Healthy Eating

Eat to Beat the Heat

Escape the summer swelter with deliciously cooling foods.
Eat to Beat the Heat
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IN THE LONG, HOT SUMMER, raw vegetables and iced tea replace hot soups and coffee, the outdoor barbecue keeps you out of the stifling kitchen, and desserts are served straight from the freezer. So why do you still feel listless and overheated?

In the view of Traditional Chinese Medicine, seasonal favorites like salads and barbecued meats actually warm your body, while chilled, sugary drinks are so taxing to your system, they make it tough to stay comfortable.

By taking a different approach, you can eat in a way that dissipates excess heat. If you provide your body with what it really needs at this time of year, you'll enjoy better health and keep cool in the process.

Find Your Balance
"THE WESTERN VIEW OF NUTRITION is based on chemistry," says Efrem Korngold, O.M.D., L.Ac. "If we get enough fiber, keep our fat below 30 percent, and maintain a good carb-protein balance, we believe we're doing the healthy thing."

This approach ignores certain aspects of the food we eat. "In addition to its nutritional value, other properties make food more or less suitable for an individual based on their local and systemic influences on the body--specifically, how they affect the blood, fluids, qi [vital energy], and specific organ functions," explains Korngold, who practices at his clinic, Chinese Medicine Works, in San Francisco.

Central to TCM is the concept of balance. Everything in the natural world manifests through the interplay of yin (cool, damp influences) and yang (hot, dry influences), two complementary opposites that together create a whole. A different kind of nourishment suits summer, a yang season, than the yin months. But going to culinary extremes, such as frosty drinks and red-hot barbecues, causes more problems than it solves.

Ultimately, you want to eat in a way that helps your body help itself. Benefiting from TCM's seasoned perspective, you can create a summer nutrition plan that replenishes moisture, prevents dehydration, and encourages perspiration and its evaporation, your body's natural cooling system.

1. Favor cooling foods "In the summer, we need cleansing, alkaline foods that draw energy inward, bringing any excess fluids, acids, and impurities to the organs of elimination," says Letha Hadady, L.Ac., author of Asian Health Secrets: The Complete Guide to Asian Herbal Medicine. This time of year, eat on the cooling end of the TCM continuum (see "Quick Guide to Cool Foods" on the last page), especially if you have excess internal heat. "Each food has an effect on the body," says certified herbalist Claudette Baker, L.Ac., director of the Glenview Healing Arts Center in Illinois and president of the Illinois State Acupuncture Association. "Come summer, go with cooling choices like cucumber, mint, watermelon, mung beans, tofu, and green tea. Avoid sweet, oily, and greasy foods, which can cause internal dampness."

2. Steam your veggies. Those salads and crudites you reach for in summer may feel refreshing in the mouth, but they're not cooling for the body. "When you eat raw food, you need to expend digestive energy to warm and ripen it, to compensate for the fact it's not cooked," says Baker. In other words, your body has to heat up to process uncooked foods--and turning yourself into an ersatz oven is not a happy prospect when you're already sweating. Baker suggests lightly steaming vegetables to partly break them down.