Tiffin Project

In the Summertime

by Todd Caldecott on July 7, 2011

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It’s been hard won, but summer is finally here in Vancouver. The Farmer’s Almanac says that we will likely have a nice July, but August will be cooler than average. September is supposed to be nice and warm. With weather like this, it’s hard to make any generalizations, but I have a few tips to stay healthy and at the top of your game during summer.

For me summer doesn’t really begin here in Vancouver until all the snow has melted on the coast mountains, and since I still see a lot of snow up there, I am not inclined to say summer has begun. In fact the grass is only just pollinating now, and here on the coast that’s usually something that happens earlier in May. So all you hayfever sufferers got a bit of a reprieve this spring, but I bet now it’s hittin’ you hard. Being a hayfever sufferer all my life, and having treated many people over the years, the key strategy I employ is the avoidance of lots of sticky, heavy and greasy foods during this time. According to Ayurveda, hayfever itself is caused by a kind of toxic slime that lives in nose and sinuses, which waxes and wanes throughout the different seasons. Think I am just making this up? A few years ago, the Mayo Clinic biopsied some 200 people with chronic sinusitis. Apparently more than 90% of them had a thick sticky admixture of hundreds of different fungi. Yep. A toxic slime living in your nose. So avoid the sticky, sweet, gooey and congesting foods this time of year to keep our fungal buddies lean and thin. Time to do a little spring cleaning around here. I also tell my patients allergic to grass to avoid eating grass. This includes many species of the grass family, or Poaceae, including wheat, rye, spelt, kamut, oat and barley. Some grasses like rice or corn seem better tolerated, but can still be problematic – so choose non-grass grains like quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat. Avoiding bread and flour products (which are also sticky and gooey), as well as other sticky, greasy and sweet foods like milk, ice cream, butter, sugar and fruit, is a good way to keep you allergy-free. Kick in the regular practice of neti, nasya and nadishodhana and you can literally stick your head in a bale of fresh cut grass and not even sneeze once.

When snow finally melts and summer has begun, things begin to change. The earth tends to lose its natural moisture, and the body easily becomes too dry and hot. In a place like Vancouver this happens for about 2 weeks a year – sometimes, sadly, not at all – so it is not so much of an issue as it is further east towards the prairies, or if you move further south. When it gets this hot, above 30˚ celsius, the body quickly becomes easily dehydrated from sweating, which can disrupt the electrolyte balance and cause problems with the digestive and nervous systems. This doesn’t even have to be acute to be a problem – many people become chronically dehydrated at this time, getting enough fluid so as to keep the major symptoms at bay, but not enough to keep the body properly balanced.

The problem is that just drinking water doesn’t work – what we really need is water and electrolytes. Fortunately, electrolytes are easy to get, and there is no reason to rely upon neon-colored glucose Fukushima-fallout bombs like Gatorade that mess with your blood sugar. In India what they use is a thin rice broth called kanji, which in China is called congee. In India kanji is prepared by slow cooking one part basmati rice in about 4-6 parts water, along with a bit of rock salt for about one hour. This basic rice soup is even more effective than the oral rehydration packets that the WHO organization recommends for infectious diarrhea. This was only validated once they convinced people in India to stop eating rice soup and instead make up ORT solutions with boiled water. People couldn’t afford the fuel to boil the water and cook the rice, so they didn’t boil the water when making their rehydration solutions and so became reinfected. In contrast, a sterile, salted rice soup not only inhibits diarrhea, it replenishes electrolytes and provides energy. This is only one example of the countless ways in which even well-intentioned science messes up a good thing. Patience young jedi…

According to Ayurveda, the heat of summer pulls the natural heat of the stomach outward, towards the periphery of the body, causing us to feel hot. The skin becomes red and the periphery of the body such as the hands and feet become swollen, almost like the juices want to burst. Hanging out in the shade, bathing in cool water, garlanding the body with flowers and sleeping under the moon are all nice ways to keep cool. Ayurveda says to chill out in the summer – slow down people – it’s hot out there. You don’t need to add to it by creating a lot of friction through excessive movement. Yes you need sun for vitamin D, but if you’re pale, only about 20-30 minutes of direct sun during the peak of the day. Apart from rice soup, Ayurveda recommends aromatic, slightly cooling, nourishing and easily digestible foods during summer. This includes thin soups, steamed vegetables, poached fish and eggs – but avoid lots of heavy, greasy and hot foods. What would this be? I dunno, how about a bucket of hot wings and four shots of tequila? How about a 16 ounce steak with barbeque sauce, a baked potato with sour cream and two glasses of red wine. Yep, that’s too hot for summer, and if you keep eating this way you are just asking for the shits, heatstroke or increased inflammation. Other people around you might notice a change in your attitude, and a lowered threshold for irritability and anger. So chill out, ok? But there is one caveat – eating too much cold food will weaken your digestion, and provoke a syndrome known in Chinese medicine as summer heat.

In India, where its hot most of the time, they eat a lot of dhal, rice, soupy curries, and these are all good along with lightly steamed and stir-fried veggies. In particular, they make a wonderful cooling soup that restores digestion and inhibits diarrhea called khadi, made with real buttermilk, and from which we get the name “curry”. I have a recipe of this dish, as well as how to make real buttermilk, in my new book, Food As Medicine: The Theory and Practice of Food. You can also find it on the website, along with a few other sample recipes. In the book I attempt to give the reader an ability to understand all these factors that influence health, not just what we eat, but when and how we it, including important components like food processing and cooking. My hope is that this book provides people with a map of how they can engage their most powerful ally to its maximal benefit. Food as medicine.

~ Todd Caldecott


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