Healthy Summer Eating and Chinese Nutritional Therapy

Summer is now in full swing, with plenty of BBQ, beach time, and most of us are spending a lot of time basking in the sun, either sun bathing or exercising outside. However, in Southern Spain the sun rays are strong and the heat can be intense so it is important to take extra precautions this season. Summer may be a time for fun and parties but it also holds risks such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, skin cancer or food poisoning to name but a few. Early signs of heat exhaustion can creep up on us if we do not stay well hydrated.  Children, the elderly and those of us weakened by illness are more likely to suffer from it but it can affect any of us and some symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Fatigue,weakness
  • Headache
  • Nausea and possibly vomiting
  • Cool,clammy and pale skin
It is extremely important to drink plenty of fluids, to stay in the shade especially in the hottest hours of the day and to reapply sunscreen throughout the day.  However this may not be sufficient and the intake of proper nutrients can aid in optimizing your health during these hot summer days. How do you know what foods are beneficial in the summer time?
Chinese Medicine advocates that in order to preserve health one should eat in accordance with the seasons and summer is perceived as a time when energy is abundant and the mood is high. This season is about expansion, growth, activity and creativity. Seasonal fruits, brightly coloured, reflect this principle, and so should our daily consumption of foods.
As with every season, it is beneficial to eat foods according to their energetic qualities. Chinese nutrition does not look at foods based on their calories, carbohydrate, fat or protein content. Rather, food is classified according to its energetic temperature, taste, ability to moisten and strengthen or to calm and reduce excesses. In the summer months, when heat is at its peak, foods that are energetically hot or heating in nature are usually best avoided and they include foods such as ginger, garlic, chicken and lamb.  Similarly, foods that have cooling properties and that will help clear heat, reduce toxins and generate body fluids will be beneficial and some of the “cooling” fruit and vegetables are: 

Tomato Cucumber Mung Bean
Asparagus White Mushroom Lentil
Sprouts (alfalfa, mung bean) Peas Spinach
Courgette and Summer Squash Bamboo Shoots Bok Choy
Turnip Broccoli Watercress
Millet Corn Pearl Barley
Watermelon Apricot Melon
Grapefruit Lemon Orange
For the salad lovers, summer is a good time to enjoy a light refreshing summer vegetable or fruit salad. Indeed, in this season we are more likely to crave a light and cooling meal.  However, for people suffering from excess cold (feeling cold all the time and tendency to a sluggish digestion and loose stools), the intake of raw foods and cold foods (e.g. ice cream, iced cold drinks) should be limited as they could worsen your symptoms.  For optimal health, it is best to eat according to the seasons but also to your constitution.

Tips to prevent dehydration and alleviate thirst

  1. Keep a pitcher of water with slices of lemon and/or cucumber and fresh mint around the house.
  2. Blend watermelon with water to make a delicious watermelon juice drink.
  3. Make cold or hot tea with mint or chamomile.
  4. Cook foods quickly, either by sautéing, steaming or simmering quickly.
  5. Cook with small amounts of spicy or pungent spices to balance the cooling properties of foods.
  6. Eat in moderation. Over consumption of any food, especially cooling foods, can lead to food stagnation and phlegm accumulation, which leads to sluggishness and possibly diarrhoea.
  7. Do not leave your food out for too long. The hot weather tends to increase food spoilage.
  8. Stay away from dairy and from heavy, greasy or fried foods.
Keep in mind that these are general summer nutrition tips applicable to everyone. It is important to acknowledge that you are your own unique individual and your diet should reflect this principle regardless of the season.
The strength of Chinese therapeutic nutrition focuses on the individual person. The trendy “one size fits all” diets out there do not fit all. Chinese nutrition takes into account what type of person you are and what conditions you might posses. If you tend to run warm and are thirsty all the time, you want to incorporate more cooling fruits and vegetables in your diet. If you are the type who complains about being cold all the time, it is a good idea to add some warming spices or foods like ginger in your summer food preparation.

Have a happy and healthy summer!