In the West, a balanced diet is comprised of a mix of macronutrients that make up the large part of our diet – carbohydrates, proteins and fats as well as micronutrients – namely vitamins and minerals. This approach is rather reductionist as calorie intake does not give a full picture of nutrient intake nor does it consider other factors that impact our energy conversion such as genes, epigenetics, sleep, hormones or body type.
Contrast this with Ayurveda, which focuses on personalized approach to nutrition; given that no two humans are like and their prakriti (constitution) is widely different based on numerous factors. Nutrition and food in Ayurveda take the entire person into consideration, the body/dosha type, their mental state, family history, age, season, digestive strength, immunity, energy, health issues etc. can bring overall all balance.
Ayurveda classifies food according to the six tastes, not by carbohydrates, proteins or fats. Ayurveda acknowledges proper nutrition by the balance and proper use of whole foods & all six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. Each taste is made up of two of the five great elements, hence the relationship to dosha (mind/body types).
Ayurveda also considers the potency of the six tastes, which is named virya and the post-digestive effect, which is named vipak. According to Ayurveda nutrition the six tastes each have a warming or cooling effect on the body. The virya refers to the immediate heating or cooling effect that a particular food has on our physiology. Foods that are predominantly cooling include: sweet, bitter and astringent and pungent, salty and sour foods contain heating qualities or viryas.
According to Ayurveda, health begins with proper digestion; all issues can be traced to gut health. The primary function of the digestive system is to bring essential nutrients into the body’s internal environment. According to Ayurvedic beliefs digestion refers to the individual’s overall agni. After assessing a person’s current doshic state, agni is the most important factor in determining dietary needs. It is a fact that everyone digests food differently; avocados may have different impact on each digestive system regardless of being “recommended” or part of a “certain diet.”
Therefore, in efforts to properly nourish oneself one must understand how to eat whole foods properly by the inclusion of all six tastes; how to eat seasonally with six tastes; and how to enhance or refine these tastes in efforts to balance dosha and properly balance agni. Each taste satisfies our nutritional needs; balance in Ayurveda comes from ensuring that each meal has all six tastes is suitable quantities and is aligned with our Prakruti (constitution) so that all our nutritional and sensory needs are met as well as ensure we avoid cravings.
The next time you are inclined to try out a new diet or begin tracking your nutrients, ask yourself – how the food makes you feel digestively? How do you feel after eating the food? Are you eating based on recommendation or for the food qualities? Simplifying eating by focusing on these questions can help you maintain a great gut balance and thus overall health.