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Heal With the Six Tastes of Ayurveda

Jul/09/2023 / by Sweta Vikram

Eating according to your dosha can have potential health benefits

A steel plate or Indian thali with various dishes of millets, vegetables, lentils and curds
Photo via Shutterstock

I have had three clients in the past week tell me that the quality and quantity of their sleep has become better. One of the clients had insomnia for a decade. If you are thinking there is a magic pill out there that can help, think again.

I didn’t recommend any Ayurvedic herbs or formulations to them. What I did instead was work on their diet. I believe that until we fix our food and lifestyle first, long-lasting changes and healing are impossible.

The Importance of Diet

In Ayurveda, ahara or diet is considered one of the three important pillars of health. Food is medicine and your kitchen cabinet, an apothecary.

Ayurveda provides an explanation of how to eat food according to one’s dosha and physical needs. Hence the same food can be nectar for one person and poison for another. That’s why Ayurveda doesn’t recommend generic diets, and why the tastes or rasas matter so deeply. In Ayurveda, there are six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent.

Ayurveda has been concerned with the gut-brain connection for over 5,000 years. Today, western science will also tell you we are what we eat and what we eat influences how we think and feel. Going back to the example of my clients, you can now understand how changing their diet to correct their individual doshic imbalances helped with their insomnia.

Balancing Doshas with Our Diet

Ayurveda emphasizes that various factors influence food: its biological properties, origin, environmental factors, seasons, preparation, emotions of the cook, as well as freshness of the produce. Additionally, proportion of the tastes vary depending on the season and an individual’s doshic imbalances.

Ayurveda recommends including each of the tastes in every meal. The six tastes influence the three doshas of VataPitta, and Kapha. When your doshas are out of balance, these six tastes can help restore this imbalance. But excess of any taste can do harm. 

Eating According to Season

In summer, if a person with high pitta imbalance over eats sour or salty tastes, it can lead to skin or digestive issues. Another example: spring is known as the Kapha season in Ayurveda. Kapha is characterized (aggravated) by sweet, sour, and salty tastes. Ayurveda teaches us that like increases like. So, in the spring season (especially if you are a Kapha-dominant person or are experiencing Kapha aggravation), out of the six Ayurvedic tastes, you’ll use more pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes in your cooking—the opposite tastes. You can read about Kapha-balancing foods here.

Understanding Ayurvedic Doshas and Tastes

Including all six tastes in your diet can also help create a sense of fullness (bye-bye overeating), and ensures you eat a wide variety of foods in your diet. Here is a brief introduction to the tastes according to Ayurveda, as well as their function and impact.

Sweet: Nourishes the body

This is said to be the most grounding and nourishing taste out of all six. It increases kapha but lowers vata and pitta. If you are trying to gain weight, then sweet taste is your best friend. But I don’t mean eating several servings of gulab jamun, kheer or cake.

The sweet taste is prominent in ingredients like wheat, rice, sweet potato, honey, licorice root, pumpkin, maple syrup etc. Consume those instead of desserts made with processed sugar. When eaten in moderation, the sweet taste nourishes tissues and gives you strength.

Sour: Improves Appetite

Did you know that foods with sour taste increase our appetite and production of saliva? This taste decreases vata dosha, but it’s known to aggravate pitta and kapha dosha. Foods with sour taste increase the production of saliva as increase appetite. But if consumed in excess, it can quickly lead to aggression in the mind and body.

Some examples of food items that are considered sour are lemon, vinegar, cheese, citrus fruits, yoghurt, pickled vegetables, pickles, lemon, kombucha, fermented drinks, alcohol, and tamarind, among others.

Salty: Hydrates

This taste aids in digestion and is considered hydrating. It lowers vata dosha. But too much salt can aggravate both kapha and pitta dosha. Think water retention, increase in blood pressure, and impact on your blood. Some examples of foods with salty taste would be sea salt, Himalayan rock salt, sea vegetables, kelp, soy sauce, processed foods that contain salt, and black olives.

Pungent: Improves Vigor

Ever attend an Indian wedding where an uncle or an aunt went from being in-charge to becoming enraged and screaming at everyone? Out of all the tastes, this one is the hottest. For my kapha-imbalance clients, I reintroduce them to the powers of “spicy foods” (in moderation). Pungent taste balances kapha, but it can aggravate pitta and vata.

Spicy taste increases vigor, enthusiasm, clarity, and focus. But too much can lead to irritability, aggressiveness, competitiveness, rage, criticism, judgmentalism, and envy. Some examples of pungent foods are onions, garlic, mustard, hot spices, and hot peppers.

Bitter: Builds Self-Awareness

Many of my young, health conscious, and vata-imbalance clients overdo kale and turmeric capsules. But raw and cold foods, like kale, increase vata in general. And excess turmeric (when you consume large amounts as supplements) can imbalance vata and pitta dosha. Research tells us that consuming large doses of turmeric supplements may cause stomach upset, significantly increase urinary oxalate levels, and, in extreme cases, ulcers. 

Bitter foods in general vitiate vata, and one of vata’s qualities is cold. Bitter foods like kale are supposed to free you from passions. Imagine eating kale every day when you are a high vata individual. Can you see how the imbalance can show up in your gut as well as relationships?

Bitter is the coolest taste of all and is said to offer self-awareness and healthy detachment from worldliness. They are supposed to free you from passions. Bitter taste balances both pitta and kapha. Some other examples of foods with bitter taste would be kale, romaine lettuce, beets, broccoli, bitter gourd, turmeric, and coffee.

Astringent: Cools Your System

I think it’s fair to say that astringent is the most drying taste out of all six. Chickpeas, pomegranate, beans, okra, cranberries, green grapes, green tea, figs, and legumes fall into this category. In moderation, like bitter food, astringent food will help mentally purify and strengthen you. This taste cools you down, clears ama (toxins), scrapes fat, improves absorption, and reduces sweat. People with high vata prakruti or vikruti should be mindful of how much astringent taste they consume.

Excessive drying can lead to dryness in the mouth, imbalanced digestion, gas, and eventually constipation. Astringent taste benefits people with pitta dosha and kapha dosha. According to Dr. Vasant Lad, “too much of the astringent taste can also cause muscle and joint discomfort, stagnation in the blood and lymph, sluggish circulation, difficulty sleeping, emotional heaviness, and feelings of anxiousness.”

“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained yogi and ayurvedic practitioner, contact the author here.

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