The Cooling Meal
Summer can be very debilitating. When the temperature begins to rise, it’s important to keep our body cool from inside. Author Kavita Devgan explains how traditional Indian preparations from across the country can actually help in regulating body temperatures to beat the summer heat
An ice-cream or an iced drink is what most will turn to during summer to beat the heat. But are these food items ahealthy solution in lowering our body temperature? Their initial cooling effect is quickly replaced by heat that the metabolic functions generate to digest them. Instead, have a banana or a watermelon, which, according to traditional Indian dietary practices, reduce our body temperature while digestion and interestingly, offer a healthier alternative to iced concoctions. Traditional Indian food and eating habits are to a large extent based on the ancient philosophy of Ayurveda; and it says that doshas or life forces control how the human body functions. Pitta is the life force controlling digestion and metabolism, and in summer, eating food that is tougher to digest disrupts pitta dosha. According to the norms of traditional Indian cuisine, in summers, it’s advisable to consume foods richer in alkaline elements and those packed with water, to fight the acute dehydration while simultaneously providing healthier solutions to beat the summer heat.
Gulkand (a preserve made from rose petals) may have come to India from ancient Persia, today it’s an intrinsic part of our traditional eating habits. As it possesses coolant-like properties, it is considered to be an ideal ingredient to beat the summer heat. Made with fragrant rose petals and sugar, Gulkand not just keeps the body cool, it also helps alleviate heat-related problems like fatigue, aches and pains. It’s a great digestive tonic too and helps with digestion by reducing stomach heat and acidity. It also helps in the detoxification of the body, besides helping reduce excessive perspiration and foul body odour, both common problems during summers.
VEGETABLES AND FRUITS
Most vegetables keep body temperatures low, but some vegetables are more effective as they are water-rich. Vegetables like cucumber, radish, lettuce, bottle gourd and spinach are ideal for summer and can be easily incorporated in meals. Cucumber is a versatile vegetable and it can be used to toss up a salad or infused into drinking water. Fruits too pacify the pitta and summer yields like coconut, dates, lime, mango, melons, sweet orange and sweet pineapple should be included in a regular meal plan. Have watermelon in the morning to prevent and cure heat stroke. The Indian bael, known as the stone apple, can also cure a heat stroke and can prevent adverse effects of the dehydration. It is usually enjoyed as sherbet or warm tea infused with dried slices of bael. The same results can be achieved with aam panna, a drink made with steamed unripe mango pulp or a glass of kokum (Garcinia indica) juice. The latter, a native fruit of the Deccan plateau, makes for an effective summer beverage when served chilled with natural sugar. However, as fruits digest at a different rate than other foods, Ayurveda states that they should be eaten alone, and not combined with other foods so as not to hinder the digestive process. The best time to have a fruit or a fruit juice is before a meal, a few hours after a meal, or as a late morning or early afternoon snack.
- Green moong (gram) sprouts
This lentil is an effective cooling food. Try a cool potato salad (chaat) mixed with a handful of sprouts and a few slices of cucumber. It’s a perfect summer snack
- Kokum (Garcinia indica)
Used extensively in Gujarat and the Konkan region. It has great cooling benefits. Through the summer months, it can be used as a substitute for tamarind in your food.
- Fresh coconut water
Loaded with essential minerals which keep the body hydrated and maintain its electrolyte balance.
- Bitter gourd (karela)
This removes excess heat from the body, even if you eat a hot dish made with bitter gourd.
- Bottle gourd
This gourd contains almost 96% water, is inherently cooling and is loaded with potassium that helps keep the blood pressure down and electrolyte balance maintained. It prevents fatigue and keeps the body cool and refreshed.
INDULGE IN FISH
In non-vegetarian ingredients it is advisable to consume more fish compared to other meats. Fish is a cooling food that helps counteract the heat lingering in our system, and helps bring about an equilibrium on a hot summer day. While cooking any dish, include cooling spices like fresh ginger (dry ginger increases the body heat), marjoram, cilantro, lemon balm, peppermint, and white peppercorn.
If you haven’t eaten for three-four hours, your blood glucose levels would probably be dipping, so eating even a small amount of nutrient-rich food will give your brain and your body the required boost.
Make sure you are drinking 7-8 glasses of water every day, and never go out in the sun without having a glass of water. Matke ka pani (water from an earthen pot) is a good idea as soil adds essential minerals and helps remove the impurities, besides keeping the water cool. You could even use a copper matka, as that too keeps the water at room temperature and helps detox your body. Jaljeera (a drink infused with the goodness of cumin seeds) made with lots of mint leaves is also very effective as a summer-drink. Since traditional Indian cuisine incorporates several Ayurvedic principles, numerous summer-special dishes are naturally cooling. Combined with other tenets of the ancient science, like eating the last meal of the day during sundown, avoiding oily and spicy food items and also caffeine, can not only help us deal with summer but also keep us healthy.