Excessive use of the sweet taste: Effects on the body and mind (by Debi Mueller C.A.S)

Abstract

The role of the six (6) tastes as related to the health of body and mind was documented in the ancient text as the Rishis note their impact on the body and mind. The sweet taste in particular was observed to be of significance due to the percentage of this taste in the human diet in general. In a review of the literature from the classical Ayurvedic texts to current Ayurvedic writers, as well as recent scientific evaluations, the affects of overuse of any taste has been shown to have serious negative outcomes. This paper will review that information which focused on the overuse of the sweet taste. One suggested process which leads to over indulgence of the sweet taste will be described, and a recital of the problems caused from this use in both the physical body and the mind will be provided.

List of Terms

Sanskrit

English interpretation or equivalent

ap

water

prthvi

earth

agni

fire

vayu

wind (or air)

akasa

ether

mahabhuta

great element

rasa

taste

dhatus

tejas

tissues

fire

dosa or dosha

constitution or humor

priya

delicious

hita

wholesome

Vata, Pitta, Kapha

the 3 constitutions (air, fire, water)

ahamkara

ego

prameha

condition of excessive urination, diabetes

The Role of Taste in Nutrition

According to the Caraka Samhita as translated by R. K. Sharma and Bhagwan Dash , "There are six rasas (tastes), viz. sweet, sour, saline, pungent, bitter and astringent. When employed properly, they maintain the body and their incorrect utilization results in the vitiation of the dosas ." [1] Further, it is noted, "Measurement of food is, in fact, of two types, viz. food as a whole and of its different ingredients having different tastes like sweet, sour, etc. If food as a whole is taken according to the prescribed measurement but its ingredients having different tastes like sweet, sour, etc. are not in prescribed ratio, the equilibrium of dhatus and dosas gets definitely disturbed due to imbalance in the ratio of the composing rasa s (tastes). Consequently the timely digestion of food as a whole will also be affected." [2]

In the current body of literature, Dr. Marc Halpern writes, "The ancient Rishis of India who developed the Ayurvedic system of living did not know about proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Rather, they approached nutrition from an energetic perspective. They learned that if the qualities of a human being were understood and the qualities of a food source were understood, then it could be predicted what effect would occur when they were mixed together." [3]

The focus of developing a healthy diet began with the energetic, or elemental make up of the foods as it compared to and supported an individual's constitutional make up. This elemental combination was observed by the ancients as they came to understand the building blocks of a healthy diet. Caraka wrote, "Rasa or taste is the object of gustatory sense organ, as distinct from the objects of the other sense organs. Primarily ap is the substratum of rasa. Besides, prthvi also indirectly serves as a substratum thereof.

"The qualities of preceding basic elements ( akasa, vayu, agni, ap and prthvi ) are included in the succeeding ones; so the qualities of ap is automatically included in prthvi. To sum up, ap and prthvi are the substrata for the manifestation of taste ( rasa). That is to say, taste (rasa) can manifest itself only through ap and prthvi. These two mahabhutas , (in addition to the remaining three) are also responsible for the manifestation of specific rasas like sweet, etc. For example, taste is sweet when there is predominance of the qualities of ap and it is sour when the qualities of prthvi and tejas are predominant." [4]

Therefore, identifying and understanding the elemental nature of the tastes within food serves as the basis for defining good nutrition.

The Role of the Sweet Taste

Of the six (6) tastes, the sweet taste is found to be highly significant. The classical literature notes, "Sweet, sour, saline, pungent, bitter and astringent" this is the sixfold collection of tastes "In this classification, sweet taste occupies the first position inasmuch as it plays an important role in the diets of all living things" [5]

Current day Ayurvedic experts acknowledge the first position of the sweet taste as well. In his writings, David Frawley states, "In terms of nutrition, sweet is most important generally for everyone, as it possesses the highest nutritive value." [6]

There is agreement of the value and necessity of the sweet taste prevailing in the diet. It has been found to be the predominate taste with most foods containing the elements of ap (water) and prthvi (earth) as their key constituents. The energetics of these elements as provided by the sweet taste are necessary for the health of all living things.

