If you offer certain foods to people in China or India, you’ll often get this kind of response: “Oh, I can’t eat that, it’s too heating!” This happens even when the food you’re offering is room temperature or even cold, like ice cream. As perplexing as this might sound, what Eastern medical traditions like Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda have long known is that certain foods cause what we now call inflammation in the system. Inflammation leads to immediate discomforts but is also a root cause for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia.
What foods cause inflammation? Some of the main culprits are “heating” foods like red meat, fried foods, and alcohol. In Japan, for example, rising consumption of cooked red meat has recently been linked to increased inflammation in the prostate and increased incidence of prostate cancer. Alcohol poisons beneficial gut bacteria and unleashes an inflammatory cascade that damages the liver and leads to heart disease and dementia.
The good news is that sticking to a cooling/anti-inflammatory diet is associated with feeling better immediately and also lower risks of dying from all causes, especially cardiovascular causes and cancer. So, the simple answer is to stick to plant-based foods.
Here are 5 spring and summer fruits and vegetables that are particularly cooling.
This lovely berry helps reduce inflammation, especially in the colon and especially for those suffering from IBS, thanks to its high levels of micronutrients called phenols. Strawberries are also a nutritional powerhouse, packed with vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E and minerals that help rebuild, repair, and rejuvenate the body. Frozen organic strawberries make for a great option to add to smoothies when fresh berries are unavailable.
This festive food is an especially hydrating fruit that effectively reduces inflammation as well as helping to cleanse and detoxify the body. Watermelon has been found to help flush out edema and aid in weight loss, and even help alleviate depression.
Considered both a vegetable and an herb, fennel contains an important anti-inflammatory phytonutrient named anethole that blocks inflammation. It is excellent for indigestion and is commonly used in Ayurveda as a natural antacid.
Cucumbers & Cucumber Juice
Both the fruit and the juice are highly alkalizing and hydrating for the body. Both have wonderful anti-inflammatory benefits and can reduce swelling and puffiness internally and externally. The juice even helps to bring down fever.
The anthocyanins in blackberries (which give them their dark color) can significantly reduce inflammation. The high vitamin C content in blackberries greatly supports the immune system, aids in fighting infection, and provides powerful anti-aging benefits.
As you cool your diet, you’ll need to watch that your lifestyle is not overly heating as well. When you are chronically stressed, you are unable to properly regulate your inflammatory response, and even a single night of missed sleep can increase inflammation. Both science and ancient wisdom shows that the best medicine is cooling/calming activities that reduce stress—like nature walks, gardening, meditation, yoga, and breathing exercising.
Keep in mind that staying cool is not the same as opting out. Not at all. A fascinating study that compared people who derive happiness from pleasure-seeking to people who derive happiness from a greater sense of meaning and purpose found that the former had increased levels of inflammation and the latter had lower levels. In other words, a sense of meaning, purpose, and service to others is cooling, while pleasure-seeking or self-gratification is heating. Add some service into your life today and watch the transformation!
Originally published in Spirituality & Health.