Kitchari – The Ultimate Ayurvedic Cleansing Food

Kitchari - The Ultimate Ayurvedic Cleansing Food

After Larry and I finished a 21-day Panchakarma cleanse in Bali we started looking much deeper into the science of Ayurveda and its powerful benefits.

There are three constitutional types in Ayurveda, called doshas: vata, pitta and kapha. They are elemental forces that are at work in nature, in our bodies, and in our minds. To put it far too simply, vata is air, pitta is fire and kapha is water.

Each of us is born with a specific combination of the doshas as our baseline constitution, called our prakruti. Our prakruti determines what will imbalance us and what will support us. Our present-day imbalance is called our vikruti and it is generally what Ayurvedic medicine is treating, balancing the elemental forces that are too high, thus creating imbalance and disease in the body.

Above all other Indian meals, there is one which is considered to help facilitate spiritual growth. It is the Ayurvedic detox food – but it can also be found on many dinner tables on a normal day, as it is loved for other reasons, as well.

Kitchari, pronounced kich-ah-ree and sometimes spelled khichadi or khichdi, has long been used to nourish babies and the elderly, the sick, and the healthy during special times of detox, cleansing, and deep spiritual practice.

Kitchari is the Ayurvedic prescription for cleansing. A mono-diet of kitchari resets the entire system. The beauty of it is that no matter what your imbalance is, kitchari will help to balance it. It is tri-doshic, meaning it balances all three of the doshas. Kitchari is a simple dish made of mung beans and rice and it is used in Ayurveda to heal all that ails, kind of like chicken soup in the west. 

For most of us, the idea of cleansing with beans and rice is a little crazy. Where’s the green juice? Where’s the cayenne-lemonade? Where’s the feeling of gnawing hunger that lets you know that you are really purging those toxins? You see, the Ayurvedic approach to cleansing contrasts the the cold, raw, liquids that we generally associate with detox. And it’s kind of a paradigm shift for those of us used to raw protocols for cleansing. Raw food is cleansing. There is no doubt about that, but it is also hard to digest. Ayurveda comes at the whole thing from another angle.

In Ayurvedic philosophy, health starts in the digestive system. The function of the whole system is dependent on the proper digestion, assimilation, and elimination of our food. If these things aren’t happening properly, we become vulnerable to disease. The metabolic energy of digestion called agni in Sanskrit, literally means fire. This fire must be strong for us to properly digest and assimilate our food and so its strength is a direct indicator of the health of our entire system. And so, beyond just cleansing the body, kitchari will rekindle low agni, paving the way for greater balance in the entire system.

The purpose of a mono-diet of kitchari is to give the body just one thing that it has to digest. In allowing our bodies to sink into the rhythm of digesting one really digestible thing, we give it a rest. In resting, the miracle of self-healing starts to occur.

Our bodies know how to cleanse and they know how to heal, they just need the proper container.

Kitchari cleansing is one such container.  Each ingredient in the kitchari plays a specific role in the process. The mung beans are alkaline forming and blood-purifying but they also provide protein and nutrients to nourish the body. The rice is easily digested, the warming spices kindle the agni, and the ghee lubricates the system, allowing for smooth passage. As simple as it is, this ancient remedy works some insane alchemy on the body.

 Kitchari is a simple dish made of mung beans and rice and it is used in Ayurveda to heal all that ails, kind of like chicken soup in the west.

Why White Rice?

The first question you might ask is, why white rice? During a cleanse, the metabolism slows down and the digestive strength weakens, so any food eaten must be very easy to digest.

For kitchari, white rice is used because the husk has been milled off to make the rice easier to digest. While brown rice may be used – and will actually supply more nutrients – the husk makes brown rice much harder to digest. During cleansing, a time of already compromised digestion, this can irritate the intestinal wall and cause digestive gas or abdominal pain.

kitchari white rice in bamboo basket image

Traditionally, farmers would bring their rice to the miller and have the rice de-husked based on their needs. If someone was sick, elderly, or there was a baby in the house, all of the husk would come off, making white rice for the ease of digestion. Brown rice was used only if digestive strength was optimal or when funds were short, as it was expensive to have the rice prepared and de-husked.

Typically, long-grain white rice was used over short-grain rice because it was believed to be more nutritious. Even without the husk, it was considered a more stable food than short-grain rice. Now, studies have shown that long-grain white rice has a lower glycemic index than short-grain rice.

