20 Second Summary:
- Summer is a great time to focus on local produce at the peak of its season for maximum nutrient content and minimal environmental damage
- Foods high in Vitamin D will help diminish the effects of sunburn and sunstroke
- Pay attention to your H2O intake, getting a special boost from certain hydrating foods like cucumber and watermelon
- Consider Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic principals of cooling foods for optimal energetic and physiological balance during the hot summer days
While in my humble opinion EVERY season is all about food, there is something special about summer eating. For many, it’s the only time of year to comfortably dine outside breathing in the fresh air and catching a few rays – the way nature intended it, and my absolute favourite way to feast. Everyone seems to be more relaxed in the summer (great for digestion), and open to exciting new flavours (great for dietary variation). People seem to dine more socially in the summer, enjoying laughter and libations with loved ones…ALL things I’m seriously supportive of when it comes to getting the most out of your meals! So aside from the obvious options of BBQ’s and campfire cookouts, what are some ways you can get maximize your summer nourishment?
When your tomato comes from miles away it is picked before ripeness so that it doesn’t go "bad", and each moment out of the earth diminishes the vitality of the nutrients within. Not only that, but the environmental cost of emissions from travel, and the degradation to the land from mass farming practices is devastating to our planet and all the other animals that live here with us. On the other hand, eating seasonally and locally means greater nutrient content in your food, and less damage to our environment. A win-win for everyone and everything! For so many of us, summer is when our local dirt is bursting with produce, providing our menus with a vast array of ingredients for innovative dishes. No boring repeats here! The sunshine season is a fantastic time to experiment with the bounty of your neighbourhood farmer’s market.
And if you have a little plot of green in your yard, I strongly encourage you to try growing some of your own edible goodies – you will likely be impressed by how easy (and abundant) backyard harvesting is! If you’re looking for somewhere to get started, many towns, cities, provinces, states etc. have a list of what grows seasonally in your region.
Make Sunshine Your Friend
Sunscreen is certainly a heated debate these days. Some claim that without it, you are severely more prone to getting skin cancers. Others are saying that research is now showing it’s in fact the toxins in the sunscreen, and a lack of Vitamin D from poor sun exposure, that are the real culprits in the rise in cancer occurrences. I’m not going to touch on that controversial conversation piece here, but what I CAN tell you is that taking some good quality vitamin D3 drops will help solve the diminished D issue, and simultaneously make you more immune to sunstroke and sunburn. Foods that also contain vitamin D in its bioavailable form include...
- Shiitake and button mushrooms
- Sockeye salmon
- Cod liver oil
- Egg yolk
Of course, the best way to get Vitamin D is from pure sunshine, so try if you can, to get some sun exposure to bare skin at least once a day, and if you are going to wear sunscreen go for a non-toxic natural variety.
Note that Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin (one reason why so many of the foods mentioned above are the best way to get Vitamin D from your diet…they also contain healthful fats), so having proper essential fatty acid balance is key to keeping sunburn and sunstroke in check. Work on getting a balance of omega-3, 6, and 9’s in your diet, and consider the help of a fat emulsifier if you’re noticing floating or greasy stool. Beet kvass is a great start, or for something a bit stronger you might want to talk to your nutritionist about a fat emulsifying supplement.
You’ve already heard me harp about the many benefits of proper hydration and how to do accomplish this challenging feet, but one additional avenue is through the foods we eat. The following is a small list of foods that not only have a high H2O content, but also provide additional vitamins and minerals for proper water balance and regulation in the body:
- Leafy Greens
No, I’m not suggesting you should just eat a bunch of ice cream (although that does sound nice). I’m speaking here more about heating and cooling foods as they pertain to energy and balance, and you can find concepts of this in both Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayervedic practices. Because we are all just energetic beings trying to find balance in our bodies (ie. homeostasis), it makes a lot of sense that eating “cooling” foods in the summer would make for happy healthy bodies, right? In fact, these are important concepts to apply year-round, benefiting certain people in different ways, depending on their signs, symptoms, wellness goals, and natural dispositions.
In TCM, heat is described as “yang” and coolness as “yin.” Excessive yang in the body can lead to feelings of irritability, short temper, fever, constipation, flushed face or cheeks, a sore throat, nose bleeds, an outbreak of acne, rashes, mouth ulcers, and heartburn. Excessive “cold" energy in the body, on the contrary, will make you feel weak, lethargic, tired and restless. The constitution of each person is influenced by congenital factors as well as the acquired lifestyle (ex. diet, stress level, amount of exercise and sleep), and this varies from person to person. Of course the environment also plays into it, so at this time of year, many people find better body balance when dining on the following cool “yin” foods…
Bamboo shoots, bananas, bitter gourds, clams, crab, grapefruit, lettuce, seaweed, star fruit, water chestnut, watermelon, cucumber, barley, bean curds, marjoram, oysters, peasr, peppermint, radishes, strawberries, yogurt, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes, pineapple, and turmeric.
…and avoiding the following yang foods…
Pepper (all kinds), cinnamon bark, ginger, chives, cinnamon, clove, coffee, coriander, dates, garlic, ham, leeks, longan, vinegar, walnuts, shallots, mangoes, mandarin orange, and grapes.
Similarly, in Ayurveda practices, pitta is one of the three psycho-physiological elements that govern the different activities of mind and body, and is most akin to that fiery yang energy. Naturally, its effects are especially felt during the hot summer, and whether you have a lot of pitta in your constitution or not, you should still be mindful of pitta-aggravating and calming foods and beverages during this time of year. Signs of an aggravated pitta include excess stomach acid, heartburn, skin breakouts and irritability. But once again, it’s not about chugging back an ice-cold drink - this according to Ayurvedic principals will in fact douse your digestive fire and disrupt digestion, so it's best to avoid iced drinks, especially during meals. Ayurveda also recommends staying away from carbonated drinks, because they slow down digestion. Freshly-blended fruit juices and nectars drunk at room temperature are recommended, especially beverages containing pineapple and watermelon. Furthermore, to keep pitta in balance, go for sweet, bitter and astringent tastes and avoid salty, sour and hot spicy foods.
Here’s a list of pitta-approved options…
Rice, bread, milk, butter, ghee, fully-ripe sweet juicy fruits like melons, cherries, grapes, pears and mangoes, vegetables such as cucumber, broccoli, zucchini asparagus, and seasoning such as fennel, mint and coriander.
On the other hand, Ayurvedic principals suggest minimizing the following…
Yogurt, sour cream, citrus fruits, cayenne, tomatoes, hot peppers, radishes, onions, garlic and spinach, dried ginger and mustard seed.
Finally, Ayurvedic teachings recommend drinking lots of room-temperature or cool water and sipping 2-3 cups of organic pitta tea containing cooling spices and rose petals during the day.
A Final Note..
You might have noticed that the TCM and Ayurvedic lists don’t exactly jive 100%. That’s OK! There are also a lot of similarities, especially with some of the other foods I’ve recommended such as local and hydrating options. So what should you do? Try it all! I did say summer was all about culinary experimentation didn’t I? Give some of the above foods a go, pay attention to what works for you, and don’t forget to HAVE FUN and RELAX! That is what summer is all about isn’t it?