Healing Effect of Various Foods

This article has been taken from main series- Science of Human Wellness, The Complete Health Series, which is a step by step illustration on Health, Yoga and Ayurveda. Food choice based on Rasa (Taste) i.e. Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, Astringent have definitive healing effect on our body and mind; Further, four Stages of food (Taste, potency, maturity, effect) throws great light and helps in working out calculative and effective diet plan.

Importance of Rasa in Ayurveda

My Father was suffering from Asthma for many years. He would often encounter his nose running, cough and breathlessness, he and medicines were very close friends. I am reminded of the time when once in a month, he would get severe attacks and prescribed medicines would only contain him in perseveration and there was no substantial improvement. He was abstaining from banned diet plans and was strictly adhering to instructions by modern physician. Ayurveda is perhaps the only system of medicine that places a great emphasis on food unlike modern doctors whose main focus is only on medicines, as this is how they have been trained and still if they prescribe diet chart then that is not that scientific the way you can expect it through Ayurveda. As and when I realized that most anomalies in physical health can be simply remedied by eating right food, I persuaded by father to follow my own dietary recommendations, and since then he never popped another allopathic pill for his Asthma. Seeing great health benefits to him I realized that food based on Rasa truly is greatest medicine we can have. We consume medicine in milligrams however consume food thousands times more than that, therefore conscious effort in this segment can add great value and well-being to our life. By adjusting the amount of different foods according to your constitution and based on taste you can ensure the consumption of balanced nutrition and good health and feel contended overall. For example eating a sweet juicy mango during natural season will have different taste and impact on your body than eating an, off season mango. Sanskrit word 'Rasa' is not similar to English word 'taste' as it is one of the meanings but does not express it in full sense; Rasa has more wider meanings: On physical plane it implies digestive juices and all that which gratifies our senses and also the way we feel flavors of food, on subtle planes it refers to essence of life which gives us pleasure, enthusiasm and happiness and in Ayurvedic medicine rasa also refers to combination of metals and mercury to make medicines. Ayurveda considers taste as incredibly important to improve our physiological and mental well-being and determines this as tremendously powerful therapeutic tool.

Why Segregation of Food based on Tasting is So Important?

Ayurveda gives great importance to taste our foods and describe six tastes or Rasas as: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Taste buds on our tongue (human tongue is covered with tiny papillae) don’t produce tastes; they have to be connected to taste centers in the brain, when receptors are stimulated by chemical molecules they send nerve impulses to the brain and we recognise the type of taste. Modern medical science has revealed that receptors identical to those present on tongue are also present in pancreas, intestines and testes. Their objective is only to receive and send signal to brain about any undesirable or suffocating substances. Ancient texts describe three types of Pravittis (Intrinsic Tendencies)- Pashu Pravitti is when you are sick you remain sick and live with whatever happens with you as if you were born with this. Manushya Pravitti (Human tendency) is when you are sick you take medicine, go to a doctor or try to cure yourself with any other established mean. Dev Pravitti is when you are sick you know that you are the cause of illness and you take measures to eradicate the very root cause of the illness and heal yourself. Following the taste science is considered as Dev Pravitti and Ayurveda goes to the root cause and try to remove disease from the source. Taste in Ayurveda doesn’t only mean how it tastes, but how it impacts the health. As everything in the universe is composed of five elements and all human beings have different Vata, Pitta and Kapha constitution, the tastes are also no different, they contain five elements and predominantly different Doshas. The moment you change your perception towards taste is the moment you rewrite the chemistry of your body. Ayurveda has a unique approach to break down tastes scientifically; and as stated there are total six tastes or Rasas that are distinguished in the Ayurvedic diet.

1. The Sweet Taste

Sweet is naturally most appealing element of our diets and it is associated with positive emotions like love, compassion and joy and is considered as most sattvic of flavours. In general it is found in sugar and carbohydrates.

2. The Sour Taste

The sour taste is considered as good for digestive system and it stimulates metabolism. It is energizing and refreshing as it awakens the mind. It mainly works as stimulant and when taken in appropriate dose then it contributes to positive emotions like appreciation and comprehension, however lead to agitation and jealousy otherwise. It is mainly found in fermented food and acidic fruits.

3. Salty Taste

It contributes to digestion, absorption, assimilation and elimination therefore when balanced then lead to perfect health, however when taken in excess amount then can disturb all the three doshas. It is responsible for courage and enthusiasm and in excess temptation and irritability. It lubricates tissues and maintains mineral balance and holds water in our body.

