Monday, 6 August 2007

The Six Tastes of Ayurveda — Balance through Nutrition

Publication: Discover Ayurveda
Author: Unknown

With Maharishi Ayurveda, a balanced diet does not revolve around calories, vitamins, carbohydrates, and proteins. These nutrients are known to us intellectually but the tastes are a direct experience and give enormous and useful information directly to the tissues in the body. Ayurveda allows us to eat a balanced diet naturally, guided by our own instincts, without turning nutrition into a complicated intellectual exercise.

Tastes should be balanced in the diet for optimum nutrition and health. All of the Maharishi Ayurveda herbal formulas are based on the science of the six tastes. For example, the bitter effect of herbs helps in the fight against infections. What is the first medicine prescribed by an allopathic physician for infections? Penicillin, a very bitter tasting medicine.

There are six tastes described in Ayurveda. The term taste not only applies to the perception of taste buds located on the tongue, but to the final reaction of food in the acid medium of the stomach. These tastes are sweet, sour, salty, astringent, bitter and pungent. Vata dosha is balanced by sweet, sour, and salty. Pitta dosha is balanced by bitter, astringent and sweet, and Kapha dosha is balanced by pungent, bitter, and astringent.

All the six tastes are combinations of the five building blocks of nature. Each taste contains all five elements in it but has a predominance of two elements. This is known as the prakriti of the tastes. They are as follows:

sweet - earth and air
sour - earth and fire
salty - water and fire
bitter - air and fire
pungent - air and fire
astringent - earth and air

It is best to include all six tastes in each meal, but include more of the tastes that balance your individual physiology and follow the rhythms of the seasons and a lesser amount of the tastes that create imbalance in your body and mind.

As a general guide, the following are a list of foods in each of the taste categories:

Sweet - increases Kapha and balances Pitta and Kapha, brings satisfaction to the mind and body, feels nourishing, brings contentment and generates a soothing feeling. However, too much of the sweet taste brings dullness and drowsiness. Sugar, honey, cream, rice, wheat, butter, milk, ghee, dates, sweet fruits, coconut and licorice root are examples of the sweet taste.

Sour - increases Pitta and Kapha and balances Vata, sparks digestion, adds flavor to food, can add to fluid retention, and excess sour foods lead to acidic stomach and skin inflammation. Lemons, grapefruits, olives, yogurt, cheese, pickles, tomatoes, and vinegar are sour in taste. Maharishi Ayurveda recommends avoiding sour tastes from vinegar, fermented foods, and alcohol because they are toxic to the system and agitate the mind.

Salty - increases Pitta and Kapha and balances Vata, adds flavor to food, stokes the appetite, starts the flow of saliva and stomach juices, aids digestion and heats up the body. Too much salt causes bloating and skin disorders and can be overheating for Pitta. Salt, kelp, and salty pickles are examples of the salt taste.

Bitter - increases Vata and balances Pitta and Kapha, a corrective taste that brings cravings for sweet and salty into balance, tones the tissues and cools the body in hot weather, good for balancing Pitta, reduces bloating, and is good for the liver. In excess, the bitter taste depletes the tissues and creates a Vata imbalance. Raja’s Cup, bitter melon, leafy greens, turmeric, aloe vera, nettles, basil, golden seal, iron, lemon rind, spinach, barley, and fenugreek are examples of the bitter taste.

Astringent - increases Vata and balances Kapha and Pitta, purifies the blood, helps digestion, helps decrease diarrhea. In excess it creates gas, heart pain, and constipation. Pomegranates, legumes, coral, turmeric, Raja’s Cup, apple, quinoa, sprouts and coriander are examples of the astringent taste.

Pungent - increases Vata and Pitta and balances Kapha. The pungent taste helps to reduce fat, is an appetizer, and helps to alleviate allergies. Pungent food should be taken with Ghee or it may irritate the stomach lining and imbalance Pitta. Ginger, garlic, horseradish, black pepper, and chili are examples of the pungent taste.

In general, for a balanced ayurvedic diet, you should eat a predominance of the foods and corresponding tastes that correct any imbalances and include a lesser amount of food groups that include the other tastes. For example, if you have a Pitta imbalance, then you should eat primarily astringent, bitter and sweet tastes but include small amounts of the pungent, sour, and salty tastes. A typical meal may include basmati rice (sweet), mung dah (astringent), mixed spiced vegetables such as bitter melon (bitter) swiss chard (bitter), zucchini (sweet), whole wheat flat bread (sweet), and lassi yogurt drink (sweet and sour).

You’ll find that Ayurvedic cooking can be delicious, fun and easy and your “best medicine” for creating balance.

Potent Ayurvedic Formulas

The Maharishi Ayurveda churnas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) are convenient and easy to use and are precise blends of spices and seasonings that include all six ayurvedic tastes. Sauté the Churna in Ghee and add to your dishes, soups, stews and sauces as they’re cooking or sprinkle over prepared vegatables or rice at the table.

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