Frawley goes on to describe the positive affect of the sweet taste as he writes, "Each taste has its specific therapeutic actions. Sweet taste is building and strengthening to all body tissues. It harmonizes the mind and promotes a sense of contentment. It is demulcent (soothing to the mucous membranes), expectorant and mildly laxative. It counters burning sensations." [7] All of these aspects of sweet are supportive of the digestive processes. Digestion being at the root of all health or disease, it is essential to have an abundance of supportive intake. In concert with Subhash Ranade, Frawley further points out, "Sweet taste has the same nature as the body, increasing bodily tissues including plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, nerve and reproductive. It prolongs life, nourishes the sense organs, imparts vigor and improves the complexion. It has a lubricating effect on skin, hair and voice and promotes strength. Psychologically, it promotes cheerfulness, energy and happiness, containing the energy of love." [8]

In support of the importance of the role of the sweet taste, John Douillard writes, "The sweet taste, when taken in its natural form (such as rice, bread, or pasta) along with the other tastes, provides a "satisfaction factor." Without it, most people will leave the table feeling unsatisfied, although unable to pinpoint why" [9] Most people would agree that a meal which is satisfying is most desirable. Feeling satiated allows one to move into the flow and expectations of life more easily. The sweet taste provides a key element of making food not only wholesome, but delicious. These two critical fundamentals of our diet were addressed by Caraka as follows, "the food should be delicious ( priya) and wholesome ( hita ). If the food is only delicious but not wholesome, then this does not contribute to the sustenance of the body and nourishment of the sense organs and their objects, namely smell, taste, vision, touch and sound in the body. Similarly, if the food is only wholesome, but not delicious, then this does not provide nourishment to the senses and their objects in the body instantaneously. Therefore, the food should be both delicious and wholesome." [10]

Elements of the Sweet Taste and Foods Predominately of Sweet Rasa

The sweet taste is made of the elements of water and earth. Water provides the very essence of taste. It is through the moisture that the sensory organ of taste is able to operate. As noted previously, sweet is the predominant taste. Most foods include in their make up the sweet rasa , often with one or more of the other rasas.

In evaluating the rasa of specific foods, Dr. Vasant Lad has identified all meat as having a sweet rasa, frequently in addition to an astringent rasa; dairy products, with the exception of yogurt, have a sweet rasa; oils carry a sweet rasa , except for white mustard oil; all sweetners, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits have sweet rasas; most vegetables also have sweet rasas, with the notable exceptions of cauliflower, celery, leafy lettuce, onion and radish. Of the main food substances, only herbs and spices are found frequently not to carry sweet rasas, nevertheless, even some of these are known to have a sweet rasa . [11]

As you can see from this list, it would be very rare to consume a reasonable meal without ingesting a high percentage of the sweet taste. It is essential that our diet predominates in the sweet taste as both classical authors and current writers have noted the positive role of sweet in our diet. Frawley, however, points out "everyone needs a certain amount of each of the six tastes. The relative proportion differs according to the constitution or humor of the individual. Too much of any taste can become harmful to any constitution type, as can too little." [12] Taking into consideration the constitutional make up of an individual, judgment should be used to provide a higher degree of sweet for Pitta individuals, a moderate amount for Vata, and less for Kapha , ingesting only as much as is necessary for healthy tissue manufacture. [13]

With all of the positives provided by the sweet taste for the health of the body, it is necessary to have a clear picture of what can happen that causes an individual to overuse the sweet taste and the resulting negative consequences.

