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The Purpose and Origins of the Ayahuasca Dieta

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The origins of the dieta

The ayahuasca dieta has its roots in the indigenous cultures of the Amazon rainforest, where ayahuasca has been used for centuries as a tool for healing, spiritual exploration, and connection with the natural world [1]. There is no single definitive dieta, and the precise prescriptions vary between cultures [2].  For example, whereas the peoples of the lower urubamba river in Peru avoid drinking alcohol before ayahuasca [3], there are peoples of the Colbumbian amazon who do not do this [4].

In traditional cultures, the ayahuasca is often drunk by the shaman for divination purposes [5].  When in training, the shaman typically fasts, consuming simple foods such as broth and tapioca starch in the case of the Tukano people [6].  In Peru, social and sexual abstinence is added to the food diet [7], and a prohibition on pork while in training is common to many ayahuasca-drinking cultures [8].  These shamanic practices form the root of the modern ayahuasca dieta.

The purpose of the ayahuasca dieta

The dieta is seen as a way to cleanse and purify the body and mind, creating the optimal conditions for the profound insights and healing that can arise during an ayahuasca ceremony [9].  On the level of the body, eating a clean, simple diet prepares one’s internal system for the intensely embodied experience of drinking ayahuasca.  Ayahuasca is a purgative, meaning it often induces vomiting, and the dieta can help minimize the physical discomfort associated with this process [10].  Beyond the body, adhering mindfully to a specific eating program can help one to approach the experience with a sense of respect, treating it as a serious ritual as opposed to a merely recreational or frivolous activity.


The specific diet that is prescribed varies between practitioners and retreats, but certain food restrictions form part of most contemporary dietas.  Typically, one is advised to avoid certain meats, such as red meat and pork, as well as spicy foods, salt, and sugar [2].

Drugs such as coffee, alcohol, synthetic street drugs, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants are usually also prohibited for the period of the diet.

In addition to abstaining from certain foods and substances, it is commonly advised that certain activities are also avoided before drinking ayahuasca, most commonly sexual activity.

The dieta encourages individuals to consume light, simple, and natural foods, such as vegetables, fruits, grains, and plant-based proteins, as opposed to heavily seasoned processed foods.  By eating a simple, natural diet, the body and mind are prepared for the intense journey that ayahuasca can occasion.


In addition to the dietary guidelines, individuals preparing to drink ayahuasca may also choose to engage in preparatory practices to support their journey [11]. These practices may involve meditation, yoga, spending time in nature, and engaging in self-reflection. Such activities help individuals attune themselves to the profound transformational process they are about to embark upon, allowing them to set clear intentions, cultivate a sense of gratitude, and establish a harmonious relationship with the processes that unfold during the ceremony.  The period of the dieta is a perfect time to incorporate such practices into one’s life.  In this way, the dieta can be considered as a holistic approach to preparation, rather than simply as a list of food and other restrictions.

Duration of the dieta

The dieta is commonly prescribed for at least 3 days before drinking ayahuasca, although it can last longer [2].  This minimum period is suggested in order to allow the body and mind to adapt to the dietary restrictions and for one to prepare for the experience.  Some practitioners may suggest following the dieta for a longer period, such as a week or more, to prepare more deeply. Extended dietas are often undertaken by those seeking a deeper connection with the ayahuasca experience.

Stages of the dieta

Before officially commencing the dieta, individuals are advised to engage in preliminary preparations. This stage involves eliminating or gradually reducing the intake of certain foods, substances and activities, as a sudden change to one’s diet or routine can be a shock to the system. This period can also include emotional and mental preparation, such as beginning to incorporate preparatory practices into one’s life.  This stage is followed by the main stage of the dieta, where it is followed fully for the recommended period of time.

After the ayahuasca retreat, the dieta continues into the integration phase. This period involves reflecting on the experiences one has had, processing emotions, and integrating new insights into everyday life [12]. Integration may involve ongoing practices, such as journaling, meditation, and seeking support from therapists, counselors, or integration circles to fully embody the lessons learned during one’s ayahuasca journeys.

Medicinal Plants

In amazonian plant-based shamanism, also known as vegetalismo, it is common for the practitioner, or vegetalista, to diet specific medicinal plants in order to build a connection with particular species [13].  During such a diet they may consume very little food other than the plant in question, allowing them to develop an understanding of the subtleties and nuances of the plant’s effects on the mind and body.

Some Ayahuasca dieta practices involve the consumption of these medicinal plants before drinking ayahuasca. These plants are believed to deepen the connection to ayahuasca and offer additional guidance and healing. In this stage, individuals may work with these plants under the guidance of experienced facilitators or shamans.

The science of the dieta

Given the powerful effects of ayahuasca on the body and mind, many have speculated that certain substances contained in everyday foods may not pair well with this psychedelic brew on a physiological level.  Scientists have suggested that the substance tyramine may be important to avoid combining with the brew, as the MAO that usually breaks it down is inhibited by ayahuasca, an effect that may result in increased blood pressure [14, 15].  Foods that can be high in tyramine include cured meats, aged cheeses, ripe tropical fruits and citrus fruits, as well as fermented foods.  You may be told to avoid such foods on your particular deita.  Similarly, it is thought that the combination of SSRIs and ayahuasca can be dangerous due to an excess of serotonin activity in the brain [16]. 

