Summer Foods & Preparation According to Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

To fully embody summer, Chinese medicine suggests that we embody yang – expansion, growth, light and outward expression, activity, brightness and creativity. Summer is a time of luxurious growth. To be in harmony with this season it is best to wake early and soak up the summer sun just as the plants do. Have your work, play and all the things you do be joyful and fill you with a sense of happiness and peace. This is a season to allow the bounty of the outside world feed and nourish us.

Happy People

One of the joys of summer is having an unlimited variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables so you can enjoy creating beautiful meals using many colours and textures, as well as creating gorgeous floral arrangements for your home and table which nourish the eyes as well as the body.

Cooking should be light, like steaming or sautéing to keep the vitality of the food while adding a bit of spicy or pungent flavour to nourish the heart, the organ representing summer. When sautéing, use high heat for a very short time, and when steaming or simmering do so quickly so food retains its nutrients. Use more water for cooking in summer and less salt.

Summer offers abundant variety and the diet should reflect this. Because there is excess sweating in summer, fluids, minerals and oils must be replaced or the body will become weak making us more susceptible to disease. A varied diet will give the body everything it needs to stay healthy, and the summer season is the best time to be able to offer the body variety.

Heart Bowl

Although it may seem contrary to what we have learned in the West, Chinese medicine tells us to drink hot liquids and take warm showers in summer to induce sweat and cool the body. Summer heat along with too much cold foods weakens the digestive system and injures the digestive organs of stomach and spleen. Many raw foods are considered cold in Chinese medicine as they take a lot of energy (digestive fire) for the body to break down. Eating raw foods, ice cream and iced drinks actually cause the stomach to contract and impede digestion and are best avoided.

On very hot days eat more cooling fresh foods such as salads, sprouts, fruit and tofu. Hydrating foods such as watermelon and cucumber will ensure that your body is hydrated in the hot summer sun. Another thing that cools summer heat are flower leaf teas such as chrysanthemum, chamomile and mint, and the best cooling fruits are lemons, limes, watermelon and apples. Surprisingly, hot spices are indicated for the hottest days of summer as they have a stimulating effect that initially heats up the body, but then brings it to the surface to be released. Black pepper, cayenne, fresh ginger, and red and green hot peppers are ideal for this. Moderation is important when using these hot spices however as dispersing too much heat will deplete the body’s yang (or fire energy) and the body’s balance will be disrupted which will make it more susceptible to contracting illness.

Heart Foods

Avoid heavy foods, especially on the hottest days as they make the body sluggish. These tend to be the foods many of us eat on a regular basis such as meat, eggs and an excess amount of grains, nuts and seeds. Eating less and light meals on hot days is a natural healthy practice and something that is easily forgotten as many of us have lost touch with our bodies and its rhythms as well as the changing of the seasons.

Eating whole foods is important for the entire body and especially the heart. Whole foods have a calming effect on the body so including them in the diet is important for good health. The bitter aspect of grains such as wheat and rice is in their germ and bran which are removed in processing refined wheat and white rice. Also the essential fatty acids in the grain germ and the B vitamins which are primarily in the germ and bran have a definite healing and sustaining effect on the nerves. Magnesium also, is important for proper functioning of the heart and nerves but it virtually lost in the milling of grains and refining of most foods. Green foods are high in magnesium and should be added to the diet especially in the summer season to help the heart function properly.

hammock on the beach

Chinese medicine teaches to live according to the seasons which means eating what grows in each season and changing the way we prepare our foods accordingly. The seasons tell us when we should wake in the morning, sleep, and how much activity we need. Because each season is associated with an organ and an emotion, we are taught to pay close attention to the seasons associated organ and emotion at this time to make sure it is healthy and all of our emotions are being expressed so that we can be happy and balanced.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Summer season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here – The Summer Season in Chinese Medicine.