Celebrate the National Nutrition Month 2022 – A World of Flavors in Ayurveda
March is celebrated as the national nutrition month by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to encourage people to make informed food choices, embrace healthy eating habits and make a conscious effort to develop a regular exercise schedule.
The national nutrition month 2022 is celebrating the world of flavors to introduce multiple tastes from varied cultures across the globe, assimilate diverse cuisines, include new foods and tastes to enrich our diets in a healthy manner.
In India, the Government already has a National Nutrition Mission or the Poshan Abhiyaan (launched in 2018) that focuses on increasing awareness about holistic nutrition to make India malnutrition free by providing adequate nourishment to children (0-6 years), adolescent girls, pregnant women and lactating mothers. To promote the importance of wholesome nutrition and to encourage people’s participation and community mobilization or jan andolan, the month of September is celebrated as poshan maah.
Ayurveda and rasa
Rasa – Panchamahabhutas & tridoshas
Ayurveda and the importance of Shad Rasa
Madhura or sweet (cool, oily, heavy properties) – The Madhur rasa is a combination of the elements Prithvi and Jal or earth and water. One of the most nourishing tastes, the Madhur rasa or sweet taste is helpful in balancing the vata and pitta dosha but is known to aggravate the kapha dosha.
Moderate consumption of this rasa boosts Ojas or energy, improves complexion, longevity and healthy body fluids.
But overindulgence of any sweets can also lead to obesity and diabetes. Include Madhur rasa from naturally occurring sweet foods such as figs, peaches, pears, apples and berries, wheat, rice, pumpkin, etc.
Lavana or salty (heavy, oily, hot properties) – The lavana rasa or salty taste has hydrating properties and helps in improving digestion and purifying of the body tissues. Lavana rasa is made up of Jal and Tej or the water and fire elements and is known to help reduce the vata dosha.
But excess consumption of salt in the diet can not only aggravate the pitta and kapha doshas, it may also lead to serious health complications such as high blood pressure, narrowing of blood vessels, hyperacidity, ulcers, hair loss etc.
Naturally salty ingredients are table salt, sea salt, black olives, and seaweed. Of these, rock salt (sendha namak) is the most balancing and least heating salty ingredient. Ayurvedic diet always stress the importance of consuming salt in moderate quantities only.
Amla or sour (oily, hot, light, liquid properties) – Sour taste or amla rasa is a combination of the Prithvi and Tej or Earth and fire elements and is known to reduce the vata dosha but increase the pitta and kapha dosha. Sour tasting food items are known to increase the production of saliva, stimulate the appetite and the digestive juices.
Amla rasa helps to awaken emotions and thoughts. Similar to lavana rasa, amla rasa should also be consumed in moderation as excess intake can lead to feelings of aggression and anger. Overeating of sour tasting foods can cause inflammation, congestion, indigestion, burning sensations, diarrhea etc.
Naturally sour tasting foods include lemon, vinegar, (kairi) raw mango, tamarind (imli), citrus fruits such as oranges, fermented foods like idli batter etc.
Katu or pungent (dry, light, hot properties) – Katu rasa or pungent/spicy taste is the hottest rasa and consists of Vayu and Tej or the air and fire elements and is known to mainly act on the heart and stomach. Katu rasa is known to pacify the kapha dosha but aggravates the vata and pitta doshas.
Katu rasa needs to be consumed in moderation for it to have best effect as then it can help stimulate the digestive fire or agni thus improving digestion and absorption. Katu rasa helps circulation, clears blockages (especially sinuses that help reduce the kapha dosha), cuts fats and aids waste disposal. But overindulging in spicy foods can cause heartburn, diarrhea, ulcers, colitis etc.
Consuming pungent tasting food, in the correct quantities, infuses enthusiasm and vitality in the body and sharpens the mind but too much of it can aggravate anger, jealousy, hate and aggression.
Chillies, hot/black peppers, onions, mustard, radish, garlic, ginger are some examples of naturally pungent tasting foods.
Tikta or bitter (cool, dry & light properties) – Tikta rasa or bitter taste is made up of Vayu and Akash or the air and ether elements and is known to be the coolest of all rasas. It reduces the kapha and pitta doshas but aggravates the vata dosha and affects the liver, pancreas and spleen organs.
Tikta rasa is a natural purifier and helps remove toxic & waste materials from the body. A known coolant it has anti-inflammatory properties and cleanses the liver, improves digestion, and reduces fats. But excess consumption of tikta rasa can cause dryness, gauntness and depletion of the body tissues.
Intake of the correct amount of tikta rasa helps keep temptation at bay but excess can cause feelings of cynicism, boredom and isolation
Bitter gourd (karela), methi (fenugreek), haldi (turmeric), neem (Indian lilac), coffee, dark chocolate, herbal teas are some naturally bitter foods.
Kashaya or astringent (dry, heavy, cool properties) – Kashaya rasa or astringent taste consists of Vayu and Prithvi or the air and earth elements and is known to pacify the pitta dosha but aggravate the Kapha and vata doshas and acts on the colon in the body.
Kashaya rasa is anti-inflammatory and decongestant and is known to help clotting, improve absorption, binding of stools, healing of ulcers etc. But excess intake can result in constipation, hampered circulation, dryness etc.
Kshaya rasa or astringent tasting foods help clarity of mind and organization of thought, but excess can lead to harshness and rigidity.
Raw bananas, raw vegetables (green beans, bhindi or okra), pomegranates, haldi (turmeric), makhana (lotus seeds) etc. are some naturally astringent foods.
The national nutrition month is celebrating the varied flavors and their importance in our diet in March 2022 but Ayurveda, India’s timeless medicinal wisdom, has for ages promoted the importance of taste or rasa (in Sanskrit) and their ingestion in the correct balance for holistic health. Rasa also means the essence of life and has a direct connection to our overall mind & body equilibrium.
Ayurvedic health care stresses great importance on rasa as it affects not only how we experience our food but also as it determines the balance of our mind, body and spirit. As per Ayurvedic nutrition, the six tastes or shad rasa have healing properties and the right combination of flavors contribute not only to enhanced enjoyment of food but also to great health. Too much or too little of these rasas and it can cause dosha imbalances in the body leading to infections and diseases.
Ayurveda stresses the fact that it is vital to taste the food that we eat as it is the taste that makes us decide if we want to eat more or not. Taste also has a direct impact on the digestion process as the rasa is the one that gives the brain the signal to release the specific enzymes that are essential for breaking down the food and aiding smooth digestion. This is the exact reason why, in Indian households, elders always urge the children to pay attention to what is being eaten, savor the food and chew it properly.
Each rasa or taste is a combination of two elements (out of the five core elements or Panchamahabhuta that make up our bodies namely Prithvi (earth), Vayu (air), Akash (ether/space) Jal (water) and Tej (fire) and has a distinct property and provides different benefits to the body.
Each rasa is unique not only due to the particular combination of the elements but also due to how they can help balance a particular dosha type – vata, pitta or kapha. A deeper knowledge of the six rasas is vital to understand which taste balances a particular dosha type, how and what to eat to correct imbalances (vikriti) and also how to eat the right way as per the ritu (season).
Just as varied emotions make life interesting, the different flavors of food enrich our palate and benefit our health. Moderate and correct consumption of all the six flavors or shad rasas helps restore the equilibrium of the tridoshas thus providing the correct balance of mind, body and soul to help us lead happy, fulfilling lives.
Disclaimer: Any dietary changes in your routine should be incorporated only after thorough consultation with your Ayurvedic Vaidya or medical doctor.