Summer Nutrition: What Should You Eat?
How Seasonal Eating Affects Health
As the sun shines brighter and the days grow longer, it’s the perfect time to embrace the abundant fresh and vibrant foods available during the summer months, so you can fuel your body with essential nutrients, stay hydrated, and enhance your vitality.
Discover the benefits of summer nutrition and seasonal eating, and the best foods to support your health in the hotter months.
Why is seasonal eating important?
Seasonal eating is the practice of consuming fruits, vegetables and other food items that are harvested and available during a particular time of the year. It involves aligning your diet with the natural cycles of the seasons and consuming foods that are at their peak freshness and nutritional value during specific times.
The concept of seasonal eating recognises that different fruits and vegetables grow best in specific climates and thrive under certain weather conditions. As a result, they are naturally more abundant, flavoursome and nutrient-rich during their respective growing seasons.
By choosing to eat seasonally, you can enjoy the freshest, tastiest, and most nutrient-dense produce available. The benefits of seasonal eating are:
Higher nutritional value
Seasonal produce is harvested at its peak ripeness, which means it is packed with optimal levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, electrolytes and fibre. As fruits and vegetables ripen naturally under the sun, they develop higher nutrient content compared to those picked prematurely or grown in artificial conditions.
Better flavour and taste
From juicy berries to succulent tomatoes, when you eat fruits and vegetables in their proper season, you experience their full flavour potential. Freshly harvested produce has a superior taste profile, as it hasn’t travelled hundreds of miles to reach your plate or been left in supermarket cold storage for months on end.
When you consume local, seasonal produce, you reduce the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transportation and storage. You’re also supporting local farmers and markets to foster a more resilient and diverse food system within your community.
Seasonal foods are often more affordable and budget-friendly. When produce is in season, it is abundant and readily available, which often leads to lower prices. By shopping for seasonal foods, you can stretch your food budget while enjoying the freshest and highest-quality ingredients.
Hydrating summer fruits
Strawberries, blueberries, cherries, blackberries and raspberries grow in abundance in summer so it’s a good time to load up on these light, easy-to-digest and nutrient-rich fruits. Berries are rich in vitamin C and K, antioxidants, manganese and dietary fibre to support immune health, digestion and healthy bones. Fibre promotes satiety (feeling of fullness) and regular bowel motions to prevent constipation.
Raspberries and strawberries contain an antioxidant called ellagic acid which has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties that can inhibit the growth of certain types of cancer cells. It also protects against UV-induced skin damage and helps wound healing.
Peaches, nectarines and apricots grow in warmer regions, and are excellent sources of vitamin C which is vital for immune function, collagen synthesis and antioxidant protection. They are also rich in potassium which is required for fluid balance and nerve function, and beta-carotene which the body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for vision, immune function and skin health. These fruits also contain various B vitamins, including niacin (B3), riboflavin (B2) and pyridoxine (B6), which play important roles in energy metabolism and maintaining brain function.
Cherries are more than just delicious; they are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. These vibrant fruits owe their deep red colour to a group of powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins. These compounds play a vital role in protecting cells from damage caused by environmental toxins and stress. They also provide a good source of vitamin C and potassium too.
Bananas are an excellent source of potassium which is crucial for maintaining proper fluid balance in the body which is especially important when you sweat lots in the heat. Potassium also helps to regulate blood pressure and muscle contractions.
Melons, with their juicy flesh, are incredibly hydrating and a great fruit to eat in summer.
Watermelon is a nutrient-rich fruit, containing vitamins A and C, along with the antioxidant lycopene, known for its potential in reducing the risk of various cancers such as prostate, lung and stomach cancers. Honeydew melon and cantaloupe provide good sources of vitamin C, A, B6 (for brain and nervous system function), folate (healthy cell growth and development) and potassium.
Due to its menthol content, peppermint has a naturally cooling effect when consumed and it can create a refreshing sensation in the mouth and throat, helping to cool down the body in hot weather. In Arab countries and other hot climates, drinking peppermint tea is a common practice to cool the body and provide relief from the heat. Peppermint tea is also a highly effective digestive aid and relaxant, helping to soothe the stomach, relieve indigestion and stress, reduce bloating, and ease gastrointestinal discomfort.
In Chinese Medicine, food is classified based on its energetic properties and their impact on the body. These properties include heating, cooling, drying or dampening effects. If you’re someone who gets very hot and sweaty in summer, cooling and hydrating foods will help you stay healthy and strong. However, it’s important not to shock the body with ice- cold drinks as it weakens the immune system. In cases of sunburn, avoid cold packs, cold showers and cold drinks; instead, find shade, drink something warm and take a warm shower. This allows the body to adapt much faster. Cooling foods and drinks include sweet fruits like banana, watermelon and strawberries, raw vegetables (cucumber, celery, broccoli, asparagus) leafy greens such as kale, spinach and lettuce, bitter herbs (chicory, dandelion leaves, mustard greens), coconut water and peppermint tea.
Learn more about the energetics of foods in Chinese Medicine.
Light and refreshing salads
Salads are a wonderful way to include a wide range of seasonal vegetables into your meals. Experiment with leafy greens like spinach or rocket, and combine them with juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers and fragrant herbs like watercress and dill. Enhance your nutritional intake by adding protein-rich sources to your salads such as chickpeas, quinoa and pumpkin seeds. Dress your salads with a light homemade dressing made from extra virgin olive oil and a dash of raw apple cider vinegar or lemon juice.
Foods to avoid in summer
Following Chinese Medicine food principles, it is best to avoid foods that have a warming or heating effect on the body as they can potentially exacerbate heat-related imbalances such as headaches, fatigue, hot flushes and inflammatory conditions (acne, eczema, arthritis).
Foods to avoid include:
- Greasy and oily foods
- Processed and highly refined foods
- Excessive amounts of red meat
- Alcohol and coffee
- Creamy foods such as a buttery mashed potato or carbonara pasta
- Ice cold drinks (more about this below)
- Sugary drinks such as soft drinks and fruit juices
- Carbonated drinks including sparkling water
- Sweets and chocolate
These foods are considered heavy and difficult to digest, placing a burden on the body and requiring excessive energy expenditure. They are believed to generate internal heat, potentially leading to symptoms like excessive sweating, thirst, irritability and digestive discomfort, particularly in hot weather.
Consuming cold icy drinks can be a shock to the body and particularly detrimental for the immune system as they disrupt digestion, decrease immune response and put additional strain on the body’s energy reserves.
Boost your health with seasonal produce
By incorporating hydrating fruits and vegetables and cooling foods into your diet, you can optimise your well-being while enjoying the vibrant flavours of the summer season. Don’t forget to explore seasonal produce by visiting local farm shops and farmers markets – supporting farmers in the community is vital for ensuring food security and promoting sustainable agriculture.
If you’re looking for inspiration in the kitchen and more healthy recipes you can make at home, take a look at CNM’s short courses and recipes.