How Overuse of the Sweet Taste May Develop

As we assimilate all of the information presented above, it becomes key for a practitioner or follower of Ayurvedic principles to understand what may be at the root of developing a habit of overusing the sweet taste. Douillard sets groundwork for understanding this issue when he writes, "The problem doesn't originate with the sweets. If we are not nourishing our minds, bodies and emotions properly with all six tastes in each meal, we will become emotionally susceptible. The nutritional foundation needed to support balance in times of stress simply won't be there. As a result, wherever we have a weak link, whether emotional or physical, we will break down." [14]

In our society, with its fast-paced and aggressive nature, it becomes a perpetually increasing situation that we do not nourish our bodies, minds or emotions. Douillard additionally notes, "The sweet taste of food (often in the form of junk food) is frequently abused in the attempt to make up for the lack of satisfaction in one's life. Sweets are then inappropriately tried and found guilty for causing a multitude of food and sugar addictions." [15] From this we can draw the conclusion that sweets, especially in the form of simple sugars or non-complex carbohydrates, i.e., junk food, can provide a temporary consolation for the lack of satisfaction in our life. This is supported by Dr. Robert Svoboda as he writes, "All addictions are fundamentally addictions to the Sweet Taste, the Taste that creates satisfaction in ahamkara" Addiction to sugar is a good example of how addictions develop. If you search for satisfaction primarily in your food instead of in your life you may well become addicted to sweets. If you are not careful to select healthful Sweet foods like fruit and whole grains, you will probably fall prey to sugar-filled junk foods like doughnuts for your Sweet fix. When you eat too much white sugar for too long it will exhaust your system's ability to digest it. This will make you hypersensitive to it, which will aggravate Vata" [16]

In numerous medical research studies, as reported in multiple journals including "Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior","Obesity Research," and "Neuroreport," scientists have shown that when rats had high levels of simple sugars introduced into their diet, intake of healthy chow diminished. Of significance are the following findings:

• When allowed liberal access to a 20% sucrose solution in addition to their normal diet, even after introducing a drug to block pain, the rats increased their sucrose consumption and steadily decreased consumption of normal chow. [17]

• After being food deprived for 12 hours daily, rats were offered 25% glucose as well as the standard chow; after being deprived of the glucose and chow, they showed signs such as teeth chattering, tremors and head shaking typically associated with signs of opioid withdrawal; indicating sugar dependency. [18]

• Rats given 25% glucose solution with chow for 12 hours and then deprived of food for 12 hours doubled their glucose intake in 10 days and developed a pattern of excessive intake in the first hour of daily access. [19]

In interpreting the information provided by the Ayurvedic writers as well as that of the medical researchers, it appears that when one attempts to find fulfillment of body, mind and spirit through the overuse of the sweet taste, a strong potential exists to move toward the most immediate form of sweet digestible. That includes processed sugars and alcohol. [20] Frawley notes that it is the stronger pure forms that aggravate the doshas . First it will impact the one it typically aggravates, but after excessive use even the dosha(s) it typically alleviates will become deranged. For the sweet taste the pure form is sugar, any form of pure sugar. [21]

Affects of Overuse on the Body

The literature reports a plethora of negative impacts of overuse of the sweet taste on the body. Beginning with the Caraka Samhita it was identified that overindulgence or addiction to habits and foods that aggravate kapha are responsible for the causation of prameha . [22] This is a condition of excessive urination and has come to be known as diabetes mellitus. Current Ayurvedic scholars report, "Too much sweet damages the spleen (pancreas) [23] ; "Sweet taste creates heaviness that obstructs the channels" [24] ; "(it) increases kapha and decreases pitta and vata. It is cold, damp and heavy for digestion, reducing agni. Excess use of the sweet taste produces such kapha disorders as obesity, lethargy, heaviness, loss of appetite, edema, dyspnea, cough, cold, constipation and vomiting." [25] Many of these same symptoms are echoed by Dr. Lad and he adds diabetes and abnormal growth of muscles. [26]

In the medical science community a myriad of studies have been conducted to determine the impact of certain variables within the diet. These experiments go far in supporting the Ayurvedic knowledge with empirical data.

