In my previous blogs of the ROOT CAUSE series, we discussed that how simply the fundamental forces of Ayurveda called Vata, pitta and kapha can be explained in the modern scientific language and because of varying combination of these forces, we all have different wiring of brain and body making us different from each other.
Now, those advanced beings who had written Ayurveda had realized that different tasting foods act differently on our body and accordingly they divided them in six categories basis tastes. These are Sweet, pungent, sour, astringent, salty and bitter and all of them need to be had in different ratio by different constitutions. Also, most of the medicines of Ayurveda work on this principle only and are a combo of different tastes only in varying proportions.
***This post is an extract from the book THE ROOT CAUSE- Ayurveda, Astrology and beyond for a blissful life”. To pick up a copy of the book, please click the link/s mentioned at the end of this post ⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓
Now, Foods falling in sweet category are the building blocks of the body like bricks and cement of the building and therefore their job is to give shape to our body by adding tissues and also provide us energy to do our daily tasks. Therefore, sweet foods are those that contain primarily proteins, fats, carbohydrates which can also be called as sub tastes of sweet. It has to be borne in mind that one must get all the sub tastes of sweet too in the right proportion for a vibrant health. Examples of sweet foods containing primarily proteins are grains like cereals, pulses, milk and its products, eggs and meat. The sweet foods which provide primarily carbohydrates are starchy vegetables like potato and sweet potato. And last but not the least, sweet foods containing primarily fats are nuts and seeds including their oil, ghee, vegetable oils, meat and eggs.
REFINED SUGAR IS NOT SWEET TO THE BODY
Now, the word sweet is not to be confused with refined sugar. Yes refined sugar is also a carbohydrate but a bad carbohydrate because consumption of refined sugar alone will just increase our energy levels temporarily to give us a kick, however sugar will not replenish our building blocks which are primarily proteins and fats. In the bargain it will hollow us from inside like a building with gaps due to broken or missing bricks leading to high vata. Thus vata like wind will start moving haywire through these gaps causing high and low agni here and there causing depletion of tissues. Thus a person with high vata due to intake of sugar will have weak bones which will lead to physical discomforts like pain and tiredness to overcome which the body will again ask for more sugar making one addict to further weaken the system. On the other hand natural carbohydrates are the good carbohydrates which along with sugar are also packed with fiber and other building blocks. Fiber helps in sustained release of sugar and other nutrients and ensures that system doesn’t choke and blood doesn’t become thick. Going by the nature it is easy to understand that sweet foods reduce vata and pitta (as vata and pitta increase agni in the body and reduce tissues whereas sweet foods increase tissues in the body) and increase kapha.
The second taste is pungent. A pungent tastes task is to increase pitta in the body. We know that our body produces master pitta as discussed in the previous blogs. Pungent foods like chillies, black pepper, capsicum, asafetida, garlic, onion and most of the spices, trigger body to release this pitta in the body. It’s quite logical to visualize that Pungent foods intake increases pitta and reduce kapha. Since high pitta in vata body (due to thin insulation) and very low pitta in a kapha body (as low agni due to low pitta and low vata will mean poor blood circulation) will both increase vata, pungent foods can increase or decrease vata depending upon the constitution of the person.
*** It is important to understand that a food item may be hot in nature (referred to as Taseer) but may not be pungent e.g. sesame, eggs, groundnuts are hot in nature but not pungent, meaning that hot energy (pitta) in form of a chemical called glutamate is stored in them however to stimulate this energy, pungent foods are required by the body. Higher the pungency more and sudden shall be the kick to the body and mind. And that’s why spices like mustard, cumin, ginger, cardamom, anise, oregano, basil etc., which are mild on pungency are considered sattvic spices which are healthier whereas chillies which give sudden jerk and excitement to the body and mind are considered rajasic spices. It’ logical to understand that rajasic spices can never be good for mental health as they suddenly increase the speed of your metabolic processes thereby damaging your body and organs. Also while sattvic spices are required during all weather conditions to keep stimulating pitta (current) in the body for moving the processes, hot energy (garam taseer) foods are required only during winters to neutralize excess of coldness in the weather.
