Like every season, the summer provides an opportunity to experience and benefit from the changes in nature. It is the time to absorb direct heat from the atmosphere and loosen any long standing contraction or binding. The summer offers us the opportunity to relax and loosen both physically and mentally. Alongside all the fun of summer, there are also dangers that arise from misunderstandings about how we should adapt our way of life to this season.
Coping with summer heat through diet
The challenge in the summer season is to deal with the heat to the proper degree – to cool the body, but not to cool too much or weaken digestion.
First off, digestion is weaker during summer. This is evident by the decrease in appetite, skipping meals, eating light, losing weight and possibly feeling more tired. Why does this happen?
Digestion power is equivalent to the function of a cooking fire. When hot outside, the internal fire must go down a notch or two, otherwise the heat would be unbearable. This is a natural process to maintain equilibrium with the climate. The hot days of summer pull your blood into your skin. Your cheeks get red and flushed and your heart beats faster. Just beneath the skin your capillaries are dilated and filled with blood so they can release heat and sweat through your pores. Your blood supply for other activities becomes limited and the result is a weaker digestion.
In summer keeping your body cool takes priority over eating & digestion. When the summertime heat is high, appetites are low. On a hot summer day you might not feel as hungry for lunch as in other seasons. Don’t be alarmed. This is your body’s natural, seasonal rhythm and can even help you lose weight. It takes a lot of blood, energy and fluids to digest a meal. When you eat in the summertime, you may not have enough blood to process your food. Summer may make your digestion as lazy as you feel.
Although our internal cooking fire is low, we can still feel pretty hot, and be drawn to cold temperature food and drinks, and cooling quality foods, which feel really good for a brief moment and temporarily relief the heat. This is where we go wrong because anything extremely low in temperature can constrict our blood vessels affecting the heat loss process from our body. The cold quality suppresses further our digestive fire, which will bring about digestive symptoms such as bloating, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue and lethargy.
Another reaction to very cold and cooling food and drink is that the body is forced to react and heat up to counteract the intense coldness. This reaction will bring back the sensation of unbearable heat, undermining the original reason to eat and drink cold in the first place. This process is easily experienced when drinking an ice cold glass of water. The first few seconds there is a sensation of coolness and relief of summer heat, but shortly after an increase of body heat and sweating! Above that, the cooling and heating alternation will deplete the body’s energy.
Ice cream appears like the perfect refreshment on a hot summer day. However, the symptoms of summer are more apparent when your meal happens to be heavy and cold. On a hot day you simply may not have enough blood in your gut to digest ice-cream. If heavy food has depressed your digestion, you may experience mild nausea and soft stools or diarrhea soon after, often containing visibly undigested food.
So how can we cool down but preserve a good enough digestion?
Meals should be light and relatively non-fatty, eaten slightly warm but not hot. Food variety should be kept simple and dishes gently spiced. Although initially warming, the pungent spices support the digestive fire, helping in the breakdown of food. Moderate pungent spices cause us to lightly perspire, which cools down the body. For these reasons the pungent spices are mostly used in very hot climates such as Central America, India, Africa etc.
Increase your water intake. Drink water, room temperature or just a little bit on the cooler side, but avoid soft drinks, caffeinated or carbonated beverages, alcoholic beverages, and those high in sugar. All these drinks contain preservatives, colors and sugars. They are acidic in nature and act as diuretics. They cause loss of fluids through urine. Many soft drinks contain diluted phosphoric acid, which damages the inner lining of the digestive tract and, therefore, affects its functions. An excessive intake of soft drinks increases phosphorous levels in the blood. This separates calcium from the bones and moves it into the blood. This calcium displacement from the bones makes them porous and brittle. It also causes plaque on the teeth, kidney stones, arthritis and bone spur. Soft drinks also reduce mineral levels in the body to such an extent that enzymes are unable to function well, resulting in indigestion.
Summer food variety
Summer foods are naturally cooling. Vegetables are the main ingredient in the menu that helps to cool the body, both raw vegetables (salads) and lightly cooked vegetables (steamed, stir fried, soaked in boiling water, shortly cooked or oven baked).
Listen to your body and choose lighter, easier to digest fare, with fewer heavy proteins and grains, favoring vegetables and fruit. Instead, move heavier and protein rich foods to the cool mornings. A light lunch in the summer can save you from a variety of digestive problem such as bloating, gas and loose stools. Be especially cautious if you have been exercising or sweating: you may be too dehydrated to produce enough stomach acid for a big meal.
Fruits and veggies are easy to digest and high in water content which helps in hydration. Avoid fried and junk foods as they take time to digest and require a lot of water. Spicy foods can also increase body heat.
Favor cooling ingredients like cilantro & dark leafy greens. Fruits are a fun and healthy choice for snacks. Pomegranate juice with lime and salt is an excellent way to quench thirst in the afternoons. Avoid fatty meals in general, which can congest your blood.
For breakfast eat 2-3 fresh fruits to feel light, or a wholegrain toast with avocado spread and a few chopped vegetables which feel light while satisfying.
Mid-morning: A glass of buttermilk or coconut water can do the trick.
Lunch: Cooked summer grains, such as bulgur or quinoa salad, mixed with a raw salad of summer vegetables and green leaves, with the addition of cooked legumes made into a thin dhal or cooked tofu, is an ideal vegetarian lunch. For those who do not eat legumes, substitute them for some non-salty cheese/yogurt with cucumber or a steamed white fish fillet/chicken breast.
