The Importance of Sweet in Ayurveda
"In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed."
- Kalil Gibran
On the 6 Tastes (Rasas)
You may already be aware that the taste of your food has a direct impact on your mind, body and emotional wellbeing. For example, the sweetness of a cherry pie evokes memories of comfort, relaxation and well-being. Meanwhile, a dark cup of coffee stimulates focus, drive and achievement.
Ayurveda identifies that there are 6 tastes (called rasas) by which all foods, emotions and experiences can be classified.
The 6 tastes are: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent.
Each taste has a unique effect on our mind, body, senses, and spirit.
Understanding the 6 tastes can serve as an important, intuitive way to promote self-healing, seasonal balance and natural well-being.
In fact, the Sanskrit word for taste is "rasa", which also translates to plasma (rasa dhatu, or the liquid in our bloodstream), the energy of our emotions, and our enthusiasm for life.
Basically, Ayurveda is teaching us that how our food tastes has a direct impact on both the quality of our emotions, the quality of the plasma in our blood, and our enthusiasm for life!
Sugar in Modern Culture
In today's culture, most of us have developed a love-hate relationship with the sweet taste.
This is mostly due to the use of refined white sugar, which is highly addictive and aggravates all 3 doshas.
Refined sugar has also been found to be associated with digestive issues, overeating, anxiety, depression, puffiness, laziness, blood sugar imbalances, aggression, other forms of addiction (e.g. drugs, alcohol) and withdrawal symptoms.
These are all excellent reasons to eliminate (or significantly reduce) the white sugar and all artificial sweeteners from your diet.
Still love sweets?
Don't despair, read on...
The Sweet Taste as Medicine
In Ayurveda, the sweet taste is actually considered to be the most important of the 6 tastes, recognized as the one responsible for promoting feelings of love, compassion and happiness (sattva guna). It is responsible for balancing Vata and Pitta dosha and for increasing ojas.
The sweet taste includes naturally sweet-tasting foods such as fruits, milk, ghee, grains, beets, sweet potatoes, and natural sugars such as honey, maple syrup and coconut sugars.
Excess sweet will naturally create a Kapha imbalance associated with poor tissue development, weak muscles, obesity, blood sugar imbalances, food cravings, internal dampness, low energy, and depression. It also promotes the emotions of desire, attachment, complacency, and neediness.
We can balance an excess of Kapha by favouring warm foods which promote the pungent, bitter and astringent tastes, and through a Kapha balancing lifestyle.
Great Alternatives to Sugar
Today, we are fortunate to have a wide selection of natural sugar substitutes that can help satisfy your sweet cravings, help you establish better eating habits, and promote mind-body balance.
Here are a few suggestions:
Raw local honey: Honey is considered the best sweetener in ayurveda, and is also used as a medicine. Sweet and heating, it pacifies vata and kapha while increasing pitta. It also serves to scrape fat and toxins from the digestive tract and can help reduce seasonal allergies. Avoid heating honey (e.g. baking, hot drinks), which makes it toxic. Also, avoid processed honeys commonly found in grocery stores, which are devoid of nutrients and spike blood sugar.
Cane sugar (jaggery or sucanat): Cane sugar is sweet, cooling and strengthening. It primarily acts to pacify vata while increasing pitta and kapha.
Maple syrup: Pacifies vata and pitta and has a sattvic effect on the mind. Go local where possible, which helps promote sustainable agriculture and links you to your natural environment.
Xylitol: A natural tooth-friendly, non fermentable sugar alcohol with 33% less calories than regular sugar.
Stevia: Stevia is a plant (or plant-based) sweetener sold as a green powder, white powder or liquid extract. Stevia has zero qualities and does not affect glucose or insulin levels. Some of stevia products sold in grocery stores contain other ingredients (such as erythritol and dextrose, a form of glucose).
Fruits: Many recipes substitute sweeteners using apples, dates, beets, bananas. This is a great alternative to reduce your sugar intake and keep you satisfied.
A Final Word on Sweet
Ayurveda provides many tips for natural well-being to help us to reduce unhealthy cravings, and feel nourished from the inside and out.
Intuitively, we know that an excessive craving for sweets means that something is off balance in the body-mind. This may require a treatment plan to reduce stress-levels, balance one of the doshas, or follow a gentle detoxification program.
Ayurvedic principles for healing are designed to help you awaken your body's natural intelligence and promote self-healing. Within a short period of time, you will begin to realize how easy it is to feel nourished, satisfied, and inspired -- both by the food you eat, and by the world that surrounds you.
About the Author
Briya (Rachel) Freeman is a facilitator specialized in meditation, ayurveda and modern spirituality. She is passionate about exploring the potentials of human consciousness in a way that respects, unites and transcends global culture and tradition.
Briya is a long-term student of Berdhanya Swami Tierra, a female mystic and shaman of South American origin. She also holds studies in ayurveda at Anjali School of Ayurveda (Kerala, India) and a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from the University of Ottawa.
Briya is based in Ottawa, Canada and regularly writes and teaches courses on the topic of Ayurveda and meditation in the modern world. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by subscribing to her newsletter.