Summer time produce can be as colorful as the rainbow. From red plums, orange peaches, yellow corn, green okra, blueberries and purple eggplants—summer produce is abundant and magically delicious. All the variety brings a little pizzazz to seasonal eating and meals aren’t—”brussels sprouts again?!!”
Eating seasonally often refers to eating fruits and vegetables harvested at their peak in the season nature intended. Going to your local farmers market or referring to produce list can help support seasonal eating. However, fruits and vegetables only account for a portion of a meal. What about the rest of the ingredients like oils, grains, meats, nuts, spices, etc…? We don’t often associate non-produce items as seasonal, because more often than not, they are available year-round.
Through the lens of Ayurveda, a time-tested, holistic science, all food can be approached seasonally from produce to spices. Ayurveda’s wisdom views food—the giver of life, as the five great elements. These elements form Ayurveda’s foundation and all life, including humans are viewed as—ether, air, fire, earth, and water. The combination of the five elements approach with the theory of balance—like increases like and opposites decrease, is what informs Ayurveda’s Summer Food List.
The seasonal list is determined based on how the food’s primary elements harmonize with the season’s primary elements. The goal is to create balance between the external environment with the internal environment. Aligning with nature’s rhythmic cycles, not only connects us with seasons, but this practice can help support living a life based in prevention versus reaction. Our food choices play an integral role in this practice, as food is what nourishes us and gives us life. Choosing the appropriate seasonal foods can also help to support digestion of all forms—cellular, mental, emotional and spiritual. Helping us to live a balanced, healthy, digestion friendly life.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of how Ayurveda’s wisdom creates a food list that takes us through the produce section to the center aisles of a food market.
With Ayurveda, all food is bucketed into six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent and bitter. Each taste is primarily made up of two of the five elements. With each season, the recommended quantity of each taste increases or decreases based on the season’s key elements and the theory of balance.
For example, in the summer the primary elements are fire+water, with a focus being on the fire element. Any of the six tastes that have the element of fire—salty, sour and pungent, are decreased. Since we receive the energy of fire from our external environment. If we consume too much fire, then it can lead to an imbalance of fire internally, leading to imbalances or dis-ease (especially if you tend to have pitta imbalances).
In addition to the tastes, each food is further attributed by qualities like, soft, hard, dry, moist, etc… and energy such as hot or cold. This creates for further specificity within each taste. Depending on how the qualities and energy harmonize with the season’s qualities, informs the food list for the season. To determine which qualities and energy harmonize with the season, the theory of balance is applied here as well.
Let’s examine quinoa, a grain (a seed, we eat like a grain), that falls under the favored taste for summer—sweet. So, yes—let’s eat quinoa?! Well…sort of. It is actually one of the foods to decrease in the summer. Quinoa’s quality is slightly drying. Eating excessive dry food can not only increase dryness, but also internal heat. Similar to how dry air could feed a fire. In the body, the same can occur. Symptomatically it could show-up as a rash, dry skin, constipation, or even anger. This is not say, avoid quinoa in the summer, but when you do enjoy it, have it with something moist and add an extra dollop of a good fat—especially if you tend to be prone to some of the symptoms mentioned earlier.
Quality and energy are important attributions that are often not considered when defining healthy. Their benefit is that they help to broaden and deepen our understanding of food. Giving us insight on how they will balance with our own qualities. In knowing or being able to describe a food’s quality, can help to make wiser choices within each of the six tastes or when preparing meals.
No matter the season. We need all six tastes daily to enrich all the elements that form our holistic body. Whether it is a taste we increase in the summer—sweet, astringent and bitter or ones that we decrease—salty, sour and pungent. The key is paying attention to the qualities and energy to help guide the food choices within each taste.
For example, pungent tastes are reduced in the summer, however, we still need pungent to aide digestion. Rather than opting for a spoon of cayenne, the goal is to reduce this heating spice or use other spices like mint, fennel, coriander or a bit of green chili, which too are pungent, yet cooler for the body.
Taking into account foods beyond the produce aisle and into the spice cabinet, pantry, and meat locker broadens the range of seasonal ingredients. Every season is an opportunity to change it up. Create new menus, try new dishes, explore new spices, taste new oils, and so much more. Yes, this is a different way to look at food. The simplicity of terms makes it feel familiar and almost too easy—this is what I love. It is accessible!
