Ancient and modern cooling foods for summer

ChineseMedicineLogoAn important aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the consumption of appropriate foods for the season. And now that summer has hit many regions with a vengeance, we are in the time of the TCM element ‘yang,’ which signifies heat, fire and maximum activity expansion. It is the season when the sun’s rays reach out to warm all that grows in nature. When the ‘fire’ element is in balance, the practitioners of CTM believe, the heart is strong and healthy, the mind is calm and sleep is sound.

We may not know much about ‘yang,’ but balance is a worthwhile quality we would all do well to strive for in the hectic lives so many of us live today. One way to help us feel more comfortable and balanced with the heat upon us is to eat light, cooling foods.

Both TCM and Ayurvedic medicine utilized all kinds of melons and melon drinks as a favored cooling food. Even the seeds were used as medicine to treat headaches, nausea, irritability and low appetite. In ancient Egypt melons were held in such high regard that they were placed in the tombs of many Egyptian pharoahs. Fast forward a few thousand years to modern America and watermelon is still ‘yang’–a cooling food associated with summer. Watermelons are an excellent source of vitamin C and lycopene, and their thick skin makes their exposure to pesticides very minimal. So eat up!

Berries are also an ancient cooling food–particularly strawberries, which Chinese medicine used to lubricate the lungs, promote the production of body fluids and to detoxify the effects of too much alcohol consumption! Today we know that Strawberries are rich in vitamin C, and also enhance the absorption of iron.

Cooling teas were also a favorite, especially green tea, which modern research has shown to be a powerful antioxidant, anticarcinogenic and effective at lowering  bad cholesterol. Lemons, limes and mint are also cooling foods and were used with teas in ancient times, as they are today.

Other cooling foods consumed throughout history, depending on the time and place, were cucumbers, coconut, mangoes and–believe it or not–buttermilk! Curds have been known as a coolant since time immemorial. Another hard- to- believe fact is… onion. Yes, ancient practitioners knew that the humble  onion was a coolant that absorbs heat from the body.

As a final note to moderns, avoidance of fast and processed foods, and consumption of lots of green salads and tomatoes is a guaranteed method of  helping us through the summer doldrums.

So eat and drink wisely and stay cool and balanced.

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