Author: Dr Ranjeet Singh
The root cause of all living beings is intake food. It is also the basis of strength, complexion, vitality etc. Thus the formation and maintenance of human body depends upon Ahar i.e. food intake or diet. Food is the life for living beings. Hence the whole world is after food.
Luster in complexion, sweetness in voice, continuation of life, vision, happiness, satisfaction, growth, vigour, intelligence, everything is based on food. Professional work for living, Vedic deeds for attaining heaven, and moksha (salvation) all these depends on food.
The above verses shows the importance given to diet and nutrition in this science.
There are two types of substances a human body can use- food substances to nurture the body and drugs to alleviate the diseases afflicting the body. In conventional science of today, the food substances are recognized as proteins, carbohydrates etc. and the energy they give is measured in calories. But in this science more stress is laid on taste or Rasa as perceived the organ of taste and biotransformation of the substance (Vipaka). Thus food substances are specified on Rasa and Vipaka whereas drugs are specified on Veerya and Prabhav ( potency and specific action).
Rasa and vipaka are very specific qualities of food substances and are given much importance. Practically also, it is seen that we can definitely identify the actions or effect of that substance on the body through the these characteristics especially Rasa which is very obvious parameter. Let us quote some examples; function of Madhur ( Sweet) Rasa are described as nourishment of tissues, maintenance of strength, cooling etc. And if use in excess gives obesity, laziness, Kapha and Meda diseases. All these are also identified by conventional medicine as action of sweet substances.
Other properties which are given importance and it can be perceived while ingesting Snigdha (oily)- Rukshan (dryness) and Guru (heavy)- Laghu (light). One can experience this while eating grams and groundnuts. One need not analyse the substance to know its predominant in fat content or otherwise. Hence in some of these things one need not go to a laboratory but gets instant analysis by virtue of Rasa or property of Snigdha or Rukhsana. One can also predict the vipaka and effects in elementary canal like constipation or laxation or production of flatus and heaviness or lightness during digestion.
Thus, when the food substances enter the mouth, the organ provides a post important of it’s likely actions by virtue of its Rasa and other perceptions like Snigdha, Rukhsana etc. Hundreds of food substances are described on these lines describing their pharmacological actions after biotransformation. There is discussion about number of basic Rasas and the conclusion is that there are six Rasas which can be identified or experienced by taste sensation. Sometimes instant perception is followed by another type of Rasa perception which is not very strong and then it is called secondary or Anurasa.
Usually madhur (Sweet), Amla (acidic) and Lavana ( Salty) put in one category as generally they are anabolic resulting in Madhura- Vipaka and increasing Kapha and Meda if taken in excess. But, because they are Hladana i.e. more friendly to taste buds, people tend to have excess of these Rasa substances. Hence, there is a word of caution that the food should contain all the six Rasas. Katu ( pungent), tikta (bitter), kashaya (astringent) put in one category as generally they are catabolic resulting in katu-vipaka and increasing Vata and reducing Kapha and Meda. Tikta and kashaya are not so friendly with with the taste buds, hence people tend to avoid them completely which is not a good thing for health. Many vegetables and some cereals have them as main Rasa or Anurasa. Hence, there is a warning that diet though may be mainly anabolic should consists of all the six Rasas.
Advice on food intake
The six Rasas are located in food. All the six Rasa foods are important for normal functioning and maintenance of the body with vibrant health. Food and water is like offering holy firewood in Yajna to the internal fire. Therefore one should be vigilant without the quality, quantity and timing of the food
One should not indulge in eating something only because one likes it or without understanding its healthy value. One should always examine the Plus and minus points and then only go for it, because after all the body grows out of it.
All the six rasas are essential for the body and they are located in food. Madhur rasa and vipak are foremost in nurturing the basic seven issues, good for Indriyas ( Sense Organs), especially good for children as well as elderly. Hence, substances having madhura rasa and especially madhura vipak form the major portion of the diet. Most of the staple foods and many fruits fall under this category. The staple foods are the cereals and pulses.
Importance of balanced diet
If one is in a habit of taking only one Rasa, the body becomes weak and placid, hence if one wants to maintain health, one should discard that habit and take all the six Rasas.
Thus it is important that all the types in every category should be ingested alternatively and off and on, so that the body is not deprived of any known or unknown micronutrients like minerals, vitamin etc.
Pharmacological actions of almost all the staple foods which we use today are documented. As for as leafy and fruity vegetables are concerned, it seems that in those days a lot of different vegetables were used. Many of the herbs which we look at today as medicinal herbs were used as vegetables also e.g. brahmi, punarnava, Kamalbeej etc. So many are documented that it can be a special subject of research for the nutritionist. Same holds good with documentation of fruits.
While describing the qualities of all the substances special mention is made of Vipak, whether constipating or laxative, action on urine, production of gases in the intestine, what is good for overweight person or underweight etc. Other actions on the tissues are also described with a mention if that particular substance is indicated or contraindicated in some of the diseases.
While deciding one’s own died one has to choose the ingredients balancing the Guru -Laghu, Snigdha-Rukshna properties in them, according to the season and Satmya, according to one’s constitution or what suites to one’s body or lifestyle. A ready reference is made available by the science.