Nutrition

 We have briefly touched upon the topic of tastes, as they are related to the seasons. This may seem quite an unusual way to look at the seasons, but nonetheless, a useful one when considering health. To better understand the idea of taste from the Áyurvedic viewpoint, it needs to be examined more deeply. These insights offer an explanation of the role of tastes in healing. Unique to Áyurveda is a scientific breakdown of tastes, discussed accord- ing to energies or energetics. Áyurveda classifies herbs, foods, and drinks into five categories. Each has its own therapeutic effects:

1. Taste
2. Element (property)
3. Heating or cooling effect
4. Post-digestion effect (final taste after digestion)
5. Special properties

Taste: Is considered therapeutic for several rea- sons. The Sanskrit word for taste is “Rasa”. It means delight or essence, both of which are heal- ing. A nerve channel extends from the mouth into the head that brings the essence (one definition of taste) to the brain. This essence stimulates práòa, which in turn stimulates the agni or digestive fires. If the taste of the food is not pleasing, the gastric fires may not digest the food and one will not re- ceive proper nutrition. That is why Áyurvedic cooking is a science unto itself, blending the right amount of herbs for the right taste. In our society, we have mixed our sense of taste with unwhole- some (artificial) objects of food (one of the two fundamental causes of disease).

Element: Six tastes originate from the five ele- ments, transmitting their properties: sweet sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent. All tastes essen- tially belong to the water element, having their origin here. No food consists only of one taste; all five elements are contained in all substances. So when it is said that a food has a certain taste (e.g., sweet), it means predominantly that taste. Simi- larly, no illness is caused purely by one doßha.
However, when a doßha predominates, it is said that an illness is caused by that specific doßha.
 

 

Taste

 

Element

 

Food

 

sweet

 

earth/water

 

sugar, starches

 

sour

 

earth/fire

 

fermented, acids

 

salty

 

water/fire

 

salt, alkaline

 

pungent

 

fire/air

spicy, acrid, aromatic

 

bitter

 

ether/air

 

herbs

 

 

astringent

 

 

earth/air*

constricting quality with tannin

 

*Astringents can either aggravate or pacify Kapha due to its earth and air elements, respectively.
All persons need some of each of the six tastes in their daily diet. However, depending on one’s constitution, health condition, and the season, they will take varying amounts of the tastes to balance their doßha. The key is to have a moderate amount of each taste.
The benefits listed on the next page result from ingesting foods that develop these healing mea- sures. However, they relate primarily to the doßha(s) listed. If used by a doßha not listed, they will create excess.

 

 

 

Taste

(Rasa)

 

 

Physical Effect

 

 

Mental Effect

 

sweet

VP

 

builds & strengthens tissues, life sap (ojas), bones complexion

 

contentment, pleasure

 

 

 

sour VK

 

digestiveaid, dispels gas, nourishes, relieves thirst, satiates, helps circulation and elimination, strengthens heart, aids all tissues but reproductive, maintains acidity

 

 

wakens mind &

senses

 

 

 

 

salty V

 

softening, lubricates tissues, laxative, sedative, digestive aid, promotes sweating, purgative, emetic, softens hard tumors, decongests hard phlegm, maintains mineral balance, holdswater, improves taste

 

 

 

calms nerves, stops anxiety

 

 

 

 

 

 

pungent

VK

 

heals throat diseases and VK allergic rashes, skin diseases, counters water, grease, and fat; digestive aid, dispels gas, removes edema, improves taste, promotes sweat, improves metabolism and organic functions, breaks up stagnant blood or clots and other hard masses, clears channels, relieves nerve pain and

muscle tension

 

 

 

 

 

 

opens mind and senses

 

 

 

 

bitter

PK

 

heals anorexia, thirst, skin diseases, fever, nausea, burnng, parasites, and bacteria; blood purifier, cleanses, detoxifies, reduces fat, tissue, and water excesses; antibiotic, antiseptic, digestive aid, cleanses breast milk, digests sugar and fat

 

 

 

 

clears senses and emotions

 

 

astringent

PK

 

stops bleeding and cleanses blood, sweat, diarrhea, heals skin and mucus membranes, prolapse, and ulcers; expectorant, diuretic, tightens tissues, dries moisture and fat

 

cools fiery minds and clears senses and emotions

removes lethargy

V = Váyu, P = Pitta, K = Kapha, ‘-’ means reduces that doßha

Negative Effects Due To Excess

In the table below are the diseases that result from ingesting foods that create excesses in the doßhas. In excess, eventually any doßha will develop these ailments.

