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How to eat to beat the heat: lessons from Asian tradition

Update: August, 14/2014 - 09:45
Sao Mai swimming pool. — Photo kenh14

by Victoria Fritz

At a recent English conversation get-together, I chose the topic - How to beat the heat? I also chose a second topic - Ways to calm down when one gets hot-headed.

It was surprising to learn that some people like the heat! Some expat ladies declared their love for the hot weather. Most Asian ladies, however, were looking for ways to keep cool.

Lee likes to stay home, or lounge around a hotel lobby on the hottest days. Noriko likes to put an ice pack on her neck, while I apply it to my brow. Genevieve likes to go swimming.

Some pools charge high fees. However, there is a public pool in Sao Mai that is reasonably priced.

On extremely hot days, many people go boating or simply walk into West Lake to have a dip. There are lakeside steps near my place that make this convenient. Some people even take their pets.

Food

One member said food could be used to cool down, and mentioned yin and yang. This piqued everyone's interest.

Although not popularly known, food can have a significant effect of cold or heat in the body. This is the yin and yang in traditional Chinese medicine.

We learned that yin is associated with femininity, signifying coolness, dampness and darkness. Yin foods are cool and moisten the body.

In contrast, yang is associated with masculinity, and signifies warmth, dryness, and light. Yang foods tend to be warm and dry. Though opposites, yin and yang are complementary and essential to each other.

Yin foods tend to be low in calories, high in potassium - ideal for hot weather. In contrast, yang foods have higher caloric or energy content, and are high in sodium. They are ideal in colder months.

To get a better idea of what food can cool you down, here is a list of what to avoid (heat generating foods) and what to seek out (cooling foods):

Yang foods include meat such as beef and lamb, vegetables such as red chili, ginger, green pepper and onions. Some fruit generates heat. This includes lychees and peaches. Among grains and nuts, sesame seeds, walnuts, peanuts and sunflower seeds are heat generating. Eggs are another source.

Neutral foods include chicken, pigeon, pork - and vegetables such as carrot, cauliflower and yam. Certain fruits have neither a heating or cooling effect, such as grapes and pineapples. Rice, either brown or white, is also neutral.

Yin, or cooling foods, include duck, crab or shrimp. Cooling vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, celery, bean sprouts and cucumber. Many types of fruit have a cooling effect, such as apples, oranges, pears, mangoes, bananas and watermelon.

Some grains and nuts also help, such as almonds, coconut, wheat flour and mung beans. Tofu is another great cooling food.

During summer, I always order watermelon or mango shake. I like going to Quan An Ngon restaurant for its version of mango shake. Not all fruit is cooling, but watermelon and mango are.

I also take in more fish, with salmon sashimi being a favourite. I avoid beef, and I never eat lamb, as it has always made my body heat up quickly.

Vegetables can be tricky. I thought all vegetables would be cooling, but the list above corrects that notion. So I avoid green peppers in my salad during summer. And if I'm avoiding meat, eating tofu means I get to cool down while still getting the protein I need.

Cooling a hot head

It's not only the body that needs to be cooled down during the summer. Notice how we tend to get irritable easily when temperatures rise?

Being a devout Christian, Lee said she would turn to prayer when angry. Whether you are a believer or not, submitting your frustrations to a higher power may be all you need to take the edge off your temper.

Masako's reply was a surprise. She said she would talk to a family member, specifically her husband, who is able to make her see the lighter side of things. I should say, she is one lucky lady. I have been practising zen for 10 years and share the calming effect it has on me.

A meditation session can take from 25 minutes to an hour. That's much better than counting to 10 to dissipate anger. And it has great benefits overall for health and wellbeing.

Noriko opted for catharsis, and she would write everything down in a journal. Writing down emotions has always been a great way of letting go, and has brought fame and fortune to many writers as well. Finally, Genevieve suggested taking a step back to see the big picture.

What is really making you angry? Is it worth it? If a taxi driver gypped you, it didn't make him significantly richer, or you significantly poorer, right? Take the long road, see the incident in the perspective of your life. Does it really matter?

Whether it's body heat or a hot head, I believe a good starting point is to take a deep cleansing breath, and another, and another. And then you're on your way. — VNS

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