For dinner, a whole grain toast with pesto spread or a cooked grain and a few chopped vegetables and/or cooked vegetables can feel light but satisfying. You can go lighter by eating only steamed vegetables or heavier by adding an egg if desired.
Other cooked foods are always an option for the main meals. Try a lukewarm vegetable soup to restore hydration and minerals to the body. For more on summer soups, click here.
For snacks, the range can go from a few raw vegetable, vegetable juices or a fruit. If the appetite is stronger, maybe a denser and heavier summer smoothie.
The meals recommended above are low in fat, medium in protein and high in good complex carbs which help control obesity, blood pressure, cholesterol and many other ailments
In order to avoid overheating, be careful not to eat very hot food or heating food during the summer. Use less salt, spice gently to preserve digestion power without over igniting the system. Minimize the use of garlic and onions, heavy foods and / or heavy meals, such as fatty foods and animal proteins (mainly beef, lamb, seafood, dark fish, and hard fat salty cheese) that cause the body to strain to digest them, releasing a lot of heat in the process. Avoid methods of cooking that are intensely hot, such as barbecuing and frying in oil. Cut the intake of fried foods.
Common foods used in the summer
Cereal grains: corn, quinoa, amaranth, bulgur, couscous, semolina, basmati rice, black rice and noodles of all kinds
Legumes: mung beans, black beans, orange lentils, chickpeas and tofu
Raw vegetables: lettuce, cucumber, celery, coriander leaves, peppers, tomato, endive
Cooked vegetables: pumpkin, squash, zucchini, sweet potato, potato, cabbage, okra, vine leaves, celery,chard, spinach, fennel bulb, and kale
Algae: nuri, wakame.
Fruits: watermelon, melon, mango, papaya, peach, plum, grapes, lychee, banana, fig, grape
Oils: cold pressed coconut oil, sunflower oil,corn oil, or soybeanoil, ghee, butter
Dairy products: non-salty, non-sour cheese such as ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, fresh yogurt. Goat yogurt is excellent for summer as it increases friendly bacteria in the gut and improves digestion and boosts immunity
Spices: Mainly cooling spices such as coriander leaves and seeds, fennel seeds, Himalayan salt, Tamarind, cardamom, cloves, rose petals, kudzu, lime, cumin, curry leaves, turmeric
Hot spices such as ginger, cinnamon and red chili pepper are avoided, unless the digestion is very weak. In such situations maintain a spicy and pungent diet even in the summer in order to stimulate the digestive fire
Sweeteners: date syrup, raw honey
Drinks: lemon juice, sugarcane juice, coconut water and thin buttermilk, to replenish the fluids that are lost in sweat
Teas: green tea, Louisa, chamomile tea,Sheba, sage, mint
Summer fatigue and illness
When the digestive system is slow and the food is either too cold or too heavy or taken too late, the immediateconsequence will be lingering undigested food in the digestive system, resulting in the formation of phlegm in the mucus membranes. This phlegm could easily cause a feeling of devastation, fatigue, blurred thinking and depression to some extent. Your energy will feel low, lacking the power to rejoice or to cope positively with the everydaychallenges. If the body will not get rid of this phlegm quickly through the normal discharge passages, a more radical solution will be attempted, by inviting a virus or bacteria to break down the accumulated phlegm. Tummy flu and other respiratory infections are the outcome. A mix of low digestive power, phlegm, cold air conditioning and cold drinks will most probably take their toll.
Avoid the sequence of summer illness by eating mostly lightly cooked foods, and by eating less food in general. Beware of strong AC, direct fans and a surprising cold breeze when you are last to exit the pool or ocean, wet and unprepared for the chill. Definitely give up on the ice cream at this situation.
Summer is abundant with yang energy. It is all about action. In Chinese medicine, yang is similar to the Ayurveda pitta dosha. The energetic nature of the summer is social, hot, light, bright, filled with excitement, and joy.
High-speed summer activities burn up your bodily reserves of energy. As you sweat throughout the day, and cumulatively over the summer months, your storehouse of fluids & electrolytes becomes depleted. Sooner or later, summer leaves you quenched and exhausted from all the activity. In this depleted state, you might find it difficult to fall asleep. Your body, on a hot summer night, wide awake staring at the ceiling, may not have enough cool moisture or grounding minerals to allow you to relax. You might find it hard to cool down enough to drift into sleep. Your mind may feel scattered, your nerves jittery, your skin sweaty.
Fortunately, you can easily rehydrate with cooling, grounding, electrolyte rich water. Replenish your electrolytes by adding a pinch of salt and sugar and a squeeze of lime to a cool glass of water. Magnesium rich foods may be especially helpful to relax the muscles. Magnesium is cold in nature, so it helps sleep but also cools you down systemically. Tropical fruits like bananas and coconut water may be supportive because of their cooling nature. You might also experiment with cooling fruits juices like pear juice, blueberry juice, and pomegranate juice. For those who feel parched and irritated, trythe “gold milk” recipe on a late night of insomnia and see if you fall right into dreamland. Mix 8oz of milk with turmeric, ghee and maple syrup then drink it down to invite the Yin & Kapha qualities of heavy, cool, and liquid into the body. Milk is high in magnesium and is naturally calming. Turmeric helps you fully digest the milk proteins. Ghee further lubricates your dried out summer body and skin.