By Lindsay Cohn
Warming up in winter is easy, just throw on another cozy layer. But how are you supposed to chill out in the sweltering summer months, aside from pumping up the A/C? You may just find the secret to beating the heat on your plate.
According to Ayurveda, an ancient Indian medical practice, certain foods—specifically those with sweet, astringent and bitter flavors—can help balance Pitta (the dosha that governs heat in the mind, body and environment, as well as our metabolism and digestion). Similarly, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), yin foods are believed to produce cold energy. “When it comes to nutrition, it’s really helpful to look to the ancient sources of knowledge and cultures to understand how to support your body,” notes certified holistic nutritionist Chloe Elgar.
Hydrating foods also can help cool you down. Foods that contain a high water content are easier to digest, which in turn requires your body to use less energy, so it stays cooler.
So if you want to keep your cool, grab these refreshing foods at the grocery store or your local farmers market. No sweat.
Ever heard the expression “cool as a cucumber”? Turns out it’s true. Cukes are 95 percent water, plus they’re rich in potassium, an electrolyte that’s lost when we perspire. And because this vibrant veggie is chock-full of H20, it’s easy to digest. So it nourishes and hydrates, as well as helping to keep your body temperature where you want it.
Enjoy it: Try a chilled cucumber soup
It’s the “king of fruits,” according to Ayurveda, and no wonder: This exotic treat delivers a burst of antioxidants, including immunity-boosting vitamin C and vitamin A. These nutrients help hydrate cells, keeping body temperature in check.
Enjoy it: Freeze a batch of turmeric mango sunrise ice pops
A staple in Ayurvedic medicine, cilantro is popular in the summer because of its cooling properties. This bright herb helps balance Pitta, supports detoxification and eases digestive issues, such as heartburn and indigestion. “Cilantro is also known to promote optimal fluid retention, which helps hydrate the body and regulate temperature,” says Elgar.
Enjoy it: As part of a delicious twist on pesto or chutney
You already know that leafy greens are packed with nutrients; turns out some can also help you beat the heat. “In Chinese medicine, internal heat is believed to be a result of inflammation or dehydration,” says health coach Melissa Patruno. Bitter leafy veggies, like kale, collards and dandelion greens, work to reduce inflammation, boost hydration and improve waste elimination, which in turn helps clear heat (and toxins) from the body. But not all greens do the trick. “Spinach, mustard greens and turnip greens aren’t great for Pitta because of their warming, salty, pungent effects,” says Nisha Saini, director of New York Ayurveda.
Enjoy it: Bring a kale-carrot salad with hard-boiled eggs to the office and say “so long” to #saddesklunch
This picnic staple, which is 92% water (and cousin to the cucumber), is a delicious way to replenish fluids and crucial electrolytes. “Herbalists have been known to recommend using it to prevent or recover from heat stroke, as it increases the amount of fluid in the body so effectively,” says Dr. Schaffer.
Enjoy it: Sip a summery watermelon-cucumber agua fresca
“Like cucumber, zucchini hydrates cells, which in turn helps lower body temperature,” notes Patruno. It’s also loaded with vitamin C and manganese to help fight free radicals—particularly important during the summer months when you’re more susceptible to sun damage. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe this astringent summer vegetable to moderate Pitta. And in TCM, zucchini is prized for its cooling yin energy.
Enjoy it: Raw or quick-sauteed for a simple, crowd-pleasing side dish
This tropical treasure is made of 87% water. Along with its hydrating qualities, it’s also a great source of bromelain, an enzyme that aids digestion, which helps keep temperature moderate. In TCM, pineapple is considered a yin food, known for its cooling effect on the body. “Pineapple improves blood circulation, which helps disperse the heat away from our inner body, thus regulating our internal core temperature,” says Patruno.
Enjoy it: Whirled in a blender with banana, chia seeds and almond milk for a refreshing smoothie
Fennel seeds are a centuries-old digestive aid, known for their cooling energy and for helping to prevent and relieve gas. Chewing on fennel seeds after meals is a great way to stimulate digestion—without aggravating Pitta or increasing internal heat—and mitigate acid in the stomach. Added bonus: It freshens breath.
Enjoy it: Munch on a teaspoon of seeds after eating.