The secret to satiety. We'd all love to know. When is enough, enough? And how can we feel fully satisfied and nourished with 'enough'? You'll be surprised to learn that it's simple really ... and, well, actually maybe a little complex.
Call it post supper syndrome. After eating a delicious and nutritious dinner, you find yourself craving something you can’t quite put your finger on. Although you should feel satisfied because the calories were plentiful, you still crave a bit of flavor to round out your meal. It usually ends with a hand in the cookie jar. Sounding familiar? But why do we lack satisfaction and leave the table seeking more? At the CRISP Kitchen we agree with the Ayervedic philosophy that it takes all 6 tastes – sour, salty, sweet, bitter, astringent and pungent – to fully round out a meal, creating ideal satisfaction.
In 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 much-desired feeling of completeness. And, as you can imagine, if you leave the table feeling satisfied, you are much less likely to raid the refrigerator a couple of hours later driven by that sense of ‘lack’!
The typical American diet is dominated by three tastes that the makers of snacks and fast food rely on as the most addictive: sweet, sour, and salty. You do need these tastes but in excess they create cravings and lead to imbalance. Preoccupied with these tastes, you will be excluding green leafy vegetables, an important source of bitter taste, and most beans and legumes, which are known for their astringent taste. Along with helping to create satiety, we know that bitter and astringent foods also act as important anti-inflammatories.
As we look at the six tastes, they 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 innate experience. The experience of taste is so subtle that unlike mammals whose nutritional requirements are satisfied with a narrow range of foods, or even a single food, human beings find too much of a single taste cloying – we range across the entire field of tastes in order to feel satisfied. And optimal health and vibrancy relies on all of the beneficial components of food to come into play.
The sour taste is the one that causes the mouth to water. Many condiments have a sour taste since sour foods stimulate digestion. Fermented foods (including miso, sauerkraut and cheeses) are sour. Too much sour has the potential to increase inflammation in the body so it’s important to achieve a balance. Sour foods: yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, cheese, all citrus fruits, tomatoes (in all forms, including fresh, dried, sauce, ketchup, chutney), kiwi, vinegar, pickles, unripe fruits, miso and strawberries.
We have prominent taste buds for salty and we crave this taste, since in nature, the salty taste is often hard to come by. In the modern diet, characterized by a plethora of processed foods, the salty taste is hard to avoid. Salt comes in many forms, all of which are not created equal. While we tend to associate salt with sodium chloride, the healthiest forms of salt contain a variety of minerals and trace elements, many of which also taste salty.
Salty foods include: salt, sea salt, Himalayan rock or pink salt, Celtic sea salt, rock salt, seaweed, fish, celery and celery seed and root, miso, tamari, soy sauce, ketchup and mustard (because they contain added salt), olives and foods with added salt such as nuts, chips, breads and soups.
We love the sweet taste because sweet provides satisfaction in our lives. If you think about most comfort foods, they are sweet and also oily. According to Ayurveda, it is not only foods that are classically thought of as sweet (such as sweets and sugary foods) that are sweet. In addition to carbohydrate-rich foods such as grains, sweet foods like sugarcane and beets, dairy products and oils are also ‘sweet’. In nature, many of these foods provide a needed energy source for the body (particularly for the nervous system, whose preferred fuel is glucose), they also contain various phytochemicals and micronutrients and antioxidants (think omega 3-6-9 fatty acids and the pigments, vitamins and minerals in fresh fruits). For this reason, sweets that are whole grain, minimally processed oils, and fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of a plant-based Ayurvedic diet.
Sweet foods: All whole grains, dairy products, oils, sweet fruits including mangoes, peaches, apricots; sweet vegetables such as yams, winter squash, cucumbers, avocados, beets, carrots; many nuts such as almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts and pecans; honey, sesame and sunflower seeds; and spices like fennel, rose, saffron, cardamom, anise, dill, poppy seeds and cinnamon.
We have taste buds for bitter and this taste includes the many active phytochemicals that have potent medicinal properties. We only need small amounts of this taste in our overall diet. While many bitter foods are powerfully medicinal, some bitters are poisonous, and some bitters teeter-totter between medicinal and poisonous depending on the dose, the person, the form it is taken in, the season, other foods ingested, and other compounding factors. Many tonics are bitter and
bitter has been shown to aid the liver in its job to detoxify the body. This may be true for foods and herbs like dark leafy greens, turmeric and goldenseal, but may not be as much the case for coffee, which is probably the most prevalent bitter food in the Standard American Diet. Bitter foods: All of the bitter greens and dark leafy greens (even the not so dark) are bitter. This includes: iceberg lettuce, romaine and butter lettuce, red and green lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi and more. Coffee (whether caffeinated or decaffeinated) as well as many teas, contain bitterness. Chocolate, rhubarb, sesame, licorice, beer, eggplant, and bitter gourd or kerala, are also all bitter.
This is the taste that creates dryness the mouth. We don’t necessary have a taste bud for astringent, but it is an important quality of food. The astringent taste tonifies and dries out the tissues. Many diuretics have an astringent taste as well as foods that dry out the body overall. It is also the astringent taste that can increase gas in the body. Tannins in green and black tea have astringency to them as well.
Astringent foods: white potatoes, beans (all beans have some astringency and is the reason why beans why beans can be gassy), lentils, green apples, grapes, dry red wine, black, white and green tea, rooibos, green bananas, turmeric, coriander (leaves and seeds), pomegranate, cranberries, blueberries, most berries, bay leaf, aloe vera, basil, rosemary, nutmeg, the white peel inside citrus fruits.
This is the quality that creates heat in the mouth and the body. When we call something “spicy,” we are often referring to its pungency. From an Ayurvedic perspective, this taste stimulates the digestive fire. Just like a fire, in excess, it can be drying and too much heat can create inflammation, so this is one of those tastes for which it is important to be cautionary. Just because a little is good, it doesn’t mean a lot is better. The pungent taste is catabolic – breaking down of food and nutrients - , and can burn fat and increase the metabolic rate.
Pungent foods: All of the peppers are pungent to different degrees; bell peppers, red peppers, jalapeno, habaneras, or other peppers. Other pungent foods include: ginger, garlic, onion, cloves, cayenne, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, thyme, sage, turmeric, wasabi, horseradish, mustard seeds and greens, radishes, black and green peppercorns.
General reminders about the tastes: Some types of foods can have more than one taste. For example, apples can be both astringent and sweet. Turmeric is astringent, bitter, pungent and a bit sweet. Oranges are both sour and sweet. And, within a type or category of food, individual items may have different qualities. For example, you can bite into a very sour apple, or a very sweet apple and the same is true for many other types of foods.
So accomplishing satiety, while seemingly complex, isn't really a secret at all! It can be so easily accomplished if we take a moment to pay attention to these six tastes. To fully round out our meal and make the portions feel 'enough', we need only a little bit of creativity and an eye toward what's in season. Enjoy creating!