In this article, we explore how to use food as medicine to harmonize doshic imbalances in the body and stimulate optimal digestion. Gut health has become quite a topic of conversation in recent years and Ayurveda offers us an ancient pathway to belly wellbeing that takes each unique constitution into consideration.
As with all other senses, there are specific routines and rituals through which we can pacify imbalance for vata, pitta and kapha and allow taste’s full, highest expression to emerge. We will dive into those shortly. Before we get specific, it’s important to understand the foundational aspects of taste that apply to all three doshas and our overall digestive health.
What Is Agni?
In Ayurveda, there is a principal referred to as agni. This Sanksrit term translates to “digestive fire.” It is the fire burning deep in your belly—the furnace that fuels your entire digestive system. Agni governs our metabolism and our ability to convert food to energy.
When agni is burning bright and strong, we’re able to effortlessly extract the nectar from the foods we eat and efficiently eliminate toxins. If agni is dull and dwindling, it becomes quite challenging for our body to process nutrition regardless of our dosha or the foods we eat. A thriving agni equates to thriving gut health, so it’s important we focus on kindling this flame before all else.
The best way to stoke your internal fire is to take an occasional detox. Imagine a campfire with too much wood piled on top…the flames become suffocated and cannot burn effectively. The same is true for agni. If we continuously supply the body with food and don’t allow our system space to breathe, agni can become weakened.
Fasting & Detoxing
There are many methods of fasting and detox, and it is important to choose one that not only suits your lifestyle but is approved by your medical professional. A simple variation is to take a 24-hour fast every week. I personally enjoy fasting from supper to supper, as it doesn’t require an entire day from sunup to sundown without food. I end one day with a satisfying dinner at 5 or 6 p.m. and indulge the following day at the same hour.
During this time of fasting, inflammation in the body is reduced, toxins are eliminated, and fat stores are moved and metabolized—and it’s evn quite common to experience increased mental and physical clarity. By allowing our body, digestion, and systemic processes time to rest and recharge, they can engage more powerfully after this much-needed and deserved moment of pause.
During your fast, be sure to drink loads of room temperature or warm water, herbal teas, and lemon water. There are many opposing schools of thought when it comes to coffee, so it’s best to experiment and notice how you feel. I occasionally treat myself to one cup of black coffee during the 24-hour fasting period. Use your intuition to determine what is right for you. It’s best to avoid cold, icy drinks during detox (and always, in general) as the cool temperatures can smother and suppress agni, creating an undesirable effect.
On the other days of the week (or if you simply don’t wish to engage in occasional detox and fasts), you can keep your agni burning brightly by drinking a cup of ginger tea each morning. Take fresh ginger root and slice it lengthwise, exposing as much of the fleshy insides as possible. Place 2-4 thin ginger ovals in 8-16 oz. of water and bring to a boil. Transfer to a mug and enjoy.
For those with excessive pitta in their constitution, limit your intake of ginger tea as your fire is most likely already burning quite brightly! Vata and kapha digestions can indulge a bit more. When these two doshas feel extremely aggravated within my own digestion and I can tell it is slow or weakened, I’ll even toss those same slices of ginger into my water bottle and use them all throughout the day.
How To Eat To Strengthen Agni
So now that we have a few tools in our arsenal to amplify the strength of agni within our system, we can turn our attention to what types of foods will best satisfy and support the three doshas.
Ayurveda teaches us that in nature, foods fall into six categories of tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. These six tastes occur organically in the natural world and, because our bodies are fine-tuned to resonate with nature, we know intuitively and internally that we must include all six tastes in our diet to feel satiated and satisfied.
This is a very important concept in Ayurveda that sets it apart from many other nutritional systems—in Ayurveda, it is never about NOT. Essentially, what this means is that there is no natural food that we should eliminate entirely from our diet because we need all six tastes to feel fully supported. Rather, we use the terms and behavior of favor and reduce. We place more attention on favoring three of the tastes and reducing the others, but do NOT eliminate them entirely.
