Dharma, Health, and Nutrition

GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR SELECTING FOODSTUFFS

 

Nutritional recommendations in Shuddha Ayurveda are based on a thorough understanding of Prakriti (singularity), time, place, and circumstance. They are based on observation and experience, and their suitability can and must be verified in real time.

While the primary consideration in selecting appropriate foodstuffs must be the diathetic (disease) tendency (vata, pitta, kapha preponderance), one must also evaluate the effects of foodstuffs on the mind (sattva, rajas, tamas), physiology (prana, agni, ojas), and predominance of elemental states of matter [field (space), volatile (air), radiant (fire), liquid (water), and solid (earth)], as well as suitability according to the developmental (life stage) and occupational characteristics of the individual.

If one understands the principles guiding Ayurvedic nutrition, there is no need to memorize lists of favored and prohibited foodstuffs, as one can readily identify those foods that are suitable for a specific time and a particular place and circumstance by relying on the senses, and in particular the sense of taste. For each substance, one can readily identify flavor, intrinsic temperature, emollience (moist or dry quality), and relative weight or density.

According to the individual’s singularity (prakriti) and disorder (vikriti), if any, some foods should be consumed habitually, others occasionally, and still others should be avoided. 

  1. A healthy individual selects foods that strengthen the singularity at all meals, but may indulge in foods that are slightly aggravating at a maximum of four meals per week. On special occasions, one may indulge in foods that are contraindicated for the singularity, but not more than once per month. 
  2. In an acute disease state, foods that aggravate the deranged dosha (vata, pitta, kapha) must be strictly avoided.
  3. In a state of chronic disease, foods that aggravate the disorder are to be avoided always. Foods that aggravate the singularity (only if the singularity is contrary to the disorder) may be consumed occasionally. 

Eggs and the flesh of animals, including fish and fowl, are not classified among suitable foods for human consumption. Exclusive intake of any one of these items, by itself or in combination, will lead to ketosis within 72 hours (less for Prana-dominant persons, possibly more for Ojas-dominant). Ketosis is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening state that stresses the liver and causes destruction of tissues.

Qualities of the Six Flavors

There are six flavors:

  1. sweet
  2. sour
  3. salty
  4. pungent
  5. bitter
  6. astringent

According to the principle of correspondence (“like increases like”): 

  • sweet, salty, and sour flavors increase Ojas and reduce Prana
  • pungent, bitter, and astringent flavors increase Prana and reduce Ojas
  • salty, sour, and pungent flavors increase Agni
FLAVOR EFFECT ON OJAS EFFECT ON AGNI EFFECT ON PRANA
SWEET +
SOUR + +
SALTY + +
PUNGENT + +
BITTER +
ASTRINGENT +

Sweet flavor is the taste of the combined liquid and solid elemental states of matter:

  1. it is very moist and heavy, and slightly cold
  2. in right proportion it gives contentment, is nourishing, vitalizing, and refreshing, is soothing to the senses and the mind, promotes longevity, strength, and the accumulation of tissues and ojas, counteracts toxins, relieves thirst and burning sensations, promotes the health of skin and hair, and supports both voice and general vigor
  3. in excess, sweet flavor causes obesity, flaccidity, lethargy, heaviness, dyspnea, loss of sensation, excessive sleep, loss of appetite, excessive salivation, weak digestion, intestinal torpor, abdominal distention, dysuria, swelling, mucoid accretions, and other kapha disorders.

Sour flavor is the taste of the combined fire and water elemental states of matter: 

  1. it is slightly moist and light, and hot
  2. in right proportion it awakens the mind, gives contentment, gives firmness to the senses, improves the flavor of food, enkindles the digestive power, promotes salivation, aids swallowing, moistening, and digestion of food, dispels gas, gives nourishment, adds bulk to the body, invigorates, and increases strength
  3. in excess, sour flavor makes the teeth sensitive, causes thirst, blinking, goose bumps, and burning sensations in throat, chest, and heart, liquefies kapha, aggravates pitta, causes blood toxicity, wastes and loosens the muscles, creates edema, and promotes maturation and suppuration of sores, wounds, burns, fractures, and other injuries.

