Summer is the season of maximum "yang," a time of extreme heat, light, and activity; in summer our energy circulates centrifugally; it is closer to the surface and our pulse rises. It is a time of extremes.We can choose our response--do we seek respite from the heat and dry gently, with shade and water, or drastically, with freezing air conditioning and ice filled "Big Gulps."
The effect of the weather in summer is to overheat and over-dry; the latter due to sweating. Its easy to create balance with a diet and lifestyle that cools heat and replenishes fluids. However, at the same time we do not want to over-respond by following a diet or lifestyle that over-cools and chills our bodies, as in the above Big Gulp/air-conditioned mall example.
Why Cool Naturally?
The Lungs, Digestion, Toxins, and Excess Cold
It is important to cool naturally, as excessive cooling weakens the digestive system, the Lung Qi, and the Kidney Yang. Collectively, these are the masters of the immune system, so weakening them in the summer makes you more susceptible to common colds and flu in autumn and winter, and also ripens you for a summer cold.
The lungs strongly dislike extremes of cold and dry. They are "the delicate" organ in Chinese medicine, and prefer to be slightly moist and slightly warm. Cold causes the Qi to stagnate, and when the lung Qi stagnates, the tissues are weakened, and fail in their function of defense. This is one aspect of immune function
Iced beverages and excessive cold energy foods like ice cream and smoothies, or large amounts of raw foods and salads out of season weaken the digestive fire (Agni in Ayurveda, Spleen Qi in Chinese medicine) and lead to the accumulation of toxic dampness and food stagnation, the root of many digestive, metabolic, and immune disorders.
This is logic, not superstition. You use an ice pack on an injury to restrict inflammation by constricting blood vessels. So drinking iced beverages is like putting an ice pack on the lining of your stomach, precisely at the point when digestion requires an increased flow of blood to the stomach. I have seen lots of cases of digestive, chronic respiratory, and skin disorders improve once the patient gave up iced beverages and substituted room temp water or even tea.
Toxic dampness (Ama in Ayurveda) in the body is at the root of much chronic illness, but especially allergies, asthma, sinus congestion and infection, ear infections, dermatological, digestive, and many gynecological disorders.
How can you tell if you have toxic dampness? Just look at your tongue! A healthy tongue coat is thin, white, and light. Accumulation of toxic dampness will give your tongue a thick greasy coating. It will also cause it to be swollen, so that teeth marks appear on its sides.
All of the above, of course, is relative to your Mind-Body type and the relative health of your immune system and lungs. In Ayurveda, Pitta types with strong digestive fire (agni) can tolerate more cold foods than Kapha or Vata types who are susceptible to cold-damp, and cold-dry, respectively, or what Chinese medicine calls weak Spleen. Weak Spleen types have weak digestion and get sick easily.
Naturally Cooling Foods for Summer:
Salads, Fruit, Cool Herbal Drinks, Cool Soups, Juicing, Tofu, Dairy
Summer is the season to eat more salads.
Most raw vegetables are intrinsically cooling; they utilize more digestive fire to "cook", and contain water that is removed by cooking. Water is by nature cool, so this helps to refresh and cool.
Again, if one has weak digestive fire (Agni), then even in summer you can't eat too much salad or raw vegetables. But if you don't, then go ahead.
Cucumber, Tomato, Red Onion Salad
Especially cooling are cucumbers and tomatoes, which may help explain their popularity in the middle-east. Chop them with red onion and mix with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a great quick salad. Add cooked small fava beans or chick-peas,, dried mint, and sesame seed and you have Badjilla, an Iraqi favorite.
Coleslaw is also a great way to bring down hot temperatures, and you can add chopped dark salad greens like dandelion and arugula to coleslaw to increase its nutritive value and make it "stronger."
Cilantro is a wonderful cooling herb that turns ordinary coleslaw upside down into an Indian cole slaw. Adding a little roasted cumin seed or popped mustard seed increases digestibility and makes it even more Indian flavored.
Chopped celery, apples, and walnuts make a great natural salad, and you will find mayonnaise is no longer necessary. Instead, add some raisins and sesame seeds .
