Taste: Your Mind/Body Messenger

When you sit down to eat, slowly savoring the blends of spices and sauces, the freshly cooked foods and delicious dessert, instantaneous messages from your taste buds prepare your stomach for digestion.

How Taste Talks

Ayurveda describes the deep link between health and taste. It posits that taste “speaks” to Vata, Pitta and Kapha doshas, the three governors of your body’s functioning. For example, if you eat a hot chili pepper, your eyes water, your body heats up and your mind gets a shot of mental clarity. The spicy taste increases Pitta, which is hot by nature. If you ate some mint chutney, it would cool off the hot Pitta. In this way, various tastes increase or decrease Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

Ayurveda has long considered food as medicine. The tastes you choose to eat have the power to help bring your body into a health balance—or to create imbalance.

Which Tastes Are For You?

Ayurvedic texts divide all foods into six tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent. Sweet doesn’t just mean sugary—it includes breads, milk and cream, and rice. Astringent means dry foods such as beans, broccoli and apples. Bitter tastes include grees such as spinach. Pungent foods are spicy and hot.

How do you know which tastes to eat? The main guideline is to include all sixe tastes at every meal, to satisfy all three principles.

Besides making sure that you are eating all six tastes, favor—meaning, add more—of the tastes that balance your particular mind/body type. For instance, if you have more of slow-moving Kapha in your constitution, you will probably feel lighter, more active, and mentally sharper by eating more of the the tastes that decrease Kapha. Thus your diet should include more pungent spices such as ginger, bitter foods such as leafy greens, and astringent foods such as bean soups.

Here is an overview of how tastes influence the doshas:

Vata Balancing: sweet, sour, salty

Vata Aggravating: bitter, astringent, pungent

Pitta Balancing: sweet, astringent, bitter

Pitta Aggravating: sour, pungent, salty

Kapha Balancing: bitter, pungent, astringent

Kapha Aggravating: sweet, sour, salty

So, if your mind/body type is more Vata, favor sweet, sour and salty foods. And if you have a lot of fiery Pitta, eat more sweet, bitter and astringent tastes and avoid large quantities of pungent, sour and salty foods.

It is helpful to also pay attention to the time of year and which dosha is dominant in your environment. During the cold, dry, windy weather of fall and early winter, Vata dosha is naturally enlivened. At this time, start to reduce the amount of foods that increase Vata and begin to favor those spicy Pitta foods that you were avoiding all summer. Kapha increasing foods can also be enjoyed at this time. But as the late winter and early spring become increasingly wet, Kapha dosha begins to dominate and it is better to shy away from Kapha foods and add in more foods that increase Pitta. Continue to balance Vata, which may have build up over the past season. During the hot days summer is it best to minimize heating foods.

One easy way to make sure you are eating the right combination of tastes is to use Vata, Pitta and Kapha herbal seasonings, or churnas, which contain traditional spicy mixtures that target specific doshas.

Above all, Ayurveda says to enjoy your food. Whatever you are eating, relax, take your time, and enjoy. Savor the taste. Then your body’s important messenger can do its job.

For more information on creating a healthy balance in the body through Ayurveda treatments and consultations, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa website:

http://www.theraj.com

 

 

 

 

Turmeric: The Spice of Life

When guests are given their going-home recommendations at The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa, we encourage them to use spice mixtures, called “churnas”, when cooking. One reason is that these spice mixtures contain all six tastes and that they help keep the doshas in balance. Another reason is that churnas contain herbs and spices that promote health.

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Today we are going to focus on turmeric, the yellow-pigmented spice that is an important ingredient in all of the churnas. Turmeric has traditionally been used in Indian cuisine and in Ayurveda herbal medicine. Ayurveda practitioners prescribed the spice to reduce inflammation and joint problems, to treat digestive disorders, and to address skin disorders. Due to turmeric’s heating quality, it helps to balance Kapha and Vata doshas and due to its bitter taste, it helps to balance Pitta dosha.

In recent years, turmeric has become well known in main-stream America for its medicinal benefits. Nearly 7000 studies and scientific articles have been published on the medical effectiveness of compounds in turmeric in areas such as chronic inflammation and pain, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and brain health and memory.

How To Use Turmeric

Before I get into the wonderful details of how turmeric supports health and longevity, I wanted to highlight how best to use turmeric. Over-cooking turmeric can easily destroy the fragile molecules of the important medical compounds contained in the spice. To retain the best of both taste and health, add turmeric after you have cooked your soup, grains or vegetables.

Start with melting ghee in a frying pan until it becomes clear. Then add turmeric powder and mix it into the oil. Remove the frying pan from direct heat and allow the spice to simmer in the hot oil for 5 minutes, or until it turns a slightly darker color and releases its aroma. Pour this over your already-cooked food or add it to your pot of already-cooked soup, and serve.

When storing turmeric, it is good to protect the spice from the light and heat. Store turmeric in a dark, cool place.

