How TCM, special drinks and certain foods can help overcome dog days

By Li Lin Source:Global Times Published: 2016/6/28 17:03:00

Eating tomatoes can help cool down the body and serve as a natural sunscreen, TCM experts say. Photo: IC

Huang Ying, a 24-year-old human resource manager based in Beijing, has recently started to feel as if she has returned home.

Hailing from Wuhan, Hubei Province, one of the "four ovens" in China, a place famous for its unbearable high temperatures in the summer, Huang thought she escaped the dog days of the south when she moved north to Beijing. But recently temperatures in the capital have spiraled landing her right back in the heat.

On June 22, scorching temperatures of about 33 C triggered the Beijing Meteorological Service's first high-temperature alert of the summer. The alert was triggered again three days later when the temperature climbed to 37.8 C on June 25, and reports from the meteorological service suggest that there will be more scorchers.

Thinking of the impending summer heat, Huang reminisced about all the refreshing snacks she used to have in Wuhan.

"I miss my grandmother's homemade summer snacks, drinks, and foods very much," said Huang. "She has many ways to cool my family down with delicious foods, and I found that it is the most efficient and enjoyable way."

In meteorology, when the atmospheric temperature surpasses 35 C, it is called a mega thermal day, and when high temperatures last for over five days, the climate can negatively affect people.

To beat the heat, Beijing-based nutritionist Wang Yi suggests going the traditional Chinese route.


Bitter gourd in sauce and white gourd soup Photos: IC

Tasty treats that beat the heat

Huang remembers her grandmother's sour soup wonton and cold wonton with special fillings like bitter gourd and duck meat, which worked wonders in the heat.

"It was very unique, and I seldom saw others eating it," she said. "My grandmother always said it can cool us down."

Wang said that in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), bitter foods are believed to reduce internal heat and help remove toxins in the body. As a result, bitter foods are recommended in the summer, especially on dog days.

Foods like bitter gourd, fennel, and celery contain large amounts of alkaloid, which can stimulate circulation and relax blood vessels, she said. "People can make wonton or dumplings with these vegetables as fillings, and mint leaves can be added to increase the effect."

Wang said the sour flavor is beneficial because people tend to sweat a lot in summer, which depletes the body's water supply and makes people feel thirsty, hot and dizzy. She said sour foods, including tomatoes, lemons, grapes, and kiwi, can quench one's thirst, help digestion, and prevent dehydration.

"I suggest that people add some vinegar to their meal while dining, no matter what they eat, to supply the gastric acid," Wang said. She explained that because people tend to drink more water in the summer, the gastric acid in the stomach might get diluted, and its ability to kill bacteria in our food might be undermined. "As a result, it is easier to get diarrhea in the summer, which can lead to severe dehydration and fever," she said.

Sour foods, especially those with red pigmentation like tomatoes and grapes, can also serve as a sunscreen because they contain lycopene, a strong antioxidant that can reduce the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays on people's skin, according to a 2015 report.

Wang recommends that people eat about 60 grams of fresh tomatoes every day in the summer. It can be washed and eaten as is or be made into a tasty dish.

"Steam the tomatoes, mash them, and add a bit olive oil to help the body absorb the lycopene, which is fat soluble," said Wang. "Then it can be eaten either as a hot dish or as a cold snack."

If you do not like sour or bitter foods, you are in luck because, according to Huang, spicy foods are also effective against the heat.

"I am from Wuhan, where the most popular snack is spicy duck," she said. "I know that in TCM, duck is cold and spices can remove people's inner dampness, so even though I am not in my hometown, I buy spicy duck online and eat them every day."

Wang said Huang's idea is reasonable. "In many southern and southeastern provinces in China, including Sichuan, Hunan, and Hubei provinces, where the climate is damp, people eat spicy foods to remove dampness from ancient times to date," she said. "But in Beijing, people do not have that habit, so people who eat spicy food in summer should be careful."

She said they should pay particular attention to their portions because overeating could lead to too much internal heat.

Experts recommend that people eat foods with cooling properties, such as duck, white gourd, and watermelon on dog days. Photo: IC

Beating heat with heat

Chinese people are always drinking hot water, and many Westerners think it's crazy. They even drink hot water on scorching hot days, when their foreigner counterparts are clamoring for something cold to drink or eat.

According to a Xi'an Evening News report in 2014, An Junming, a doctor at the Xi'an Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said hot water is more effective in quenching one's thirst and lowering body temperature in the summer.

"We should beat heat with heat, which is a TCM method in health," An said. "After you drink icy water, your body will give off more heat to balance the freezing temperature, and cold beverages and soda contain a lot of sugar and electrolytes, which can stimulate your stomach and intestines and lead to digestion failure and diarrhea."

An said for the best results, people should drink water at a temperature that is a little bit higher than their body temperature, and that about 40 to 45 C is best. He added that warm and hot drinks are helpful in increasing circulation and sweat evaporation, which helps the body to cool down.

In addition to drinking hot water, Chinese people love to make homemade drinks with summer vegetables. Wang said the star vegetable of the summer is the gourd: bitter gourd, white gourd, and towel gourd.

Every summer she would make San Gua Yin, a drink that is made with three gourds. "Take 50 grams of white gourd peel, watermelon peel, and towel gourd peel and boil them with water for about 20 minutes over a low flame, then add some crystal sugar," she said. "It helps reduce the heat and quench one's thirst."

As for why she uses the peel of the gourds, Wang said the nutrients are more concentrated in the peel, which she said can also be cooked in stir fry dishes.

An shares Wang's opinion. He said people should drink less Western-style drinks like coffee, milk tea, and alcohol because their caffeine and ethyl alcohol content can make people sweat, which dehydrates the body. Instead, An suggested adding lotus leaves to daily drinks such as tea to beat the heat.

Cuddling up to cool

Besides when eaten, some foods naturally have a cooling effect. Recently, many Chinese have been posting photos on Sina Weibo of themselves sleeping with their arms around large white gourds, claiming that it has mysterious cooling properties. Another post, with tens of thousands of forwards, showed a group of kindergarten children each holding a small watermelon as they sleep.

"In most southern provinces in China, there's a folk song, which says 'when you feel hot, you hug a white gourd,'" commented a Net user named "Jiang Haiye" on Sina Weibo. "In my childhood, where there was no air conditioner, almost everyone hugged a white gourd at night."

According to Wang, about 96 percent of a white gourd is water, and according to TCM, it has cooling properties, especially the peel. "It's like a water pillow or an ice bag," she said. "In China, the white gourd is called 'winter gourd,' which means it is cold."

Watermelons can also be used in this way, Wang said.

Huang said nowadays many people rely on air conditioners so much that they have forgotten the interesting and healthy traditional ways.

She said even though she has a cool room at her office and at home every day, she still misses the hot summer days of her childhood in rural Wuhan.

"I think I will try to turn off the air conditioner one night and hug a white gourd instead," Huang said. "That's very Chinese."

Newspaper headline: Beat the heat the Chinese way

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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