Have you ever questioned your relationship with food?
Do you ever wonder why we humans seem to be so unhealthy?
Most people eat to avoid hunger, because the food tastes good, for social reasons or to deal with difficult feelings.
The most important function of foods, however, is the one we have lost touch with. Foods are medicine.
Why Food Is Medicine
When I say that foods are medicine, I mean that food sustains our life force or diminishes it, depending on what we eat, when we eat and the quality of the food. Food is the single greatest source of nourishment for our life force that we have. So poor food choices are a major factor in creating illness in our bodies.
Modern medicine does not give food the attention it deserves as a factor in our health. Food is not just something to put in our stomachs so it does not growl. Food is not just for fun, something to tickle the taste buds. Do you think that hospital food is helping you become healthier or increasing illness in your body?
How To Know Which Food Is Right For Us
Ayurveda has cataloged all foods so that we have the knowledge of which foods help us be healthy and at our best. It starts with the understanding that foods are primarily medicine. One way to start understanding how food is medicine is to start with the Ayurvedic concept of six tastes.
The six tastes are a recognition of the subtle energies of foods and how they impact the subtle energies of each person’s bioenergy or dosha. This is the information we need to select the foods that are best for our bodies. Ayurveda is as customized an approach to health as exists in the world. By understanding the subtle energies of foods, Ayurveda knows how to help an individual achieve optimum health.
According to Dr, Vasant Lad, an eminent Ayurvedic physician, and teacher, Ayurveda has an integrated view of foods. Many centuries ago, it started its knowledge gathering by investigating and cataloging the qualities that each food has. This information was used to understand the six tastes of food which are tailored to each body type to create healthy eating. There are 20 or 10 pairs of opposites:
- heavy or light
- oily or dry
- stable or mobile
- slimy or rough
- gross or subtle
- cold or hot
- slow or sharp
- soft or hard
- dense or liquid
- cloudy or clear
The Six Tastes And Why They Matter
Each food has certain qualities. These qualities have an effect on the doshas or bioenergies. What that means is that food affects not only the body but the mind and emotions as well since the doshas are holistic and include the mind and emotions as well as our physical constitutions. The six tastes are:
- sweet: has the qualities of oily, cooling and heavy. In moderation, it promotes a strong body and good health. In excess, it increases congestion including colds, diabetes, obesity, and tumors.
- sour: has the qualities of liquid, light, heating, and oily. In moderation, it is invigorating and good for the digestive system. In excess, it creates excessive acidity, heartburn, ulcers and various skin diseases like psoriasis and eczema.
- salty: has oily, heavy and heating qualities. In moderation, it promotes growth and maintains water-electrolyte balance. It improves digestion and elimination and is so strong that it can overwhelm the other tastes. In excess, it thickens the blood, and causes hypertension and aggravates skin conditions.
- pungent: has the qualities light, drying, and heating. In moderation, it helps digestion and clears the mouth and sinuses. It improves circulation and breaks up clots. It removes obstructions and helps perception. In excess, it causes sexual debility, overheating, diarrhea, heartburn, and nausea. In Vata dosha, it causes giddiness tremors, insomnia which HSPs need to be concerned about.
- bitter: has the qualities of cool, light and dry. In moderation, it is anti-toxic, so it relieves heating conditions, skin diseases, and reduces fat. In excess, depletes the various elements of the body including muscles, bones, and marrow and creates weariness.
- astringent: has the qualities of cooling, drying, and heaviness. In moderation, it absorbs water, heals ulcers and causes clotting. In excess, it can lead to neuromuscular disorders which HSPs need to be concerned with, increases constipation, and circulatory issues.
This is a short overview of the qualities in food and how they affect the body. HSPs can benefit from the Ayurvedic approach to food since it enables them to be more precise in their food choices and minimize inadvertent health problems caused by eating the wrong food.
The attributes and qualities of food affect the taste and the tastes can have a balancing or disturbing effect on an individual. If we are not eating the right foods for our bodies, we may be helping create depression, anxiety and other mood disorders in ourselves. We may make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. We may have trouble digesting the food and therefore become malnourished.
It is so important that we eat the right foods for ourselves in order to be healthy. By understanding our constitution, (see Ayurvedic Healing), and what foods support us, we have a chance to experience great health with little effort.
Note: Although some of the information comes from my own knowledge, many of the details were taken from the work of Usha Lad and Dr. Vasant Lad: Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing, The Ayurvedic Press, Albuquerque, 1994, 2002, p. 31-37. His work provides even more detail about the Ayurvedic understanding of food and the elements and is an important book for individuals interested in Ayurveda.