The Six Stages of Digestion


As a professional chef, I was amazed to learn that everything we ingest has a combination of the six tastes; sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. These tastes have the same energetics found in our bodies and surround us in nature. By understanding our inherent qualities and what we put in our bodies, we can affect our physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual bodies.


According to Ayurveda, the three doshas govern all aspects of our existence; body, mind and spirit and can defined by the time of day, season of the year and stages throughout our lives.


According to Ayurveda the three doshas govern all aspects of our existence; body, mind and spirit and can defined by the time of day, season of the year and stages throughout our lives.


From a digestive perspective the Kapha (water and earth) dosha is responsible for the mouth and upper stomach actions, which includes salvia and initial digestive juices. Pitta (fire and water) dosha brings transformation and assimilation and handles the lower stomach, small intestine and liver digestion. Finally Vata (ether and air) dosha is responsible for drying and moving wastes out of the body.


The process starts when what we consumed interacts with the taste buds on the tongue. The six tastes are all connected to our taste buds and, in turn, to the different stages of our digestion, assimilation, and elimination process.


So here is how it works, although not official, I believe the first stage of digestion starts with the smell. The aroma of food begins the process of salivation and salvia (Kapha-water) production, moistening, and preparing the mouth for chewing and the breakdown of food. This stage invigorates the six tastes on the tongue, which are connected to our taste buds, sending a message down the digestive, assimilation, and elimination line that the process is starting.


The First stage is the sweet taste is predominant. Sweet is composed of Water and Earth, and so the secretions are Kapha in nature, creating the necessary salvia for lubrication, and beginning of the breakdown of food. This stage is when sugar is broken down and moves into our circulation, increasing blood sugar levels and bringing a sense of satisfaction and fullness.


FTI- Ayurveda states that we consume sweets/desserts at the beginning of a meal or away form other foods because when you have dessert after your lunch, the other foods in your stomach are dormant in the digestive process while the sweets digested first.


The second stage is the sour stage of digestion, during this stage, Earth and Fire are predominating, and food is broken into even smaller pieces. In this stage, the stomach begins to be lighter due to the Fire element. Food becomes sour because the Hydrochloric Acid is released, and the Pitta dosha is active, and heartburn and gastritis are possible. The Kapha in the stomach is in charge of protecting the stomach from the acids. The digestive fire (Agni) secretes the sour, and the Pitta dosha can be aggravated.


The third stage is the salty (fire and water elements) stage of digestionSalt improves the taste of foods, stimulates digestion, helps maintain proper electrolyte balance, lubricate the tissues, and is mildly laxative and helps in the digestion of proteins and fats. As food enters the duodenum, the water and fire create emulsification, and the gallbladder releases bile. At the same time, the pancreas releases pancreatic enzymes, which mix with the food, and these secretions become alkaline becoming sour and acidic and ultimately salty.


The fourth stage is the pungent (air and fire elements) stage and occurs in the second part of the small intestine called the jejunum. At this stage, the qualities are hot, sharp, and subtle and cause increase heat and circulation, and assimilation occurs in the ileum and large intestine. This is where the air element makes the bones porous and helps in the absorption of nutrients and assists with peristalsis and production of gas. If there is high Pitta, there is a possibility of skin rashes, bleeding disorders, and hemorrhoids.


The fifth stage is the bitter (air and ether) stage. The bitter taste brings out the flavor of food. It is a powerful detoxificant, antibiotic, parasitic, and antiseptic, as well as helping with weight reduction, water retention, rashes, fever, and nausea. This stage takes place in the longest and final portion of the small intestine, where the most absorption occurs through the villi and where peristalsis is stimulated.


From a digestive perspective, the Kapha (water and earth) dosha is responsible for the mouth and upper stomach actions, which include salvia and initial digestive juices. Pitta (fire and water) dosha brings transformation and assimilation and handles the lower stomach, small intestine, and liver digestion. Finally Vata (ether and air) dosha is responsible for drying and moving wastes out of the body.


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