Eating for Enlightenment: The Sweetness of Balance
By eating lightly of healthy food, one experiences the bliss of brahm and complete liberation. ~From the poem: “The Daily Banis” by Yogi Bhajan in Furmaan Khalsa
Every food has a specific taste or “rasa” that affects us uniquely. Translated from Sanskrit, “ra” means to relish or to taste and “sa” means juice or secretion. The six tastes are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent; and ideally are present in every meal. Each taste is composed of two elements and thus has very specific effects on our mind, body and spirit through each of the doshas: vata, pitta and kapha.
Ayurvedic texts note additional actions for each taste. The first aspect is virya, which is the effect once the food enters the digestive tract and in part, relates to the effect on the agni or digestive fire. The second aspect is the vipaka or post digestive effect and is the effect on metabolic pathways in the body in regard to tissue and waste production.
Elements: Earth and Water
Effect on Doshas: Pacifies Vata and Pitta, Increases Kapha
Virya: Cooling, hence, eating a bit of sugar after a chili pepper can decrease burning in the mouth
Vipaka: Sweet, thus anabolic and promoting growth of body tissue
Role in the Body:
When used in moderation, it is nourishing to the body and fundamental in building tissue. Additionally it:
• Improves the senses
• Relieves thirst and burning sensation
• Heals emaciation
• Soothes inflamed tissue
• Promotes healthy skin and hair
• Helps to create a melodious voice
Effect on Emotional States:
Fundamental in creating love, compassion and empathy and consumed in excess can lead to attachment, greed and possessiveness.
Healthy Dietary Examples:
~Herbs: basil, fennel, peppermint, licorice
~Sweet fruits: peaches, melons, banana, mango, plum, watermelon, coconut
~Sweet Vegetables: carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, butternut squash
~Whole grains: oats, spelt, wheat berries, quinoa, teff
~Dairy: organic butter, organic ghee, organic cream (in moderation)
~Dates, honey, maple syrup
Unhealthy Dietary Examples:
~Sucrose (table sugar), high fructose corn syrup, agave (high in fructose), corn syrup
The average American is currently consuming well over 100 pounds of sugar a year in the form of high fructose corn syrup and sucrose. These types of “sugars” tend to lead the body into peaks and valleys of energy levels. Natural sweets have other elements that bring balance and give sustained energy to use through the day. For example, dates are rich in fiber and have many wonderful micronutrients that serve enzymatic reactions of the body.
As a general principle I do not recommend dietary low calorie sweeteners and prefer instead to encourage the whole food sweet options as outlined above like whole grains and sweet vegetables to reduce cravings. Diabetic patients need to have special care and should consult with a health care provider for the best plan for eating foods in this category. From an Ayurvedic perspective moderation is important and excess sweet intake leads to “kapha excess” which is represented by congestion., heaviness, laziness, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high triglycerides and fatigue.
3 Great Choices for the Sweet Flavor:
Oats: Avena sativa
Oats have one of the highest protein contents of all grains and when compared with meat, milk and eggs have a similar amount of protein by weight. 100g of egg whites has 10.9 grams protein and 100g of oatmeal has 13.1 grams protein. Oatmeal is additionally rich in fiber which is helpful in lowering blood cholesterol levels and filled with micronutrients.
Coconuts: Cocos nucifera
“Coconut is not only strengthening and nourishing, but also is a body builder and good for putting on a little extra weight. Coconut contains organic iodine. The milk is high in easily assimilated protein containing all of the amino acids, mineral salts of potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and chlorine; vitamin C and B complex. The milk is not only a refreshing summer beverage, but is also helpful in fatigue and general weakness. Its oil is easily digested. One man in India lived exclusively on coconut from 25 to past 100 years old. If you can get them with the husks still on, try to pick the greener ones as they have the tastiest and best quality and quantity of milk. Coconut is known as the most pure, healthy nutritious food in every way. “ ~Yogi Bhajan, The Ancient Art of Self-Healing
Beets: Beta vulgaris
The vibrant red-purple color found in beets comes from the plant pigments, betalains. Functioning in a multifaceted way as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory molecule, betalains are a valuable element to be added routinely to our diet. Interestingly we vary greatly in our ability to absorb and utilize this phytonutrient. Yogi Bhajan was a great supporter of beets and had this to say of their positive role in our diet:
“Beets in any form cleanse out the intestinal tract.” ~Yogi Bhajan, The Ancient Art of Self-Healing
Beet and Fennel Root Salad
2 cups steamed, peeled and sliced beets
½ cup sliced lightly steamed or raw fennel or celery
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
1 teaspoon sliced mint or other pungent green garden herbs
salt to taste
Mix all ingredients and let marinate for 30 minutes before serving. Can be served over warm cooked whole grains or with greens for variety. Fennel is high in vitamin C and a fair source of iron. Adding fresh herbs like mint or thyme brings the flavors together wonderfully. This is a very simple recipe and done in a few minutes
[The content of this column is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information in this column for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or for prescribing any medication or other treatment.]
Dr. Siri Chand Kaur Khalsa maintains a private medical practice in Phoenix, Arizona. From the wisdom given to us by Yogi Bhajan, she teaches the fundamental idea that food is in fact medicine that can sustain our physical, mental, and spiritual bodies as we move through our time on Earth. From the organic farms where we get our vegetables to sustainably preparing healthy food, to the ancient science of Ayurveda, her writings are created to offer ongoing critique of the often conflicting information available on these topics.
She has been invited to yoga studios and community centers around the world to offer guidance on making good choices in our diets as vegetarians. Embracing the Sikh concepts of seva (service) and langar (food is served to all the visitors for free) she prays someday all will be able join in the global table to receive adequate servings of healthy vegetarian food. www.luminousfoods.com