Foods to cool the body in summer
A heatwave in London can be unbearable, especially if you're working and commuting. From an Ayurvedic point of view, it aggravates Pitta dosha, the subtle energy that governs functions including metabolism, physical and mental digestion, vision, energy, the lustre in our skin and more. But Pitta is aggravated by too much heat, so not only do we feel uncomfortable in this current extreme heatwave, but eventually theis excess dosha will lead to poor digestion, acidity, heartburn, ulcers, inflammatory conditions, for example in the skin or joints, and emotionally to irritability, anger and hate. So let's keep Pitta cool and under control!
Fortunately, there are many delicious and mostly seasonal British foods that can help. I have included a few non-UK foods here that have a cooling effect on the body and are particularly good for Pitta, such as mung dal, quinoa, coconut and mango. But the 80/20 rule is a good one to follow for eating local foods (and easy in summer when there is so much produce around). (I've also written a handy list of simple daily habits and yoga postures to keep you cool.)
Foods to eat in a heatwave
1. Light and easy-to-digest foods, otherwise all your energy will be needed for digestion and leave you no energy to cope with the heat.
2. Light, cooling foods: peas, cucumber, fennel, okra, lettuce, asparagus, cabbage, celery, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, green beans, mango, potato, apple, sweet berries, coconut, pear, pomegranate, raspberries, sunflower seeds, red lentils, split mung beans (dal), sprouted mung beans. Also (but not if you're on a Kapha-reducing diet): avocado, courgette, grapes, lime, melon, flaxseed, maple syrup.
3. Fresh fruit or green vegetable smoothies (watch out for ‘healthy’ juice bars where they use frozen not fresh)
4. Salads. (Only eat raw if you can digest it. Otherwise, and for Vata constitution or Vata diet, use ingredients that were cooked first than cooled such as baby new potatoes, chickpeas, roasted red peppers, roasted beetroot, rice noodles.)
5. Light, dry or cooling wholegrains: amaranth, barley, quinoa and brown basmati rice.
6. Chilled soups like gazpacho.
7. Eat protein or wholegrains in the morning and at lunch (not in the evening).
8. Use diuretic foods if you have puffiness, swelling or water retention. Cucumber, watermelon, coriander, mint and camomile are light and refreshing, and dry up excess moisture on humid days. You can make your own digestive, diuretic tea with equal parts of cumin, fennel and coriander powders (half a teaspoon infused in a cup of hot water and drunk once cooled).
What not to eat in a heatwave
9. Sour, heating or heavy foods including tomato, aubergine, yoghurt, banana, yeast, pickles, citrus fruits, garlic, onion, chilli, paprika, ginger powder, cayenne, intense pungent flavours, beef, lamb, pork, rye, corn, oats, too many root vegetables and squashes, watercress.
10. Salty food (it’s heating) and use rock salt in cooking, not sea salt.
11. Hot spices. Use only mild spices: cumin, fennel, turmeric, and fresh ginger should be OK for most but even for Pitta these can be too hot in summer. Saffron should be OK and coriander (the seeds, powder or green leaves) is great.
There is long list of yummy Pitta-balancing recipes on Joyful Belly, but it's a US site so remember to focus on British seasonal foods. Bon appetit!
Jacqui Gibbons is an Ayurvedic health coach and trainee yoga teacher, and will be offering yoga and Ayurveda workshops in London in early 2019