food can either have a heating effect on our bodies or the reverse, a cooling effect. Here is my Ayurveda-Inspired list of Top 10 cooling foods this summer.
There is nothing more comforting than a big bowl of stew on a cold winter’s night. It never fails to make me feel warm and cozy as the temperature drops. But with rising temps, the sun beating down and sweat trickling between the shoulder blades, a bowl of hot soup is probably the last thing on your mind. That’s when you need something crisp and refreshing to cool the palate and the body.
I wrote this article in June, 2015 before I completed the food and mood certificate, before the pandemic hit, and long before our collective consciousness understood the urgency of climate action. This article was written in a different era and because it’s touching 50 degrees outside, I will get right to it.
Food gets a bad rap in our lives today for many reasons. We blame what we eat for our weight and lethargy and so much more. But as the world is slowly discovering – food can also help heal us.
Cooling Foods for Summer
Those who follow Ayurveda may be familiar with ‘hot’ foods – foods that require more energy to digest and are considered hot for the body and therefore limited during the summer months. I have seen similar research in Chinese herbal medicine too, and in addition, as I find with everything else there is what my mom used to say when we were children –
“Eat your tarbooz (watermelon), it will cool you off.”
Mom, you were right, yet again!
Top 10 Foods to Beat the Heat
Here’s a list of cooling foods in no particular order. These include foods that have a higher water content that help with hydration. This list also includes those foods that are known to pacify the pitta – the heat causing dosha in the body. If you’d like to learn more about Ayurveda principles, read the book Every Day Ayurveda by Dr Bhaswati Bhattacharya. It was one of my first books on this topic and simplifies the concepts of Ayurveda for those who may be new to it.
Back to my list of cooling foods for summer time. Here goes.
- Herbs like mint, lemongrass and coriander
- Cucumbers; at the height of summer in India you will spot street vendors selling kakdi (long thin cucumbers) with salt and pepper as a snack to help people cool off
- Iceberg lettuce and other leafy greens
- Citrus fruits in particular limes and lemons
- All kinds of berries – strawberries and raspberries, blackberries too
- Seasonal fruits like apples and peaches
- Sprouted lentils – green moong daal in particular
- Coconut and coconut water
- Yoghurt – eat along with your meal like people from India do, or stirred with fruit and granola for breakfast or even blended into a smoothie or lassi
Natural Ways to Cool Off in the Summer
It’s not just a coincidence that cooling fruits and vegetables are in season in the warmer months. Another reason to eat seasonally.
Limit Meat Consumption
Food that are high in protein (mostly meats) are extra work for the body. Their digestion causes warmth to develop in the belly and body. While this may be great for cooler months when we need that extra warmth, during summer time limiting meat intake will help us stay cool.
Cooking Techniques That Help You Cool Off
Dishes that have been prepared through fast-cooking methods like stir-frying, steaming, sautéing are great for this time of the year, and it’s not just to bring the temperature down in the kitchen. Somehow our body knows this already and it may even be the reason we love the smell of baking in the winters. A good rule of thumb is – the longer the dish takes to cook, the slower the body will digest, and more heat is generated.
I know it sounds a little counter-intuitive and honestly this surprised me too. Spices may actually make one feel warmer at first, and then they speed up the body’s circulation and one tends to sweat. As you perspire, your body cools down.
Is that the reason spices are used so liberally in tropical cuisines? Indian cuisine in particular is known for its colourful, aromatic spice palette.
What about ice cream to cool off?
Surprisingly, most ice creams are on the hot food list because of their high dairy, high fat content. Cold foods do have an initial cooling effect on the body but once the digestive system kicks in, the body actually starts to heat up to work extra hard to digest the food.
It may be hard to convince the kids (and even us) that we should avoid regular ice cream treats during the hot summer months, but the next time around perhaps we can try popsicles made with fruit pulp, coconut milk or even plain old left-over lemonade, and we may cool down….at least a little bit.