In the "British Journal of Nutrition" it was reported that ingestion of pure carbohydrate or pure protein resulted in lower overall cognitive performance. Their findings supported the need for a balanced glucose metabolism. [27] Another statement of the concept of using all six tastes in appropriate balance.

A study done by the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University looked at diet quality and risk factors for cardiovascular disease in U. S. adults. Of interest in this study was the finding that a managed carbohydrate diet actually decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, both the source and amount of intake of carbohydrates are important. When carbohydrates were ingested as simple sugars it was shown that there was "a greater effect on raising triglyceride and total cholesterol than starch and a substantial effect on lowering HDL-cholesterol." [28]

This study went on to report that "the highest quintile of carbohydrate intake (>57.5% in men and >59.1% in women) was associated with higher concentration of serum triglyceride and lower HDL-cholesterol "it was predicted that the more insulin-resistant an individual, the greater would be the negative metabolic effects of high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets." [29] A study conducted in Argentina fed rats on a sucrose rich diet and found significant evidence that it "induces hypertriglyceridemia and insulin resistance." [30]

A study reported in the "Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders" indicated that "when offered a choice of foods, rats typically prefer high-fat and/or high-sugar food items over their nutritionally balanced chow diet. In addition, they may increase their total energy intake by 20-40% and consequently develop mild to moderate obesity." [31]

Numerous other studies have found evidence of:

• sugar-induced hypertension [32]
• suppression of neuronal survival signals by hyperglycemia resulting in transient forebrain ischemia (stroke) [33]
• development of kidney stones from sucrose intake [34]
• increased risk factors for lung cancer due to high dietary sugars [35]
• increased susceptibility to neurotoxins with excessive dietary intake of sugars [36]

These symptoms primarily define kapha type disorders. These findings therefore support the understanding and wisdom of both the ancient and current acknowledged teachers of Ayurveda with regard to the physical body.

Affects of Overuse on the Mind

When attempting to understand the impact of overuse of any of the tastes, it is important to evaluate the doshic balance of the individual. To comprehend the impact of abuse of the sweet taste on the mind, it is important to distinguish it from the body. Frawley writes, "Nature has many ways of making human beings and every possible variety must be manifested. Moreover, the energetics between the outer and inner aspects of our nature are not always of simple correspondence "we must not treat psychological conditions simplistically according to the physical Dosha . The physical body may not simply reflect the mental nature, but may try to balance or compensate for it." [37] Therefore, the mental constitution of an individual must be taken into account when evaluating the amount of any of the tastes that will support health.

Ayurvedic philosophy identifies the mind as existing in the subtle or astral body. Frawley describes it as "being the most subtle form of matter." [38] He goes on to point out that "the mind can be easily affected and disturbed, easily excited, depressed or distracted. It can overreact to momentary impressions" Indeed there is nothing more difficult to control than the mind. Inability to control the mind causes sorrow and is behind the disease process." [39]

In assessing the impact of the sweet taste then, it is essential to understand both the physical and mental constitution as well as understanding that the mind is the more difficult to balance. Therefore, once out of balance, it will cause numerous physical and emotional conditions. It is unhealthy sensory habits that results in the vitiation of prana vayu leading to addiction. As noted by Marc Halpern, "the largest amount of prana or prana vayu enters the body through our mouth and our nose "when prana vayu is disturbed within the mind, it creates excessive thought and most importantly fear, worry, nervousness and anxiety." [40]

In the Caraka Samhita, the Principle of Psychopathogensis states, "The sense faculties, together with the mind get vitiated by excessive utilisation, non-utilisation and wrong utilisation of the objects concerned. This causes an impediment to the respective sense perceptions" The sense faculties get vitiated due to the excessive utilisation, non-utilisation, wrong utilisation of their respective objects. The vitiated sense faculties, in their turn, also vitiate the mind." [41] Frawley and Ranade note that when derangement to the senses occurs, as through overuse of any taste, there will be impairment to the mind. [42]

As quoted earlier, Svoboda states clearly that "all addictions are fundamentally addictions to the Sweet Taste, the Taste that creates satisfaction in ahamkara" [43] In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali, it is stated, "In subtle form, these obstacles can be destroyed by resolving them back into their primal cause [the ego]" [44] It follows that overuse of the sweet taste plays a serious role in the vitiation of the mind which impacts perception, the ability to think and function clearly, and maintenance of mental and emotional stability in life.

