An introduction to creating balanced meals using Ayurvedic principles.
Unlike western nutrition trying to count calories, chasing vitamins and minerals, watching carbs and looking for complete proteins, Ayurveda simply says that each meal must contain the six tastes in reasonable ratios. If each of the six tastes is present in each meal, then all the nutrients your body needs will be present in the foods. There are Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter and Astringent, but how do we use them in our diet? Fortunately we are already doing this unconsciously, but that means we might not have them well balanced. Sweet is the dominant taste in our diet, but it does not denote sugar. In fact a minimal amount of sugar should constitute your daily dose of sweet. But that should be a relief for everyone, sweet is good! Sweet is complimented by Sour and Salty as tastes that create tissue and retain water in the body. Pungent, Bitter and Astringent round out the meal and keeping the body from accumulating excessive tissue, assisting in daily detoxification and is the source for many of the nutrients outside of carbs and proteins.
For a healthy person the sweet taste is dominate in any meal; this come primarily from grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Sour and Salty flavor are also needed for balance, but they are secondary flavors and should be used in moderation. We want to avoid using too much salt or sour flavor as this can create imbalances. A small amount of salt and a little lemon juice is sufficient to add these flavors to a meal.. These three flavors are certainly the most easily used is cooking and typically peoples favorite flavors. Next is Pungent. Pungent is strong or spicy flavors usually denoted by chilis, pepper, ginger and a large number of spices. These along with salt and sour aid in digestion but should not be over used. A diet dominate is Salty, Sour and or Pungent flavors creates excess heat and agitation in the body and mind. Bitter is found primarily in leafy green vegetable and spices. This flavor is important for detoxification and is antiseptic in the body. It reduces weight and reduces excess water accumulated in tissue. Using bitter is as easy as adding Turmeric and some steamed greens into your meal. Astringent is a more challenging taste to discern but it has a drying effect on the mouth like eating green banana. These foods if eaten primarily or raw can create gas in the digestive system. Beans, raw vegetables and many spices fall into this category.
With the Sweet taste dominate, the other tastes are present in ratios that are appealing to the tongue. This is the wonderful thing in Ayurveda, you know best what is good for you. If you eat something and feel heavy, bloated or get indigestion; adjust the use of that food in your diet. For people who are looking to loose weight or detox reduce the Sweet, Salty, and Sour and increase the Pungent, Bitter and Astringent. But remember the food should still taste good and make you happy. Eating nothing but bitter and astringent foods to loose weight will not have positive results. If you want to build tissue in the body add more Sweet flavor in grains, dairy, fruits, vegetables, a little more salt and sour; then reduce the other three flavors.
But no matter what your diet keep all 6 tastes in each meal to keep the body getting everything it needs. If you have a dish that is overly spicy or sour make sure to balance it with enough of the other flavors in the rest of the meal, its that simple. Many foods have more than one taste associated with them. Enjoy the lists below to understand where to find each of the tastes.
Some other suggestions are to make sure the diet has a wide variety of colors and textures in vegetables and grains. Eat whole grains whenever possible and reduce the amount of deep fried foods. Eat everything in moderation so nothing creates an imbalance. Enjoy your food, eat and cook with love, chew and digest well. Om shanti.
Try some of our recipes… Introduction to Vegetarian Cooking, Kichari, or browse Food For Liberation
The Six Taste Food List
Grains: wheat, rice, corn, barley, cereals
Fruits: bananas, cantaloupe, dates, figs, mangos, melons, prunes, dates
Vegetables: beets, carrots (cooked), cucumber, olives, sweet potatoes, pumpkins
Legumes: garbanzo beans, lentils (red), mung beans, navy beans, tofu, urad dal
Nuts & Seeds: almonds, cashews, coconut, pumpkin seeds, sunflower
Dairy: ghee, milk, cream
Sweeteners: all sugar, maple syrup, honey, etc.
Spices & Flavorings: basil, bay leaf, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, fennel, mint, nutmeg, saffron, tarragon, vanilla, licorice, lotus seed
Fruits: grapefruit, lemon, lime, raisins, tamarind
Vegetables: pickles, tomatoes
Grains: fermented dough, breads
Dairy: butter, cheese, sour cream, yogurt
Other: alcohol, vinegar, most fermented foods
Spices & Flavorings: lemon juice, lime juice, garlic, savory, soy sauce, hibiscus, rose hip, lemongrass
Vegetables: celery, sea vegetables, fermented foods such as pickles and sour kraut/kim chi
Spices & Flavorings: all salts, gamasio, soy sauce, tamari
Vegetables: chilies, garlic, leeks, onions, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radishes, turnips, raw spinach
Grains: buckwheat, spelt
Spices: most spices, ginger, mustard seed, black pepper, cardamom, cayenne, cloves, ginger, paprika, turmeric, clove, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg
Vegetables: bitter melon, burdock root, leafy greens (like kale, collards, dandelion greens or yellow dock), eggplant, jerusalem artichokes
Other foods/oils: sesame seeds, sesame oil, coffee, dark chocolate, herbal teas, black tea
Foods: Unripe bananas, green grapes, pomegranates, cranberries, green beans, alfalfa sprouts, and okra are all astringent foods.
Fruits: apples, bananas (green), cranberries, pomegranate
Vegetables:alfalfa sprouts, avocado, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots (raw), cauliflower, green beans, lettuce, peas, potatoes, most raw vegetables, okra
Grains: pasta (wheat), rye
Legumes: most beans and lentils
Spices: basil, bay leaf, caraway, coriander, dill, fennel, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, poppy seeds, rosemary, saffron, turmeric, vanilla, licorice
This food list has been compiled from various websites and books:
Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing, Dr. Vasant Lad and Usha