When we think of fueling our bodies for sport, we often become fixated on the macronutrients – fats, carbohydrates and protein. But we often forget our bodies need to be functioning at their best in all the other ways to do that. Our bodies are smart. For centuries, our bodies have been guiding us as we navigate the poisonous and nutritious.
In ancient Ayurvedic medicine, each of the six flavors we taste associates with a nutritional value our bodies need. So, it’s helpful to understand what our bodies are asking for, what we’re tasting and intuiting when we eat the foods we choose, and how the foods are benefitting us. Meals give us the tools we need to hydrate, digest, eliminate, recover, detoxify, balance, calm and power up.
The six tastes — sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent — each have a superpower. Here’s what they’re doing behind the scenes.
Foods that taste sweet — like fruits, vegetables and natural sugars — help us rebuild tissues and calm our nerves. After a big day of adrenaline-pumping exercise, or when we’re experiencing something emotionally or physically challenging, our bodies ask for a sweet flavor to rebalance. When we experience this craving, we most often think of desserts, candy and sweet treats, but eating fruits, grains, natural sugars, milk and vegetables like pumpkin, carrots, and beets answers the call for a sweet treat.
When our bodies are full of lactic acid or have experienced dehydration, we crave salty foods. Salty flavors also help us taste foods completely. Salty flavored foods help lubricate and rehydrate our tissues and aid our digestion. The foods that come to mind when we desire this flavor are salty chips, processed snacks and fries, but any naturally salted food sates this craving. Think: flaky salt, sea veggies like seaweed and miso paste or broth are all good choices. (But so too are the french fries and chips in moderation to mainline salt.)
Foods of this flavor aid our tissues and lymph system in detoxifying and they increase the absorption of crucial minerals in the foods we eat. This craving is hard to detect sometimes, but when we add sour flavors to our diets we start to notice when they’re missing. Fermented foods, yogurt and sour fruits like lemon and lime are good examples of this flavor. This is one reason a squeeze of lemon is so refreshing and important in our food and drinks.
If you crave spicy food, you’re craving pungent flavors. These flavors stimulate our digestion (and help boost our bodies eliminating waste and toxins), and they may boost our metabolism. Chili peppers, garlic, herbs and spices are all pungent, and they’re valuable for natural body balance and for performing our best — in sport and life.
READ MORE > 8 AYURVEDIC PRACTICES FOR STAYING HEALTHY WHEN IT’S COLD
Bitter flavors also help us to detoxify. They help reduce inflammation and keep our tissues light. This flavor isn’t often discernable as a craving, but if you ever just “really want a salad,” this makes sense because leafy greens, herbs and spices are most often associated with this flavor. Your leafy green salad becomes a nutritional powerhouse when topped with other flavorful ingredients that simultaneously stoke and calm your system.
Astringent tastes are also difficult to discern as cravings, but this doesn’t make them less valuable. Legumes, raw fruits, vegetables and herbs are all astringent in flavor and help to absorb water, remove it from the body and reduce inflammation.
So, when you put together meal plans for your week, aim to weave together as many of the six tastes as possible into each plate — include ingredients that would calm (sweet), rehydrate (salty), detox muscles (astringent) and help us digest (pungent) — and that provide enough protein, carbohydrates and fats to keep us going.
Slathering a cookie with almond butter might sound “naughty,” but it’s one way of giving your body precisely what it needs. Remember it’s not only the ingredients that are keeping you going, but it’s also the tastes you’re experiencing that help boost our bodies, so we can perform at our best. Flavor can help take your adventure — whatever it looks like — to a whole new level.
Discover hundreds of healthy recipes — from high protein to low carb — via “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app.