Here comes summer! Around these parts, the days are already heating up – although blissfully cool nights remind us that summer doesn’t officially start until the June 21 Summer Solstice.
The effect of warmer days can already be detected, however, if you have your feelers out. Ayurveda reveals 3 interesting effects of hot weather on the body – and while they totally make sense when you think about it, they’re still a little counter-intuitive at first!
1. Digestive power goes down. In some ways, it seems like hotter weather ought to make our bodies better equipped to burn up the calories we take in. But the opposite is true. In the body’s effort to decrease internal heat when it’s hot outside, jathara agni (the digestive fire localized in the stomach and small intestines) dissipates. That ball of fire at our core spreads out to the extremities so it won’t burn us up. Consequently, we can’t digest as much.
One result you may observe is in your appetite – during the summer, everyone’s appetite tends to go down as a result of this dissipation of digestive fire. It becomes even more important, therefore, to really notice how hungry you are and not to overpower your digestive strength with piles of food.
Take away: Pay attention to your appetite, and choose food quantities accordingly.
2. Fresh veggies and fruits are abundant – and suddenly more appealing. It’s another case of Nature giving us just what we need, exactly when we need it. Now that we know digestive fire is weaker in hot weather, it makes sense to eat fewer heavy foods like meat and cheese. But here’s the catch: many of us were taught to think “light food” means salads, raw veggies and cold snack foods. Not the case!
Raw foods are often HARDER to digest than cooked foods, and processed snacks, cold appetizers, nuts, and cheese are all particularly dense and hard to digest. Instead, gently cook those abundant veggies with a little ghee and cumin, make a warm cooked grain salad, or try a simple lentil or dal dish (soaked overnight before cooking!). Reducing the number of ingredients is a great way to create lighter meals. Variety = complicated to digest = heavier. However, don’t graze throughout the day – save up your appetite and eat a meal.
Take away: Eat more (truly) lighter foods, like fruits, gently cooked veggies, grains, and simple recipes that agree with you.
3. We crave foods to help us cool down! But sometimes our cravings are off base. Ayurveda has this one figured out – seek out the naturally cooling flavors: sweet (peaches, fennel, rice, yams, beets, carrots), bitter (turmeric, kale, radicchio, arugula and other bitter greens) and astringent/drying (beans, quinoa, broccoli, cranberry, green apple, pomegranate). Flavors that heat us up are sour, salty and pungent. Here are some particularly effective cooling foods: cucumber, watermelon, coconut milk or coconut water, avocado, cilantro, mint.
And while it may seem like hot weather was made for iced tea and lemonade, remember our usual digestive agni has gone on vacation too. Iced drinks cool off the fire even more. Plus, get this: lowering the internal temperature with ice then causes the body to expend energy to RAISE the body’s temperature back to normal, sometimes causing a rebound heating effect. Better to take drinks at room temperature. The body then can use its energy for effective, efficient digestion.
Take away: Avoid iced beverages, and choose inherently cooling flavors: sweet, dry and bitter.