Conclusion

Diet and nutrition are at the core of the Ayurvedic philosophy of health and balance. This essential fact is made obvious when evaluating the most basic of dietary concepts: tastes. As I reviewed the literature, classical and current, as well as notable empirical evidence, it became clear that excessive intake of the sweet taste can lead the mind, and then the body, to a condition of imbalance and possible addiction. The evidence points to the move from healthy amounts and types of sweet substances to the ingestion of high volumes of the purest form of sugar. The physical maladies resultant from this excessive intake will continue to increase until it is acknowledged that the mind and emotions must be addressed at the root of the problem.

Ayurveda provides the solutions to both physical and mental vitiation. In dealing with any physical disease, it will be necessary to address mental states to see overall improvement and for balance to be reestablished.

As Caraka noted, when the sages desired healthy, long life, they turned to Ayurveda, "the immortal and sacred (science of life)." [45] The translators, Sharma and Dash, comment "They (the sages) found in this science various prescriptions dealing with the avoidance of the unwholesome habits and acceptance of wholesome ones and thereby attained inexhaustibly long life and well being devoid of all miseries." [46]


[1] R. K. Sharma and Bhagwan Dash, trans., Caraka Samhita . Vol II, 1:4 ( India : Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 2000), 113.

[2] Ibid., Vol I, 5:4, 106.

[3] Marc Halpern, Principles of Ayurvedic Medicine . 4 th ed. ( Grass Valley : California College of Ayurveda, 2002). 6:3.

[4] Sharma. and Dash, trans., Caraka Samhita . Vol I, 1:64, 45-46.

[5] Ibid., 1:65, 46.

[6] David Frawley, Ayurvedic Healing , (Salt Lake City, UT: Passage Press, 1989), 16.

[7] Ibid., 16.

[8] David Frawley, and Subhash Ranade, Ayurveda, Nature's Medicine , ( Twin Lakes , WI : Lotus Press, 2001), 134.

[9] John Douillard, Body, Mind and Sport , rev. ed. (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995), 91

[10] Sharma, and Dash, trans., Caraka Samhita . Vol IV, 15:12 , 8.

[11] Vasant Lad, Ayurveda The Science of Self-Healing , 2 nd ed., (Wilmot, WI: Lotus Press, 1985), 92 " 99B.

[12] Frawley, Ayurvedic Healing , 16.

[13] Ibid., 16.

[14] Douillard, Body Mind and Sport , 91.

[15] Ibid., 91.

[16] Robert E. Svoboda, Prakriti Your Ayurvedic Constitution , Rev. Enl. 2 nd ed., (Bellingham, WA: Sadhana Publications, 1998), 68.

[17] G. M. Schoenbaum, R. J. Martin, D. S. Roane, "Relationships between sustained sucrose-feeding and opioid tolerance and withdrawal." in Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior abstract Vol 34(4): 911-4. Dec, 1989. Available from the World Wide Web @ http://www.ncbi.ilm.nigh.gov search 2623045.

[18] C. Colatuoni, et al., "Evidence that intermittent, excessive sugar intake causes endogenous opioid dependence." in Obesity Research abstract Vol 10(6): 478-88. June, 2002. Available from the World Wide Web @ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov search 12055324.

