Traditions around the world share a common belief
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the unique energy patterns of each season nourishes different organs systems within the human body. Summer energy feeds the heart, vascular system and the small intestine. Simply put, seasonal food and activities of Summer are most nourishing to these organs and likewise, the organs are more receptive to a seasonal tuning during the Summer season. While the relevance of TCM is constantly under scrutiny in the West, we share many of their principles and they too are rooted in our own traditions going back thousands of years. Since pre-Christian times, the Summer Solstice has been celebrated with bonfires and rituals to honour the Sun (Fire energy) which rises to its highest point in the sky. Many Christian religions adapted theses celebrations, most evident in the lighting of bonfires on the eve of the feast day of St. John the Baptist (June 23rd ). No matter the origin or our own personal beliefs tuning into the Summer season through food and tradition provides a substantial tonic to both the heart and mind.
Finding JOY in Summer
The emotion connected to the heart is Joy! We make references to the heart when describing love and joy – “heartfelt”, “big-hearted”, “sweetheart”, “heart-warming” and so on. The opposite of Joy is sadness often described as “heartache”, “disheartened” and “heartbroken”. Our language reflects the significance of heart-mind connections and maybe it’s time to tune in to ancient wisdom for some answers to modern-day health problems. When heart energy is strong and healthy, the mind is calm with clear thought processes and sound sleep. When it is out of whack, we can experience depression (lack of joy) or have excess joy, as in mania. Depression is the most widely diagnosed mental disorder in Ireland and one out of every four prescriptions written are for anti-depressants. Interestingly, cardiovascular disease affects one out of every two Irish adults and is the number one cause of premature death in this country. The heart and mind are connected not only on an emotional level but also from a biological and physical stance. To focus on one with disregard to the other is a fundamental fault of modern Western medicine and does little to address the frightening statistics for both depression and heart disease.
Sunshine on your plate
Such is the close connection between heart and mind that the foods which are beneficial to one are also beneficial to the other. Right now, Nature’s energy mirrors that of the Sun, at its highest and most far-reaching. The foods which are now in season also mirror this energy in providing sustenance to the expansive network of blood vessels and cells and to nerve cells (neurons) which transmit and receive signals to and from the brain. Summer foods are a colourful, juicy, fresh array of fruits and vegetables. Eaten raw or with minimal cooking, these foods provide a rich supply of antioxidants and vitamin C which help to support and protect our vascular and nerve networks. Antioxidants are most abundant in dark skinned berries, red fruits and vegetables as well as minerals such as selenium and zinc. A heart-friendly diet of fresh fruits and vegetables reduces the risks associated with hardening of the arteries which is implicated in both cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease. A rich blood supply to the brain supplies nutrients and oxygen to the hungriest organ of the body, maintaining good function and slowing down the aging process. Nerve cells, unlike other cells only divide during foetal development and during the first few months of life. They are meant to last a lifetime. Considering they are involved in every thought, action and feeling, their protection from damage and upkeep by antioxidants is fundamental to long-lasting mental well-being.
Summer time is Vitamin D time, it is now that we stock up on vitamin D which should last through the Autumn, Winter and Spring. Low levels of vitamin D is a factor in both depression and heart disease and research into neurological illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease have also links in Vitamin D deficiency. UV light from the sun during the Summer months is absorbed through the skin and converted to vitamin D3. Traditionally we would spend more time outdoors during the Summer months, but nowadays with work and lifestyle routines fixed indoors, it is no wonder we are lacking in this vital nutrient. At Summer’s end, have your levels tested and supplement if necessary to bring levels to their optimum range. Wild caught oily fish are also a good source of vitamin D as are eggs but no source is better than the sun.
Oily fish are also the best source of omega 3, a polyunsaturated fat needed for brain and heart function. The brain is 60% fat which must come from the fat we eat. A diet rich in omega 3 maintains the brain, carries out repairs and ensures the smooth communication between nerve cells and neurotransmitters limiting risk of mood disorders such as depression. In heart health, omega 3 reduces stickiness in the blood, reduces bad cholesterol, ensures protection and maintenance of cell membranes and has an anti-inflammatory effect reducing risk of strokes, atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes and other inflammatory illnesses.
Jump at the chance to connect to Summer through colourful, seasonal food bursting with life and vitality. Add some fire energy to dishes with paprika, cayenne, chilli and red peppers. Interestingly, fiery spices are known to increase blood flow and improve circulation. Shared in good company, a creative Summer menu provides the resilience and sustenance required to face most of life’s ups and downs. Enjoy it now and bottle some for later in the year!
published in West & Mid Kerry Live 22/06/2023