In last week’s blog the Eastern method of classifying foods was introduced. Eastern medicine classifies food by energy (elements and tastes), whereas Western science refers to nutrients. The basis of this system is the underlying belief that energy in our environment, including our food, is the same as that in the human body. This is why food has the potential to nurture and heal the body if eaten in appropriate quantities.
The Five Ayurvedic Elements
The five basic Ayurvedic elements are space, air, fire, water and earth. We have to take care not to interpret these as literal translations, rather to understand the characteristics and qualities of the elements in relation to food and its affect on the body.
- Space is light, soft, subtle and abundant. It provides room and openness to facilitate sound and natural flow. Foods include popcorn and wafers, as their substance is light and hollow.
- Air is dry, subtle and without weight. It creates movement, evaporation and dryness. This element can be translated as wind. Toast, cabbage and legumes are examples of foods with a dry and airy nature . These foods can also create gas. Eating airy foods increases coolness, dryness, movement and circulation in the body. Excess dryness can lead to constipation.
- Fire is hot, dry, subtle, rough, sharp and weightless and it acts to radiate heat and light. Foods that are spicy contain the element of fire e.g. chilies, ginger, pepper, clove and cumin. Eating these foods increases digestion, metabolism and the glow and colour of the skin. Too many spicy foods can cause loose bowel motions.
- Water qualities are moist, cool, soft, oily and sticky. The water element holds things together and assists with lubrication. It facilitates fluidity and taste via saliva for example. Drinks, soups and melons contain the water element. These foods increase the flow of fluids in the body.
- Earth has the qualities of being heavy, solid, stable, rough and slow. Foods such as cheese, baked and fried foods and bananas contain the earth element. Eating these foods increase the heaviness, stability and solidity of the body. In excess they can contribute to overweight and obesity.
The Elements our Body
Our bodies are made up of these same elements. Space is found in all cavities of the body such as our nostrils, mouth, ears and stomach. Air flows through space in our lungs, stomach and intestines. Fire is involved in all metabolic processes and our body temperature. Water is a part of all bodily fluids e.g. blood, mucous and saliva. The earth element is found in our fat, muscle and skin.
The Elements in Food
The tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent contain the characteristics of the different elements. The sweet taste, for example, is a combination of water and earth as it is both heavy and moist. Foods classified as sweet include dairy products, fruit, grains and some legumes. Next week we will continue explore the Ayurvedic ‘tastes’ and how we can use them to mindfully guide our food choices.