Tao of Food

Taoism is the practice of blending into the seamless unity of life to avoid unnatural imbalances. Based on the idea of Yin and Yang, it teaches us to move toward activity and repose in equal measure. All of life can be classified as variations of Yin and Yang and food also possesses these qualities.

“There are times to move forward and times to be still.” Without opening to the magic of life as it unfolds, we soon discover how “those who go against the way end up being called unlucky.” We can bang endlessly on a closed door when following the path of least resistance always reveals the open door. From a dietary standpoint, find harmony with the flow of life by allowing nature to set your table.

During winter, pomegranate and pumpkin seeds offer drying effects for phlegm production. In springtime, sour citrus fruits like tangerines appear on the earth and counteract histamines brought upon by allergies. Summer is a Yang season where the earth dazzles in its brilliant display of colors, spices and pungent foods. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, summer represents the fire element, which rules the heart and small intestines. As temperatures rise, these organs are put under increased stress.

Spices, pungent herbs, red and green peppers, fresh ginger and garlic are all foods that are good for the heart. Ginger is very effective for digestive complaints such as colic, nausea, gas, and indigestion, which can manifest from prolonged exposure to heat. Both garlic and ginger stimulate circulation and help to reduce high blood pressure.

Garlic lowers cholesterol, strengthens the immune system and aids in the prevention of arteriosclerosis. Garlic is very useful in the relief of summertime bronchial coughs, asthma, head colds, and as a laxative to eliminate intestinal gas. The word “hsin” in Chinese means heart/mind where they are connected. Since the heart is believed to be the seat of emotion - housing the mind, caring for the heart benefits the mind and therefore, garlic is used to improve mental outlook.

In many tropical climates, especially where inhabitants remain indigenous to their ancient and shamanic roots, ingesting spices is a dietary staple. At first, spicy foods increase body warmth, but ultimately they bring excess body heat to the exterior where it can be released. Bringing heat to the surface also restores harmony and balance with what unfolds, where the increase in external temperature is not as uncomfortable.

Cinnamon is another spice used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to “release the exterior” and eliminates excess heat. It can be added to virtually any preparation for its added zing of flavor and balancing properties. Adding cinnamon to pasta salads and pungent basil to just about any food is a way of visiting “nature’s grocery store” to remain in harmony with the season.

Since minerals and oils are sweated out of the body during summer, it is important to add them back into the diet. Before you invest in expensive electrolyte drinks, visit the Farmer’s Market and buy from nature’s bounty. Most summer fruits and vegetables contain calcium and minerals, while nuts can replenish oils. Tomatoes, strawberries and blackberries are an excellent source of calcium and iron. For children, an iron rich snack are sun soaked raisins.

While we have grown accustomed to getting these foods delivered from around the world all year, the key to finding balance in the diet is to shop specifically for seasonal foods. Avocado, artichoke, kale, corn and peas are an excellent source of minerals. Make a dazzling display of color in meal preparation to mirror nature’s landscape during summer.

Foods that “cool summer heat” include watermelon, apples, lemons and limes, which also proliferate during summer. The white part of the watermelon rind can be processed as a natural skin mask to heal sunburn and restore the complexion, much like aloe vera. Watermelon rind contains citrulline, which acts as a vasodilator, relaxing the blood vessels and improving circulation. Where heavier foods like dairy and meat cause sluggishness, nature’s juicy and abundant summer foods replenish lost minerals and cool the system.

Just as the sleeping landscape blooms when nurtured by the sun, awake early and reach for the sun to reset your battery. Be joyful and place yourself in service to allow the outside world to enter and nurture you. "Only by giving can you discover your gifts." Those who have a healthy heart are genuine, friendly and attentive. Giving with a happy heart and open mind reminds us of our relevance in what unfolds “When you place yourself in a position to help another, you discover your real capabilities.” Summer is a time to discover just how magical life can be.

At the onset of Spring when pollen can aggravate allergies, look to citrus as a natural anti-histamine. No matter the season, everything you need to find wellness will be blooming around you. Today we can buy just about any item out of season, but it is best to shop locally and choose items that are naturally in season. When setting your table, try to include all colors, varieties, spices, herbs to achieve wellness by remaining balanced.