Ayurveda believes that everything is made up of 5 ELEMENTS:
AIR, WATER, FIRE, EARTH and ETHER.
These 5 elements make up all living and non-living matter, from the various tissues and processes in our bodies, to the food that we eat. They are metaphorical, and explain the way in which things 'work' or behave e.g. pitta, which is fire and water, is linked to our digestion, and the fire of our appetites and acid of our stomachs.
These elements also make up our doshas:
Pitta is fire and water
Vata is ether and air
Kapha is earth and water
And also make up all food, categorised by the 6 distinct TASTES (also called 'rasas').
The 6 TASTES are SOUR, SALTY, SWEET, BITTER, PUNGENT & ASTRINGENT.
Some rasas are better for your dosha than others. This is because our food, and our bodies, share these same 5 elements. So, to balance our bodies we need to eat more of the elements we don't naturally have a lot of (so, e.g. fire, earth and water for VATA, which translates as SWEET, SALTY and SOUR tastes), and less of the tastes that really raise our own dosha.
So, we balance our bodies by lowering our majority dosha, and raising the less significant doshas.
Also, please rest assured that this is not about cutting out large groups of food. It is not restrictive! Ayurveda is a beautiful and kind balancing act. Once you know which foods are not so great for your type, you can reduce them but also balance them with flavours that are wonderful for you. Don't think you have to cut out entire TASTES – it's just better if they're not the staple part of your diet.
Read on to learn all about the 6 TASTES and which ones you should be eating more or less of, as part of your body-balancing plan.
GOOD FOR VATA AND PITTA - reduces vata and pitta
NOT GOOD FOR KAPHA - really raises kapha
Earth and Water dominate this taste, which has the qualities of being oily, damp and also quite heavy. All dairy, meat, grains (particularly rice, barley and wheat), starchy cooked vegetables (carrots, parsnip, beetroot, sweet potato), nuts, pulses and beans are Sweet. That may surprise you – after all, we’re used to thinking of sugar as being sweet, but these Earth and Water foods all have a pleasing richness to them, they’re not overly savoury or sharp on the palate. Many fruits (banana, mango, peach, ripe apples, melon) are also, unsurprisingly, Sweet. Many sweet foods (meat, dairy, grains) are not digested very quickly, which means that they sustain us, and are very nourishing. Naturally they will make up the staple part of most diets. Sweet gives us the energy to live. But for Kapha types, too much Sweet can imbalance us, because Kapha is already made up of Earth and Water, so we need to pull back on as much acidic and damp-producing dairy and meat as possible and focus more on pulses, nuts, beans and vegetables.
GREAT FOR VATA - reduces vata
NOT GOOD FOR PITTA OR KAPHA - raises pitta and kapha
Sour is mainly Fire – think of your taste buds and the saliva they produce when eating sour food, and how it warms up your mouth – but there is also a bit of Earth in there too. All vinegary and fermented foods are Sour – pickles, sauerkraut, soy sauce, and wine. Fermented or 'sour' milk products are included too – sour cream, certain cheeses and the more lemony-tasting, thin yoghurts, alongside the citrus fruits (other than grapefruit which is BITTER). This is a taste which you’ll generally eat little of as these foods do not tend to form the staple part of one’s diet, but it is great for rebalancing an excess of Vata. Also Sour are unripe tomatoes.
GOOD FOR VATA – lowers vata
NOT GOOD FOR PITTA OR KAPHA – raises both
In Ayurveda, Salty is a rather literal taste as there are not many salty foods that occur naturally. Salty as a flavour includes sea and rock salt, seaweed and kelp. Element-wise, it is made up of Fire and Water. Small amounts help digestion and it also calms the nervous system. But, because this is the 21st century and not 3000 BCE, we now also get the Salty taste from food that has had too much salt added to it – primarily crisps/chips and salted nuts, and, to some extent, the processed foods we encounter daily: ready-made sandwiches, cereals, soups, cheese, processed meats, cookies and overly salted bread, all of which can have a lot of salt in them. It may surprise you to know that 75 per cent of our daily salt intake comes from food we do not ourselves add any salt to! So, if you are Pitta or Kapha, and eat a lot of ready meals and convenience food, you really need to start checking labels for salt (or better still, get into better habits and make more from scratch whenever this is possible).
GREAT FOR KAPHA & PITTA – really lowers them both
NOT GOOD FOR VATA – really raises vata
Bitter is a combination of Air and Ether, and the qualities are light, dry and cold. Bitter foods are naturally purifying, they help the body to cleanse itself, and kickstart digestion and weight loss. Bitter foods are often quite potent and nutrient dense, and most should only be eaten in small quantities. It's found in the darkest and most nutritious green vegetables such as kale, spinach and dark green cabbage. Spice-wise, turmeric and fenugreek are primarily Bitter, as are certain fruits such as grapefruit, olives and bitter melon (also called bitter gourd, bitter squash, balsam pear or wild cucumber – botanic name, momordica charantia). The latter, I’ll admit, is not readily available in supermarkets (though I’ve seen it in organic supermarkets and the odd ‘boutique’ greengrocer) but plays a big role in traditional Ayurveda. Bitter melon tea is also widely available via the internet; a hugely popular tea in India, it is said to stabilize blood sugar levels and is popular in the treatment of diabetes. Tea, coffee and dark chocolate are all Bitter too.
NOT GOOD FOR VATA – really raises vata
GREAT FOR PITTA & KAPHA – really lowers both
You can recognize an Astringent food from the effect it has on the palate – think of the saliva-provoking tannins you get in red wine (or when you eat an unripe banana) and the way it makes the mouth feel as though it's puckering. Wine and unripe bananas aside, there’s also coriander/cilantro, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, artichoke, celery, sprouts, turnip and very fresh green beans. Many fruits are partially Astringent – cranberries and pomegranates most of all, but also less ripe pears and apples. Chickpeas, lentils, buckwheat, yellow split peas and alfalfa are all Astringent too. Made up of Earth and Air, Astringent foods really help to cool and dry the system – hence that dryness in the mouth when you eat them.
GREAT FOR KAPHA – lowers kapha
NOT GOOD FOR PITTA & VATA – raises both
This taste is made up of Fire and Air – it’s heating and drying, but also light. Pungent foods help stoke one’s digestive fire (agni) and also shift mucus (so they’re good to eat if you’re suffering with chesty, phlegmy or snotty illnesses). Pungent foods also get things moving – not just through the gut, but also within the blood – boosting circulation and shifting cholesterol. The hottest (as in foods with natural ‘chilli’ heat), are all Pungent – think garlic, ginger, raw onions, mustard seed (and mustard greens), rocket/arugula, horseradish, and chillies, of course. Chia seeds are Pungent too. Many spices are primarily Pungent, including allspice, basil, bay leaves, black pepper, caraway, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, lemongrass, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, saffron, sage, star anise and thyme.