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Beyond Sweet and Salty: The importance of including bitter and astringent in our daily diets

Author - Sonia Velarsan, RD

Have you ever stopped to think about the tastes you consume on a daily basis? While we may enjoy the sweetness of desserts or the saltiness of our favorite chips, Ayurveda guides us to include all six tastes - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent - in our diets.

Vera L, et al., 2017


In modern foods, tikta rasa (bitter) and kashaya rasa (astringent) are often unpopular because these are evolutionarily aversive. Who would want to mistakenly eat a poisonous bitter berry? But foods containing predominantly these tastes can be healthy. Think kale (bitter) and raw plantain (astringent).


According to Ayurveda, bitter and astringent foods help balance the Kapha and Pitta while increasing the Vata in our bodies, and through the action on these doshas, promote health.


So why are we not consuming enough of these tastes on a daily basis? One reason may be our modern diets, which are often high in processed and packaged foods that are meant to be appetitive and hence, predominant in sweet and salt tastes. Researchers are uncovering how these tastes, particularly sweet (Ayurveda classifies many fats as being predominant in the “sweet” (madhura) rasa, tune our neural circuits to be more and more receptive to such tastes, hence promoting their consumption (1).


Incorporating tikta and kashaya into our diets doesn't have to be difficult. We can start by adding bitter greens to our salads or smoothies, drinking green tea (bitter and astringent) instead of sugary drinks, or using spices like turmeric, clove, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and fenugreek seeds in our cooking. Astringent foods like legumes and whole grains can be added to soups, stews, and salads for a filling and nutritious meal.


Tikta rasa is a blend of air and space elements, that clears the mouth and tongue. Some of the examples are Pointed gourds, Poppy seeds, Neem, Bitter gourd, Eggplant (2), Drumstick (3) , Bottle gourd, Ridge gourd, Ivy gourd (4)


Kashaya rasa is a blend of air and earth, producing numbness, and heaviness of the tongue. Some examples of Kashaya rasa are Haritaki, Honey (5) - honey balances all three doshas, Lotus, Cucumber, Pomegranate rind, Sesame seeds, Coriander seeds (6), Horse gram (7). Some of the fruits like Jackfruit (8), Apple (9), and Jamoon (10).


It's important to note that while these tastes can be beneficial in moderation, consuming too much of them can have negative effects. It's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before making any major changes to your diet.


A great way to begin is by making sure that your plate is full—of all six tastes. Your taste buds will thank you and your body will exhibit its gratitude through healthy digestion.


So next time you're planning a meal, consider adding some bitter or astringent foods to the mix!


References:

  1. Thanarajah, Sharmili Edwin, et al. "Habitual daily intake of a sweet and fatty snack modulates reward processing in humans." Cell Metabolism (2023).

  2. ad . ni . kantkaryadi varga pg-162

  3. ad . ni shigruvadi varga pg 345

  4. ad. ni kushmanadadi varga pg -638.624,620,654

  5. Cha. Su. 27/245

  6. Kalpesh S. Katariya, Brijesh R. Mishra. Shad Rasa and their effect on the body. J Ayurveda Integr Med Sci 2021;6:124-130.

  7. shu.su 46/37-38

  8. Cha. Su 27/143

  9. bha . pra. ni amaradi varga

  10. Ch. su. 27/140

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