It is one of the beauties of Ayurveda that it recognises every food substance as a medicine, but ever wondered how that really works? Today we elaborate.
The whole theory of Ayurveda revolves around the three mutually counterbalancing Doshas or bio-elements – Vaata, Pitta and Kapha, that need to remain in a balanced equilibrium for a person to remain healthy. Interestingly, no person in the world has a picture perfect Dosha equilibrium by birth. Every person’s Dosha balance is naturally tilted one way or the other to make one or more Doshas dominant / weak, which gives rise to their unique Prakriti (constitution) that is normal for that person only. [Brownie points to those who guessed correctly that this is why Ayurveda treats every person as unique.] (For those who are new to Ayurveda, one’s Dosha Prakriti status can best be gotten assessed by a qualified practitioner, or can be determined using any of the dozens of Prakriti questionnaires available free online.)
Simultaneously, each and every edible substance, whether food/medicine/toxin, is described to alter the Doshas in its own way, which makes up its pharmacological properties. There are dedicated Ayurvedic dictionaries called Nighantus, that describe such properties of thousands of substances.
So whenever one’s Doshas go out-of-balance stirring up health troubles, all one has to do is to bring them back to the Prakritic levels of that person using drugs/food/regimens that push the multidimensional dosha balance in the exactly opposite direction.
So do we have to know by-heart, the properties of thousands of substances to harness the power of Ayurveda? The answer is –
-> To cure a disease? Yes; but that is a physician’s job.
-> To maintain normal health or cure minor ailments? No need!
How? We teach in this article today,
Unlike modern science and TCM, Ayurveda recognises 6 basic tastes (called ‘Rasa’s) that the human tongue recognizes.
These are –
- Madhur (sweet, as with sugar)
- Amla (acidic/sour, as with lemon)
- Lavan (salty as with common salt)
- Tikta (bitter, as with bitter gourd)
- Kashaay (astringent, as with jamuns)
- Katu (hot/pungent, as with chili)
Most substances of each rasa have a lot of properties in common, mainly how they affect the Doshas in your body. Here’s the flashcard that tabulates the data for reference –
This leads to the shortcut dictum for managing one’s doshas – simply eat more of the rasas that decrease the aggravated/dominant Doshas and those that increase the weakened/recessive Doshas.
“What? Is it that simple?!”
No, ladies and gentlemen. This applies only to people whose Dosha are imbalanced while remaining in their natural locations inside the body (which is the case only with normal or minorly ill people); but that is all you can and should handle at home, without a practitioner’s consult. It has some exceptions too; the major ones will be listed further down the article.
Also, another point to remember is that, you should never eliminate any rasa completely from the diet, even if it goes against your Dosha balance. (Why? That can make another article. Someday later, maybe?). A balanced diet is the one that incorporates ALL the rasas, only in the right desirable proportions.
So if you’ve got a bad cold with a running nose (Kapha+++), increase peppers (Katu rasa: hot pungent: Kapha—) to your diet. Let it be chili peppers, jalapeños or black pepper; they all act by different metabolic pathways, but achieve the same effect of drying up nasal secretions and resisting spread of infection. Ancient forefathers of Ayurveda tacitly identified the common ground that linked them, Katu rasa; and the wonder is that it really correlates.
Yet another example – people with chronic bronchitis (typically Vaata+++) are advised to increase milk, ghee, licorice root, black gram/moong dal stew, sweet pomegranate etc. (all Madhur rasa: sweet, Vaata—). Some act by steroidal action, some relieving stress, some increasing surfactant concentration in lungs, but all benefit the bronchitis patient by preventing/controlling recurrences. This is the real essence of Ayurveda : high level of abstraction, without compromising precision in therapy.
… I can go on forever explaining examples, but they won’t end. What is more important and remains to be told is the major exceptions –
- Madhur (sweet): Generally increase Kapha; but old rice, moong, wheat, honey, sugar and meat of animals fed on dry fodder/from dry regions – do not increase Kapha despite of being Madhur.
- Amla (acidic/sour): Generally increase Pitta, but sour pomegranates and Indian gooseberry are big exceptions. (Incidentally,that also brings them a very special therapeutic significance in the treatment of Pitta diseases, but then it is a topic of advanced discussion.)
- Lavan (salty): Generally damage eyesight by aggravating eye-specific type of Pitta (Aalochak Pitta| Yes, there are location/function specific subtypes of Doshas too. More on it some other day); but Saindhav (sea-salt is an exception.
- Katu and Tikta (hot-pungent and bitter): Generally increase Vaata, but dried ginger (Sonth), long pepper and garlic are big exceptions.
- Kashaay (astringent): Generally increase Vaata, but Indian myrobalan (Haritaki: Terminalia chebula) is a big exception which again yields great medical significance to its properties.
So today we explored briefly the fundamental principle of Ayurvedic wellness: Balance, and how to maintain it in daily fooding. Implementing it could be a bit tricky at places (several substances possess more than one rasa), but that’s the catch; you ought to use some applied sense too. And still if you do really get stuck or things don’t add up, you can always get help on the about/ask page, or in the comments below. We reply to questions every couple of days.
So go on, explore and experiment. Make your own healthy Ayurvedic diet menus based on your Prakriti and the above chart, and share this article with others too!
Stay Healthy, stay Happy !!!
[This article was first published on Dr. Herbz]
About the author –
Dr. Harshad Rajandekar runs a practice in Ayurvedic and modern medicine at Nasik, India. He takes time out of his routine to write @ Dr. Herbz about various health topics. His online/offline consulting schedule can be read here.
More articles by Dr. Harshad –
The usual disclaimer (aka Mr. Lawyer’s paranoia meds):
The information given in this article is very veeeeery basic, and for informative purposes only. It cannot replace, substitute or be construed as professional medical advice or medical education. ALWAYS CONSULT A QUALIFIED AND LICENSED HEALTHCARE PRACTITIONER IN SERIOUS ILLNESS.