Cultural differences

As ayahuasca has become a global phenomenon, the ceremony and the dieta itself has transformed to combine Indigenous knowledge with Western beliefs [2].  For example, most ayahuasca retreats promote a psychological interpretation of challenging experiences, which may not be how these experiences are typically understood in Indigenous traditions [17].  Similarly with the deita, there can be conflict between how different cultures perceive different substances.

One example of this is the Indigenous plant medicine tobacco, which has been commodified into a non-sacred substance that promotes addiction in the West.  Tobacco smoking is a common practice for the shaman during the ayahuasca ceremony, a practice that can be interpreted as at odds with the cleansing, healing atmosphere of the ayahuasca ceremony for many Westerners, who may have avoided smoking during their dieta [18].  It is important to be respectfully aware of such cultural complexities when engaging with Indigenous plant medicines and the associated dieta.


No matter the specifics of the dieta, one of the most important aspects of this practice is the cultivation of the right mindset for working with this powerful plant medicine.  By being mindful about what one is eating, and of other behaviors, one takes an intentional stance towards the ayahuasca retreat, engaging with it in a spirit of respect.  This benefit is achieved no matter the specific prescription of any particular dieta.


Undertaking the ayahuasca dieta should always be done under the guidance of experienced ayahuasca practitioners or facilitators. These individuals should possess the knowledge and expertise to provide appropriate guidance throughout the dieta process, ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the experience.  Experienced facilitators can provide personalized recommendations regarding the specific dietary restrictions, duration, and practices involved in the dieta.  Facilitators can also offer support and guidance during the preparation phase and integration phase after the ceremony.


The ayahuasca dieta serves as a powerful tool when preparing for an ayahuasca journey.  While many variations of the dieta exist, most involve restricting the consumption of certain foods, such as pork, red meat, spicy or processed foods, salt, and sugar.  Coffee, alcohol, antidepressants and other drugs are also typically prohibited for the period of the dieta, as are some behaviors, such as engaging in sexual activity.  The dieta can last for several days to weeks in duration, and is a perfect time to prepare for your retreat in other ways.  This could involve intention setting and cultivating practices such as meditation and journaling.  The dieta period should be seen as a comprehensive approach to one’s lifestyle and mindset as one approaches an ayahuasca retreat.  By considering one’s behaviors in an intentional and mindful way, it is possible to ensure that things will be maximally aligned when the time comes for your transformative ayahuasca ceremonies.

Learn more about consciousness and the subtle yet important nuances of working with plant medicine in this video.



[1] Luna, L. E. (2011). Indigenous and mestizo use of ayahuasca: an overview. The ethnopharmacology of ayahuasca, 2, 01-21.

[2] Gearin, AK, & Labate, BC (2018). “La Dieta”: Ayahuasca and the Western reinvention of indigenous Amazonian food shamanism. In The Expanding World Ayahuasca Diaspora (pp. 177-198). Routledge.

[3] Gow, P. (1994). River people: shamanism and history in Western Amazonia. Shamanism, history, and the state, 90, 113.

[4] Spruce, R. (2014). Notes of a botanist on the Amazon and Andes (Vol. 2). Cambridge University Press.

[5] Metzner, R. (Ed.). (2005). Sacred vine of spirits: Ayahuasca. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.

[6] Reichel-Dolmatoff, G. (1979). Some source materials on Desana shamanistic initiation. Antropologica Caracas, (51).

[7] Beyer, S (2009). Singing to the plants: A guide to mestizo shamanism in the upper Amazon. UNM Press.

[8] Luna, L. E. (1986). Vegetalismo: shamanism among the mestizo population of the Peruvian Amazon (Vol. 27). Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International.

[9] Hagens, B., & Lansky, S. (2012). Personal report: Significance of community in an ayahuasca jungle dieta. Anthropology of Consciousness, 23(1), 103-109.

[10] Fotiou, E., & Gearin, A. K. (2019). Purging and the body in the therapeutic use of ayahuasca. Social Science & Medicine, 239, 112532.

[11] Callon, C., Williams, M., & Lafrance, A. (2021). “Meeting the Medicine Halfway”: Ayahuasca Ceremony Leaders’ Perspectives on Preparation and Integration Practices for Participants. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 00221678211043300.

[12] Norris, L. (2020). Ayahuasca integration: Where to begin? An applied thematic analysis of ayahuasca-specific archetypes of transformation and integration cues to inform meaning making models of integration. California Institute of Integral Studies.

[13] Labate, B. C. (2014). The internationalization of Peruvian vegetalismo. Ayahuasca shamanism in the Amazon and beyond, 182-205.

[14] Guimarães dos Santos, R. (2013). Safety and side effects of ayahuasca in humans—an overview focusing on developmental toxicology. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 45(1), 68-78.

[15] Brush, D. E., Bird, S. B., & Boyer, E. W. (2004). Monoamine oxidase inhibitor poisoning resulting from Internet misinformation on illicit substances. Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology, 42(2), 191-195.

[16] Frecska, E. (2011). The risks and potential benefits of ayahuasca use from a psychopharmacological perspective. The Internationalization of Ayahuasca, eds B. Labate and H. Jungaberle (Munster: LIT Verlag), 151-166.

[17] Turkia, M. (2023). Touch and play—'spiritual attacks' in ayahuasca ceremonies.

[18] Wilbert, J. (1987). Tobacco and shamanism in South America. Yale University Press.

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