The dog days of summer are definitely here, and while indulging in an ice pop or tub of ice cream feels satisfying, it might not be your best bet (read: added sugar). According to ancient wellness practices like Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), our diet should be in sync with changing seasons. It is well established that some foods have cooling properties (yin or pitta-pacifying), while other foods have heating benefits (yang or vata-balancing). A common rule of thumb to getting your body in sync with the changing weather is to consume locally grown seasonal produce. “Scorching heat and high humidity are directly proportional to low energy levels, lack of appetite and dehydration at the end of the day. In such climates, our body requires cooling foods that will keep us hydrated and our energy levels stable,” explains diet consultant and nutritionist Harpreet Pasricha. Eating foods that cool the internal system of the body can help mitigate the effects of heat, such as breakouts, irritability and indigestion.
“One of the most effective ways to keep our body temperature down in hot weather is to keep ourselves hydrated—drink enough water and eat fruits and vegetables with high moisture content,” says chef Prem K Pogakula, executive chef at the The Imperial, New Delhi. Summer sees a lot of water-rich foods such as watermelon, strawberries, cucumbers, zucchini and basil, because “nature intuitively knows that our bodies need that extra hydration. My mantra of healthy eating is make a point of using as much local produce as I can,” he adds.
“Squashes, cold drinks and packaged fruit juices are best avoided,” warns Pasricha, “as these are loaded with sugar, preservatives and additives, which will only lead to more dehydration and a further drop in energy levels.” While herb-infused water or traditionally cooling natural drinks like coconut water and buttermilk are suggested as summer-appropriate alternatives, they are only few of the variations you need to bring into your summer diet. To help you out, we got the experts—Pogakula, Pasricha and Ananda Spa’s executive chef Diwaker Balodi—to curate a cool diet to beat the heat this summer. Scroll ahead for their recommended additions.
1. Chaas or buttermilk
According to Ayurvedic practices, yoghurt is known to cause kapha—an imbalance of which leads to mucus generation predominantly at nighttime. However, buttermilk, which is yoghurt diluted with water and seasoned with salt and spices, is a recommended post meal drink. “Chaas or buttermilk is one of the traditional foods Indians use to cool the body during summers. It is good for our gut flora, and the bacteria present in it aids in digestion. To make the super cooling buttermilk, churn homemade curd with some rock salt, cumin powder, mint and water,” says Pasricha.
Another local cooling superfood, kokum (predominantly found in India) is like a small, dark purple plum. “It is commonly consumed as a juice, and helps prevent dehydration while replenishing electrolytes and improving appetite,” adds Pasricha. Sol kadhi, a summer staple in Goa and the Konkan regions, is made with kokum and coconut milk and seasoned with cumin seeds and spices.
A flour made of mixed grains, sattu is a flour that is protein-rich and considered a nutritional powerhouse. “During the summer, you tend to feel fatigued and exhausted due to excessive sweating, and eventually all your energy is drained. Sipping on this high energy drink will keep your energy levels balanced throughout the day. To make it at home, soak barley seeds overnight and then add lemon and a little sugar,” says Pasricha. Plus, the hydrating properties of sattu also help restore the skin’s natural glow.
Lemon helps in cooling down the hot, pitta-provoking character of spicy foods, and also aids digestion. “Rich in Vitamin C, nimbu pani or lime water prevents dehydration, keeps you cool and refreshed during the day, and is easy to prepare,” says Diwaker Balodi, executive chef, Ananda Spa. It also helps with digestion, like all citrus fruits, making your body work less and ultimately produce less heat.
5. Raw mango
Aam panna is a refreshing summer drink made with green mangoes, where the fruits are boiled, peeled, puréed and then seasoned with salt, cumin power, mint and chillies. “Aam panna is one of the most understated coolers and needs more attention. It had been used in ancient times to prevent heat strokes as it naturally rehydrates body and maintains electrolyte balance in body,” says chef Balodi. Eating unripe mangoes with salt prevents the excessive loss of water from the body and helps to quench thirst, and the ingredient can also be used in add a tangy flavour to salads and chutneys.
This crunchy veggie is 95 per cent water, so you know it’ll keep you hydrated inside out. In fact, an anti-bloating food like celery is ideal to fight fluid retention when the weather is warm and sticky.
Mint not only keeps your body temperature cool but also gives you a refreshing effect. “The high menthol content in mint makes it a natural cooler and refresher for human body,” explains chef Balodi. They are also chock-full of antioxidants that will protect the body from the damaging effects of the sun. So how do you add it to your diet? “Include mint in chutney, nimbu pani, smoothies or salads to keep the body cool inside out,” the chef advises.
Considering the vegetable is part of a popular simile that compares it to coolness, a list of summer foods would be incomplete without the cucumber. Full of fibre, cucumbers are great to keep the gut clear, and help keep the body hydrated on hot, sunny days with their high water content. Cucumbers can be added to a big chopped salad or served as part of a crudite platter, but chef Pogakula also recommends taking advantage of their clean flavour. “Make yourself a cooling mocktail or cocktail with cucumbers. Peel and purée with mint, and add your favourite spirit (optional). Serve on plenty of crushed ice. It’s practically a salad,” he says.