Salty flavor is the taste of the combined radiant and solid elemental states of matter:

  1. it is moist and heavy, and slightly hot
  2. in right proportion, salty flavor enkindles digestive power, promotes salivation and digestion, nullifies other flavors, is emollient, cutting, biting, sharp, and fluid, sedates, laxates; removes obstructions, relieves stiffness and contractions, softens hardened masses, liquefies kapha, cleanses the channels,  softens  viscera
  3. in excess, salty flavor causes extreme thirst, burning sensations, hyperacidity, wrinkling of the skin, graying and balding, loose teeth, stagnation of the blood, bleeding disorders, fainting, muscular degeneration, skin infections, decreased virility, inflammation, and other pitta disorders.

Pungent flavor is the taste of the combined volatile and radiant elemental states of matter:

  1. it is very dry, light, and very hot
  2. in right proportion, pungent flavor cleanses the palate, purifies and gives flavor to food, enkindles digestive power, causes lacrimation, promotes nasal secretions, gives clarity to the senses, alleviates torpor, obesity, swelling, discharges waste products, arrests itching, resolves skin growths, kills parasites and germs, dissolves blood clots, counteracts stagnation, deobstructs, and alleviates kapha
  3. in excess, pungent flavor generates burning sensations, causes thirst, fainting, and dizziness, weakens virility, induces delusions, weariness, languor, and emaciation, diminishes strength; produces prostration, tremors, piercing and stabbing pains, and loss of consciousness.

Bitter flavor is the taste of the combined field and volatile elemental states of matter:

  1. it is dry, very light, and very cold
  2. in right proportion, bitter flavor restores the sense of taste, enkindles digestive power, detoxifies, is antibacterial, germicidal, and parasiticidal; relieves thirst, fainting, burning sensations, itch,  inflammatory skin conditions; tones the skin and muscles; reduces fever, promotes digestion of toxins, purifies lactation; removes toxic accumulations in  lymph, fat, marrow, sweat, urine, feces, pitta, and kapha
  3. in excess, bitter flavor wastes tissues, produces dryness and roughness of the viscera, and causes debility, emaciation, weariness, delusion, dizziness, and other diseases of vata.

Astringent flavor is the taste of the combined volatile and solid elemental states of matter:

  1. it is slightly dry and heavy, and cold
  2. in right proportion, astringent flavor is drying, firming, and contracting, promotes absorption of bodily fluids, alleviates kapha and pitta, is sedative and binding, promotes healing of joints, sores, and wounds, and arrests bleeding
  3. in excess, astringent flavor causes dryness, constipation, and retention of gas, urine and feces, weakens the voice, darkens the skin, causes premature aging and emaciation, obstructs the channels of fluid circulation, reduces vitality, produces heart pain, weariness, thirst, and stiffness, and causes such vata diseases as paralysis, spasms, and convulsions.

POST-DIGESTIVE TASTE

After undergoing the first digestion by jatharagni (digestive power), nutrients undergo a transformation, and develop a secondary, or post-digestive taste (vipaka).

Post-digestive flavor is of three types:

  • sweet flavor remains sweet, and increases Ojas
  • sour and salty flavors become sour, and increase Agni
  • pungent, bitter, and astringent flavors become pungent, and increase Prana

UNIQUE POTENCY

Prabhava, or unique potency, describes qualities or effects of a particular substance that are not predictable through determination of flavor (rasa), intrinsic temperature (virya), and post-digestive effect (vipaka). While the prabhava of herbs and minerals needs to be learned, only a relatively small number of foodstuffs has unique potency, and therefore one may confidently assume that most have none. 

TEMPERATURE, EMOLLIENCE & WEIGHT VALUES OF THE SIX FLAVORS

Ascending order of intrinsic temperature 

bitter 1
astringent 2
sweet 3
salty 4
sour 4
pungent 5

Ascending order of emollience (moistening effect) 

pungent 1
bitter 2
astringent 3
sour 4
salty 4
sweet 5

Ascending order of weight 

bitter 1
pungent 2
sour 3
astringent 4
salty 4
sweet 5

 

About Tashi Nyima

I am a Dharma student, and aspire to be a companion on the path. I trust that these texts can offer a general approach and basic tools for practicing the Buddha's way to enlightenment. ||| Soy un estudiante del Dharma, y aspiro a ser un compañero en el sendero. Espero que estos textos ofrezcan a algunos un mapa general y herramientas básicas para la práctica del sendero a la iluminación que nos ofrece el Buda.
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