A simple and practical approach to insure you have healthy nutritional variety is to pay attention to the tastes of your food. According to Ayurveda everything edible can be classified according to one or more six basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. If you sample foods that correspond to each of these tastes throughout the day, your meals will provide a wide assortment of health promoting nutrients. Let’s look at these six tastes one by one.
Sweet. Sweet is the taste of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Foods that carry the sweet taste increase your body bulk. Breads, grains, nuts, pasta, most fruits, starchy vegetables, dairy, oils, and all animal products are considered sweet. Sweet foods supply the majority of what we consume in a day. In every category of taste, there are foods that are highly nutritious and others that should be eaten more sparingly.
Favor fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, cereals, breads and nuts. In addition to supplying your energy needs, they are good sources of fiber. If you are not ready to go vegetarian, reduce your intake of red meats, favoring cold-water fish and egg whites. Minimize your intake of highly refined sugar and wheat products. Favor low fat dairy, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils, while minimizing cholesterol-rich products and foods with partially hydrogenated oils.
Sour. Any food that is mildly acidic is experienced as sour. Citric acid, lactic acid, ascorbic acid, and butyric acid are just a few of the acidic chemicals you may have heard of that contribute to the sour taste of foods. As with the sweet taste, there are sour foods that are more nutritious than others.
Favor oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and tomatoes while reducing your intake of pickled foods, green olives, alcohol and vinegar. Small helpings of low-fat yogurt and buttermilk can aid in digestion. Although aged sour cheeses can be delicious, use them sparingly as they are usually high in cholesterol and more difficult to digest.
Salty. Salt is the flavor of ion-producing minerals on the tongue. The principle salt of our diet is sodium chloride, which comes from mines or naturally salty bodies of water. The salty taste is also carried in soy sauce, many sauces, seaweed, fish and salted meats. In the right dose, salt adds flavor and stimulates digestion. Too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure and fluid retention.
Pungent. We often use the term, "hot" to describe the pungent flavor. The spiciness of pepper, ginger and other pungent sources comes from essential oils that interact with chemical receptors on our tongue. Most pungent foods contain natural antioxidants and infection-fighting chemicals. Due in part to their anti-spoiling properties, pungent spices have been highly prized for millennia. A shortcut to the land of spices was a major incentive for the fifteenth century journey of Columbus. Pungent flavors stimulate digestion and help mobilize stagnant secretions. Recent studies have suggested components of garlic and onions may help lower cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.
Commonly available pungent foods include: chili peppers, cayenne, black pepper, fresh and dry ginger, horseradish, onions, garlic, leeks, mustard, cloves, cinnamon, peppermint, thyme, cumin, cardamom, basil, oregano, and rosemary. Adding spice to your life will serve both your palate and your health.
Bitter. Bitter is the taste of many green and yellow vegetables. Some green leafy vegetables such as endive and kale are particularly bitter. The bitterness is due to natural plant chemicals known as phytochemicals (phyto means "plant" in Latin). These phytochemicals have detoxifying, disease-preventing and healing chemicals that improve our chances for long, healthy lives. Broccoli and cauliflower, for example, are rich in the phytochemicals known as isothiocyanates, which have been shown to help fight cancer and heart disease. Asparagus, green peppers, and cabbage are rich in flavonoids, which help resist genetic injury, fight infections and may even reduce your risk for memory loss. The bottom line: Eat your vegetables – they are good for you.
Astringent. The last of the six tastes is more of an effect than any actual flavor. Astringent foods have a drying, compacting and puckering influence on your body. Beans, legumes and peas are considered to fall within the astringent category, and provide excellent sources of vegetable protein, complex carbohydrates and fiber to your diet. Several fruits are astringent such as cranberries, pomegranates, persimmons, and tart apples. Green tea is also astringent and has been found to be a rich source of natural cancer preventing chemicals. Astringent foods are an essential component of an age reversing diet.