It’s summertime, the sun is high, and it’s hot outside! The best foods for the summer, according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), are those that naturally help to keep you cool. In TCM, foods have energetic properties, and they are classified as energetically “cool,”“cold,” “neutral, “warm,” or “hot.” Foods are said to maintain these properties regardless of the temperature at which they are served.
TCM recommends that you eat foods according to the season in order to best keep your body balanced, and to maintain harmony between the external environment and your internal environment. In many cases, we do this naturally; during the winter months we may tend to be attracted to “warm” foods like cauliflower, and during the summer months we’re more apt to crave “cooling” food like pears.
It can be surprising, however (and in some cases even counter-intuitive), to discover how TCM classifies certain other foods according to their energetic properties. Some are considered to be more yin, while others are categorized as being more yang. Yin is one aspect of your energy, or Qi (pronounced Chee), and its properties include qualities that are dark, cool, cold, slippery, moist, contractive, and quiet. The properties of yang, the other aspect of your Qi, include qualities that are that light, warm, hot, course, dry, expansive, and loud.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, too much of either yin or yang in your Qi can result in physical and emotional imbalances. For instance, too much yin can make you feel chronically cold, gain weight easily, and have damp or clammy skin. It can also lead to fatigue, laziness, and a lack of ambition. Too much yang, on the other hand, can cause you to feel hot all the time, have trouble gaining weight, and have dry, scaly skin. Excessive yang can also cause you to feel anxious, agitated and aggressive.
This is why TCM holds that eating the right diet during the hot summer months can make a difference in how you feel. Yin-nourishing foods can help to keep your internal body cooler, your moods on a more even keel, and your overall health more balanced. The idea is to focus your summer diet on eating foods that are considered to be “cool” or “cold”. Foods in these categories, according to ancient TCM principles, include the following:
Cool & cold foods
“Cool” foods: Strawberries, bananas, apples, pears, celery, spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, eggplant, sesame oil and soybeans.
“Cold” foods: Cucumbers, seaweed, tomatoes, papayas, grapefruit, watermelon, tofu, romaine lettuce, summer squash and asparagus.
During the summer months, you can also enjoy foods traditionally categorized as energetically “neutral”, because these don’t shift your yin-yang balance either way. Examples of foods in this group include:
“Neutral” foods: Carrots, string beans, peas, rice, oats, saffron, eggs, herring, whitefish, oysters, salmon, peanuts, yams, beets, olives, apricots and pineapple.
Warm and hot foods
In keeping with TCM principles, you want to limit your intake of “warm” foods during the summer season, and keep “hot” foods to an absolute minimum. Here are some examples of foods in these two categories:
“Warm” foods: Pumpkin seeds, mustard greens, coffee, garlic, mussels, shrimp, butter, chestnuts, onions, coconut, cauliflower, yogurt, and turkey.
“Hot” foods: Black pepper, cayenne pepper, trout, lamb, cinnamon, red peppers, green peppers, horseradish, chili powder, and soybean oil.