Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) emphasizes the importance of striving for balance and living in harmony with the environment around us. This can be done through nutrition, cultivating healthy emotions, meditation, physical activity and healing therapies such as acupuncture. In order to feel our best throughout the year, it is important to change elements of our lifestyle and diet according to the seasonal and environmental changes around us, especially in summer.
It is easy to understand that summer is a high-energy, yang-dominated season. This annual peak of yang energy manifests through the qualities of summer we all know and love — abundance, sunshine, warmth, expansion, lightness, growth, brightness and creativity. In TCM, it is associated with the fire element and, correspondingly, joy, the heart and the small intestine.
In the abundance of sunshine, it is important to rise earlier and flourish in the sun as the gardens do. At the same time, the abundance of yang energy allows one to be more physically active and stay up later in the evening, while still feeling nourished. It is especially important to focus on being happy, easy-going and avoiding holding grudges or dwelling in negative emotions such as anger. Too much negativity during this season can lead to disharmonies within the heart meridian and organ system in the autumn. As always, overindulgence should be avoided, but in the summer, one can tolerate it a little bit more than any other season. It is the time to work hard, play hard, be joyful, travel, laugh and do things that enliven your spirit and vitality.
TCM Summer Nutrition
As far as nutrition goes, summer is the time to eat less and lightly, decrease the salt in your diet and increase your water intake. It is no surprise that the best foods to eat in this season are your local seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs. Relish in making beautiful dishes with all the colors of the rainbow. Each color represents both a different collection of phytochemicals and nutrients and a different TCM organ system. Garden and grow your own foods, getting your hands in the soil and watching the produce grow when possible. For specific ideas, try to include watermelon, apricot, cantaloupe, lemon, peach, orange, asparagus, sprouts, bamboo, bok choy, broccoli, corn, cucumber, white mushroom, snow peas, spinach, summer squash, watercress, seaweed, mung beans, cilantro, mint and dill. As always, food should be grown organically to decrease exposure to toxic chemicals.
Cook and season your foods lightly but save the raw foods for the really hot days. Even in the summer, overdoing raw foods can be taxing on your digestive system. Additionally, you will feel their benefit more strongly on those really hot and humid days. In the dead heat of summer, eat your cooling foods, mostly salads, sprouts, fruits, cucumbers, apples, watermelon, lemons and limes. These can be paired with cold or room temperature fresh herbal teas like mint or chamomile. Include some sour flavors to protect the heart and make sure to minimize heavy foods such as meats, eggs, nuts, seeds and grains to feel your best.
Throughout summer, gently spicing foods with peppers (green, red, cayenne, black), horse radish and ginger helps open your pores and adjust your body temperature to the environment around you, so you actually feel less discomfort. This being said, spices must be used in moderation, because overdoing spices can be damaging as well.
Although these are general rules, in the TCM framework, each diet should most importantly be unique to the individual and their constitutional health. Seeing a licensed TCM practitioner can help you identify your constitutional weaknesses and nutritional areas to emphasize.