ASTRINGENT AND SOUR
The third and the fourth taste are Astringent and sour. Now, Astringent foods are those whose intake constricts our cells and thus tissues due to compounds called tannins which are used in leather industry to smoothen the leather by constricting its cells on the surface. On the other hand, sour foods are those which expand the tissues due to presence of acids. Thus both the tastes act opposite to each other. To understand their impact on our body, let us see this illustration. Visualize blood flowing through our blood vessels in a healthy person. Intake of astringent foods swill constrict the cells which make up the blood vessels thereby widening the blood vessel in that area where the astringency is being fed. The result will be that blood will stop reaching the other end which means extremities or say peripherals of the body resulting in vata reaching there. In case of vertically aligned blood vessels, one will have more blood towards base and less towards top. And that’s why astringency can increase as well decrease vata, pitta and kapha in different parts of the body. And that’s why the indiscreet and unwise use of these foods is the reason for many incurable diseases in todays world like fibromyalgia, migraines etc. We will understand more about these vata diseases of peripheral and upper body in the next blog. Examples of astringent foods in order of astringency starting from high to low are all sorts of teas including green tea- the modern day fad, coffees, jamun- the indian blackberry, pomegranate, dates, guava, turmeric, most of the vegetables and most of the non-citrus fruits. Don’t we feel dryness or tightness in our mouth after consuming these things especially green tea and jamun? It is because they increase vata by reducing blood flow towards peripherals. Conversely since sour foods expand tissues they will reverse the constriction to reclaim healthy state. Oranges, lemon, tamarind, curd, fermented foods are examples of sour taste. Now, what if a healthy person takes sour foods, the cells of blood vessels including the blood will expand thereby reducing the width of the blood vessels and thus increasing the blood pressure. In such circumstances intake of astringent foods will bring back normalcy by feeding sweetness to those places where blood was not reaching thereby settling deep seated vata. It is this reason that pomegranate, guava, turmeric and astringent veggies are the right way to reduce high blood pressure apart from controlling ones master pitta if its too high or too low, however unfortunately due to lack of understanding, this principle of six tastes is totally missing from modern medical science and therefore modern Blood pressure medicine never cures the disease from the root. Rather it further complicates conditions in the long run creating vata imbalance which will be discussed in the upcoming videos. Quite obviously, the effect of sourness on doshas is exactly opposite to that of astringency. And therefore a healthy person with balanced doshas should have both these tastes in equal quantity. A very important point to note here is that since, intestines are the first place of absorption of food, intake of astringent foods with sweet food will increase blood towards intestines while reducing it from other parts of the body which is principle used by Ayurveda for curing ulcerative colitis with foods like bael fruit, the wood apple. All in all like other tastes, both these tastes too, have the capability to create or cure diseases in different people, proving the point that one’s nectar can be another’s poison.
The fifth taste is the salty taste. Apart from table salt or Himalayan salt, salt though in very less quantity is also naturally found in foods like milk, celery, beetroots, carrot, spinach. The task of salty foods is to nourish our tissues meaning increase in kapha with essential minerals like sodium, potassium, magnesium, manganese and many more. Sodium in salt, also increases water retention thereby increasing the volume of all the fluids in the body. Because of the presence of minerals which aid in nerve conduction, salt also increases pitta. Now, higher volume of blood means it reaches farther corners of the body thereby reducing vata and giving a feeling of satisfaction and happiness when more blood reaches the brain thereby kicking it. This is the reason that foods with too much of salt primarily the junk ones are addictive in nature as they give a kick to the brain by gushing blood there. This is the reason that salt enhances the taste of foods and helps us to have more of it. Yes, salt is essential and needs to be taken in moderation. Because, too much of salt will increase so much of volume of blood and fluids that it will start putting pressure on the walls of the blood vessels causing high blood pressure but even less of salt will increase vata and cause issues like headaches, delusions and other vata diseases.
**** All foods contain more than one taste and that too in different proportions, for example coffee is bitter, astringent and pungent. Pomegranate is astringent and sweet. Indian gooseberry that is amla has all the tastes except salt and that is one of the reasons (apart from its pitta reducing property) that it is used as a base in most of the ayurvedic formulations. Apart from your own experience, you may please click on this link⇒ ayurvedic tastes of different foods to know the tastes present in various food items
In the next blog of the root cause series, we shall discuss about the bitter taste which has the most divergent and complex action on our body and whose indiscreet use is responsible for most of the diseases and chaos in today’s world.
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