How the Taste of Your Food Can Affect Your Health & Dosha
Ayurveda empowers you to master your health and wellness – and your sense of taste can be a powerful gateway to responding to what your body might need to balance health. The quality of a food’s taste can help guide you to understand how it may impact your dosha. Ayurveda recognizes six tastes and each taste represents a combination of elements (like your dosha does).
Salty: Represents Water and Fire; Decreases Vata, Increases Pitta and Kapha
Sour: Represents Earth and Fire; Decreases Vata, Increases Pitta and Kapha
Pungent: Air and Fire; Decreases Kapha, Increases Vata and Pitta
Sweet: Earth and Fire; Decreases Vata and Pitta, Increases Kapha
Astringent: Air and Earth; Decreases Pitta and Kapha, Increases Vata
Bitter: Air and Space; Decreases Pitta and Kapha, Increases Vata
The taste of salt often has roots in water – such as the sea. Salt is also heating in nature due to the element of fire. It also helps retain water content. A balanced intake of foods with a salty taste helps growth and electrolyte balance. Salt also brings flavor to food – enhancing salivary production (in turn promoting agni, the metabolic fire) and has an overall positive effect on all processes in digestion, including absorption of nutrients and elimination of waste. An excess of salty-profile foods will lead to pitta and kapha aggravations such as acidity and water retention. Ayurveda guides that excessive salt intake over time can create a host of imbalances leading to ulcers, skin eruptions, even baldness! Pittas and Kaphas should especially moderate their salty food intake.
Sour foods often find their basis in citrus fruits (usual suspects like lemons as well as unripe fruit), acid-based and fermented foods (such as yogurt and vinegar). Representing earth and fire, these tastes are heating and oily. They stimulate the appetite and improve taste and salivary secretion, improving overall digestion. They are also believed to be stimulating to the mind. However, an excess of sour can also lead to high-pitta digestive issues like acidity and ulcers, skin issues like eczema and psoriasis, as well as sensitivity in teeth and urinary burning. Pittas and Kaphas should moderate their sour-tasting food intake.
Pungency in foods comes both from traditionally spicy foods such as cayennes and chili, and sharp foods such as onion, ginger, radish, garlic and mustard. Pungent tastes represent air and fire – and are stimulating – across the digestion, respiration (cleaning up the sinuses) as well as the circulatory functions. Excess use does aggravate vata and pitta – which can mean greater anxiety or insomnia, or heartburn, nausea, etc. Overuse may also suppress sexual function in both women and men.
The sweet taste often finds its basis in starch or dairy – like rice, sugar, milk, etc. Ripe and over-ripe, desiccated fruit can also be a source of sweetness. Cooling and heavy, sweet tasting food is believed to create vital life energy and build the body across bone density, muscle mass and fat. It is the source of energy and long-term health, believed to also improve skin and hair health. However, excessive intake of sweet food deranges all the doshas – causing respiratory congestion, lethargy, weight gain and lymphatic stagnation.
Astringency in foods comes arguably from the most unique sources like pomegranate, sprouts, okra, turmeric and green bananas. Drying, heavy, cooling – astringent foods are great for balancing pitta. They also calm kapha, but can increase vata – leading to dryness and constipation when taken in excess. Sources also include green beans, chickpeas and yellow split peas.
The bitter element is the most lightness-creating, representing elements Air and Ether (space), and most stimulating of the vata element, while balancing pitta and kapha. Bitterness in foods is believed to neutralize toxicity and infection, and also improve firmness – both in muscle and skin. Vata-stimulating, it is drying and can reduce “solidity” in the system – across fat, bone mass, even waste – such as urine and feces. However, overuse can lead to depletion – in energy, body reserves, even semen – leading to fatigue and emaciation. Sources include fleshy foods like aloe vera and bitter melon, bitter gourd, dandelion root, coffee, and spices like fenugreek, turmeric root and rhubarb.
In thinking about foods and tastes, consider your individual dosha – as well as qualities of the other doshas you may be experiencing (e.g., seasons have an impact on a given dosha on all constitutions – irrespective of your dominant dosha). So you may choose to increase or decrease intake of certain taste profiles to best balance what your body is experiencing as whole at a given time.