4. Pungent Taste

As the name indicates, it is found in hot spices, like red pepper or ginger. In excess it can cause burning and increased irritability, however on positive side it is connected with clarity, concentration and vitality. It plays very important role in our health as it helps in balancing excess kapha, it clears moisture, stagnation and congestion and kindles digestive fire. Some beneficial pungent taste forms are ginger, cooked garlic, cloves, coriander etc. which do not aggravate any Dosha.

5. Bitter Taste

This is mainly associated with green leafy vegetables and yellow vegetables like sprouts, beets, aloe vera etc. It helps in toning the organs, increases our appetite and is detoxifying. We all are quite familiar with Turmeric, Dandelion and Coffee and if these are used appropriately then can have innumerable therapeutic benefits. Foods related to bitter taste helps in deeply cleansing the body, alleviates thirst and stimulate healthy appetite, it also contribute to positive emotions like clarity and introspection; however in excess can cause the feeling of separation and loneliness.

6. Astringent Taste

If you are suffering with anxiety, fear and insomnia then abstaining from cauliflower, cabbage, tea, dried beans, pears and green apples can be of great help as all of these falls under category of Astringent Tastes who are the main source of such outcomes. It absorbs excess moisture and stops leakage of fluids and can be a very good tool in combating excess bleeding, diarrhea etc. It is responsible for positive emotions like contentment and negative emotions like nervousness, resentment and anxiety.

Effects of Various Diets Based on Taste (Rasa)

Following table provides an overview over the effects based on consumption related to different tastes. It should be noted that pure forms of the tastes will aggravate or may vitiate a dosha easily therefore it is recommended to prefer complex tastes over pure tastes:

Sr. No. Content Sweet (Madhura) Sour (Amla) Salty (Lavana) Pungent (Katu) Bitter (Tikta) Astringent (Kasaya)
1 Primary Elements Water, Earth Earth, Fire Fire, Water Fire, Air Air, Ether Earth, Air
2 Benefits of Moderate Consumption Nourishing, delightful and conducive to longevity, it is good for throat, skin, hairs and promotes all dhatus, strength and lustre Formation of Saliva and Digestive Enzymes, therefore helps in effective digestion Removes Fatigue, Stiffness and Swelling Promotes glandular, nasal and sweat secretions, pacifies kapha, helps in detoxification of body, smooth functioning of circulatory system,, produces antibodies. Helps in balancing immune system,, natural cleanser and purifier, works as an antidote, antitoxin , antihistamine and an enzymatic antigen, blood purifier Checks gastritis, slows down the energy flow
3 Effect on Immoderate consumption Obesity, coughing, sinusitis, dyspnoea, heaviness, complications related to heart and circulatory system, dims appetite and digestion related problems like constipation and difficult bowel movements. Hardens the vocal cords, pus in wounds, swelling, rashes and dryness in skin,destroy semen, and cause congestion Causing early wrinkles, weakens the teeth and bones, grey hairs, baldness, reduction in sexual potency, it contributes to restlessness and depression Weakens the glands, mental and sexual disorders, tremors and burning sensations in feet and hands Dryness in skin, excessive thirst and fatigue, constipation, reduces appetite, pacifies Pitta and Kapha Can cause heartache, mouth ulcers, paralysis, reduces production of Urine, Semen and causes hard bowels.
4 Aggravates Dosha Kapha Pitta and Kapha Pitta Vitiates Vata and Pitta Vata Vata
5 Edibles Bananas, cantaloupe, dates, figs, mangoes, melons, prunes, cucumber, olives, sweet potatoes, almonds, cashews, coconut, pumpkin seeds, all sweeteners etc. Lemon, lime, pickles, tomatoes, butter, cheese, most fermented food and drinks (including alcohol and vinegar), garlic and savory. Celery, table salt, rock salt, gomasio etc. Onions, garlic, chilies, spelt, mustard seeds and most of the spices. All bitter vegetables like bitter melon, burdock roots and also coffee, dark chocolate, saffron, turmeric etc. Apples, Pomegranate, bananas, peas, potatoes, wheat, popcorn, saffron, turmeric etc.
6 Movement Evenly Spread Downwards Downwards Upwards Upwards Upwards
7 Property Relatively difficult to digest, Unctuous, Heavy, Cold liquid, Oily, Hot, Light and Unctuous Unctuous, Heavy and Hot sharp (penetrating), Rough, Light and Hot Dry, Rough Dry and Cold

