Summertime has arrived! The bees are buzzing, the flowers are blooming and if you’re anything like me it’s difficult to drink enough water to stay properly hydrated.

One thing that Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us, is our deep physical connection to the seasons. Each season is associated with a different organ system, corresponding mental and emotional states, flavours, smells and other categories.  

Summer is the season of Fire, the Heart and Small Intestine, blood and vessels, sweat, joy, laughter and growth. Summer is a season of yang – energy, creativity, lightness, expansion.

To maintain balance and harmony with the season of summer there are abundant foods, habits and activities that can keep our bodies harmonized and optimized for this season of long, hot, humid days.

We now have significant evidence to say that our bodies and genetic expression fluctuate throughout the year and with the seasons. Evidence shows that the total number of white blood cells (lymphocytes, monocytes, basophils, eosinophils, neutrophils) and platelets in circulation are present in different quantities and ratios during the different seasons. It has also been observed that the average volume and mass of hemoglobin within the red blood cells changed with the seasons. This is an incredible discovery, and it seems that Chinese medicine practitioners have had a sense of these fluctuations and shifts for millennia.

Things to keep in mind as we head into the dog days of summer:

  • Take advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and use plenty of brightly coloured summer fruits and vegetables. Our diet should reflect the abundant variety the summer has to offer us, and living in Ontario with farms and orchards all around we have the good fortune of incredible food and choice.
  • Cook lightly and regularly. Use high heat for a very short time, and steam or simmer foods as quickly as possible. Use little salt and more water.
  • The heat of the summertime causes minerals and oils to be sweated out of the body, causing weakness if not replaced with a varied and appropriate diet. 
  • Sometimes drink hot liquids and take warm showers to induce sweating to cool the body. 
  • Eat less and lightly. 
  • In the deepest days of summer, create a comfortable cooling environment. Eat cooling fresh foods such as salads, sprouts (alfalfa, mung, soy) fruit, cucumber, tofu, yogurt, wheat, barley, wheat beer, mussels, flower and leaf teas (mint, green or black tea).
  • Drink green tea instead of coffee as it  “disperses summer heat and can expel toxins, cool the heart fire, calm the mind, remove heat from liver and gallbladder, and relieves the stomach and lung.”
  • Eat fruits or drink fruit juices such as apples, watermelons, lemon, limes, kiwi, orange, pear, pineapple, and tangerine.
  • Add a little spicy, pungent or even fiery flavor. These hot-flavoured spices increase warmth but bring body heat to the surface to be dispersed. Try red and green hot peppers, cayenne red pepper, fresh ginger, horseradish, black pepper. Be careful however, as too much can lead to a weakness of yang and an inability to remain warm when the seasons change. It’s no coincidence that spicy food is traditional fare in places such as India, the Caribbean and Africa.

Things to avoid to optimize health:

  • Summer heat with too much cold food weakens digestion. Coldness contracts, holds sweat and heat and interferes with digestion, which is not something that we want. Let’s allow our bodies to digest properly with warmth.
  • Iced drinks and ice cream contract the stomach and foil digestion. Room temperature water is best and with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice it is healthy and delicious. 
  • Do not eat as many heavy foods, which tend to slow us down, such as meat, eggs, nuts, seeds and grains. 
  • Avoid dry and energetically hot foods such as coffee and acrid spices.