Seasonal food – what does it mean in the summer?

Letters spelling out SUMMER on a beach under blue sky and a little sunshade

Summer is approaching, and you might be feeling the effects of it in the foods you’re starting to crave and eat!

I always find that summer means I crave more fresh salads, fruit and lighter foods…

Let’s talk about why that is, and what are the other ways summer affects our well-being, and how we can best offer our body what it requires during this season!

According to Chinese medicine, summer is related to the fire element – it’s certainly not hard to understand why. Summer is a season of growth and abundance, and the dominant energy is the one called “yang”. In order to resonate with yang energy we must try and express the energy of bursting out, growing, illuminating and creating. To be in harmony with the world, we must wake up early in the morning and reach for the sun to nourish and bloom – like the growing world. We have to work, play, travel, rejoice and grow into selfless action. The abundance in the world comes in and enriches us.

Use colourful summer fruits and vegetables to create beautiful meals. Cook lightly, and frequently add a little piquant or spicy flavours . Food should be steamed or cooked as quickly as possible, and our diet should reflect this. Use a little salt and plenty of water.

Summer offers abundance, which we should see on the plate. Minerals and oils come out of our body in sweat, and their loss can lead to weakness if not replaced through a varied diet. Drink hot beverages and take hot showers to encourage spontaneous sweating to cool the body. Summer heat combined with cold foods weakens the digestive system – foods like ice cream may shrink the stomach and stop digestion. On hot days we need to eat cooling, fresh foods like salads, sprouts, fruits, cucumber, tofu and such like. The most recommended fruits are apples, watermelon, lemon and lime. Hot or spicy foods can be excellent – they raise the heat in the body, but expel the heat to the outside of the body, where it evaporates – when the outer part of the body is hot, we will suffer less from the effect of the heat outside. Living in the Mediterranean I really noticed this, and eating chilli peppers made a huge difference for me as I’m really not one to enjoy the hot weather…

Of course, if we consume too many scattering foods, we will lose yang and create weakness – we will lose our ability to stay warm in the cold seasons. Heavy foods such as meat, eggs, an excess of nuts and seeds and grains on hot days create slowness.

The fire element, according to Chinese medicine, controls the organs of the heart and small intestine. The role of the heart is not only to regulate blood flow, but also to control consciousness, soul, sleep, and memory, and the heart is home to the Shen (according to Chinese medicine there are 5 souls which reside in different organs). When the heart functions harmoniously people seem sociable, modest, kind hearted and aware. Clarity is a notable feature, they appear to be able to see effortlessly through problems and come up with wonderful solutions.

In summer there can be a tendency for absent-mindedness and restlessness.

Nutrition for calming and focusing the soul:

Chinese medicine suggests a simple diet with occasional fasts, which is very helpful in creating peaceful and deep thoughts. In addition, avoid bad habits that scatter the thoughts and warm the body to the point of depleting the yin. Too many ingredients in a meal, spicy or rich foods, processed sugar, alcohol, coffee, late-night eating, and large evening meals can cause insomnia, as well as an excess of thoughts during the day.

Recommended foods for relaxation, treating insomnia, and improving concentration by calming the mind and focusing thought are grains, mushrooms, green foods (cucumber, celery, lettuce and their juices), fruits, seeds, spices like dill and basil, as well as herbs like chamomile, catnips, valerian.

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