Many of us are looking to jumpstart our “summer” bodies and beings. In efforts to shift the perspective from “diet to nourishment”, I’d like to discuss the simple distinction between modern dietetics and Ayurvedic nutrition. It is the Ayurvedic perspective that “a person who eats a wholesome diet, does not require medicine, and no medicine will cure a person who does not eat a wholesome diet”. Hippocrates similarly stated “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.
The science of nutrition has developed overtime, but Ayurvedic nutrition is ancient, holistic, and timeless. As we become more educated on nutrition, we recognize the importance, value, and validity of Ayurveda. Ayurveda serves many purposes- its wisdom and practices keep us rooted and enriched in the realms of health and healing.
Whereas the Standard American Diet (aka. “SAD” because it’s sad) classifies food by macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbs), micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals) and energy (aka.calories). Ayurveda gives importance to the nature of food, preparation of the food, tastes, quantity and quality (sattvic, rajasic and tamasic).
Ayurveda also takes more of an individualized approach to nutrition- taking into consideration individual constitution (dosha), individual digestive capacity (agni), and proper food combining to inspire complete mind-body balance. Gut health (proper balance of agni) is at the core of Ayurvedic health & nutrition.
The Roles of the Six Tastes
Ayurveda understands that nourishment is first perceived through the tongue- through taste (rasa). We can enliven and nourish not only our bodies and minds- but our senses through the intake of food. In Ayurveda, our senses are believed to be the gateways to the mind- thus each taste has different effects on the mind and body.
For example, the sweet taste (and I’m not talking about birthday cake or late night ice cream, rather nourishing sweet tastes like ghee) can help promote growth and strengthen all bodily tissues (dhatus). It can also contribute to healthy skin and hair. Madhura rasa (sweet taste) can promote compassion and love in the mind, however if used in excess or improperly can promote attachment and heaviness.
Ayurveda acknowledges proper nutrition by the balance and proper use of whole foods & all six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. Each taste is made up of two of the Panchamahabhutas (five great elements), hence the relationship to dosha (mind/body types). Each taste also has either a heating or cooling (imbalancing or pacifying effect) on the body & mind. The three stages of digestion also relate to rasa (taste), elements, dosha, organ & location.
Therefore, in efforts to properly nourish oneself one must understand how to eat whole foods properly by the inclusion of all six tastes; how to eat seasonally with six tastes; and how to enhance or refine these tastes in efforts to balance dosha and properly balance agni.