In Ayurveda, the ancient holistic healing system from India, maintaining good health throughout the year requires the ability to navigate through seasonal shifts by making small adjustments in your diet and lifestyle.
In Ayurveda, food is looked at through the lens of its qualities and how those qualities affect the three doshas of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. In summer, the main quality that is at play is HEAT which increases the Pitta dosha due to its naturally high levels of internal heat. As such, you want to use cooling foods to balance the summer heat. Secondly, when the outer temperatures heat up, your body’s metabolism slows down decreasing your appetite and your ability to digest heavier foods. The LIGHT quality in foods also then becomes a second primary factor to look at in the summer.
Making seasonal adjustments is actually quite intuitive and you are likely already doing things such as…
- Shifting from eating hot soups to cooler salads
- Switching your sweaters for the shorts, sundresses, and sunglasses
- Rising with the early sun and enjoying more of your exercise and activities in the cooler parts of the day
In addition to these general intuitive hot weather changes, you can consciously begin to use your food to support your highest balance through these summer strategies.
- Savor the sumptuous, sweet fruits of summer. Most fruit is light and cooling by nature making it perfect to lower the rising pitta. In addition to being sattvic which promotes lightness, clarity and contentment, fruit is thirst relieving, refrigerant (cooling) and mildly cleansing. Cooling sweet fruits are ideal for summer and include sweet berries, ripe and sweet apricots, plums and peaches, sweet mangos, watermelon, coconut, purple grapes, and ripe cantaloupe. Notice that I stress ripe and sweet. This is because fruit that is more green and sour is heating not cooling.
- Enjoy your salads – with some modifications. Late spring and early summer is a great time for the salads with the bitter and astringent leafy greens that promote blood cleansing after winter. Pitta is best served in the summer by the sweet and bitter vegetables like asparagus, cooked beets, artichoke, broccoli, cooked carrots, cauliflower, green beans, and Swiss chard. Cooling vegetables like cucumbers, cilantro and fennel are especially good. Raw vegetables are by nature cooling but the digestive system needs to be vital and strong to process the raw foods. Also, though the summer season increases Pitta, I see many people with Vata imbalances which are increased by these raw, cool foods. The best way to balance the need for some cooling without it overtaxing the digestive system or aggravating Vata is to have small side salads at lunch and/or have more grain, legume and cooked vegetable salads eaten at room temperature.
- Lessen the heat index in your foods. Foods that are hot and pungent increase heat in the body and mind. Eat a hot bowl of soup in the summer and you will feel the heat build on your skin in the form of tiny perspiration beads! For the most part, you will have naturally dumped your heavy stews and soups for lighter and cooler meals. Additionally, know that substances like garlic, onions, peppers, hot spices, tomatoes, salsas, vinegars, and fried food also build heat on a range of subtle levels. This doesn’t mean you have to completely avoid such foods, just be mindful of the amount and how it is affecting you. If you are getting heartburn or acidic symptoms, a general heat flush, or even notice your temper flaring it is a sure sign that your internal heat index is too high.
- Moist grains balance out a summer diet. Whole grains in general are balancing to all doshas except when done in excess or in used in processed forms like much of the packaged wheat products. First, try to enjoy more of the cooked whole grains like rice, quinoa, oats, and bulgur wheat. Then be mindful of taking in too much of the drier grains such as buckwheat, corn, millet and dry granola. Pitta has a slightly moist quality but its heating nature over time can lead to secondary dryness. And since Vata, which is dry by nature, is often lurking in the background at an elevated level, having a balance with the dry grains is always a good idea.
- Your liquids make a difference. With higher temps, you are likely feeling the thirst but what you reach for may or may not give you the quenching relief you’re looking for. Cool water with lime, cucumber and mint and teas made with mint, hibiscus, rose, chrysanthemum, nettles and fennel are great options. However that cold soda or even seltzer water much less the alcohol and iced coffees not only don’t quench your true thirst but can also be heating (in the case of alcohol and coffee) and dehydrating. Don’t stress by trying to avoid your beer on the patio but find the balance in your overall hydration levels.
©2016, Jamie Durner, Ayurvedic Practitioner and Certified Life Coach at Abundant You Coaching in Brookfield, WI