oats, barley, or other cereals. But, later they say only raw foods on the day of ceremony. So cooked or raw? The one thing I will say is that a lot of fiber in and around ceremony will often lead to a lot time in the bathroom regardless of whether it’s cooked or raw. So, if one wants to go deep in the medicine, and not have to pay frequent visits to the bathroom, fibrous foods like the ones recommended may not be the best choice. Also, it’s important to consider that lots of seeds and nuts contain phytic acid that binds to minerals. To reduce the phytic acid, grains and seeds should be sprouted.
On my ceremony days, fruit juice, coffee, a smoothie (often with some beef liver), and eggs, all are great starts to the day and keep me well-nourished. There is some benefit in limiting fats and protein, but there is no need to totally eliminate these essential parts of the human diet. If I have to eat in the afternoon prior to ceremony, I usually stick to bone broth, which is nourishing and doesn’t contain any fiber, or a little fruit.
Let’s talk about the obvious contradictions now. Here they say Ghee is allowed and even eggs—but they previously said no animal foods. Oh well, perhaps they don’t know that Ghee comes from cows and eggs from from chickens. These are great recommendations by the way, but I would add to the list of oils: any saturated fat is fine, including butter, tallow, or lard. Seed oils and vegetable oils should be avoided by everyone anyway, regardless of whether working with Ayahuasca, so there is no need to go there. But one must ask the question: Why no eggs on the day of ceremony? This appears to be another piece of made up dogma that can be ignored. I eat eggs almost every day for breakfast and they are fantastic on the days of ceremony.
This issue is not as complicated as people try to make it. If you are working with Ayahuasca, eat a diet of organic ancestral foods, which is the diet you should ideally be eating anyway. For a day prior to ceremony cut out foods containing high amounts of tyramine, such as fermented foods, aged meats and cheeses, overripe fruits, and spices such as chilis, pepper, onions, and garlic. Keep it simple and fresh and you will be just fine, and the medicine will reward you for being well-nourished.