You know what they say – ‘you are what you eat!’ But what they don’t often tell you is you are what you eat based on what’s most nourishing and freshly grown during each season. For example – during the summer, lots of ice cream and cool drinks are leaned on in our society to combat the heat wave that washes over us.
However, because summer is the most yang of all the seasons, we don’t want to get too cold as when we have these cold foods and drinks – the stomach contracts and limits our ability to break down and digest our food so that we can build nutrient-dense blood that circulates where it needs to go.
In Chinese medicine, there is a fine line between where you live and your Five Element constitution in regards to staying cool (but not too cool!) during the summer.
Here are my General Principles of Summertime Nutrition:
1. Slowly increase your raw food intake
Summertime is the most yang of all the seasons making it the perfect time to increase your consumption of raw foods! However, there is a catch . . . if your digestion is cold (i.e: cold hands and feet) or if your stool has undigested food particles in it, stick to warm and cooked foods until it begins to even out. Maybe even consider adding in digestive enzymes as additional support.
2. Avoid iced/frozen foods (except in small doses)
When we consume iced and frozen foods – even in the heat of summer – our stomach contracts and our digestion is limited in the ability to build nutrient-dense blood that circulates where it needs to go.
As tempting as it may be to start drinking ice water and grab a pint of ice cream after being in the sun all day, keep your digestion process in mind so you’re not depleted by the time summer ends. In many Eastern Asian countries, people will consume hot soup during the hot months. I know this seems counter-intuitive however, hot soup will make you sweat and when we sweat – we cool off!
3. Add bitter flavors to all of your meals (especially digestive bitters!)
The more bitter, the better! Especially in the summer season . . . By adding more bitter flavors to our diets, the receptors that are scattered throughout the body will process the flavor profiles and will wake up and trigger the secretion of digestive juices (starting in the mouth).
This process helps us to digest our foods better, which means less inflammation, bloating, gas, cramping, and discomfort in general. Some bitters to think about: citrus peel, dandelion root (and leaves), hawthorn berries, cardamom, ginger, chicory, cacao, quinoa, olives and olive oil, and more. For a complete list, check out page 88 in my book, Everyday Chinese Medicine.
4. Eat foods that are red in color
Foods like raspberries, strawberries, cherries, beets, apples, red cabbage, red onions, red bell peppers, pomegranates, tomatoes, watermelon, and guava, are high in anthocyanins, lycopene, and ellagic acid. These reduce inflammation in the blood and protect the heart.
Red colored foods are wonderful additions to your meals in the months of summer because having good, nutrient-rich blood is not only great for your heart but also for all of your organs as they build nutrient-dense blood!
5. Consume less salt and avoid larger amounts of protein
During the summer months is when our Fire element organs are the most active and our water element organs are the least active. Consuming less salt and avoiding large amounts of protein this time of year will support your kidneys, bladder, and bones by not making them work so hard!
Think: lightweight foods so your body doesn’t have to spend so much energy breaking food down and this energy can be spent in other ways like going on adventures, healing from old patterns, and the like.
There are more practices like these for each Element and the seasons they accompany in my book and will help you find more alignment and balance in your life, health, and overall well-being.
6. Summertime Pantry Staples
Proteins (limited quantities): Anchovy, Caviar, Eggs
Grains: Buckwheat, Corn, Quinoa
Vegetables: Beet, Bitter Melon, Carrots, Cauliflower, Dandelion Root, Lettuce, Okra, Red Bell Pepper, Sweet Potato, Tomato
Fruits: Apples, Cherries, Figs, Goji Berries, Grapefruit, Pineapple, Strawberries, Watermelon
Legumes: Chickpeas, Red Beans, Red Lentils, String Beans
Nuts + Seeds: Pistachio, Sunflower
Cooking Herbs: Cayenne, Chilies, Mint, Rose, Turmeric
Foods to Avoid: Dairy (in large amounts), Heavy or creamy sauces, Iced or frozen foods, Refined sugar
Looking to learn more supportive resources for summertime nutrition and pantry staples for the Fire element? You’ll love my book – Everyday Chinese Medicine – where each element and corresponding season is broken down to inform you no matter what your constitution is to where you can be the healthiest version of yourself!