What do hotdogs, fried chicken, lemonade, potato salad, and pickles all have in common? Besides being a “portrait” of your average summer picnic, all of these foods, from an Ayurvedic perspective, have the potential to turn up your internal heat. In other words...they're pitta-aggravating.
It's Gettin Hot In Here
Pitta is the biological energy (or dosha) responsible for keeping the fires burning in your body and mind. And guess what? There's a little (or a lot) of pitta in everything—Our food, our environment, our bodies and minds!
Pitta metabolizes, digests and ignites! It's governed by the fire and air elements, and is present whenever and wherever we experience heat.
The energy of pitta is at its peak during the summer months. And if left unbalanced, it could definitely cause you to lose your cool (hello sunburn, hives, acid indigestion, and anger)! But the good news is, you need look no further than your refrigerator (or spice rack) to find just the thing to keep your pitta in check.
Your Kitchen Pharmacy
Ayurveda holds that all foods can be categorized according to one or more of six tastes; sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter or astringent. Each of the tastes has a specific impact on the doshas; aggravating, balancing or neutral.
Pitta is aggravated by salty, hot, sour and oily foods, an excess of which can give rise to issues like acid reflux, bad breath, acne, diarrhea, irritability and rage.
The heat and sharpness of pitta is balanced out by foods, herbs and spices that are cooling with sweet, bitter and astringent tastes. And if you're looking to maintain your inner (and outer) cool this summer, you'll want to increase your intake of these tastes by enjoying more sweet and juicy fruits, bitter leafy greens and vegetables, and cooling herbs and spices.
So here's a selection of some of the best pitta-balancing and healing foods to help you chillax (inside and out) this summer:
It’s sweet and cooling, and it also relieves thirst and is easy to digest. The oil is full of healthy fats and fatty acids and is particularly good for cooling heat in the skin (sunburn, psoriasis, eczema). Coconut is good in everything from baked goods to salads, smoothies, and just on its own. Its cooling and antibacterial properties make coconut oil a great choice for summertime oil pulling (swishing oil around in the mouth) as well!
Pomegranates are sweet, astringent, sour, and cooling. It’s one of the best fruits for balancing pitta and is gorgeous inside and out (call me crazy but pomegranates make me swoon!). They're most often enjoyed as juice (since the seeds can be a little fiddly), but if you approach the process of opening and eating a pomegranate in the right way, it can be a pitta-balancing meditation in itself!
Cucumbers are sweet, astringent and cooling. They're thirst-relieving, great for calming the body and the mind (try relaxing with a couple slices of cucumber over the eyes) and are terrific for the skin, blood and the kidneys. In drinks, salads or even on their own, cucumbers are most definitely a cool customer!
4. Beans And Legumes
Beans and legumes are primarily sweet and astringent (with few exceptions), making them a good choice for summertime eating. Some of the best options for balancing the heat of pitta are garbanzo beans (chick peas), aduki beans, and mung beans. All beans can be a little hard to digest, so be sure they're well cooked!
5. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is a terrific natural sweetener and one of the best for balancing pitta. Its sweet, slightly bitter and cooling properties are the perfect combination to counter the heat of summer. Use it as a substitute for sugar during the summer, or anytime you're feeling a little hot under the collar.
From The Spice Rack
One of the best ways to counter the heat in foods is to add cooling herbs or spices. Spices can work in a couple of ways; they can add a desired quality (in this case cooling) to foods that are neutral, or they can counteract or neutralize an undesired quality (e.g. heat) in order to create balance.
Here are a few of the best herbs and spices for balancing the heat and/or bringing the cool:
6. Coriander/Cilantro (Leaves)
Both the seed and the leaf parts of this herb/spice are pungent, sweet and bitter. But the leaves are cooling and great for balancing the heat in foods (like curries), the body, and the mind. It's a wonderful digestive, great for allergic skin rashes (like hives) and is known to lift the spirits (cause who doesn't love the smell of fresh cilantro/coriander??).
Mint is sweet, pungent and both cooling and heating. It actually balances all doshas but is great at beating the heat of pitta! It's terrific in drinks, salads and desserts, and is excellent for cooling skin inflammation. Tip: try peppermint water for sunburn.
Cardamom is pungent, sweet, and slightly warm. It's a beautifully fragrant spice that balances all the doshas, and is one of the best spices for countering pitta. Most often used in sweets and baking, cardamom can be added to smoothies, soups, tea or coffee (my personal favorite) and is a beautiful flavoring for rice! It's good for digestion, and according to Ayurveda, helps to open the mind and senses.
So, what's your favorite cooling food or spice for summer? How are you beating the heat and keeping your cool?