Tag Archives: Healthy Eating

Ayurvedic Concept of the Role of Taste in Nutrition

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For those familiar with Ayurveda, one of the most surprising observations regarding modern nutritional science is that the relationship between taste and nutrition has been completely overlooked in Western investigations and conceptualizations. This is especially true when one considers that the sensation of taste is the primary and most obvious influence for every food that is eaten. The concept that taste may contain important clues to the biochemical actions of food is certainly an intriguing one, especially in light of the exquisite sensitivity of the taste receptors. Sweet taste can be perceived in a dilution of 1:200; salty, in a dilution of 1:400; sour, in a dilution of 1:130,000; and bitter, in a dilution of 1:2,000,000. According to the concepts of Ayurveda, this exquisite sensitivity of taste represents a communication mechanism to signal the physiology of the complex biochemical qualities of each food.

The sense of taste performs the dual role of informing the individual about the external world and connecting that perception with information about their internal environment. It is known from research into the sense of taste that molecules act on taste cells in particular areas of the oral cavity to trigger signals which are then transmitted to the cortex via afferent nerves, the caudal hindbrain, and the thalamus. The hypothalamus and limbic system are also reached by taste afferents. The taste of food is known to trigger physiological as well as behavioral reactions.

According to Ayurveda, when the taste buds first experience the different tastes and textural properties of food, an enormous amount of information is delivered throughout the body, triggering basic metabolic processes. These are held to reflect individual characteristics of the food as indicated by the taste. The influence on the physiology is then individualized according to the metabolic style determined by the individual’s Ayurvedic psychophysiological constitution and disturbances in the physiology.

Ayurveda describes six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Of these, the two that are not specifically recognized in Western nutritional science are ‘pungent,’ which refers to hot, spicy foods, and ‘astringent,’ which refers to foods with a drying, absorbent property (Table 1).

Table 1. The Six Tastes and Some Examples

  • Sweet – Sugar, milk, butter, rice, wheat, bread, pasta, honey
  • Sour – Yogurt, lemon, cheese, tomatoes, sour citrus fruits
  • Salty – Foods with a high salt content
  • Pungent – Hot spicy foods, hot peppers, ginger, cumin
  • Bitter – Spinach, other green leafy vegetables, turmeric
  • Astringent – Beans, lentils, apples, pomegranate, tannin in tea 

Ayurveda recommends that all six tastes be represented in each meal, although the proportions of the six tastes will vary according to the individual’s psychophysiological constitution and physiological disturbances. When all six tastes are experienced, the appetite will be satisfied by this balanced intake. If any of the tastes are left out, the person will likely continue to eat even though they are full, in an effort to satisfy the body’s hunger for the missing tastes. Inclusion of all six tastes is easily accomplished by use of Ayurvedic churnas, which are spice mixtures tailored to different constitutional types.

Because of the gate-keeper role that the taste buds play, taste is considered central to the classification of foods. It should be noted however that the analysis of food in Ayurveda is more sophisticated and precise than the analysis of taste alone. In analyzing food, additional properties are also taken into consideration, including six major qualities of food that are identified as heavy, light, oily, dry, hot, and cold (Table 2).

Table 2. The Six Major Food Qualities and Some Examples

  • Heavy – Cheese, yogurt, wheat products
  • Light – Barley, corn, spinach, apples
  • Oily – Dairy products, fatty foods, oils
  • Dry – Barley, corn, potatoes, beans
  • Hot – Hot (in temperature) foods and drinks
  • Cold – Cold foods and drinks 

Dietary prescriptions in Ayurveda are tailored according to individual need, based on determination of the individual’s Ayurvedic psychophysiological constitution and disturbances in the physiology.

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Healthy Recipes

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For most of us, finding the time and energy to make a home cooked meal each day can be challenging. That is why today we present quick, easy to make, healthy recipes for everyone! These foods are not only easy to make but they are delicious and nutritious! They will easily become part of your weekly meal planning.

Basmati Rice

Basmati rice, available at Indian groceries and most health food stores, is the king of all rices. It’s a high-quality long-grain rice that has a unique aroma when cooked. Prepare your rice so that it is cooked but still firm and the grains don’t stick together.  Here’s one way to prepare Basmati rice:

Directions:

1.   Wash the rice in several changes of cold water.
2.   Put the rice in a saucepan and add 1 ½ times as much water as you have rice.
3.   Let the rice soak for 30 minutes.
4.   Bring to a boil, then stir, cover the pan, and reduce to a simmer.
5.   Simmer gently for 10 minutes.
6.   Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit covered for 5 minutes.
7.   Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.

Beans

Here’s some advice on cooking with beans:

  • Sort through them a bit before you cook them. You’ll probably find an occasional small stone to remove.
  • Rinse them several times before you cook them.
  • For some beans, you should soak them for a while first to soften them up before cooking.
  • Cook them well. When they’re well cooked, the digestion can get right down to its task of transforming them into beneficial chemicals.
  • Contrary to popular practice in the West, don’t add salt before the beans are cooked. Acidic ingredients like tomatoes or lemon juice shouldn’t go in either until you’ve cooked the beans. Then add these things and cook a few more minutes.
  • What you can add are spices like cumin, black pepper, and ginger (which have a lot of health-promoting effects).
  • To store your dry beans and dals, keep them in dry, airtight containers at normal room temperature.
  • Beans keep, but try to use them within six months or so. As they get older, they lose moisture and take longer to soak and cook.

