In the West, a balanced diet is comprised of a mix of macronutrients that make up the large part of our diet - carbohydrates, proteins and fats as well as micronutrients – namely vitamins and minerals. Governmental guidelines are useful to help us identify when we fall below the minimum threshold necessary to sustain basic health. In the developed countries it is highly unlikely that we would suffer from macronutrient deficiencies, in fact we have more problems that are opposite in nature. When it comes to weight management, diets are often measured by measure of calories. We are given guides for the ‘right’ intake for the average man and woman, however it is not as straight-forward as calories in converted to energy output. This approach is totally reductionist as calorie intake does not give a full picture of nutrient intake nor does it consider other factors that impact our energy conversion such as genes, epigenetics, sleep, hormones or body type. Of course there are many diets out there that highlight great results for one reason or another but all of them apply a blanket approach to maintaining weight or targeting a specific goal.
In contrast to our modern scientific approach, the ancient seers of Ayurveda took a totally different approach to health and nutrition. I truly believe that we have to look backwards to move forwards. They believed then as we do I do as an Ayurvedic practitioner today that a much more personalised approach to nutrition is necessary that takes the entire person into consideration, the body/dosha type, their mental state, family history, age, season, digestive strength, immunity, energy, health issues etc. can bring overall all balance. Remember that we are all unique and therefore so should out diet be. This can be combined nicely with good knowledge of western nutrition.
Optimal wellness can be achieved through the balance of taste and qualities appropriate to our unique self. This is the true science of personalised and preventative healthcare based on ancient wisdom of Ayurveda.
Different tastes have different effects on our body, mind, senses and emotions. Refining our sense of taste is something that is encouraged in Ayurveda as a way of knowing what our body needs intuitively. Our innate sense of taste is a natural guide to the nutrition required for optimum health. Rasa mean the ‘essence’ or ‘taste’. Taste directly affects our nervous system through prana that connects to the brain and stimulates the nerves, awakens sense and the mind. Rasa is the special sense known through the rasa-indriya (tongue/taste buds). Ayurveda recognise six main tastes (rasa’s) and all are composed of two of the five elements (space, air, fire, water and earth). Each taste satisfies our nutritional needs - the majority of macronutrients come from sweet tasting foods (this does not equate sugar) to many micronutrients found in bitter and astringent tasting foods. Balance in Ayurveda comes from ensuring that each meal has all six tastes is suitable quantities and is aligned with our Prakruti (constitution) so that all our nutritional and sensory needs are met as well as ensure we avoid cravings. Ingenious!
Examples of foods for each taste category:
- Sweet: Banana, honey, jaggery, fruits, sugarcane, grains
- Sour: Sour fruits, tamarind, mango, curds, fermented foods
- Salty: Rock salt, black salt, sea salt/vegetables
- Bitter: Dry ginger, black pepper, dark leafy green, turmeric
- Pungent: Chilli peppers, garlic, onion, clove, mustard
- Astringent: Raw fruits & veggies, herbs, beans, cabbage
Ayurveda uses this knowledge of the six tastes to balance the dosha’s that determine our constitution and govern all functions in the body. For example sweet, sour and salty foods pacify vata dosha, bitter, astringent and sweet tastes balances pitta dosha and bitter, pungent and astringent tastes balance kapha dosha. What’s more each and every ingredient in our diet also has definitive qualities and actions on the doshas that can further direct us to know what will balance and unbalance us. For example, dry crackers popcorn etc. can imbalance vata in a vata dominant person. This is real science – a 5000-year old one!
In today’s fast food society, we tend to have too much sweet, sour and salty tastes and not enough bitter, pungent and astringent tastes thus leading to numerous health conditions including obesity, diabetes and cholesterol. The right balance of tastes and qualities can enable you to control your diet in a way that you can understand with simplicity according to your unique dosha type. Consult your practitioner to learn more.