 

 

Taste

(Rasa)

 

Physical Effect

 

Mental Effect

 

 

 

 

 

sweet K+

excess fat diseases; obesity, diabetes indigestion, malignant tumors, neck gland enlargement

 

 

 

Kapha: lethargy, Váyu: anxiety

 

 

 

 

sour P+

flabbiness, loss ofstrength, fever, thirst, blindness, itching, pallor, Pitta anemia, herpes, small pox

 

 

giddiness, anger, impatience, hot temper

 

 

 

salty PK+

hypertension,baldness, gray hair, skin diseases, wrinkles, thirst, herpes, loss of strength, abscesses

 

 

anger, impatience, lethargy

 

 

pungent

P+

thirst, depletion ofreproductive fluid and strength,f ainting, tremors, waist/back pain

 

 

anger, impatience

 

bitter V+

tissue depletion,Váyu diseases

anxiety, fear, insomnia

 

 

 

astringent

V+

undigested foods, heart pain, thirst, emaciation, virilityloss, constipation, blocked channels

 

 

 

anxiety, worry, fear, insomnia

 
 

It is interesting that Áyurveda is not concerned with naming diseases. It determines illness accord- ing to the excesses and deficiencies of the elements or doßhas (air, fire, and water). When doßhas are

balanced, illness does not exist. From this point of view, one can see that by understanding the effects of the six tastes upon the doßhas, nutrition becomes an elemental and effective measure in maintain- ing the balance of health. The charts shown above also reveal how various diseases are seen to be di- rectly related to tastes and doßhas. Thus, by fol- lowing an appropriate food plan for ones consti- tution, a person may maintain health and prevent future illness.

 

 

 

Energy (Vírya)

This energy causes the activation of tastes. Foods and drinks possess either cool or hot energy (in the body). Each taste has an associated energy.

 

 

Taste

 

Energy

 

Foods

 

sweet

 

cold

 

sugar

 

sour

 

acidic*/hot

 

yogurt, wine, pickles

 

salty

 

hot

 

table salt, seaweed

 

pungent

 

hot

 

hot peppers, chillies, wine

 

bitter

 

cold

 

alum, golden seal, neem

 

astringent

 

constricting

 

alum, oak bark

 

* Yogurt is sour, sweet, and heavy. Pure forms of the tastes will aggravate ones doßha more easily than complex versions and thus should be used with care.

Aggravating

Pacifying

sugar

complex carbohydrates

table salt

sea weed

hot peppers (e.g., cayenne)

mild spices (e.g., cardamom)

alcohol

yogurt, sour fruit

pure bitters (e.g., goldenseal)

 

mild bitters (aloe gel)

pure astringents (strong tannins)

mild astringents (e.g., red raspberry)

 

 

Post Digestive (Vipáka)

Tastes may change at the end of the digestive process. This is due to the digestive agni fire juices in the alimentary tract (metabolism). For example, foods or liquids, initially sweet, develop an after– taste. This taste may be any of the six tastes. These after tastes also affect a persons constitution. Be- low is the general determination of vipáka tastes (however there are always exceptions).

 

 

6 Tastes

 

Post-Digestive

Taste

 

sweet, salty

 

becomes sweet

 

sour

 

remains sour

 

pungent, bitter, astringent

 

becomes pungent

 

[Throughout this text, the following abbreviations will occur; ‘V ‘P ‘K stands for Váyu, Pitta, and Kapha respectively. ‘- stands for reducing a doßha and ‘+ means increasing a doßha]

 

 

 

Sweet VP- K+ (moist) promotes secretion of Kapha, semen, easy and comfortable gas, and helps the discharge of urine and feces. Produces saliva.

