Enjoying the Sun and the Summer Delights

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At last the long summer days and warm nights have arrived! Summer is the most Yang season of the year. It is the heat and the sun which draws you outdoors to feel the warmth on your skin, allowing you to fill up on Vitamin D. It is a time to exercise outdoors, eat light, sleep shorter hours and rest over lunch. Yang too is at its fullest in the body, as energy flows particularly at the surface of your body causing veins to surface and the skin to sweat. The organs of summer are the heart and the small intestine, with bitter being the taste of the heart. It is however best not to eat bitter foods as bitter foods can cause an over-functioning of the heart, just as it is best to eat small meals, so as to not overstress the small intestine. You should eat pungent foods which tonify the lungs, as in Chinese medicine the heart controls the lungs, as well as the movement of blood and body fluids through the vessels, and hence controls sweat. Pungent herbs therefore are useful as they can help maintain normal healthy sweating. 

While Yang is hot, it is also drying! Yang is fire and expanding, so this makes summer a time when things grow rapidly. However, how summer is in one area can be, depending on location, very different for others. This ‘location’ will then dictate how you eat. Some of us live in a hot and dry climate while others in hot and humid.  For those in the north, temperatures may not rise that much during the day, and therefore one can eat more ‘neutrally’ in flavor; meaning foods that are not hot or cold in nature. Foods that are neutral are for example yams, sweet potato, mushroom, olives, brown rice, almonds and most ocean fish.

In a hot and dry environment, cooling and hydrating foods are very important. A rice soup with mung beans (which are cooling) would be appropriate. Stir fry some cucumber and/or spinach, eat fish, tomatoes, watermelon, melon and strawberries.1 Other hydrating vegetables include iceberg lettuce, celery, radish, peppers, cauliflower and carrots, and fruits like pear and star fruit. While I generally don’t recommend eating salads, if you have excess heat in the body and a fiery stomach to cool off, then a salad would work well. Drink plenty of water and mint or chrysanthemum tea.  2

Hot and humid environments require cooling foods, but not as hydrating as those in a dry area. Foods should have a little kick to stimulate a lethargic digestive system and help drive out the sweat. In humid environments you should not have dairy products as these are too sticky and slow the digestive system down. This also goes for icy drinks or ice cold food as well as fried or too many raw products. Prepare a miso soup and add tofu, chili and seaweed, eat vegetables like spinach, mustard greens and red pepper. Fruits like coconut, litchi and red apples and tomatoes can also be beneficial.

For the northern hemisphere, the days are long but normally the temperatures do not get that high and overnight it can really cool off. I see the northern hemisphere’s summer as what we would call in Chinese medicine the 5th season; that being late summer. This is the time of the spleen and stomach and the taste being sweet. I don’t mean ‘sugar’ sweet, I mean sweet potato, carrot, beets, cucumber and sweet corn as well as cooked grains. These vegetables/ grains should be lightly cooked and as previously stated, portions in general for summer should be small. Light broths in the evening and seasonally available fruits.3

Late summer for the more southern countries comes in September. This is a season of great change from hot yang to cooler yin. It is a time where you can add a little ginger, mustard greens or cinnamon to your food.This is a time to stretch the muscles. The muscles belong to the stomach and spleen and according to the Chinese clock the best time for exercise would be between 7am and 11am. A reflective walk or jog in the fresh morning air!

Depending on where you live will determine how you nourish your body.  Summer is a very exciting time, drawing you out into nature. So eat well and exercise mindfully!

  1. Cucumber recipes:  http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-20493/in-season-now-7-cooling-cucumber-recipes.html
  2. Hydrating foods: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5214/A-Blast-of-Hydration-The-Cooling-Power-of-Foods.html
  3. Summer recipes: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-21001/21-genius-ways-to-eat-the-best-in-season-produce-before-summers-over.html

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