Everyone loves a good meal that nourishes the body, mind, and soul while enjoying taste sensations that delight the palate. Who can say no to the pure pleasure of luscious summer fruits, fresh crisp veggies, succulent meats, tree ripened avocado or scrumptious, thick raw crème?
One innovative approach to relishing a healthy meal is turning a whole-foods diet into a full sensory experience. Feeding your senses definitely is a source of happiness, even if the meal is fleeting – it’s often the glue that holds families and friends together and will be talked about long after the fact.
I’ve been preparing healthy meals for most of my life, starting at age 12 when I made the decision to remove white flour and white sugar from my diet. I taught myself how to cook, and later became a chef and catered many events. Over the years I refined my understanding of how to balance food flavors and spices to enhance digestion, absorption and elimination.
Next to breathing and drinking pure water, eating is our most primordial action.
We seek nourishment from our environment as soon as we are born, and spend a good part of the rest of our lives thinking about and consuming food. Like the sights and sounds that have inherent potential to nourish us deeply body, mind and spirit, when we taste our food’s flavors we are processing information provided by nature.
Three basic components of eating are necessary to create and maintain a healthy, happy physiology.
- Our food must be nourishing
- Digestive power must be strong
- Elimination must be efficient
Since the ability to extract energy and information and convert them into biological intelligence is truly the foundation of vital health, it’s important to understand how flavors can be used to identify the best sources of nourishment and use them to our fullest advantage.
The Tastes of Life
Food speaks to us directly through taste. As we tune into the flavors naturally desired by the body, we tap into the body’s innate wisdom. Years ago when I was studying Ayurveda I discovered that in that system there are six basic tastes into which all edible substances can be classified: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent, and Astringent. They also correspond to the 5 elements of space, air, fire, water and earth. Nature packages its foods according to taste to tell us which ones are best in high quantities, low quantities or in very minimal amounts.
In terms of importance, taste is second only to water – the element without which taste would not exist (if the tongue is dry, it cannot taste). As soon as we taste a flavor with our tongue, a cascade of biochemical changes begin to take effect on our body-mind, even before the molecules are released into the bloodstream. Appreciating how food flavors help to create internal balance (or imbalance) affecting the energy mechanisms of the body is key to consciously choosing to include a variety of foods with each meal.
Each of the six tastes affects our body-mind physiology and has a direct heating or cooling energetic effect on digestion and metabolism.
- Sweet flavors are composed of the elements of earth and water creating a lubricating effect that builds body mass. This taste is generally cooling, heavy, soothing and nourishing. Meats, fish, starchy vegetables, fats (dairy, coconut) eggs, and grains of all sorts, including gluten-free, are all considered sweet, as are all natural sweeteners like dates, honey and maple syrup.
- Sour taste is composed of earth and fire elements, increasing both chemical and physical heat in the body. This taste stimulates digestion and affects the liver, gallbladder, stomach, large intestine, veins and muscles, while cleansing tissues. Citrus fruits, yoghurt, pickled and fermented foods are examples of sour tastes.
- Salty taste composed of elements of water and fire is lubricating and increases heat in the system by aiding digestion. Sea vegetables and natural salts are a good source.
- Pungent taste composed of fire and air elements stimulate heat, dryness and improves metabolism. Considered anti-parasitic, chilies, hot peppers and spices, garlic, onions, ginger and many herbs add that energetic element to our food.
- Bitter taste composed of the elements of air and space are drying and detoxifying to the system. There are two basic types of bitters, cooling and warming. Cooling bitters are the ones most often used, and are most commonly found in green leafy foods such as dandelion, kale, collards, arugula, and romaine lettuce.
- Astringent taste composed of the elements of air and earth has a cooling and compacting effect in the body by absorbing water, drying fats and tightening tissues. Cruciferous vegetables, lentils and legumes, baked potato, pears, green grapes and apples, unripe bananas, cranberries, pomegranates, alfalfa sprouts, and green beans all contain astringent taste.
The list above is hardly complete, but gives you a starting point. Learn to listen to your body and what it tells you about the foods you’re eating to refine your choices.
Some meat such as duck and lamb can be heating (yang). As an evolutionary survival mechanism, humans are wired to prefer sweet-tasting foods and avoid bitter substances. In the distant past, that helped us avoid poison and find food that provided energy. Now, modern humans consume too much food that is predominantly sweet or salty, which makes us put on mass and increases gastrointestinal inflammation.
Since the average person’s diet is comprised of only about 15 foods, in order to receive the benefits of a nutritionally balanced diet, we need to include a variety of all flavors each meal. (To learn more about food planning and recipes, please see other blog posts here by Karen Maidment and Joanna Rushton).
Eating with the Seasons
- In the autumn, sweet, bitter and astringent foods are best eaten more frequently
- In late winter eat more pungent, bitter and astringent foods
- In spring eat more astringent, bitter and pungent foods
- In summer eat more sweet, bitter, and astringent foods
Depending upon the season, the weather, and your unique Primal Pattern® type, adjust and vary your eating habits daily.
By eating a range of flavorful foods, cooked, raw and fermented each meal you will reduce the likelihood of food cravings and feel a deep sense of contented satisfaction whilst gaining the benefit of nutritional balance. Rotating your proteins, veggies, fats and fruits daily will ensure you get all the nutrients you need without putting unnecessary burden on the body.
What an extraordinary way to taste lasting happiness each day!