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The Ayurvedic Guide to Balancing your Diet

by Mary Beth Janssen

An Ayurvedic guide to balancing what you eat
“Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food.” –Hippocrates
The magnificent holistic medical system called Ayurveda places an emphasis on including six tastes–sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent–at every meal.
The Ayurvedic diet tells us each taste has specific balancing qualities for the mindbody physiology. In Western culture, we tend to get too much of the sweet, sour, salty tastes from our food, with too little of the pungent, bitter and astringent. As a result, we become imbalanced. An Ayurvedic diet is designed to nourish the body and restore balance.
How do you know how to select and combine these tastes in the right proportions for you? It relates to the Air (Vata), Fire (Pitta), and Earth (Kapha) energies (doshas) in our bodies. According to Ayurveda, these doshas are within all of us. One is generally predominant, with another secondary in predominance. (Visit chopra.com to take the dosha questionnaire and find out about your dosha.)
Here is a look at all six tastes and their effect on our mindbody physiology:
Sweet Taste The sweet taste comes from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It’s very nutritive, rejuvenating and builds body tissues. In excess, it may cause weight gain, obesity, diabetes, inflammation and lethargy. Examples of sweet foods include sugar, honey, whole grains, pasta, bread, rice, milk, cream, butter, ghee, oils, meats, most nuts, fruits and starchy vegetables. This taste increases the Earth energy while decreasing Air and Fire.
Sour Taste The sour taste involves acidic and fermented tastes. The sour taste’s energy stimulates the appetite and enhances digestion. It also promotes metabolism and circulation. When taken in excess, sour tastes may create a toxic buildup in the blood, excessive thirst, edema, ulcerations and heartburn. Examples of the sour taste include citrus/sour fruits, yogurt, cheeses, tomatoes, vinegar, salad dressings, fermented foods, pickles and alcohol. This taste increases Fire and Earth energy while decreasing Air.
Salty Taste The salty taste comes from mineral salts. Its energy promotes good digestion, increases the appetite, is mildly sedating and aids regular elimination. As a demulcent, the salty taste helps to soften body tissues. Too much may create hypertension, overheating, blood disorders, ulcers, skin diseases/rashes, and premature graying and hair loss/thinning. Examples include sea salt, rock salt, salted nuts, fish, meats, seafood, seaweed and kelp. This taste increases the Fire and Earth energy while decreasing Air.
Pungent Taste The pungent taste primarily comes from aromatic essential oils. Its energy is heating and stimulating. It clears congestion, promotes detoxification/sweating, improves digestion and circulation, increases appetite and improves mental clarity. Excess pungency could increase body temperature and sweating, dizziness, gastric or intestinal upset, or burning sensations in the throat, esophagus, stomach or heart. This taste includes all hot peppers (chiles, cayenne and black pepper), ginger, onion, garlic, radishes, mustard and cloves. This taste increases the Air and Fire energy while decreasing Earth.
Bitter Taste The bitter taste is found in alkaloids and glycosides, and are anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, detoxifying and stimulate digestion. In excess, it can have a drying effect on mucus membranes. Other disorders may include emaciation, fatigue and dizziness. Examples include bitter greens (endive, dandelion, etc.), rhubarb, turmeric, coriander, gentian, aloe vera, sprouts, fenugreek, tonic water and alkaloids like caffeine and nicotine. This taste increases the Air energy while decreasing Fire and Earth.
Astringent Taste This taste comes from tannins and fiber. It has a healing, drying, and compacting effect. It is cooling and can reduce sweating. In excess it may cause dryness, constipation, retention of gas, slowed circulation and heart pain. Examples include unripe bananas, cranberries, pomegranates, spinach, parsley, basil, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, beans, legumes, lentils and tea. The astringent taste increases Air energy while decreasing Fire and Earth.
Spices and Herbs Spice blends called churnas can help get all six tastes in your meal and they come in three “flavors” for regulating Air, Fire and Earth energies. The Chopra Center has these available, and you can search churnas.com.
To balance the mindbody constitutions, here’s a general guideline:
Air (VatA)
Favor: oily, warm and heavy foods from the sweet, sour and salty tastes.
Limit: pungent, bitter or astringent tastes as well as cold foods and cold or iced drinks, light or raw foods.
Fire (Pitta)
Favor: cool or moderately warm foods from the sweet, bitter and astringent tastes
Limit: sour, salty and pungent tastes, as well as hot foods and drinks.
Earth (Kapha)
Favor: light, dry and warm foods from the pungent, bitter and astringent tastes.
Limit: sweet, sour and salty tastes, cold food and drinks as well as rich desserts.
For more on ayurvedic nutrition, click here

Connect with Mary Beth @cosmicdenmother


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