We’ve likely all now heard that every meal should include a rainbow of colors. While that may be a vast improvement upon much of America’s current ‘plate’, I really like Deepak Chopra’s counsel on that subject as he delves further into what truly keeps us nourished and satiated. He encourages a whole new way to look at the plate explaining that each meal should include six tastes in order to satisfy.
Call it post-supper syndrome. I know many can relate. After eating a supposedly satisfying, nutritious dinner, you find yourself craving something you can't quite put your finger on; some flavor to round out the meal. The popular response: ice cream, chocolate, cheese or chips. What does that tell us?
If we take a more Ayurvedic approach and include the six tastes in every meal, we are more likely to feel satiated and the ice cream will go into a deep freeze! The six tastes are Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, and the less common Pungent and Stringent.
In the centuries that preceded modern nutrition, this way of eating not only ensured that the major food groups and nutrients were represented, but it also provided a feeling of completeness satisfaction, which in Ayurveda is just as important. And when you finish a meal feeling satisfied, you will be much less likely to find yourself raiding the refrigerator a mere two hours later, driven by a sense of lack.
The typical American diet is dominated by three tastes that the makers of snack food and fast food rely on as the most addictive: sweet, sour, and salty. You do need these tastes but in excess they create cravings that can quickly lead to imbalance. Fixating on sweet, sour, and salty leaves little room for those powerful leafy greens, a chief source of the bitter taste, and leaves out beans and legumes which carry astringent tastes in the Ayurvedic system. And curiously, food with these two tastes provides important anti-inflammatories among other important nutrients.
Think of it this way, the six tastes are the codes that inform your nervous system about a meal’s nutritional content. Evolution has matched taste with the benefits of food – this is the wisdom of thousands of years of experience. The experience of taste is so subtle that unlike mammals whose nutritional requirements are satisfied with narrow range of foods (lions subsisting on gazelles or antelopes), or even a single food (koalas eating eucalyptus leaves), human beings find too much of a single taste cloying – we range across the entire field of tastes in order to feel satisfied.
The most important point to all of this is the holistic effect of eating a natural diet in which all the beneficial components of food come into play. The next time you sit down to dinner, take a look at your plate and see how many tastes you can identify. If you’ve managed to accomplish all six, bravo! And you can leave the post-dinner refrigerator raid to someone else! Next up we’ll explore each ‘taste’. Stay tuned!