For most of us on the Indian subcontinent, summers are a real deal. From our wardrobes to what’s on our plates, everything moves to being lighter, easier, fuss free. And it's not coincidental. “During summers, the sun's rays get sharper, and as a result, the body starts losing salt and water, leaving you feeling depleted,” says Nidhi Pandya (@my_ayurvedic_life), ayurvedic expert. “At the same time, the agni, which is your digestive environment that's protected usually, becomes weak because of all of these open channels and pores. [As a result] the person becomes tired and also loses appetite.”
It’s natural that you've been feeling more inclined towards a plate of fresh watermelon than a juicy wagyu recently—it's just your body’s way of restoring lost energy. If you find yourself in this predicament, take it as a cue to switch to a plant-forward diet this summer.
Common Indian lore attributes “heatiness” to meat-heavy meals, implying that they generate additional heat in your body, which, during the summer, can make you prone to various digestion-related ailments. The experts have a slightly different take.
According to Nidhi, “Traditional texts do not contraindicate eating meat, in fact certain types of animal fat are used medicinally. That being said, in the summer months, the only meat that is advised is of animals that live in the desert, as soups. Also, the way animals are reared today, the food that the animals are fed, and the hormones that are injected in these animals, can make their meat inflammatory.”
Nutritionist Dr Juhi Agarwal cautions against spoilage in the heat. “There are higher chances of meat getting contaminated because of the weather, so it's a good option to limit it to maybe once or twice a week rather than having it on a daily basis, so that you can reduce your exposure to that contamination.” The preparation is also important, she believes. “Excessive spices are more likely to make you feel uneasy than the meat itself.”
So much has been said about the environmental benefits of going meat-free. But taking a step back on your meat consumption can also be a great opportunity to step up your veggie intake, an important part of a balanced diet that often gets ignored. Lightly-cooked vegetables are especially great, as they’re easier to digest than salads and offer a generous amount of fibre and nutrients to your meals.
Rules Of The Game
If you intend on taking the break, make sure you’re supplementing the loss of protein well. “You’re constantly breaking down protein in your body, and hence you need to replenish it on a daily basis. A low-protein diet can decrease your immunity, affect your hormone health, your skin, hair and nails,” warns Dr Agarwal. “Animal sources of protein, all of them actually, are complete sources, containing all of the essential amino acids. If you do want to go vegetarian, I would recommend not to give up on milk products. If milk doesn't suit you, have yoghurt or paneer, or lactose-free versions of these products.” She advises a flexitarian diet, rather than vegetarian, to ensure you don’t underindex on your protein requirement.
Lentils, pulses, legumes, are commonly-cited vegetarian alternatives, but they can be difficult to digest for some people. “One simple rule that I have is that the harder it is to make, the harder it is to break,” says Nidhi. “So, for example, rajma and chickpeas take a long time to soak and cook, and hence take longer to digest. Moong dal on the other hand is very easy to cook and break down. The trick is to cook these well in water, with the right spices and a good fat. Protein metabolism, like combustion, needs good fuel; so adding ghee really helps.”
Keep It Cool
Nidhi Pandya shares how to make summer eating a breeze:
Lots of liquid foods that are slightly sour and citrusy in nature will help bring up your appetite and replenish water in your body.
Madhura rasa or sweet tasting foods—one of the best recommended by Ayurveda is rice—in a light form like broth and kheer, are highly recommended.
Alcohol has a drying effect on the body and hence is contraindicated; instead, hydrate with traditional drinks like mango panna, ideally cooled in an earthen jar.