Emotions and Taste

Each of the six tastes produces or enhances a certain emotion when eaten. Thus, emotional dis- orders may be balanced by eating and avoiding foods according to their tastes.

 

 

Taste

 

Emotions

 

Excesses

 

sweet

 

desire

 

Kapha

 

sour

 

envy

 

Pitta

 

salty

 

greed

 

Kapha/Pitta

 

pungent

 

anger

 

Pitta

 

bitter

 

grief

 

Váyu

 

astringent

 

fear

 

Váyu

 

 
Doßhas, Nutrition, and the 6 Tastes

Váyu is balanced by supplementing with moist tastes, sweet, sour, and salty (balancing dryness), and some warm tastes as well. Pitta is balanced by using sweet (moist), and bitter and astringent (cool- ing) tastes. This helps counter heat-related illness (e.g., infection, rash, anger, impatience). Kapha diseases are removed by using sour and pungent tastes (i.e., they heat and burn up water). Bitter tastes, by causing a drying action, also reduce Kapha.

 

Sweet: Generally, food is sweet in taste, neutral in energy, and sweet in its post-digestive effect. It

decreases Váyu and Pitta, and increases Kapha. It nourishes and maintains humors, dhátus (tissues), and malas (wastes).

 

Sour: Examples of sour tastes include sour fruit, tomatoes, and pickled vegetables. All tissues are nourished by sour tastes—except reproductive tis- sue (of the sour tastes, only yogurt nourishes all tissues).

 

Salty: Seafood or condiment. In moderation, salt strengthens all tissues. When used in excess, it depletes tissues.

 

Pungent: Spices and spicy vegetables do not offer much nutrition, but they stimulate digestion.

 

Bitter: Such vegetables offer little nourishment. They are useful in clearing and cleansing diges- tive organs, and in aiding digestion, especially if taken before meals (for Pitta and Kapha doßhas).

 

Astringent: This is mainly a secondary taste. As- tringent foods, like green vegetables or unripe apples, provide minerals but do not build tissue.

 

Energy: Most foods are neutral in heating and cooling effects. To apply hot or cold therapeutics, appropriate spices and foods are eaten cooked or raw.

 

Heavy/Light: Most foods tend to be heavy, though many light foods also exist. Spices can make foods lighter. Oils can make them heavier.

 

Dry/Moist: Foods are also dry or moist. Eating dry foods or toast can increase dryness. Frying foods or adding liquids can increase moistness.

 

Special Properties: (Prabháva)

Herbs also have some subtler, more specific qualities, beyond their traditional rules and defini- tions. For example, basil, although a heating herb, reduces fever. Herbs with similar energies will have different special properties.

Certain external actions affect the herbs’ prabháva; mantras, gems, or just the intention or love imparted by the practitioner alters the herbs beyond the general classifications. For example, ámalakí (embellica officinalis) and barhal (a vari- ety of ficus bengalensis, linn.) both have the same taste, property, energy, and post-digestive taste. Yet ámalakí alleviates the doßhas and barhal aggra- vates the doßhas. Also til (sesame seeds) and madan (randia dumetorum, lamk.) have predominantly sweet, astringent, and bitter tastes. Both are oily and sticky. Yet, madan is an emetic, while sesame is not. Similarly, wearing specific stones like to- paz, ruby, sapphire, etc. can heal different diseases.

 

 

 

Dual Doßhas

It is simply a matter of balance. When doßhas are not in a balanced state, one has to increase the depleted doßha and/or decrease the aggravated doßha. When a person has a dual doßha (e.g., Váyu/ Pitta) they are advised to ingest foods and herbs that increase the third or deficient element (e.g., Kapha). Simultaneously, one reduces the intake of foods and herbs that increase the two excessive doßhas (e.g., Váyu and Pitta).

