One of the most basic principles in Ayurveda is that all of the six tastes should be included in every meal. This helps to assure that the food we are eating gives us complete nutrition, that our diet is balancing all three doshas, and that our food gives us a sense of satisfaction. Eating all six tastes has also been said to stimulate the proper sequence of the digestive process.
If you repeatedly omit some of the six tastes you may develop food cravings or find yourself searching the cupboards for “something more”. This can lead to weight gain or binging. The simple step of making sure you have included all of the tastes can help to overcome unnatural eating habits, often leading to easy and natural weight loss.
The six tastes are: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent (dry and puckering) and pungent (spicy). If you have one or more doshas that are out of balance or that tend to go out of balance you will want to include greater quantities of certain tastes in order to balance your individual constitution. Different combinations of tastes bring different doshas into balance. For instance, vata dosha is balanced by increased amounts of salty, sour and sweet tastes. Pitta is reduced by bitter, sweet and astringent tastes. And kapha is balance by pungent, bitter and astringent tastes.
Next week we’ll look at the six tastes and their connection with the five “mahabhutas”—the primordial elements of creation (earth, water, fire, air and space). This week we will review the six tastes one by one:
The Six Tastes
Sweet foods include: Sugar, rice, milk, cream, butter, ghee and wheat products.
Sweet foods, because they are cold and heavy, increase kapha. If eaten in excess they can cause weight gain, a dull or sleepy mind, and congestion. Vata types benefit from sweet foods because sweet adds steadiness and physical energy. Sweet can also help pacify pitta because it cools the body.
Sour foods include: Lemons, cheese, yogurt, tomatoes, grapes, oranges, berries and other sour fruits.
Sour foods enhance digestion and increase thirst. Excessive thirst is a pitta characteristic, but because sour foods trigger the desire for more water, they can also make your body heavier (more kapha). Too much sour food can create sharp, acidic problems such as ulcers, blood chemistry imbalances, acne and rashes, and heartburn. Vata types benefit from eating sour food because it stimulated digestion.
Salty foods include: Salt, soy sauce, seaweed, and kelp
Salt is hot and spicy, increasing Pitta in the body. It also attaches itself to water molecules, making tissues heavier—a kapha function. Too much salt can lead to pitta disorders, such as inflammation, acne and overeating. Kapha disorders, such as becoming overweight, are also aggravated by too much salt. Salt is a good taste for balancing vata b because it stimulates and steadies digestion.
Bitter foods include: Bitter greens (endive, chicory, mustard greens, parsley, sprouts), leafy greens (kale, spinach, chard), brussels sprouts, zucchini, celery, sprouts, beets and grapefruit.
Because of their light, cool, dry quality, too much bitter foods can put vata out of balance, diminishing the appetite and causing weight loss, headaches, unsteadiness, dry skin and weakness. Like sweet tastes, bitter foods cool the body and are therefore pitta pacifying.
Astringent foods include: Beans, lentils, dal, pomegranates, apples, pears, broccoli, asparagus, green beans, grains such as rye, buckwheat and quinoa, turmeric, marjoram and tea and coffee.
Astringent foods are dry and cooling. For vata types, astringent food can cause constipation or gas. Like bitter, this taste is effective in pacifying pitta and kapha.
Pungent foods include: Cayenne, chili peppers, radishes, ginger, anis, onions, horseradish and spicy foods.
Pungent foods are hot and spicy. For kapha imbalances, pungent foods are ideal for heating up your body and clearing congestion. Too much spicy food can cause excessive thirst, irritation, or anger in pitta types or in anyone during hot weather.
One simple option is to use “churnas”, special spice mixtures that are formulated to include all six tastes. However this shortcut has its drawbacks. Getting the bitter taste from spices is not going to give your the same exposure to the health-creating vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting components contained in foods such as brussel’s sprouts and kale.
A consultation with a Vedic expert can help you determine which tastes should predominate in your meals in order to provide optimum balance. For more information on consultations at The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa and Treatment Center, visit
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