Physicality aside, this is a true hero when it comes to the psychology of eating. Often, when we feel like we are forbidding ourselves from a certain taste or experience, we eventually cave and indulge in it to an extreme. Ayurveda says we truly can have it all, so long as we pay conscious attention to the proportions that best serve us.
Each of the tastes contains an expression of the five Mahabhutas (space, air, fire, water, earth) so, naturally, some tastes will be pacifying to your dosha and others may aggravate it if you add too much. Remember that, in Ayurveda, opposites attract and lead to harmonic balance in the body/mind!
The Six Tastes In Ayurveda
The general categorization of the six tastes are:
- SWEET [Water + Earth] – anything carb-related (grains, rice, oats, breads, all potatoes, etc), nuts, all dairy and non-dairy milks, sweet fruits and meats
- SOUR [Fire + Water] – citrus fruit, fermented dairy (yogurt, kefir, cheese, etc), berries, nightshades, vinegar, alcohol
- SALTY [Fire + Earth] – all salts (Himalayan, black, sea, etc), ocean fish/crustacean, seaweed, soy sauce
- BITTER [Space + Air] – turmeric, coffee, almost all green and yellow vegetables, tea
- PUNGENT [Air + Fire] – all pepper (black, cayenne, jalapeno, etc), ginger, garlic, onion, cinnamon, fennel, mustard
- ASTRINGENT [Air + Earth] – all beans (garbanzo, black, kidney, etc), banana, legumes, peas, berries, most vegetables
For a complete Six Tastes Reference Chart, visit www.soulbare.com/sixtastes.
With our new-found understanding of the imprint of each food group and our own doshic makeup, we can apply this knowledge in deciding which foods to favor and reduce throughout the day. If you find it cumbersome or challenging to balance the six tastes into each meal, make sure you at least incorporate each of them at some point throughout the day to satiate your body’s cravings for harmony with nature.
VATA // Body Imbalance
- An accumulation of Space + Air creates a digestive experience of Bloating, Gassiness, and Constipation.
- Temper with qualities Fire, Water + Earth to influence effects that are Warming, Comforting, and Moistening.
Healing Vata through TASTE
- Favor: Sweet, Sour, Salty
- Reduce: Bitter, Pungent, Astringent
- Pro Tip: Avoid raw, uncooked foods as they will add undesirable cool, drying qualities to your constitution. Vatas need to comfort and heat the body with warm soups and cooked meals.
- Daily Dose of Balance: Drink a cup of fennel tea to combat gassiness and bloating and aid digestion.
PITTA // Body Imbalance
- An accumulation of Fire + Water creates a digestive experience of Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and IBS.
- Temper with qualities of Space, Air + Earth to influence effects that are Soothing, Cooling, and Sweet.
Healing Pitta through TASTE
- Favor: Sweet, Bitter, Astringent
- Reduce: Sour, Salty, Pungent
- Pro Tip: Though pittas tend to love a good spicy meal, it’s best to avoid this type of food that will add unnecessary warmth to an already heated constitution.
- Daily Dose of Balance: Drink a cup of turmeric tea to reduce inflammation throughout pitta’s constitution. For bonus points, make with coconut milk as this tropical fruit will create an added cooling effect.
KAPHA // Body Imbalance
- An accumulation of Water + Earth creates a digestive experience of Sluggishness, Slow Digestion, and Diarrhea.
- Temper with qualities of Space, Air + Fire to influence effects that are Stimulating, Lightening, and Warming.
Healing Kapha through TASTE
- Favor: Bitter, Pungent, Astringent
- Reduce: Sweet, Sour, Salty
- Pro Tip: As kaphas are all about support and coziness, they do enjoy a good comfort-food inspired meal. However, this traditionally heavy food adds congestion to the already sluggish system. Kapha should experiment with adding more spice and raw foods to lighten and enliven the system.
- Daily Dose of Balance: Drink a cup of ginger tea each morning AND afternoon to stimulate your digestion and metabolism and boost the presence/function of agni.