[19] C. Colatuoni, et al., "Excessive sugar intake alters binding to dopamine and mu-opioid receptors in the brain." in Neuroreport abstract Vol 12(16): 3549-52. Nov, 2001. Available from the World Wide Web @ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov search 11733709.

[20] Svoboda, Prakriti Your Ayurvedic Constitution , 68.

[21] Frawley, Ayurvedic Healing , 18.

[22] .Sharma and Dash, trans. Caraka Samhita Vol III 6:4, 298.

[23] Frawley, Ayurvedic Healing , 19.

[24] Frawley and Ranade, Ayurveda Nature's Medicine , 138.

[25] Ibid., 134.

[26] Lad, Ayurveda The Science of Self-Healing 2 nd ed., 90.

[27] K. Fischer, et al., "Cognitive performance and its relationship with postprandial metabolic changes after ingestion of different macronutrients in the morning." in British Journal of Nutrition abstract Vol 85(3): 393-405, March 2001. Available from the World Wide Web @ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov search 11299085.

[28] Eun Ju Yang, et al., "Carbohydrate Intake is Associated with Diet Quality and Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease in U. S. Adults: NHANES III." in Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol 22, No. 1, 71-79. 2003. On-line journal available from the World Wide Web @ http://www.jacn.org/cgi/content/full/22/1/71.

[29] Ibid..

[30] A. Chicco, et al., "Muscle lipid metabolism and insulin secretion are altered in insulin-resistant rats fed a high sucrose diet." in Journal of Nutrition abstract Vol 133(1): 127-33. Jan, 2003. Available from the World Wide Web @ http://nchi.nlm.nih.gov search 12514279.

[31] A. Sclafani, "Psychobiology of food preferences." in Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders abstract Vol 25 Suppl 5:S13-6. Dec, 2001. Available from the World Wide Web @ http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov search 11840208.

[32] H. G. Preuss, et al., "Sugar-induced blood pressure elevations over the lifespan of three substrains of Wistar rats." in Journal of the American College of Nutrition abstract Vol 17(1):36-47. Feb, 1998. Available from the World Wide Web @ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov search 9477388.

[33] Q. He, K. Csiszar, and P.A. Li, "Transient forebrain ischemia induced phosphorylation of cAMP-responsive element-binding protein is suppressed by hyperglycemia." in Neurobiological Disorders abstract Vol 12(1):25-34. Feb, 2003. Available from the World Wide Web @ http://www.nchi.nlm.nih.gov search 12609486.

[34] N. J. Blacklock, "Sucrose and idiopathic renal stone." in Nutrition and Health abstract Vol 5(1-2):9-17. 1987. Available from the World Wide Web @ http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov search 3313140.

[35] E. De Stefani, et al., "Dietary sugar and lung cancer: a case-control study in Uruguay." in Nutrition and Cancer abstract Vol 31(2):132-7. 1998. Available from the World Wide Web @ http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov search 9770725.

[36] K. Olivier, et al., "Glucose feeding exacerbates parathion-induced neurotoxicity." in Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health abstract Vol 22;63(4):253-71. June, 2001. Available from the World Wide Web @ http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov search 11437059.

[37] David Frawley, America Institute of Vedic Studies Ayurvedic Healing Correspondence Course For Health Care Professionals Part II. (Santa Fe, NM: American Institute of Vedic Studies, 1999). 27.

[38] Ibid., 101.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Halpern, Principles of Ayurvedic Medicine., 2:19 .

[41] Sharma and Dash, trans., Caraka Samhita , Vol 1 8:15 , 169-170.

[42] Frawley and Ranade, Ayurveda: Nature's Medicine ., 258.

[43] Svoboda, Prakriti, Your Ayurvedic Constitution ., 68

[44] Sri Swami Satchidananda, trans., The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. (Yogaville, VA: Integral Yoga Publications, 1999), 93.

[45] Sharma and Dash, trans., Caraka Samhita , Vol 1 1:24 , 21.

[46] Ibid., 1:27-29, 23.