Melons: In Season, Cooling, and Refreshing
Nothing is as cooling and refreshing as good watermelon. Buy organic and juice it whole; the rind is full of minerals and natural salts. Try serving it with slices of Feta cheese. (Think of how Italians eat melon with prosciutto.) But be careful, it is all too easy to over-indulge in melon, which will cause dampness in the tummy.
Almost all fruits are cooling. (Exceptions are raspberries, strawberries, and peaches.) So when you go for a long walk in summer, bring a piece of fruit. At the end of your walk when you are hot and thirsty, reward yourself with some juicy fruit, instead of frozen yogurt or ice cream. Going to the beach? Bring fruit salad or watermelon.
Think Cooling Herbal Teas and Creative Juice Drinks
In Summer we need more water due to sweating. Sweat is considered a precious fluid in Chinese medicine. When it’s dry you lose water without noticing. In humid weather we sweat profusely and lose precious fluid. As a result we feel great fatigue.
Certain herbs like American Ginseng generate fluids and help restore what is lost by vigorous exercise. The same herbs are useful as "anti-aging" medicines. With age we have a natural loss of "yin" fluids; by our 50's we tend to dry eyes, dry skin, and dry mucus membranes. Certain herbs remedy this by producing fluids. They are also good in Summer.
Koreans make Chicken with White Ginseng or American Ginseng and Sweet Rice and Mochi as a summer dish, to restore lost fluids and energy.
How to Eat Less Sugar--Healthy Sugar Substitutes
We know from science that we will drink more liquid if it has a flavor. However, this does not mean we need to consume tons of sugar. There are plenty of beverages that are a cinch to make yourself, that are great unsweetened or mildly sweetened.
The truth is that American soft drinks unnecessarily sweet, so try something better: make your own with the following items:
* Honey, which has many health benefits and contains floride, good for the teeth.
* Yucca syrup, which is sweeter than sugar so you use less
* Stevia powder, which has no caloric value and may stabilize blood sugar. Stevia is a little bitter, too, but if you mix it with a little natural sweetener, the bitter taste is masked.
Six Fast Natural Soft Drinks
* Sparkling mineral water is naturally cooling, and the mineral content quenches thirst and stimulates the drinking reflex
* Squeeze fresh lime into sparkling mineral water. Sweeten with non-caloric Stevia if you like to make a Vietnamese soda. Lime is naturally cooling.
* Add a small amount of grape or orange juice to sparkling mineral water. Wow! Italian soda.
* Buy or grow lemongrass, mint, lemon or Thai basil. Put a few sprigs or slices in a bottle of water. Voila!
* A favorite Mexican beverage is Jamaicha. This is made from dried Hibiscus flower. You can buy dried Hibiscus (Jamaicha) in the Mexican section of ANY supermarket, and also at any Mid-eastern or Iranian market. Simply boil water and pour over the Hibiscus and let it sit for at least 10 minutes, but 60 is better. Sweeten to taste if you want and put it in the refrigerator.
* Good old-fashioned ice tea can be made with your favorite green or black tea. I love Earl Grey or Jasmine, which are both cooling. Another great one is Green Tea with Mint Tea 50/50: Welcome to Morocco!
Try Cool Beverages Rather Than Iced
What I do is make my iced teas very strong and keep in the frig. Then I take the iced tea out of the refrigerator, and mix it fifty-fifty with room temperature water. Then it is cooling and refreshing without freezing my throat and over cooling the stomach and lungs.
Summer is a Great Time for Cool Soups
On really hot days we may not feel like hot food. The Spanish make delicious Gazpacho. However, any kind of pureed vegetable or bean soup is great at room temperature or slightly chilled. See below for one of my favorite pureed bean soups.
Pureed Provencal Lima Bean Soup, Yes!
1. Boil lima beans till soft
2. Add tomatoes or tomato paste to make a slight reddish color and give a slight sweet/sour taste
3. Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent.
