EAT COOL AND BEAT THE HEAT
By Shoba Nair - Monday, May 11, 2015
The hot months are here (the hotter of the all-year-round summer in Singapore), and you can expect more people to get irritable and spot longer queues at the doctor’s.
The solution isn’t gupling down icy-cold cans of cola, though – that only gives you temporary respite, and may even disorientate your digestive system!
What your body needs is proper ‘cooling’ foods to remove the excess heat.
The notion of ‘cooling’ and ‘heaty’ foods comes from concepts in traditional Chinese and Indian science of healing. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is believed that one has to balance the cooling (‘yin’) and heaty (‘yang’) aspects of our body in order to achieve good health. Such a concept is not peculiar to TCM, as it is also one that Indian traditional science, Ayurveda, follows. In Ayurveda, it is believed that it is important to balance the heat in the body (pitta) in order to maintain a good digestive system and general health, and cooling foods need to be consumed in order to remove the excess ‘pitta’.
Regardless of whether you naturally have a lot of ‘pitta’ or ‘yang’ in your body constitution, in the hot months, your body acquires more heat, and you certainly need to feed your body with ‘cooling’ foods in order to strike a balance and keep your body systems sane.
Let us take a look at some of the ‘cooling’ foods you can munch on during these scorching summer months.
To Eat and Not to Eat
What you should savour:
Generally, sweet, bitter, lightly salty or astringent foods are the kind of foods you should look out for.
Sweet foods mean that you can have a big plate of watermelon and pears and cool off with refreshing sugarcane juice. To get your share of “bitter” foods, include dark leafy greens, water chestnut, wintermelon, herbs and Indian spices like turmeric, fennel and coriander. Get your light dose of salt to increase yin through foods such as seaweed, cuttlefish and crab, and through salty soups and soya sauce. Astringent qualities are abundant in beans and legumes, like green beans and mung beans.
What you should avoid:
You would need to avoid certain types of food that propagate the heat in your body.
During this scorching time, keep away from:
•Food that heat you up: spicy food
Your body is already hot and the last thing you need to do is to put it on fire. You know how spicy food can turn up the heat, so go easy on those chillies, pepper and fish curries.
•Foods that douse your body in oil: deep-fried food
Adding on to a list of demerits of oh-so-good crispy deep-fried food, is its heaty quality. Deep-fried food is drenched in oil, and unlike the cool oils you use for your body massage, consuming oil in cooked food only serves to raise the heat level in your body.
•Foods of the meat-lover
This may come as a disappointment to meat-lovers. However, though meat such as chicken and mutton should not be part of regular meals in the scorching heat, lean pork is lesser of the evil as it is considered neutral food.
Cooling Local Delights
What are some hawker food you could try if you are out on those dreaded burning-hot days? Here are eight of them you could have more than a bite of.
Tau Huay, or soya beancurd in sugar syrup is a great refreshing snack in mid-morning. Beancurds have a cooling quality, being part of the beans family. The smooth beancurd slips easily into your mouth, and provides a light, yet nutritious meal with a cool taste. And good news- a recent study by local experts in the university says bean curd and soy products does not add to your gout problems.
2.Steamed crab bee hoon
The big and succulent crabs which swim in the milky broth in this dish are not only great for your tastebuds, but also for your heaty body. Crab meat is one of the few meaty foods that are cooling, and coupled with neutral foods like bee hoon and milk, it is a satisfying, cool delicacy.
3.Lotus root or watercress soup
Many may be familiar with this light, nourishing broth which is a miracle cure for the common cold. It gets rid of the heat trapped within the body, and also doubles up as a detoxifying tonic. Lotus root and watercress are certainly cooling foods, and coupled with the well-boiled, tender pork ribs or lean pork, this dish is a cool treat to savour, sick or not.
4. Chin Chow grass jelly
This slightly bitter brown-black jelly is teamed with sugar syrup, making for a delightful dessert. Chin Chow, made by boiling the stalks and leaves of the herb Mesona Chinensis to a decoction before being cooled to jelly form, is known to get rid of fevers because of its powerful cooling ability.
5.Green bean soup
I still remember the first time I tasted green bean soup. It was a hot, sleepy afternoon, and I was at my friend’s house (we were in primary 5) doing a project together, when her kind mother offered me a bowl of green bean soup. It did not look very interesting then, but when I had my first mouthful, it was certainly refreshing and quite filling for my ever-hungry body. Now I know there is a wisdom behind this innocuous soup, for the humble green beans are known to be very cooling for the body, and quite nutritious too.
Cooking methods also matter when it comes to deciding if a food is cooling. Although fish and rice are considered as foods which are neutral in heat quality, fish congee does move the tab a little more towards the cooling range. That is because boiling, poaching and steaming generally increases the ‘yin’ quality in food. On the flip side, fried rice would probably tip the scale towards the heaty range.
7.South Indian Meal
Nothing beats a good vegetarian South Indian meal on a hot afternoon. With mung bean curry and cooling side dishes like cabbage, radish and carrots, and cool cucumber in yoghurt, peppered with ‘pitta’ spices like cumin and fennel, the pure-vegetarian rice meal is one you would not want to miss. To add to the cool experience, ask for an additional small bowl of thick, refreshing natural yoghurt. The only negative side effect of this meal is that you may feel like a short nap shortly after.
Barley and sugar cane juices make invigorating drinks which cool down the body instantly. You could also add lemon to these drinks, to get a ‘punch’ in your drink, and cool your body further. Coconut water, especially those taken fresh from the young coconuts sold in Little India, is also a good bet. And in case you think icy-cold drinks help you cool down, you may want to pause right there and think again. Cold food and drinks rob the body of the heat energy it needs to digest the food, and is also known to solidify the fats, making it difficult to digest the unwanted fats.
Try these foods and cool it off – you just might enjoy this summer!
Deliciously Healthy Ayurvedic Cooking, by Gallois-Ikareth, Krishnan and Pushpanath. Dee Bee Info Publications.