It’s become commonplace in the foodie and wellness circles to talk about eating with the seasons. I like to extend this concept out a little to what I call eating with the weather’.
In a vast country like Australia that covers many regions and in a world where climate change means our old seasons aren’t so easily recognisable, it’s sometimes challenging to recommend one type of seasonal eating across the board.
Having lived in the sub-tropical Northern Rivers for three years now, nothing could’ve demonstrated this point more clearly to me than a recent trip to Melbourne. Just looking at the colour and length of the grass there told me the whole story.
I left a home where my garden was at its most lush and my lawn needed to be mowed fortnightly, and arrived at my parents house to short, prickly, yellow, umm, grass; if you can call it that!
If our exteriors look so different, wouldn’t it make sense that our interiors need a little tailoring too?
As we approach the end of Summer, two weather patterns will dominate our country: the dry heat of the Southern states and the humidity of the sub-tropical and tropical Northern areas; and sometimes, due to the whim of mother nature, they may interlope one another.
The key is to understand how to work with these different scenarios.
We all know the best time to hang out our washing is on a warm, dry day. This is because the heat and air dry up the water. Conversely, doing your washing on a rainy, hot day will do nothing except further water log your clothes and make them smell, well, a little mouldy!
Our bodies work exactly the same way.
A dry environment will soak up our fluids more easily, so we need to keep replenishing them. The key to living in a hot, dry place is to keep up the moisture, whereas in a damp environment we actually need to dry up that extra moisture; our main priority being air and lightness.
When choosing your foods and cooking, really tune in and ask yourself do I need more dryness or more moisture?’ and select accordingly.
One of the best ways to test for dryness or moisture is through the fluid levels in your own body. Check your skin first: is it silky soft and plump or parched and rough? Another good indicator is fluid retention around the stomach and/or feet.
In Melbourne I could drink more fluids and eat heavier foods as they provided much needed hydration. The same meal that had nicely satisfied me in Melbourne left me feeling heavy and bloated when I ate it again less than 24 hours later in Byron.
Even though it may appear to be lovely to have fruits and vegetables from all over the country – and even, scarily, from other countries – actually one of the best ways to accommodate weather pattern variations is to eat locally; like, real local!
Mangos, coconuts, melons, papaya, dragon fruits and other tropical fruits grow in abundance in the northern areas of Australia because they balance the humidity. Cool and refreshing, they have a diuretic-like action that hydrates but also removes excess fluids.
Yet in a dry climate you don’t want too much diuretic work happening as you want to retain the much needed fluids. When I moved to the Byron area, I really struggled with water; in fact I rarely felt like drinking it, but I craved tropical fruits, and still do.
Although there are differences in the texture’ of our climate across the continent, the one similarity is usually the temperature: hot!
When I was younger and before I fell ill, I always thought heat was best countered with cold. Think ice cold beer, refrigerated drinks, ice-cream and iced teas. Hmm, how wrong could I get?
We’ve all experienced that feeling when we jump into the cold ocean and shudder for a moment; ladies in particular will be familiar with the initial sensation of the water on a bikini exposed midriff.
This is no coincidence as our tummy happens to be in our midriff and cold contracts. So rather than dispersing the heat in our bodies, it actually contracts it within. We may feel a temporary relief from the cold soothing sensation, but it doesn’t really solve the problem; just ask any guy who has taken a cold shower to alleviate sexual desires!
That contracted heat may come out to bite us at a later point, often in the form of illnesses with the arrival of Autumn.
I also learnt that it’s our digestive fire that actually transforms the fluids in our bodies, so if we keep putting out the fire’, the fluids don’t really go anywhere useful!
To know what to do, again we can turn to nature. Look at the weather, it doesn’t give us cold snaps and cold rain in Summer (unless of course you live in Melbourne where the temperature can plummet 20 degrees overnight); rather it provides us with refreshing fruits on our trees, an array of vegetables, sun-showers, electrical storms and beautiful breezes.
The best bet is to access nature’s bounty and when drinking, go for room temperature.
If you do occasionally desire something cold, here are two tips to follow to support your digestion.
Firstly, include something sweet; yes, a good excuse to enjoy the sweet flavour! A little bit of sweet helps to stimulate and pacify the digestion, which will be a tad angry at you for making it cold. This doesn’t mean fizzy, soft drinks, but it’s why sweet fresh fruit abound in Summer. My hydrator of choice is a slice of watermelon, or try cracking open a real coconut or adding mint to your drinks.
Secondly, have it between meals; give your digestive fire enough time to warm up again before your next feed.
So as the last of the Summer days set in, look around to nature and its weather for your food guidance. Take head and follow her lead; you won’t be disappointed.