Different tastes of food such as salty, sour, neutral, pungent and astringent or bitter, affect the body metabolism and each individual differently, say Ayurveda experts. By understanding your body constitution, you will be able to distinguish exactly between the type of foods that affects you positively or negatively, and the quantity of such food to be taken. This can help in maintaining good body metabolism and state of balance.
Hereâ€™s a brief description of the six primary food combinations in Ayurveda, and their effects on body metabolism. Ayurveda believes that a healthy consumption of food is rooted in balancing the six main tastes â€“ sour, sweet, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent.
Sweet taste is cooling, but is also heavy, oily and sticky. Sweet taste coats the tongue and throat, brings softness and stability, and facilitates bowel elimination. It alleviates thirst, and pacifies vata and pitta. Sweet taste also helps in healing of wounds, provided, the wounds are not infected. It is considered beneficial to children. It offers emotional satisfaction and pleasure, vigour and strength.
However, when taken in excess, it causes obesity, accumulates toxins, parasites, can lead to diabetes, atherosclerosis, indigestion, cold, cough, vomiting, loss of appetite and lethargy.
Sour (acidic) taste pacifies vata and stimulates digestion. They moisten and refresh a dry palate, and promote secretions throughout the gastrointestinal tract. For example, salivary secretions improve taste, secretions within stomach improve digestion, while a moist colon facilitates smoother bowel movements. This stimulates digestion and builds body tissues, improves functioning of the senses, and promotes strength.
However, overuse of sour food causes acidity in the small intestine, leading to burning, itching, premature aging and light-headedness.
Ayurveda recommends limited use of mineral salts, and avoiding refined salts. It aids digestion, reduces toxin accumulation in the tissues, increases saliva in the mouth, and has mild laxative effect.
Excess intake of salt can lead to flabbiness, and wrinkling of skin, as salt pulls water into the intercellular space and separates ojas from the tissues. It also delays the healing of wounds, leads to water retention, decreases libido, hardens muscles, leads to premature aging, and causes bone damage.
Pungent (spicy) taste present in spicy foods stimulates digestion and activates metabolism. It dispels gas and induces sweating. However, it is heating to the body and cleanses the blood and skin.
Overuse of pungent taste irritates the lining of digestive tract and other membranes. It leads to pain, burning sensation, ulcers, emaciation, thirst, fever, skin diseases and diminishes reproductive fluids. As it is made of fire element, the pungent taste is fast acting and intense, and the constant contact of fire element penetrates, ulcerates, burns, cuts and cauterizes.
The bitter taste is considered to be the best blood purifier and cleanser of toxins in the body. It promotes all other tastes, reduces tissues and fluids, and relieves burning sensation in the body. Bitter taste stimulates metabolism, and improves respiration. Scientists are said to have discovered the presence of bitter taste buds in the lungs. Bitter taste is also believed to release bile in the liver and gall bladder, clearing the blood of heat and pitta.
Overuse of bitter taste causes coldness in the body, stiffness, colic pain, nervous disorders, headaches, and reduces production of reproductive fluids.
The presence of astringent taste makes it a valuable medicine to stop bleeding and discharges, as it constricts tissues and channels in the body, that help in maintaining muscle tissue and tone. It heals the mucus membranes and the skin. When present in small amounts, it aids digestion. A good astringent like pomegranate or cranberry juice may be helpful when you have diarrhea. Astringent taste also absorbs mucus (kapha).
Overuse of astringent foods leads to dryness of the body, cramps, thirst, constipation, nervous disorders and decreased reproductive fluids.
Ayurveda suggests that an individual can identify his/her ideal state of balance, pinpoint any imbalances, and adopt the suggestions for restoring balance, by including specific foods and herbs, apart from other ayurvedic remedies, if required, for restoring balance, on consultation with an ayurvedic practitioner.