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Ayurveda’s Six Tastes
But things get more complicated as the seasons change. With each seasonal shift, certain tastes are emphasized in that season’s harvest. In the winter, sweet, sour, and salty tastes that balance vata predominate. In the spring, pungent (or spicy), bitter, and astringent tastes that balance kapha rule. And during the summer months, sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes that balance pitta are key.
Each spring, deer and other animals dig up bitter, astringent, and pungent roots in the thawed earth in order to survive.1 Our ancestors did the same, drinking burdock and dandelion root teas during the early spring when food was scarce.
The Science of Spring’s Spicy, Pungent Kapha-Reducing Foods
Numerous studies have investigated the benefits of eating hot, spicy, pungent food. The results of these studies may surprise you. In a well-respected study in China, of 199,293 men and 288,082 women from ages 30-79, researchers found that those who ate spicy food less than once a week had a 14% higher all-cause mortality risk than those who ate spicy food 6-7 days a week.3
In another study, the frequency of ingesting hot chili peppers was measured in 16,946 participants from 1998 to 1994. During that time, total mortality for those who consumed hot chili peppers was 22% compared to 34% for those who did not eat chili peppers.2
Pungent spices like chili peppers have also been found to increase organ detoxification and support healthy weight, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, blood pressure, and the heart and arteries. Studies also suggest that spicy peppers have a positive effect on a healthy microbiome and are antagonistic to the proliferation of undesirable bacteria in the stomach and gut.2,3
From an Ayurvedic perspective, pungent foods have a powerful balancing effect on kapha, which in excess causes congestion, toxicity, and metabolic health issues.
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The Science of Spring’s Astringent Kapha-Reducing Foods
A mouth-puckering astringent taste on the tongue can have a kapha-reducing effect. Foods like coffee, tea, red wine, red grapes, certain beers, legumes, skins of nuts, fruit skin, seeds, pomegranates, beans, cucumbers, and unripe bananas or persimmons all elicit this drying effect on the body and are the perfect antidote for the wet, moist and congestive properties of kapha.
In one study, astringent substances were found to dramatically change the membrane potentials of certain lipids, which may be why they can support healthy cholesterol levels.6
A major source of astringent tastes are tannins, often associated with strong black tea. These tannins are made of antioxidant-rich polyphenols and have been found to support healthy blood pressure, heart function, cognitive function, liver function, cholesterols, and immune response.4,5
In addition to tannins, you can find astringent tastes in catechin, gallic acid, and chlorogenic acid—the primary antioxidant responsible for the well-studied benefits of coffee.
The Science of Spring’s Bitter Kapha-Reducing Foods
Bitter foods have been traditionally used as a digestive to help combat indigestion after overeating. Studies back the Ayurvedic premise that bitter tastes reduce the effects of excess kapha, which include congestion, poor circulation, weight gain, and metabolic activity. Studies have shown that bitter tastes can stimulate the release of hormones, including glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), which is major regulator of blood sugar. Bitter foods also support the release of bile acids that support healthy metabolic activity, including healthy blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol.8
The list of bitter foods includes leafy greens, chocolate, coffee, tea, berries, bitter roots like dandelion and burdock, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, radishes, and arugula. The brassicas family of vegetables, including many of the above items, gets its bitter taste from glucosinolates, which have been found to support a healthy response to mutagenic stem cells that support healthy cellular replication.12
Bitter dandelion greens are rich in vitamins A, C, and K that support healthy circulation and immunity. They also act as effective prebiotics that support a healthy gut microbiome.12
The bitterness of olive oil is due to bitter polyphenols that drive powerful antioxidant activity. Studies have linked olive oil to a host of cardiovascular benefits, as well as healthy cholesterol, triglyceride, and LDL levels.9,10
Bitter melon is one of the most bitter foods and has been long used as an Ayurvedic superfood. It has been shown to support healthy cholesterol, blood sugar, and a healthy inflammation response, as well as the proliferation of beneficial microbes in the gut while being antagonistic to unwanted gut bacteria.11
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Shift Your Diet This Spring
This spring, shift your diet to emphasize foods that naturally reduce kapha qualities linked to respiratory health, congestion, immune stress, weight gain, heaviness and fatigue, and circulatory concerns. Nature’s natural harvest of bitter, pungent, and astringent foods is the perfect antidote to the tendencies of spring, commonly called spring fever.
Get free seasonal recipes and groceries lists for each month of the year to be sure you stay balanced with LifeSpa’s 3-Season Diet.