Ayurveda describes food based on the Six Tastes – or Rasa. These reflect a combination of the five great elements – Sweet
Sweet (Earth + Water)
Sweet foods include complex carbohydrates, sweet fruits, all grains (e.g. rice, pasta, oatmeal, wheat), root vegetables, sugar (avoid processed sugar), honey, milk, certain cheeses, and oils. They strengthen the tissues in the body, improve circulation, and strengthen the heart. Their qualities are heavy, oily, and cold. Sweet foods give the mind a sense of compassion and satisfaction. However, eating too many sweet foods can lead to lethargy and obesity.
Sour (Fire + Earth)
Sour foods include yogurt, lime, sour fruits, vinegar, and some cheeses. They improve digestion, stimulate acid secretions in the stomach, reduce gas, and increase circulation. Their qualities are light, oily, and hot. Sour foods provide the mind a sense of stimulation and clarity in discernment. However, eating too many sour foods can lead to ulcers and infections.
Salty (Fire + Water)
Salty foods include sea salt and rock salt. They make food tasty, strengthen and improve digestion, calm the nerves, help the body retain water, and maintain electrolyte balance. Their qualities are heavy, oily, and hot. Salty foods provide the mind a sense of confidence and zest for life. However, too many salty foods can cause physical ailments such as hypertension and kidney stones.
Pungent (Fire + Air)
Pungent foods include ginger, black pepper, chile peppers, jalapenos, cayenne, and garlic. Eating the right amount of pungent foods can help improve metabolism, help digestion and absorption, reduce congestion, improve circulation, and promote sweating. Pungent foods have light and dry qualities. Pungent foods can help one to be clear, outspoken, and bold with his or her thoughts. However, too many pungent foods can lead one to over-heat physically and mentally, and turn to anger and hatred.
Astringent (Air + Earth)
Astringent foods include cranberries, beans, soy, the peel of a fruit, cranberries, and turmeric. They promote healing, help constrict blood vessels, and stop bleeding. Their qualities are heavy, dry, and cold. Astringent foods can lead one to go inward with his or her thoughts. Too many astringent foods can cause insomnia, low blood pressure, and anemia.
Bitter (Air + Ether)
Bitter foods include green leafy vegetables (e.g. chard, collard greens, kale, arugula, spinach), aloe vera, and bitter melon. They help purify/detoxify the blood and improve the tissues in the body. Their qualities are light, dry, and cold. Too few bitter foods can cause an accumulation of toxins in the body, but too many bitter foods can cause constipation and tissue depletion.