Four Stages of Food Course

Stages of digestion could be broken into a variety of steps based on different parameters; there are six main stages based on tastes; and digestion of each taste is completed in each stage- this refers to: Madhura Avastha (Sweet Stage of Digestion), Amla Avastha Paka (Sour Stage of digestion), Lavana Avastha Paka (Salty Stage of digestion), Katu Avastha Paka (Pungent Stage), Tikta Avastha Paka (Bitter Stage) and Kashaya Avastha Paka (Astringent Stage of digestion) and every taste nourishes Rasa Dhatus in respective stage. But it would be too technical to understand and our aim is to simply get the essence of the same. Therefore we shall touch other perspective of divisions which divides the whole process into four main stages and is comparatively more important: Taste, Potency, Maturity and Effect, which in other words will complete ingestion, digestion, absorption and assimilation and also effect after digestion and excretion.

1. Taste

The first stage is triggered when food enters our mouth. Visual appearance of food is an important part of the digestive process; brain immediately signals for saliva to be released so it can begin breaking bites into smaller molecules. Before we swallow food or it begins to travel down the esophagus it tickles our taste buds. Our brain is a pleasure-seeking machine and certain foods such as sugar, salt and fat are famous natural reward-drivers. When we bite a Mango, take few grapes in our mouth or enjoy a dessert then we don’t eat but rather we experience. Indeed taste is predigestion stage and no matter, how nutritious a food may be, if you are not enjoying its taste, you can’t receive all of the benefits. Having a nice meal at restaurant is not only a break from slaving over a hot stove but a fine experience because you are more receptive to positivity. It, not always works but you can experiment it- when you are eating same dish at restaurant, it pleases more because you are mentally relaxed or focused on dish rather than remaining ignorant you probably do at home. When we talk about the Rasa or taste it is not only about in-taking morsels but also a positive gesture your whole body will reflect and follow like: agreeable sound, a comforting touch, delightful fragrance, visualization of delicious meal and all your sensory organs will be able to perceive the taste. How you eat your food has profound bearing on all the stages of digestion.

2. Potency

During this stage, food is broken into smaller pieces, it becomes sour because of Hydrochloric Acid (HCl) and is also attacked by other acids and enzymes and then absorbed into blood, however whatever we eat has a certain potency, which in Ayurveda is called Virya and according to Ayurveda, there are two viryas (veerya)- Ushna (hot) and Sheeta (cold), first one reduces Vata and Kapha while 2nd one have a nourishing and soothing effect. Potency of food is realized during digestion and reflects the innate nature of food we are consuming. Potency or virya is the essence of any substance. If we consume healthy food then it will be more potent and will add to many health benefits otherwise vice-versa. Mostly it is categorized into hot and cold. Hot and cold foods have effects on not only our digestion but our overall body. It does not merely relate to the physical state of food or only temperature of food but actually heating/cooling effect that it offers. For example Ice-cream in Ayurveda is considered as the Hot Product. Hot food helps in digestion to operate more effectively. Foods with cold potency help to keep the mind clear when the environment inside the body and mind is heated. You can pacify your Dosha if diet is taken according to your constitution and at suitable time. Cold Foods will vitiate Vata and Hot foods will vitiate Kapha, for example if you take milk in the morning it will not vitiate Kapha (although it is cold and heavy).

3. Maturity

This is the post digestion stage when both the food and its residue are in your system and are having an impact on you. Residue in digestive tract are producing toxins and nutrients are being transported to various organs through circulatory system. By this time all your digestion and absorption will have been completed, nutrients from food will have been absorbed into the bloodstream and also reached throughout the body. If you notice correctly then you will realize that each food has some impact on you: you may feel heavy and drowsy or you may feel energetic and light. Eating Hamburger and eating guava will not give you same experience as both are digested and absorbed in different way and leaves different kind of residues in our digestive systems. You can also observe your body's reaction to food more precisely before the passing of stool and urine discharge; as some people feel discomfort or gas in intestine or pressure in urine bladder etc. Indeed, our body itself is the greatest guide to health.

4. Effect (Prabhava)

After excretion through anus, the digestive parts of food leave large intestine and the effect we feel after completion of whole process so far is called ‘effect’ or net potency. It refers to bio-transformation or post digestion effect, now nutrients are in your body and you can feel the specific property of a dravya (substance) and basis this can design the course of your own diet. Cow milk is called sattvic not only because it is sacred, but if you visualize its digestion in different stages then it passes good on all norms, it has pleasant taste, adds potency, gives light post digestion experience, do not aggregate in our digestive tract and contributes many nutrients to our body. Above article has been taken from main series- Science of Human Wellness, The Complete Health Series.

|Published on March 16, 2017