What to Eat now that Summer is Here
Many of you have asked me “What should I be eating now that it’s summer?”
While of course this is going to depend on your individual Chinese Medicine diagnosis, there are a few overarching guidelines that most people can follow. In my general article about the Fire Element and Summer, I addressed the topic of foods, but I will use this week’s “Wisdom” to go into more detail.
The most important thing to understand when deciding which foods will be appropriate, is the acupuncture theory of Yin and Yang.
The theory of Yin/Yang basically states that we want balance between the two, so whichever quality is the highest at that time of year, we want to eat the opposite to balance it out.
Right now we’re at the height of Yang energy, which is hot. This means, to stay balanced, we can eat a lot more cooling foods. Someone who has a lot of excess yang energy (hot all the time, lots of redness, etc.) can eat more cooling foods, while someone with not very much yang energy can certainly tolerate more cooling foods at this time of year than during winter, but they’ll still want to go easy on them.
Keeping your “digestive fire” going
You have probably all heard me say that according to Chinese Medicine, cold and raw foods are detrimental to your Qi, because they shut down your digestion, leaving you unable to distill the nutrients from the foods and get them out to your body to create Qi.
Your digestion relies on warmth–what we call “digestive fire”–in order to assimilate nutrients. When we constantly put cold or raw foods into our bodies, we essentially put out our digestive fire, which over time can lead to fatigue, digestive issues, lowered metabolism, and feeling cold all the time. However, when there is lots of warm or yang energy in the environment around us, we are less prone to having internal coldness, which means some raw foods will be OK for most people.
I will use myself as an example:
(update: since going paleo, I avoid any cheeses and beans mentioned below)
I tend to be yang deficient, which means I am more prone to feel cold than warm. As soon as the temperatures drop around October, I completely lose my taste for salads or any cold food. I think I wrote in a prior post that not one bite of lettuce had passed through these lips since last Fall. Then suddenly late spring came around this year, and all I wanted was salad. My garden has salad greens bursting out everywhere, and I find myself making salads of all different forms: grilled steak salad, cooked beans on salad, lightly steamed kale and crumbled goat cheese or feta on salad, snap peas fresh from the vine and radishes pulled right from the ground…you guessed it, on salad. I’m actually surprised how well my body is handling all this raw food, which I can only believe has come from eating so healthy and locally with the seasons. I am in tuned with the rhythms of nature and my appetite and ability to handle seasonal foods is reflecting that.
Someone who is more extremely yang deficient than me would not be able to handle this amount of raw foods, even in the summer.
If I have told you to go easy on your raw foods, here are some ways you can eat a little but temper the coldness to keep balanced:
- Use warming spices in your dishes, such as cayenne, garlic, onions, and other peppers. If you don’t know other warming spices, think of Chai Tea. The spices included in there like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, all-spice, and ginger; are all warming. They can be added to morning oatmeal (update: being paleo now, I no longer eat or recommend grains), sprinkled on top of fruit, or drank in cold Chai Tea, to help temper the cooling properties of cold foods.
- Add cooked foods as I do on top of my salads. Some of my favorites are : grilled chicken or steak (always local and organic, of course! :-)), beans I’ve cooked ahead in my slow-cooker in warming spices, or left-over grilled veggies.
- Start your meals with just a small cup of hot soup. Lately I’ve been making a wonderful wild-mushroom soup, or using up the final jars of last season’s canned tomatoes for a creamed tomato soup. It tastes like summer-in-a-bowl and just a little bit is all you need to warm your digestive fire up!
If I have not told you you need to watch your cold or raw foods, you can go to town enjoying the fresh veggies and fruits that are in season now. (It’s still generally better to eat most of your veggies cooked, but you won’t have to worry about this as much) Just watch the sugar intake with fruits…they are very nutritious, but the sugar content is high and that alone can damage your digestive Qi, as well as create sludginess or “dampness”. Next week I’ll post more detailed information on the specific foods which are medicinal for the heart, the organ associated with the Fire Element.
I hope this helps, and that you’ve all been enjoying your time in the kitchen as the summer foods begin to pour in!