Here’s a nice, basic recipe:

Split Moong Dal
(2 servings)

Ingredients:

½ cup split moong dal
2 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
¼ carrot, cut into thin slices
½ teaspoon fresh ginger root, grated
1 teaspoon Immunity Mix (see below)
1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter)
1 teaspoon fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Immunity Mix:

6 parts turmeric
3 parts ground cumin
3 parts ground coriander
6 parts ground fennel
1 part powdered dry ginger
1 part ground black pepper
¼ part ground cinnamon

Mix the spices together well. (Store them in an airtight container in a cool place away from direct sunlight.)

Directions:

1.   Sort through the dal and remove any small stones, then rinse the dal in cool water several times.
2.   Put the water, carrots, and dal in a medium-sized saucepan, and bring it to a boil. (If foam forms on the top of the boiling water, skim it off and throw it away.)
3.   Lower the heat, and continue to simmer the dal for 20 minutes until it is tender. (If you like a thicker dal, continue the boiling for another 5 minutes.)
4.   Add the salt.
5.   Melt the ghee in a separate saucepan. Add the ginger root, and sauté for several minutes. Add the Immunity Mix and sauté briefly, about 30 seconds, with the ginger root. (Be sure that you don’t burn the spices.)
6.   Add the spice mixture to the dal and stir. (Be careful. The dal may splash a little when you put in the hot oil.)
7.   Add the lemon juice and fresh cilantro. Stir and serve.

Prana Dal
(
Recipe for 3)

Ingredients:

1 cup moong dal
1 lb. fresh organic spinach
½ teaspoon turmeric
Pinch of ground coriander
Pinch of ground cumin
Pinch of ground ginger
Salt to taste
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
A few pinches of black salt (actually looks pink, available at an Indian grocery store)

Directions:

1.   Sort through the dal and remove any small stones, then rinse the dal in cool water several times.
2.   Cook the dal with the turmeric, coriander, cumin, and ginger. You should have approx. 2 ½ cups of thin cooked dal when done.
3.   Add salt to taste and cook a few more minutes.
4.   Wash the spinach thoroughly, then lightly steam it for 2-3 minutes.
5.   Put the dal and spinach in a blender, and blend for only 2-3 seconds, just enough to distribute the spinach throughout the dal without turning it into liquid.
6.   Pour into serving bowls. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice and a pinch of black salt. Serve it with rice or a chapati (a type of flat bread).

Sauteed Swiss Chard

Ingredients:

1 lb. Swiss chard, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ghee
1 teaspoon Immunity Mix (see below)
Salt to taste
½ teaspoon lemon juice

Immunity Mix:

6 parts turmeric
3 parts ground cumin
3 parts ground coriander
6 parts ground fennel
1 part powdered dry ginger
1 part ground black pepper
¼ part ground cinnamon

Mix the spices together well. (Store them in an airtight container in a cool place away from direct sunlight.)

Directions:

1.   Heat the ghee in a frying pan.
2.   Sauté the Immunity Mix in the ghee very briefly, about 40 seconds, on low heat.
3.   Add the Swiss chard and stir it into the spices.
4.   Add about 2 tablespoons of water and cover the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the Swiss chard is tender.
5.   Add salt and lemon juice. Cook for a few more minutes, then serve.

Panir

Ingredients:

1 quart of milk (not homogenized is better)
Juice of 1 squeezed lemon

Directions:

1.   Bring the milk to a boil.
2.   Add the lemon juice. (The milk will start to curdle, but in this case that’s what you want.)
3.   Turn off the heat and let the substance sit for a few moments, then bring it back to boiling.
4.   Remove it from the heat. When it is half-cool, strain the curds from the whey through any fine cloth. (Muslin is good, or several layers of cheesecloth.)
5.   When most of the moisture has drained, gather the top of the cloth, tie it together, and hang it somewhere to drip. Let all the water drip through (which usually takes about an hour).

Yield: One cup of panir. You can cook it in with your veggies for a delicious and nutritious dish.

Nutty Delight

Ingredients:

2 parts sesame seeds, hulled
1 part white poppy seeds
1 part dried coconut (fresh, if you can get it)

Directions:

1.   Soak everything together for about an hour, until it’s soft.
2.   Blend the mixture into a smooth paste.
3.   Add this nutty paste to your vegetables or other foods as you cook them. Allow a tablespoon of paste per serving.

This mixture will help you sleep, and you’ll wake up ready to attack the day with vigor.

Lassi

For your noon meal, lassi can be a great aid to digestion. (It’s better not to have it in the evening, though.) Drink the lassi after you finish eating. Lassi is made by mixing fresh yogurt with water, and adding a few other tasty ingredients. Yogurt in its native form tends to clog digestion a bit. But when you blend it with water and make it into lassi, it aids digestion. The reason for this is that blending thins the yogurt and changes its molecular structure. There are many recipes for lassi. Here are three for you to choose from:

Sweet Lassi

Ingredients:

1 part cold yogurt
3 parts water
Pinch of ground cardamon
Pinch of sugar
Splash of rosewater

Directions:

Blend all ingredients together. Include cardamon, sugar, and rosewater, to taste. Drink after lunch.

Digestive Lassi

Ingredients:

1 part cold yogurt
3 parts water
Pinch of ground ginger
Pinch of ground cumin
Pinch of salt
Pinch of black pepper

Directions:

Blend all ingredients together. Include ginger, cumin, salt, and pepper, to taste. Drink after lunch.

Lassi to prevent gas, bloating

Ingredients:

1 cup room-temperature water
¼ cup fresh homemade yogurt
1 pinch ground ginger
1 pinch ground cumin
1 pinch ground coriander
1 pinch salt

Directions:

Blend everything together for one minute. Drink after lunch to ward off gas and bloating.

This modified chapter was taken with permission from: The Answer to Cancer, by Sharma and Mishra, with Meade, SelectBooks, New York, 2002.