Eat cool in summer

By Patsy Yang (Shanghai Daily)
Updated: 2007-08-16 09:55

In the West, people tend to think of food in terms of calories but in traditional Chinese medicine it's the warming or cooling attributes of food that matters and in summer that is most important.

The seasons of the year play a role in selecting which foods you choose to eat. A lot of us change our eating habits in summer.

In traditional Chinese medicine, summer is a time when "Yang energy" predominates so we should nourish and strengthen Yin to stay balanced.

One of the ways is through the diet.

For many of us the instinctive gravitation toward lighter foods such as salads, raw foods, fruits and juices during the summer just sort of happens. "In Western societies we tend to think of the energy in food in terms of calories. In TCM, food has a warming or cooling energy or quality," said Doris Rathgeber, owner of the Body and Soul TCM Clinic in Shanghai.

With this understanding of food energy, there are a number of food choices we can make to cool down our over-heated bodies in summer. Raw foods, cold foods and drinks have more of a cooling effect than cooked foods, according to Rathgeber.

Foods that take the shortest time to grow are also cooling.

This includes lettuces, cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, celery, summer squash, broccoli and other leafy vegetables. Herbs and spices that are cooling include peppermint and lemon-balm.

"Another cooling food is the soybean, which in TCM, 'clears and relieves summer heat,"' Rathgeber said. Classically, many Chinese will boil fresh soybeans and drink the cooled broth as a cooling beverage during the hot summer months.

Neal Giles, executive chef of New Heights at Three on the Bund, said it is important to choose foods which naturally will give you lots of energy as the heat can be draining and tiring.

"Therefore the best food in summer is light and refreshing," the Australian said. "For example, grilled vegetable salads with goat's cheese or seared tuna on steamed greens with a vinaigrette dressing. Most importantly, choose foods that keep you out of the hot kitchen."

Making better food choices in summer is easy because menus these days have been prepared with exactly that in mind.

When choosing what to eat, look for dishes that are simply prepared with minimal fuss.

"Good choices would be salads, with lots of crisp, dark, leafy greens and fresh vegetables or chilled soups. Avoid foods that have been deep fried and rather choose ones that have been either grilled or steamed," Giles said.

"Eating fruits and vegetables which are in season will give you the most benefit in terms of nutritional value this summer. Focus on products like peas, beetroot, carrots, cucumber, celery, zucchini, berries and melons," he said.

Berries and naturally dark greens are nutritional power houses. These foods have the highest concentration of vitamins and minerals of all foods. Leafy greens such as lettuce, broccoli and zucchini are great sources of minerals and vitamins like potassium, iron and calcium as well as being packed with vitamins K, A and E.

A good place to start is by taking a trip to your local farmers market, this will give you a clear indication of what foods are in season now.

The way the food is prepared also affects its cooling or warming properties. Regarding the preferred cooking methods in the summer, Giles said summer for him means only one thing - the good old Aussie BBQ. "Because you are grilling foods with mineral oil and saturated fats, thus resulting in healthier cooking. Other good methods would be steaming and roasting. Stay away from deep frying or even shallow frying."

Beneficial beverages this summer would be drinks that are nutritionally balanced as well as being thirst-quenching and delicious to drink. Try mixing all your favorite fruits or juices, ice, natural yogurt or skimmed milk in the blender for a healthy and refreshing drink.

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