We are a reflection of the world around us. Whatever is happening in nature, is happening inside the body. This means that as the hot summer months go by, heat accumulates within. Diet is one of the best tools to balance out excessive summer heat. The guiding principle— a diet based on light and cooling foods.
Ayurveda teaches that like increases like. Adding water to a bucket of water, results in more water. Feeding an overheated body with spicy curry, increases heat. That being said, opposites balance. Pour water over a fire and it goes out. Feed an overheated body cool watermelon juice and instantly you will feel a cooling effect. This Ayurvedic philosophy is summed up in this passage from the Vedas:
As is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm,
As is the atom, so is the universe.
As is the human body, so is the cosmic body,
As is the human mind, so is the cosmic mind.
The Ayurveda summer diet is based upon this principle. It incorporates cooling foods; those which nature so intelligently gifts us in warm months to counteract heat.
Our power of digestion is actually at its lowest in summer. In order to prevent itself from overheating, the body turns down its internal heat (agni). This is why appetite is naturally lower in summer and we tend to crave light foods such as fresh fruit juices or salads.
The Ayurveda summer diet is similar to (but somewhat lighter than) a pitta-pacifying diet.
Pitta is the dosha, or energy, composed of mostly fire and some water. As pitta is pungent, sour, and salty by nature, it’s balanced by the bitter, astringent, and sweet tastes. The best foods for pitta are predominant in these three tastes and have a cooling, post-digestive effect.
Pungent– Foods that are sharp or spicy such as ginger, garlic, radishes, chilies, and spicy seasonings.
Salty– Anything that may have excess salt or is naturally salty such as seaweed.
Sour– Foods that make the mouth pucker or are fermented such as lemons, grapefruit, hard cheese, and sour cream.
Hot– Go for room temperature over warm, and mildly seasoned over spicy.
Oily and dense– Foods that are deep-fried or very rich.
Sweet– Those which are naturally sweet such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and ghee (clarified butter).
Bitter– Greens such as kale, collards, and dandelion, also bitter spices like fenugreek.
Astringent– Foods that make the mouth feel chalky such as spinach, turmeric, beans, apples, coriander, and dill.
Cooling– Anything that has a cooling post-digestive effect such as cucumber, watermelon, fruit juices, fennel, dill, and coriander. However, avoid ice or foods straight from the fridge.
Light– Foods that don’t overburden the digestive fire.
Understanding food in terms of taste and energetics makes it easier to choose the right diet for summer. And besides what you eat, keep in mind that it’s how you eat that matters too.
Make lunch your biggest meal of the day to satiate pitta, and try to eat in a calm and settled atmosphere. This kind of mindful nourishment is aligned with nature’s rhythms and helps to prevent heat-related imbalances.
Chopra, Deepak. The Path to Love. New York: Harmony Books, 1997.