Have you ever eaten your way to the bottom of a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips only to find yourself feeling unsatisfied? Have you ever dug into to a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, only to find yourself still craving something that’s missing?
Welcome to the American diet. In our country, we attempt to use food, especially sweet and salty food, for comfort, yet find true satisfaction lacking. Ayurveda, the “Science of Life,” tells us that salt and sugar are only two of the six tastes the body needs to maintain optimum health and feel truly satisfied after meals.
Ayurveda holds that there are six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. For optimum health, we need to taste them all, everyday. Each one has a specific energetic effect on the body. They can warm us up or cool us down. They can make us feel complacent or motivated. Taken together, the six tastes can lead body and mind into perfect balance and create a sense of real satisfaction.
Sweet and salty may work well to instantly allay the anxiety (excess vata) that comes with 24/7 multitasking. But eating only these tastes — and in poor quality, to boot — has dire consequences for physical and mental health.
Getting all six tastes doesn’t mean creating equality in volume: a little salt goes a long way. Nor does it mean having a six-course meal at every sitting. “Keep it simple,” recommends Patti Garland, a master Ayurvedic chef and owner of Bliss Kitchen in Palm Desert, California. “Eat leafy green vegetables every day, and drink a lassi. Play around with spices — turmeric, cumin, coriander and fennel will expand your palate instantly. Add quick-cooking lentils, split mung beans or red lentils to your diet. Have a whole grain. Put it all together in a bowl, or serve it in individual dishes in one sitting or over the course of a day. Try to have your big meal at lunch, when digestion is strongest.”
And whatever you’re eating, pay attention. If you’re craving a food, ask yourself what it is you really want. Craving can come out of habit, or it can be telling you about something your body needs — which may not be food. You could really be craving love and connection.
Once you find a bit of balance, your own intuition will guide you to the right choices. Ayurveda is about conscious eating and true satisfaction.
The entire American food industry has developed to serve and reinforce our cravings. They serve up sweet, sour, and salty, and give it to us fast so we can get right back to doing whatever it was that created our imbalance. Then we keep getting stressed and keep eating more sweet, sour and salty. Such foods calm us, yes, but when we overdose they make us feel heavy, fatigued and depressed.
“Our culture is consumed with the disease of over nutrition: high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity,” observes Thomas Yarema, MD, integrative physician and author of Eat-Taste-Heal. “We keep developing diet plans to deal with these problems,” says Yarema, “yet our success rates with heart disease and diabetes have been poor. Most of the diets we concoct to address the obesity problem — from low-fat to low-carb to grapefruit-only diets — fail in the end. Clearly, we are confused about nutrition in modern times.”
Yarema offers this easy way to understand dosha dynamics: “The tastes of sweet, sour, and salty convert energy into matter,” he says. “Bitter, pungent, and astringent turn matter into energy. The diseases in Western culture all have to do with a deficiency in energy, and an excess of matter (body weight).”
What is the cure, then, for what ails us? Where is satisfaction to be found? Balance the diet with more bitter, pungent and astringent foods.
In Ayurveda, the how, when and where of eating counts for nearly as much as the what. Pay attention to the environment that surrounds your food, and you’ll be less likely to make poor choices, or eat unconsciously.
Here are some expert tips for eating in balance:
Focus on the Food . “If you feel stressed, you might decide getting things done is more important than taking time for meals,” says Scott Blossom, yoga therapist and Ayurvedic practitioner. “But eating while multitasking only aggravates stress and imbalance.”
Say Grace. “For your body to taste the food, it has to know it’s going to eat,” says Suhas Kshirsagar, director of the Kerala Ayurveda Academy. “Sit down; close your eyes before your meal; give thanks for your food. It’s not just a religious tradition — it’s a physiological tradition.” Empower your food with healing mantras (like Om Namah Shivaya) by chanting during food preparation and just before eating.
Adjust for Weather . You may notice that a hot, spicy soup tastes much better in winter than on a hot July day. If it’s unusually cold outside, focus on warming foods. Cold drinks in the winter will inhibit your digestive fire.
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