4. Add some "Herbs de Provence" to the onion and garlic and sauté another 5 minutes as the herb fragrance deepens. If you have trouble finding Herbs de Provence just use a mix of tarragon, sage, rosemary, parsley and basil
5. Salt and pepper to taste.
6. Now puree the whole thing in the blender.
This is superb served warm or cold topped with croutons or even some quality bread crumbs.
You could also boil some celery and carrot in with the beans. Try the same concept with root vegetables like turnip, parsnip, and rutabaga. Play with the herb component. Try dill. Dill with Yogurt added in is classic. Bon Appetite!
See a recent blog post on May and June Gloom Odessa Borscht for more cold soup recipes.
How About Using a Juicer?
A great healthy way to cool off in Summer is to juice fresh vegetables. Be aware, though, of how much sugar is in carrots and fruit.
One of my favorites is celery, cucumber, parsley, a little bit of kale, and just enough carrot to sweeten it a bit. Sometime I add beet or a little pear. Occasionally I add some Nopales cactus, too. You can also juice mung bean sprouts, which are cooling, or really any green veggie you might eat or cook.
As I said earlier, with organic watermelon you can juice the rind, which is excellent in very hot weather, and for people with bladder infections or interstitial cystitis.
Occasionally I juice grapes, and then mix the juice with sparkling mineral water for an Italian soda. People with a sweet tooth can satisfy it naturally with a little natural sweet.
Dairy Products, Tofu, and Soy Milk
Milk: Uncultured dairy products like cow's and goat's milk are quite cooling and naturally moistening, too. Great for hot dry weather, but if you have a damp condition (Kapha), don't overdo it. If you are craving ice cream, try a glass of cooled previously cooked, sweetened milk instead (rose water, cardamom, natural sweetener,and milk) or milk in the blender with almonds, cocoa, and frozen cherries!
Cheese: Soft white cheeses, like cottage cheese, farmer's cheese, feta, and paneer, are considered easier to digest, less damp producing, and more cooling than hard cheeses.
Yogurt: Rather than buying ice cream and frozen yogurt, try blending some quality plain low-fat yogurt in the blender with fresh fruit such as blueberries or banana in the summer. Or how about plain yogurt with fresh fruit and some toasted nuts or seeds? Of course the immune-boosting qualities of yogurt are legendary. Pitta types need to avoid too much sour yogurt.
Lassi: Another very cooling summer drink is yogurt in the blender with water, salt, cumin powder, and mint. This is called lassi in India and dugh in Iran/Afghanistan. There are myriad variations on this from Turkey to India. Some people add cucumber, shredded or blended in.
Soy Milk: Soy milk is also naturally cooling, so if you prefer, make a smoothie with it.
Tofu: Tofu is consider a cold energy food, as in addition to the naturally cool qualities of the soy, the process of making tofu involves coagulating soy milk with a mineral, magnesium chloride, that is extremely cold in its energy. In herbal medicine we even use it for fevers!
Tofu can be used to balance the energy of hot foods. In Summer Japanese will eat small amounts uncooked as an appetizer with a dip. Try tofu in salads, and you can ever put soft tofu in a smoothie for texture and protein!
Tofu pudding is the bomb! Just put soft-type tofu in the blender with some fresh fruit. Add your favorite sweetener if you feel like it. Feeling decadent? Add chocolate chips.
Avoid Air Conditioning
People go crazy with air conditioning. If you have to use it, keep it at the temperature you would keep the heater in Winter. (Air conditioning is best set in the mid -70's.) Lots of people get colds in the summer from going from the hot outside into over air conditioned cold air, especially at the mall. The hotter it is outside, the greater this problem becomes.
Really, you can keep your home cool by keeping the air moving with a ceiling or window fan. Plant lots of greenery around windows. Keep the sun out with heavy blinds, especially on southern exposure.
Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Mid-day Sun
This was an expression in India, where the mid-day sun can actually kill.
If you are susceptible to the heat, as in a Pitta condition like migraine, stay out of the hot sun. Exercise in the early morning or at sunset. Wear a hat. Drink lots of fluids. Put your head under cold water on a real hot day. Place a cold wash cloth on your neck. Eat fruit. Have fun. Stay cool. Be cool. Live naturally. Cheers!