Summer is a time of growth and activity, a time when British Columbians want to be outside socializing and enjoying the weather. It is also a season of barbecues, beach picnics and weekend camping trips, which are often accompanied by overindulgence in processed foods. What and when you eat has an impact on your body and your health. It is well known that problems such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity are all connected to the diet, but food affects your health in other important ways as well.
In Eastern medical traditions such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), foods are considered for their vitamin and mineral content and also for their energy and flavour. There are five classifications of food energies: hot, warm, neutral, cool and cold. There are also five flavours to consider: pungent/acrid, sweet, sour, bitter and salty. These classifications of food in TCM refer to the state of the food as well as its effect on the body.
Knowing food categories and your health tendencies is beneficial as foods act on your body in different ways. For instance, do you know someone whose acid reflux is worse with spicy food? Or who has low energy and stomachaches after eating cold ice cream? So, if you are someone with arthritis, whose pain is worse on a cold winter day, you will benefit from eating warm and bitter foods. Conversely, if you suffer from asthma that worsens in hot weather, you will benefit from eating food with cool and sweet characteristics.
Furthermore, in an effort to improve their diet, people commonly tend to eat more raw vegetables (classified as cold in TCM). While eating raw salads may be good for one individual it is not necessarily good for another. If you have a weak stomach and spleen (signs include a swollen tongue, easily bloated, and slow metabolism), cold foods will further impair those systems. On the other hand, if you have heat in your system (signs include dry skin, red tongue, and rapid pulse), hot or pungent foods will increase this condition.
Further to understanding your constitution, when selecting foods it is also important to think about the season. In warm weather, too many hot foods can overheat the system and may result in warm illnesses, such as sore throat, fever, and nausea. Therefore, eating cool or neutral foods are better in the summer. Some cooling fresh foods that are great on a summer day include cucumber, watermelon, citrus fruits, berries and sprouts. Eating a variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables will also help to replenish minerals lost through perspiration. What and when we eat are important for your health, so in the summer, focus on eating foods that are neutral or cool, eat lightly on hot days, and always remember to hydrate!
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and director of BodaHealth in Vancouver, BC. Visit www.bodahealth.ca or call 604-733-2632 to learn more about TCM and summer nutrition.