Why Split Yellow Mung Beans?

kitchari split yellow mung dahl beans image

To be called kitchari, the rice has to be cooked with a legume. Traditionally, that legume was split yellow mung dahl beans. These are the only legumes that are classified as “vata balancing” in Ayurveda. This means that, unlike every other type of beans or lentils, they will not produce any intestinal gas.

Split yellow mung beans also have their husk naturally removed. When they are split, the husk, which is very hard to digest and gas-producing, naturally falls off. This process naturally renders them much easier to cook, digest, and assimilate.

A Perfect Protein

The combination of rice and beans has been a staple around the world for 10,000 years, and for good reason. You have probably heard the term complete protein, but let’s take a minute to really understand what that means.

There are 20 amino acids that combine with one another to make the proteins the body needs. Ten of them, the body can synthesize on its own. The other ten, called essential amino acids, the body does not make, meaning we must get it from our foods. Animal proteins are “complete” in that they contain all ten essential amino acids, but plant foods need to be combined to make a complete protein.

Rice, like most grains, is very low in the amino acid lysine. As a result, if you live on grains alone, you will likely become protein deficient. Legumes and lentils, on the other hand, have lots of lysine, but they are generally low in methionine, tryptophan, and cystine. Fortunately, grains are high in these three amino acids.

So the marriage of rice and beans, as found in kitchari, has been providing the ten essential amino acids and making complete proteins for cultures around the world for thousands of years. For cultures that have subsisted on a plant-based diet, this marriage is often what allows their diet to be nutritionally sustainable.

kitchari, has been providing the ten essential amino acids and making complete proteins for cultures around the world for thousands of years

Kitchari for Cleansing

How To Do a Kitchari Cleanse

  1. Determine the number of days you will cleanse for
  2. Begin to eliminate common foods that cause imbalance a few days before the cleanse (alcohol, caffeine, sugar, meat, processed foods, etc.)
  3. Make kitchari daily (if possible) and eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  4. Drink warm, herbal teas and water throughout the day
  5. Get plenty of rest and take time for self-care (oil massage, warm baths, yoga, meditation)
  6. In the mornings drink a cup of warm water with lemon followed by another glass of warm water to flush the system
  7. If you need to eat something other than kitchari try some fresh, seasonal fruit in the morning or cooked grains with ghee

During a cleanse, it is essential to have adequate protein to keep the blood sugar stable and the body burning fat.

One of the most common reasons folks have trouble with cleansing is due to unstable blood sugars made worse by the detox process. During a fast, for example, you are asked to drink only water, juice, or veggies. For many, this type of austere fasting can be a strain and deplete blood sugar reserves. Then folks get really hungry and irritable, and end up with a low blood sugar headache or crash. While the goal of a fast is to shift the body into fat metabolism and detox the fat cells, this will not happen if the body is under stress and strain as a result of a difficult fast.

Here’s the basic equation:

Stress = Fat storing
No Stress = Fat burning

If you are attempting to detox heavy metals, preservatives, chemicals, pesticides, and environmental toxins from your fat cells with a cleanse, make sure that you are not straining, or the amount of fat burned will be minimal.

Kitchari provides nourishment in the form of a complete protein that will keep the blood sugars stable during a cleanse. Otherwise, ironically, the body may react to the cleanse as a fat-storing emergency!

The goal of any effective cleanse should be to convince the body and the cells that life is not an emergency and that it is okay to burn that stored fat and release toxins. During a kitchari cleanse, you are eating this complete protein three meals a day, so there is no starvation response whatsoever. In fact, I always say that during our Colorado Cleanse and Short Home Cleanse, if you are straining or hungry then you are not getting the optimal benefits. The more comfortable you are the more fat you will burn.

Stress = Fat storing
No Stress = Fat burning

Kitchari to Heal the Gut

In India, kitchari is often the first food for babies, not only because it is so easy to digest, it also heals and soothes the intestinal wall.

With 95 percent of the body’s serotonin produced in the gut, it is clear we process our stress through the intestinal wall. Chronic stress will irritate the intestinal wall and compromise digestion, the ability to detoxify through the gut and cope with stress.

During a kitchari cleanse, the digestive system can heal. While we offer four dietary options in our kitchari cleanses, eating just kitchari as a “mono diet” allows much of the digestion to be at rest during the cleanse, providing the nutrition needed to heal the gut and nourish the body.


