The Five Spot: Eating for Health and Pleasure in the Summertime

After a cool-again, warm-again, cool-again spring, summer has arrived here on the Palouse. As the temperature rises, so does our desire for cold food and drinks. I feel drawn to the Co-op’s cafe for a chilly Orange Zinger iced tea, or perhaps a smoothie…. At the same time, I’m also grateful for my training in Chinese nutritional theory, which reminds me to balance out the desire for cold with the necessary warm and room temperature food and drink that support healthy digestion and conserve my body’s yang energy. Here are five ways you can protect your digestive fires, while the sun shines.

1. There is no shortage during this season of beautiful, health-giving produce to be found at the Co-op, at the Tuesday Growers Market, at the Farmers Market, or at any number of local farms. By all means, avail yourself of all these plants, with their life-giving qi. But, in contrast to western biomedical ideas of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and so on, the Chinese classify foods by the way they affect our bodies. Food is best digested when it is at body temperature. Eating too much cold and raw food, no matter how many nutrients it contains, requires us to use our own digestive fires to heat it up before we can gain any of its nutritional benefits. It’s much more efficient to conserve your body’s yang by heating food outside your body before eating it. So throw those greens in the wok for a couple of minutes, together with some garlic, ginger, and tamari, or make a soup or stew: they’re not just for winter eating!

2. Drink warm or room temperature liquids. If you just can’t ignore the siren call of the smoothie bar, consider adding a dash of cayenne or black pepper to your drink. These warming herbs can offset the cooling effect of the cold drink. And make a habit of drinking a cup of ginger tea, or eating two or three slices of raw ginger root, after breakfast.

3. Rather than blasting the air conditioning at home and in the car, try keeping it at no more than ten degrees cooler than the outside air temperature. This will protect your qi, cut down your energy bills, and contribute less to global warming.

4. To learn more about Chinese nutrition: Read Daverick Leggett’s excellent book, Recipes for Self Healing. The book explains theory clearly, and includes delicious, easy to make recipes. You can order the book through BookPeople of Moscow or at redwingbooks.com.

5. Can we combine the best of both worlds, warming the belly and cooling our sweating brows at the same time? Garlic ice cream, anyone?

When it’s hot outside, you’ll find me at Idler’s Rest, with my faithful dog, a good book, and a picnic hamper full of watermelon—with a dash or two of Tabasco—for a happy spirit and a happy belly.