A healthy diet is very important for a healthy body and a healthy mind. An ideal diet, according to āyurvedaḥ incorporates the six tastes prescribed in the literature and comprises a wide variety of fresh fruits, grains and milk
“Taste’ is ‘rasa’ in Sanskrit. It gives different sensations to different parts of the tongue and the palate or the roof of the mouth. Each taste is due to predominance of two of the five elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space). Each taste has an effect on the body as well as the mind. The basic principle of diet in āyurvedaḥ is that physical changes as well as mental effects can be observed after consumption of different food types. In this way, food can directly and indirectly affect the three doṣāḥ (vāta, pitta, kapha) of an individual. doṣaḥ means nature or predominance. vāta is the predominance of air, pitta of fire and kapha of water. One can achieve a balance in these three doṣāḥ by regulating one’s diet.
madhura means very appealing, pleasant or very SWEET. Sweet taste is due to the Water and Earth elements. The sweet taste shows qualities or guṇāḥ such as coolness, heaviness and unctuousness (stickiness).
The sweet taste is related to the strength and stability of the body. It pacifies the vātaḥ and pittaḥ doṣaḥ. However, an excess of sweetness can aggravate kaphaḥ doṣaḥ. Sweet taste is the first and only taste introduced to the body from birth; small babies enjoy the sweet taste of breast milk. Food with sweet taste is wholesome; it promotes longevity when consumed in moderation. It enhances the growth of all seven tissue-elements. It is beneficial to the health of the skin, senses and general growth of the body.
Sweet taste is very pleasant and exhibits pronounced satisfying and gratifying effects. It increases cheerfulness, love and compassion. It gives the feeling of love but if consumed in excess, it increases greed and attachment.
If a person consumes excess sweet food, then his kapha-doṣaḥ is aggravated. It can lead to many diseases like obesity, diabetes, lethargy, increased cholesterol
Foods with sweet taste include sugar, honey, maple syrup and dates to name but a few. Foods like rice, wheat, milk and fruits like apples and mandarins are also a good source of sweetness.
Sour taste increases the digestive power. It exhibits a sharp taste, which stimulates salivation and increases the appetite. It pacifies vātaḥ but increases pittaḥ and kaphaḥ. It promotes strength and stability of tissue-elements. It regulates peristalsis (inner movements); it regulates downward movement of vātaḥ and helps in the digestion of food.
Sour taste is very sharp. It brings alertness to the mind and increases attention. It is responsible for bringing appreciation but if consumed in excess it brings out hate and jealousy.
If a person consumes excess food with sour taste, then he will experience symptoms like excess thirst, hyperacidity and heartburn. There are a number of other diseases like loss of skin tone, skin rashes, gastritis and ulcerative colitis (intestine ulcers).
Citrus fruits like limes, lemons and oranges are good examples of amla food. Other food products include sour cream, yogurt, vinegar & fermented food.
lavaṇa means salty taste and it primarily gives relish to the food. Salty taste is due to the predominance of Water and Fire elements. Salty taste exhibits qualities like oiliness, heaviness and water-absorption in nature. Salty taste pacifies vātaḥ but increases pittaḥ and kaphaḥ.
Salty taste has a laxative effect and it removes obstruction from the channels (srotas). It liquefies mucus and clears the channels. Apart from this, it improves digestion and increases salivation. It balances the blood pressure by maintaining electrolytes in the body. It gives muscles strength.
Salty taste enhances the taste of food so one can enjoy it. This taste brings interest and enthusiasm. Hence, generally people show a kind of addiction to salty things.
Excess consumption of Salty foods causes ill effects like premature greying of hair, wrinkles, baldness and inflammatory diseases. It causes water retention leading to oedema (swelling due to excessive retention of water) and increase in blood pressure. It also increases pitta-doṣaḥ leading to hyperacidity.
Sea salt, rock salt and Himalayan salt are predominant sources for salty taste.
Kaṭu means PUNGENT (SPICY) or very hot taste. It shows predominance of Fire and Air elements. Pungent food shows qualities like hot, dry and light nature. Pungent taste pacifies kaphaḥ but it aggravates pittaḥ and vātaḥ.
Pungent taste improves digestion. It stimulates the digestive fire (agniḥ) in the body. It improves circulations and clears the channels. It has an anti-spasmodic effect. It causes instant watering of eyes and nose if consumed directly. It produces heat in the body and breaks clots in the circulation.
Pungent taste also has sharp and penetrating effects on the mind. It aids the clarity of mind, increases attention and brings clarity of perception.
Pungent food, if consumed in excess causes irritation and inflammation and leads to aggravation of pittaḥ. It destroys virility. It can cause diarrhoea, peptic ulcers, giddiness, insomnia and some skin conditions.
Chilli pepper, cayenne pepper and black pepper are sources of this taste. Apart from this, spices such as mustard, ginger, garlic and onion are also pungent in taste.
Tikta meaning bitter taste produces a very unpleasant taste in mouth. In spite of its unpleasant taste, it is important to incorporate this taste in one's meal. Bitter taste shows predominance of Air and Ether elements. It is cool, dry and light in character.
It demonstrates a strong wormicidal action. It has appetizing effects and reduces burning sensation. It gives firmness to the skin and muscles and reduces skin diseases by its anti-inflammatory effects. It also demonstrates a cleansing effect.
Bitter taste helps to withhold the mind and senses from objects of desire.
Bitter food consumed in excess will produce adverse effects on the body. Further, this taste exhibits spermicidal effects. Excess consumption of bitter taste leads to loss of strength and energy and increased vātaḥ doṣaḥ.
A source of this taste is bitter melon and big green lemons. Herbs like neem (Azadirecta Indica) are also bitter in taste.
kaśāya means astringent taste that occurs due to the predominance of Air and Ether elements. It is heavy, dry and cooling in nature. It gives an immediate drying sensation in the mouth on consumption.
By its drying property, kaśāyam absorbs water and helps in binding stools. It constricts the different channels of the body. It purifies blood by its anti-inflammatory effects. It reduces pittaḥ and kaphaḥ but it increases vāta-doṣaḥ in the body.
Astringent substances help the mind to become collected or organized. But excess consumption of this taste causes insomnia, anxiety and depression.
Excess use of astringent food causes a choking sensation and a difficulty in speaking. It causes constipation along with distension (bloating) of abdomen. It affects the sperm count and can even reduce the sex drive. Prolonged consumption may lead to emaciation of the body.
Unripe bananas, chickpeas, alum and okra (lady's finger) are good sources of astringent taste.