  1. Use fresh, organic and seasonal, and local veggies. This will give you the most vibrant energy, keep you nourished, and connect you with the cycles of nature. Be sure to use organic veggies since we want to make sure you aren’t adding more toxins and pesticides while you are trying to clean them out.
  2. Make a new batch of kitchari every day. Having it fresh will keep you motivated and interested in eating it, and it will also allow you to enjoy the prana (energy) of the food, which is depleted in leftovers.
  3. Set an intention. Remind yourself of why you are doing this cleanse and dig deep to find your higher purpose for it. Your body and your energy will respond to your thoughts and intentions. Your body doesn’t respond in the same way to “I want to lose 5 pounds, I want to lose 5 pounds, I MUST do this…” as it does to “I want to heal my body and come back to balance. I am willing to release old habits and connect to something deeper…” Personally, I like to set an intention to heal and connect to my deepest self. To remind myself I simply say “I love you,” to my body every time I feel hungry. This brings new awareness and sweetness to the practice and reminds me of my intention. In short, setting an intention brings the practice from the ordinary to the sacred.
  4. Feed yourself nourishing thoughts and energy rather than food. We are nourished by our thoughts and actions just as much as we are nourished by food. So clear out your calendar as much as you can. Know that you are prioritizing you and your health during these 3-10 days. Take the time to ease into the morning, start a meditation or yoga practice daily, get yourself a massage, or take baths each night. Let this be a time for total self-love, reflection, and connection. It is amazing how much time and energy we have when we don’t need to think about food and preparing it. Use that time to connect to spirit, God, the deepest part of yourself.
  5. Get your friends involved. Let people know that you are on a kitchari cleanse and see if you can get them on board (hint: share this post!). This will keep you accountable. I think cleansing is always more fun and easier with a buddy. On a recent cleanse I would look forward to an email from my cleanse buddy each day like I used to wait for mealtime. It’s an opportunity to reflect, connect, and encourage each other.

The Kitchari Recipe

The routine:

  1. The evening before you start the cleanse you will want to soak your mung beans for the following day.
  2. Upon rising, scrape your tongue with a tongue scraper, if you have one. (They are quite inexpensive and I suggest purchasing one for your cleanse!) If you are new to tongue scraping, be sure to scrape from the back of your tongue right after the bumpy section of your tongue (where your taste buds live) ends. When I first started scraping my tongue, I accidentally clipped a taste bud, which is, incidentally, not much fun.
  3. Prepare a cup of warm water and lemon and drink it while you begin to prepare your kitchari and tea for the day.
  4. While your kitchari is cooking you can do some gentle yoga or spend some time in meditation.
  5. Once you have an appetite, eat breakfast. If the idea of eating kitchari for breakfast is repulsive, you can eat a simply prepared grain such as oatmeal or quinoa. Warming spices like cinnamon and cardamom would be good additions, just don’t put fruit in your oatmeal, as you will want to be diligent about food combining on your cleanse. Fruit is best digested alone!
  6. For the remainder of the day, eat as much kitchari as you wish, whenever hungry, but try not to stuff yourself. You can take a little of the ginger tonic before eating to stimulate your agni. In between meals, drink the Digest + Detox tea and plenty of room temperature water, but limit your liquid intake during and directly following meals. A little water or tea is good for digestion, but a lot will dilute the stomach acid (dampen the agni), making digestion difficult.
  7. Try to eat your final meal before 7 pm to give plenty of time for digestion before sleep.
  8. About a half hour before bed you can take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of triphala powder in boiling water. Triphala is a combination of three fruits that are native to India: amalaki, bibhitaki, and haritaki. Combined they create a super detoxifying formula. Triphala is one of the only things that Ayurveda recommends that all people, regardless of constitution, take every day for the rest of their lives. It is particularly helpful during the detoxification process, as it will bathe your liver, cleansing and restoring it. It is quite bitter so if you are new to herbs, or have trouble drinking foul-tasting things, you can take it in tablet form. Triphala also helps to maintain healthy digestion, cleanses the internal system, rejuvenates the tissues, and assists in weight loss. You can continue taking Triphala after you come off the cleanse for gentle, daily detoxification and nourishment.
  9. Soak your mung beans for the following day, and start the process from step 2 again…

Kitchari : A New Favorite in Your Kitchen

Make kitchari when you are sick, when you are sad, when you are cleansing, for your kids or a loved one when they are under the weather when you can’t be bothered to cook, when you come back from a long trip, when you need to regain your strength, but maybe not for dinner on a first date.

You’ll be surprised how warming and comforting it is, and pretty soon it’ll be the stuff your cravings are made of.



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