Now let’s look at the wealth of benefits offered by turmeric.

Curcumin

Curcumin is the most well-studied bioactive ingredient in turmeric, exhibiting over 150 potentially therapeutic effects. Curcumin is also capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. This is why is it is good to add turmeric to healthy fats used in cooking, such as ghee and olive oil. The addition of turmeric allows the fats to be utilized by the brain. Our brains are composed of 60 percent fat and the brain needs fat in order to work properly.

Curcumin has been investigated for its potential role in improving Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, colon cancer, and stroke damage. It can also promote brain health in general, courtesy of its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as discussed more below.

Amazingly, Curcumin has the ability to modulate as many as 700 of our genes. It can also insert itself into our cells’ membranes, changing the physical properties of the membrane itself by making them more orderly. Curucmin also has the ability to affect signaling molecules. For example, curcumin has been shown to directly interact with inflammatory molecules, various carrier proteins, cell survival proteins and DNA and RNA.

Turmeric May Regenerate Brain Cells

Curcumin is not the only important ingredient in turmeric. Aromatic-turmerone is a compound that can increase neural stem cell growth in the brain by as much as 80 percent. Neural stem cells differentiate into neurons and play an important role in the brain’s self-repair mechanisms. This suggests that turmeric could aid in the recovery of brain function diseases such as Alzheimer’s and stroke

Curcumin has been shown to help inhibit the accumulation of destructive beta-amyloids in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients, as well as break up existing plaques. In addition, people with Alzheimer’s tend to have higher levels of inflammation in their brains, and curcumin is perhaps most known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties.

Given the astounding health benefits of adding turmeric to soup, grains and vegetables, we recommend making the use of this wonderful spice a daily practice.

www.theraj.com

Ayurveda Approach to Overeating or Binging

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According to Ayurveda, compulsive overeating or binging comes from cravings. An ideal weight loss program addresses imbalances in one’s physiology and in one’s diet that may be at the root of cravings and binge behaviors. Cravings can arise from imbalances in our body or from actual nutritional deficiencies. It is better not to try to suppress cravings, because they will only return with increased intensity. Instead, in order to eliminate cravings we need to learn to identify what our body really wants, and then thoroughly satisfy that need.

Ideally the first step in dealing with food cravings or binging would be to consult with an Ayurveda expert (or with your doctor) to make sure that your nutritional needs are being addressed. If you are a vegetarian, are you getting all the necessary amino acids? Vitamin B12? Remember that absorption of B12 can diminish with age. Even if you are eating animal products, if you are over 60 you might want to get your B12 levels checked. If you are not a vegetarian, are you getting enough fruits and vegetables? Keep a log of what you are eating at breakfast, lunch and dinner in order to objectively assess whether or not your diet is balanced and healthy.

If you are eating a balance diet, the second question is, are you absorbing the needed nutrients from your meals? Proper digestion is the key to transforming your food into all the essential elements your body needs to function properly. (See Raj Blog post “Digestion, Digestion, Digestion“)

The third question is, are you getting all 6 tastes (sweet, sour, salty, astringent, pungent and bitter) in your meals? Not only does eating all 6 tastes ensure that all the major food groups and nutrients are represented, it also gives us the feeling of satisfaction. As we eat, our taste buds send messages to our brain letting it know that we have taken in the energy and nutrients that we need. The six tastes are the codes that inform our brain of our meal’s nutritional content. If we take foods that correspond to each of these tastes throughout the day, our meals will provide us with a wide assortment of health-promoting nutrients. If we do not take in the proper nutrients, our brain sends us hunger signals.

The average American diet is short on astringent, pungent and bitter tastes. If our brain does not get the signal from our taste buds that all the important nutritional content has been consumed, the brain will continue to send signals telling us to eat more. Due to longstanding habits, our intellect may misinterpret these signals. A lack of bitter taste, for example, may lead to the consumption of chocolate or coffee, when, in fact, the body is craving the bitter taste of spinach. If we are alert to having all six tastes in our meals we are much less likely to find ourselves searching through our cupboards for “something more” an hour after dinner. (See Raj Blog post “Creating Balance Through Taste

When you feel the desire to eat, ask yourself if you are truly hungry. Notice the sensations in your body. Do you feel hunger or something else? If you are indeed hungry, eat. If you are not sure, try the following:

  1. Notice any physical sensations that come up. Where are they coming from? Do you feel some tension or discomfort? When you feel a sensation, your mind will naturally be drawn to the area of the body that is feeling uncomfortable. This is nature’s way of facilitating the healing process. Because attention by itself has healing power, it brings wholeness to the area. With a few minutes you may find that the discomfort completely subsides.
  2. Drink some plain warm water to see if that settles your system. Also, make a habit of drinking water throughout the day. People often mistake thirst for hunger.
  3. Schedule a consultation with an Ayurveda expert.

For information on consultations with an Ayurveda expert, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa:

www.theraj.com

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