Foods affect the surface nutrition, while herbs aid the subtle nutrition. There also may be instances when one doßha is greatly excessive, and a second is mildly aggravated. Thus, proper consideration of the degree of derangement is necessary as well.

 

 

 

Tastes and Organs

Each of the six tastes also produces effects on each of the internal organs as well. Again, through ingesting the proper tastes, the health of the organs may be maintained.

 

 

 

 

Physiology of the 6 Tastes

Áyurveda says that each taste, when found in excess in the body will adversely affect certain organs in the body. This information is used as a cross-reference to the five-element view of health and balance, stated earlier.

 

 

Taste

 

Organ

 

Sweet

 

spleen (pancreas)

 

Sour

 

liver

 

Salty

 

kidneys

 

Pungent

 

lungs

 

Bitter

 

heart

 

Astringent

 

colon

 

 

Thus, Áyurveda offers a unique view of the energetics of taste: six tastes (the initial taste, its hot or cold energy, and its after taste), how tastes are related to the doßhas, organs, diseases, and emotions and their special properties. It is a com- plete science of the mechanics and energies of nutrition. Further, it reveals a causal relationship between food and health; how one feels is greatly decided by what one eats.

As discussed earlier, Áyurveda aims to remove the cause of an illness. Rather than ‘curing’ a spe- cific disease, this science addresses the balance of the whole individual. It always considers the three levels of health: body, mind, and external causes. This chapter has examined the Áyurvedic view of how the tastes and energies of foods play a direct role in creating health or illness.

Life habits (external) are considered another essential Áyurvedic healing measure when life style changes are gradually adapted. In the origi- nal Áyurvedic texts, people are cautioned to gradu- ally change their habits. Starting or stopping hab- its (even healthy ones) too suddenly, causes shock to the system. In the chapter on the seasons, a subtle seven-day transition period between seasons is noted and utilized to help people avoid disease during the shift. In the spiritual texts, we find simi- lar wisdom about the transition points at sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight. It is suggested that these are points of weakness and that the person is better advised to spend these transitional times in

sádhaná (meditation). [Astrologically, the 1st, 8th,

15th, and 16th days, starting with the new and full moon cycle, are also transitional days best suited for sádhaná —or at least reduced activity.]

Even for a healing science that suggests vegetarianism to those who are healthy, Áyurveda does not advise giving up meat “cold-turkey “ (no pun intended). Even if a food is bad for ones constitu- tion (e.g., ones favorite vegetables or desserts), or good for their doßha, gradual stopping and start- ing of any life habit is advised. Gentleness is the key. Similarly, if one too radically undertakes a detoxification program, one may experience un- comfortable cleansing, like diarrhea or excess tox- ins aggravating the body as they come out. Áyurveda has the unique position of offering a healing process that does not have to make one feel bad before feeling better; one needn’t feel punished for changing to a healthier way of life. Thus, healing becomes enjoyable. It makes life better, simpler, more natural, and it enhances spiri- tual growth as well. It may take some months be- fore a healing effect is felt. Making one or two changes for health, and consistently following them, is better than experimenting here and there without a foundation for growth and healing. The Áyurvedic motto is, “no pain – no pain.

Also, people often look for quick healing— magic medicine that allows them to continue with their bad habits. In fact, illness is a sign (i.e., a teacher) that life is not being lived in balance. Herbs are a food supplement, not magic pills that instantly remove discomfort. Some people may be impa- tient with this ‘gradual’ lifestyle development, but it is enhanced lifestyle and not a quick, topical cure that Áyurveda achieves.

Chronic indigestion also needs a slow change. One week of kicharí (rice and beans) may be needed for those with severe conditions. Again, some people may be disinclined to make changes, but the alternatives (i.e., illnesses) are less pleas- ant. Eventually one finds a food plan that feels comfortable.

As discussed earlier, food essence rises through the channel to the brain, so it is crucial that whole- some foods are taken for its sattwic (pure) essence. Organic is also very good. Sattwic essence posi-

tively affects the mind. A completely Sattwic mind is the first stage of samádhi (Saibikalpa).

 

 

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