Long before the U.S. FDA issued recommended daily allowances for fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, we listened to our taste buds to determine which substances were edible, how much of each to consume, and how to create balance in our bodymind. A core concept in the ancient Ayurvedic healing system is the six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent.
A simple way to make sure that you are getting a balanced diet is to include the six tastes in each meal. The energy and intelligence of the natural world is packaged for your consumption in these six tastes. Including all six tastes in every meal not only ensures that all major food groups and nutrients are represented, but it also provides you with the feeling of satisfaction in eating. When you finish a meal feeling satisfied, you will be much less likely to find yourself raiding the cupboards or refrigerator two hours later.
The typical American diet tends to be dominated by the sweet, sour, and salty tastes (the main flavors of a hamburger). We do need these tastes, but they can lower metabolism, especially if eaten in excess. The pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes, on the other hand, are anti-inflammatory and increase metabolism.
If we can’t build all six tastes into every meal, the next best thing is to make sure that we at least eat each of them every day.
Each taste has a specific effect on the mind-body physiology:
- Sweet is the taste of most carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. It is the main taste in starchy foods like breads, pasta, and rice. Meat and fats are also sweet, as are sugar, honey and molasses. Sweet has a soothing effect on the physiology. It brings about satisfaction and builds body mass.
- Sour is the taste of acid. The sour taste is found in citrus fruits, yogurt, cheese, tomatoes, pickles and vinegar. Because it stimulates the production of stomach acid, it is stimulating to the appetite and aids in digestion. The sour taste is beneficial for those trying to enhance a sluggish appetite but may be irritating to those suffering from heartburn.
- Salty is the taste of the ocean. The salty taste is found in sauces, cured meats, fish, and of course, table salt. It enhances appetite, stimulates digestive juices, and makes other tastes more delicious.
- Pungent or the spicy taste is found in hot peppers, salsa, ginger, radishes, mustard, cloves, horseradish, and most cooking spices. Pungent foods enhance the appetite and improve digestion. The pungent taste also promotes sweating, and clears sinus congestion. This taste can help increase the metabolism, but the heat may aggravate Pitta imbalances.
- Bitter is the taste found in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, kale, sprouts, beets, and celery. Bitter foods are depleting and detoxifying to the system. The bitter taste promotes weight loss, but if eaten in excess may cause some gas or indigestion.
- Astringent is the taste that puckers the mouth and has a drying effect on the body. Beans, tea, cranberries, tart apples, grape skins, and pomegranates are all examples of astringent foods.
How the Six Tastes Create Balance and Satisfaction
The human brain sends hunger signals when it becomes aware of the need for food. As we eat, our taste buds send messages to the brain informing it if we have ingested foods that provide the energy and nutrients we need. The six tastes are the codes that inform our nervous systems of a meal’s nutritional content. If we sample foods that correspond to each of these tastes throughout the day, our meals will provide a wide assortment of health-promoting nutrients. If we do not have all flavors available, the brain is not satisfied and continues to send signals to eat more. As a result, we take in too many calories but remain malnourished. In order to include all six tastes in your meals, you may need to experiment with different food and new spices.
Enjoy the experiencing of nourishing your body with delicious, flavorful food!