Welcome to Summer! Longer, warmer days encourage us to be more active, spending greater time outdoors and the sun’s warmth encourages growth and maturation. Plants thrive and begin sharing their abundance with us. This is a season of joy, health and vitality. It’s a time when we are able to blossom and expand like the world around us – even kids grow faster during the summer months. It’s the energy of the season.
The most Yang of all the seasons, Summer relates to the Fire element and the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium and the Triple Heater organ systems of the body. By learning to eat with the season we can reap the benefits that Summer has to offer.
General guideline for eating in Summer
Eat variety – This is the season with the greatest abundance of foods, ready to eat right now. Enjoy the glorious array of brightly colored fresh vegetables, greens and fruits that are available.
Eat more raw – Raw foods cool and clear heat, which can be a blessing in the Summer. If you have a relatively strong digestion and aren’t treating a health condition add some raw into your diet. However, don’t overdo it on the raw. If you’ve ever been one of my clients or students you will know that I sometimes but heads with raw food enthusiasts. Too much cold or raw foods will overly chill Spleen and the digestive system causing contraction and tightness (cold causes spasms and contractions) ultimately your body will have to work harder to try to warm your food up to digest it. Asian medicine wisdom holds that the Stomach and Spleen (the major rulers of digestion) are like a cauldron and too many overly cold foods will put out the digestive fire or vitality, causing digestive issues. Throughout the world, even in the hottest of climates cooked foods and soups are eaten in the hottest months – they are just adapted with the seasonally available foods, eaten at room temperature and more raw may be present during the Summer months.
Eat lighter – Heavy, greasy and fried foods and too many nuts and seeds will weigh the body down making you slower and more sluggish – they also generate more heat and create stagnation in the digestive system. I’m getting sluggish just thinking of it. Summer is the ideal time to lighten up and allow your body to let go of the heaviness that we often hold during Winter months.
Eat outdoors and with friends – The season of Fire corresponds with all the organs that are involved in relationships. Summer is an excellent time to spend time cooking outdoors over the grill, with friends and enjoying yourself.
Hydrate – It’s a fire and water thing. When there is more heat or fire it will dry up Yin (fluids and water) in the body which can lead to a myriad of health issues. So remember to keep up your water intake – and, yes, water is truly the best option. Drink it at room temperature or slightly cool as water that is iced or too cold will chill contract the tissues of the throat and the stomach and require the body to generate more heat to warm it to a digestible temperature. Add in a slice of lemon, a cucumber or a bit of mint for electrolytes and additional cooling.
Summer cooking – Each season has food preparation and cooking styles that specifically benefit the season and our bodies. In the Summer, prepare food simply and quickly heat it by grilling or stir frying. Summer soups should be lighter and brighter than the heavier stew of Winter. Enjoy more raw and fresh foods, if you don’t have a particular pattern that recommends you stay away from raw foods.
Because Summer is the season of Fire (Yang), we need to nourish Yin and fluids which can easily be burnt up by Summer’s Fire. Simple translation–water or any food with a high water content will nourish Yin. Let’s take a look at the specific energetics of some Summer foods.
Summer Vegetables – Peppers, eggplants, tomatoes and summer squashes…oh, my. Most of Summer’s vegetables are high in water content, so they nourish Yin (fluids), as such, they also don’t store well unless home canned, dried or frozen – they are meant to be eaten in the season as their nature is to open and expand. Peppers and other pungents like onions have spicy nature helps us adapt to heat by allowing us to sweat.
Summer Greens – Many of the spring greens have bolted or wilted in the summer heat or are just waiting for the weather to cool off enough to grow again. Summer, however, is the season that the heavier leaves come into glory. Cabbage, kale, broccoli, chard and spinach are all ready to be made into slaws, steamed, stirfried, and sauteed.
Melons – Very Yin nourishing and sweet. Include melons to help replenish your fluids and as a refreshing, non-calorie dense food.
Roots – Beets, turnips, radishes, jicama, sunchokes, potatoes and carrots. Roots start to become readily available during the summer. In general, roots ground and anchor our energy deep into the earth. Enjoy roots that are younger and smaller to keep energy in the body light and moving. Also, the more pungent roots like radishes and turnips will aid in moving energy. Steam, saute, or grill roots. Add a few to summer soups, grate them, slice them and serve them raw with salads or dips. Yes, many roots can be eaten raw. Save the longer roasting and stewing of roots for the cooler months of Autumn when we need greater warmth deeper in the body.
Berries – Sweet and tart, berries help nourish and cleanse the Blood. Their rich color is an indicator of the high level of antioxidants they contain. Find out more about raspberries. here.
Fruits – Summer brings fruits in abundance, if you can beat the bugs to them. Enjoy a few more fresh fruits in season, but don’t go overboard. Fruit is sweet and has a high sugar content. When eaten in its most whole form – we’re talking eating the apricot right off the tree – the fruit is still bound to its fiber. This means it won’t create as wild or rapid of an insulin jump as juices will. Fruits tend to be heavily sprayed with pesticides, so please get them organic. Tropical fruits? Yes, as they specifically grow in climates that are hotter and require more Yin nourishing. I personally, don’t eat a lot of them as they don’t fall into my food hierarchy of local, organic and sustainable – but I do have some during the summer months.
Meats and animal protein – As a general rule, the energetics of meat and all animal protein is warming and building. And because of their very dense nature, they require the body to generate more heat to digest them. During the Summer, reduce your intake of animal proteins and fats. When you do eat it, have smaller quantities, in smaller portions.
Grains – Another building and sustaining food grains should be a regular part of our diet. Whole grains, that is, with their fiber still intact and eat a variety. Use whole grains like quinoa, millet and amaranth in salads or as side dishes. Add a scoop of cooked grains to light summer soups. Again, a little goes a long way with grains. Watch out for the refined and processed grains and baked goods that can spike blood sugar and are lacking in vitamins, fiber and minerals. If you are gluten sensitive – go for the gluten free grains.
Legumes – Excellent for their fiber and protein content. Each legume or lentil, when matched with the correct grain, creates a complete protein profile. Combine aduki beans or mung beans with barley, lentils and peas with whole wheat berries and black beans with whole grain rice are a few great examples. Enjoy them in soups, chilis, and dips like hummus or black bean dip.
Bitter – The flavor of the Fire Element
Our least favorite flavor in this culture – the bitter flavor drains excess heat and fire out of the body and clears the Fire Element organs.
Meditate – This allows the mind to be open increasing the ability to focus, plan, make clear choices and be flexible.
Move your body – Physical activity will encourage the movement of Qi through the body. It is extremely important to add stretching to our exercise routine and gives us flexibility in our bodies and mind. Exercise that twist the torso open the diaphragm and help the Liver and Gall bladder loosen up and freely flow.
Clear out the past – The more debris and clutter on the ground the longer it takes longer for the crocus and other bulbs to push through. This is true of our lives mentally and physically as well. Maybe it’s time to clean out the closet or old habits?
Consider a cleanse or modified diet – Nutritionally this is a good time to do a gentle cleansing or fasting, with raw vegetables and fruit juices. Cleanses and fasts should be highly personalized based on your goals and physical needs and current state of health, and there are times when they aren’t appropriate at all. Check with your practitioner to see if this is an option for you.
Watch out for Summer Heat – An exterior invasion, Summer heat comes about when we’ve been exposed to too much heat too quickly or it becomes unseasonably hot. This is sun sickness, heat exhaustion or heat stroke in western medicine. Find out more here.