Ayurveda recommends eating food in the same sequence as the six tastes- sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter and astringent. It is advised to begin your meal with a sweet taste, followed by sour and salty. The main reason behind this is when one is hungry and about to eat food, their Agni or digestive fire is at its peak. Sweet, sour and salty tastes are heavy to digest, so if they are consumed first, the strong Agni will help in better digestion of these foods. This is one of the reasons why Ayurveda recommends eating only when hungry or when you have a strong appetite.

On the other hand, pungent, bitter and astringent tastes are lighter to digest. Therefore, the Agni requirement is not so strong for their digestion. Hence, they should be consumed in the latter part of the meals. 

The digestion process takes approximately six to eight hours, and each taste corresponds to one stage of digestion, which lasts approximately an hour. These stages of digestion are called Awastha Paka. An appropriate quantity and quality of each taste are key to correct digestion. The six stages are discussed below. 

Madhur Awastha Paka/Sweet stage 

The first stage of digestion is called Madhur Awastha Paka or sweet

taste dominant stage. Sweet taste is the first to be digested and Kapha Dosha is the one dominating this stage in the mouth and stomach. As mentioned earlier, according to Ayurvedic principles, one should begin his/her meal with a sweet taste. Ideally, the sweet taste should be given 15 minutes before the meal. It is common that when humans see or consume a sweet-tasting dish we tend to salivate naturally. That’s because our salivary glands are stimulated and they produce maximum enzymes. These enzymes can be related to Bodhaka Kapha in Ayurveda. Mastication breaks down the food particles in the mouth. The food then passes into the stomach, where the gastric mucosal secretions are released, and food is further broken down into smaller pieces. Sweet taste is made up of Earth and Water elements that stimulate Kapha secretion and give a sense of fullness. 

Amla Awastha Paka/ Sour stage 

The second stage of digestion is Amla taste dominant, where the food acquires a sour taste due to the secretion of hydrochloric acid and other enzymes, which correspond to Pachaka Pitta in Ayurveda. Amla taste comprises Earth and Fire elements. Fire element makes the stomach lighter and also aids in digestion. It makes the food softer and lighter to enable further digestion and absorption. 

Lavana Awastha Paka/ Salty stage 

In the next stage the food moves into the duodenum or the first part of the small intestine. This stage is called the lavana awastha paka or Salt dominant stage. Samana Vayu and Pachak Pitta are the dosha responsible for this stage of digestion. This is the seat of Jatharagni or

main digestive fire. Lavana or salt taste is fire dominant which helps in enhancing the function of liver, pancreatic enzymes and bile salts/juices, thus facilitating digestion of oils, fats and proteins. Also it helps in neutralizing the sour and acidic food coming from the stomach and making it slightly alkaline. 

Katu Awastha Paka/ Pungent stage 

The fourth stage is Katu Awastha Paka, or the Pungent stage, which occurs in the jejunum or the second portion of the small intestine. Pungent taste is made up of Fire and Air elements which help complete the final stage of digestion and enhance circulation towards the intestines thus initiating absorption of the digested nutrients. 

Tikta Awastha Paka/ Bitter stage 

The fifth stage of digestion is Tikta Awastha Paka. Here the food enters the ileum, the last and longest portion of the small intestine. Air and Space elements form the bitter taste, giving the stomach and intestines a sense of lightness. Absorption of minerals takes place in this stage. 

Kashaya Awastha Paka/ Astringent taste 

In this last stage, the food enters the caecum and colon, where absorption of remaining minerals and liquids occurs. Earth and Air elements form the astringent taste. Air element along with Apana Vayu stimulates the movement of the colon and facilitates reabsorption of water thus, leading to the formation of proper stools. Bitter and Astringent tastes help in closing off the process of digestion. 

The reason that it is suggested to not eat between meals is that the whole cycle of digestion is completed in 6 hours and when we eat snacks, this whole process of digestion gets disturbed. The body junks the previous partly digested food and works on digesting the incoming food.

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