Eating right can seem overwhelming. Almost everyone we know is on one diet plan or the other. Some swear by paleo, others by gluten-free food, still, others claim that the trick is to go fully vegan. What makes things more complex is that expert recommendations change every few years. Given that you have to track calories, avoid fats, eat sufficient proteins and ensure that all micronutrients are taken care of, eating well can take a lot of time. This can seem nearly impossible given the pace of urban life. But not to worry.
We dive into time-tested wisdom to present a simple and intuitive way by which you can ensure that you eat healthy, nourishing food without losing your mind. What's more, different kinds of food can have different effects on your body and mind. A balanced meal can go a long way in ensuring psychological balance and wellbeing. Seems surprising? Read on!
Food, Taste, and Wellbeing
Ayurveda says that balanced food, restful sleep, and healthy sex life are the three pillars of good health. Choosing the right food and using suitable spices can not only provide nutrition but also actively prevent diseases.
The Ayurvedic understanding of food is based on taste. You read that right. Taste. Instead of asking you to ignore taste in order to be healthy, this system helps you make intelligent use of taste to have both healthy and enjoyable meals.
This makes sense because the tongue is connected to your digestive system. Ideally, its job is to identify what food is suitable for your body and in what proportion. Ayurveda asks you to build on this natural ability, by educating yourself about the different tastes and their health effects.
The Six Rasas
Ayurveda categorizes food into six types based on Rasa(taste). These six tastes are Madhura (sweet), Amla (sour), Lavana (salt), Tikta (bitter), Katu (pungent) and Kashaya (astringent). An ideal meal is one that has a balance of all six tastes, personalized, of course, to your unique doshic constitution (as with all things Ayurveda). When in doubt, go by your tongue. If something tastes sweet and leaves a sweet aftertaste, it's most probably Madhura. The same applies to other tastes as well. Let's look at the first three Rasas and their effects on both body and mind.
Madhura foods include almost all cereals including what and rice and natural sweeteners like jaggery, grapes, ghee, milk, and almonds.
Foods with Madhura Rasa, are generally nourishing for the body. They enhance immunity, give strength and ensure the growth and development of body tissues. It nourishes hair, improves complexion, heals wounds and soothes the senses. It's best to start a meal with this taste.
However, this is not a free license to indulge. Refined sugars are not Madhura. In excess, Madhura foods lead to lethargy, obesity and excessive sleeping. You know this first hand from the times you might have had one gulab jamun too many. In extreme quantities, it can lead to loss of appetite and increase the risk of diabetes.
On the psychological level, Madhura rasa promotes a feeling of happiness and contentment. When consumed in excess, it creates attachment and a feeling of possessiveness.
These foods increase Kapha and pacify both vata and pitta. So if your body type has kapha, it's a good idea to go light on these foods.
Typical foods with Alma Rasa include tamarinds, lemons and all fermented foods like curd and buttermilk. Cheese is a prime example of Alma Rasa. These are generally considered to be digestive stimulants that enhance appetite, improve digestion and help in relieving bloating. Amla Rasa should follow Madhura in a meal.
However, when eaten in excess, it can lead to thirst, acidity, heartburn and even hot flushes. It can heat up your body and cause skin diseases in excess. Over a period of time, it can accelerate the greying of hair and wrinkling of the skin. So if you want to stay young and avoid that heartburn, go light on Amla Rasa.
On the psychological level, Amla Rasa awakens the senses, improves sharpness and decision-making ability. However, in excess, it can lead to envy, anger, and resentment.
Amla foods can increase Pitta and Kapha doshas and reduce Vata. So if your body type has Pitta, it's good to moderate these foods.
Lavana ( Salty):
Lavana foods are typically various kinds of salts including rock salt, mineral salt, and black salt. Since watery vegetables like tomatoes and cucumber also contain salt, they are considered as Lavana foods. In an ideal meal sequence, Lavana Rasa must follow Madhura and Amla tastes.
These foods can improve appetite, relieve sprains and cramps in the body and help in relieving bloating. Being mild laxatives, they can cleanse the digestive tract. Salts also help flush toxins from the body.
When eaten in excess, it can disturb all the doshas. These foods can cause kidney stones, skin diseases and, you guessed it, hypertension. It also tends to increase body heat leading to issues like fainting, hair loss, and gastric issues.
On the psychological level, Lavana foods can improve enthusiasm and boost confidence. When had in excess, it can lead to a feeling of greed.
Lavana balances Vata but increases both Kapha and Pitta doshas. So if your body type is in the latter two, you can consider reducing salt in your meals. Natural mineral salt is considered to be far superior to other kinds of salts.
If this seems complicated at first glance, don’t worry. It's all about taste. You'll get the hang of it as you start observing the Rasas in your meal and how your body responds over the course of the day. We will be back soon with another article on the three remaining rasas and how you can personalize this wisdom to your body.