In it’s simplicity this Vedic science is complex and deconstructed on multiple levels. Leading to the success of this time-tested, 5000+ year old science. With a focus on digestion and prevention, Ayurveda’s wisdom helps to empowers while bringing us closer to the elements we are derived from—nature.
The good news is, there is a food list! Bookmark this page or download the PDF version. Save it to your smartphone to make it easier to access the list while grocery shopping. I hope this helps you develop your summer menus, recipes, meals and makes it easier when you are shopping at your local market.
Food for thought: Each season prepares the body for the season to come. It’s how you combine and cook foods, when you eat and why you eat. It is about supporting any imbalances and most importantly eating with a balanced approach to stay in balance. Eating seasonally is about holistic health, digestion, the environment, economics and aligning with Mother Nature—#itsagoodthing. It requires a little planning, like a good party. Happy planning—Happy eating—Happy digesting!
Summer’s Holistic & Seasonal Food List
The Six Tastes
- Enjoy: sweet (naturally), astringent, bitter
- Reduce: sour, salty & pungent
- Enjoy:a combination of light & heavy, cooling, moist, alkaline
- Reduce: dry, greasy
- Avoid: spicy (red chili), acidic
- Enjoy: Wheat, White Rice (milk too), Barley, Bran, Spelt, Tapioca, and Couscous
- Reduce: Oats (including granola), Quinoa, Brown Rice, Buckwheat, Corn, Millet, White Flour, Rye, Refined Flours
Seeds & Nuts (includes “milk”) (Sweet)
- Enjoy: Pumpkin, Sunflower, Blanched Almonds, Flax, Hemp, Macadamia, Pine Nuts
- Reduce/Avoid: Sesame Seeds, Nuts, Black Sesame Seeds
- Enjoy: Cow’s Milk, Whey, Cottage Cheese, Cream, Paneer, Soft Goat Cheese,
- Reduce/Avoid: Greek/Thick Yogurt, Feta Cheese, Sour Cream, Hard Cheeses
- Enjoy: Buffalo, Chicken, Turkey, Fresh Water Fish, Venison
- Reduce/Avoid: Cow, Goat, Lamb, Pig, Salt Water Fish, Shellfish, Eggs
- Enjoy: Almond, Avocado, Canola, Ghee, Olive, Coconut Oil/Butter, Sunflower
- Reduce/Avoid: Sesame, Safflower
- Enjoy: Unrefined Sugar, Dates, Maple
- Reduce: Brown Sugar, Jaggery, Succanat
- Avoid: Molasses, Honey, White Sugar
- Enjoy: Apples, Apricots, Avocado, Bananas, Berries, Cherries, Coconut (milk too), Dates, Figs, Grapes, Guava, Mango, Plums, Pomegranate, Raisins, Melons—choose fruit at it’s ripest so it is at it’s sweetest
- Reduce/Avoid: Sour fruits—Berries, Cherries, Lemons, Limes, Pineapple, Plums, Tamarind
- Enjoy: Artichoke, Arugula, Asparagus, Bell Pepper, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Collards, Corn, Cucumber, Dandelion, Fennel, Green Beans, Jicama, Kale, Karela (bitter melon), Leafy greens, Okra, Peas, Sprouts, Squash, Potato, Sweet Potato, Zucchini, Watercress
- Reduce/Avoid: Red Beets, Raw Carrots, Onions and Tomatoes, Eggplant, Hot Peppers, Radish, Spinach
- Enjoy: Beans, Lentils, Chickpeas, Split Peas, Chana, Mung, Pigeon Peas, Black-eyed Peas, Sprouted Lentils,
- Reduce/Avoid: Red Lentils, Black Lentils
- Enjoy: Aloe Vera, Chamomile, Fennel, Coriander, Cilantro, Cardamom, Dill, Jasmine, Licorice, Lotus, Mint, Turmeric, Cumin, Rose, Saffron, Turmeric, Ginger Powder
- Reduce/Avoid: Black Pepper, Basil,Cinnamon, Oregano, Rosemary, Tarragon, Thyme, Ginger(fresh), Garlic, Mustard Seeds, Asafetida, Anise, Cloves, Raw Garlic, Nutmeg, Cayenne, Caraway, Horseradish
*each taste provided in parenthesis can be applied to one or more foods within each category, For example, a spice can be pungent or bitter in taste, or pungent and bitter taste.