Dietary Dos and Don’ts for Summer According to TCM

Gao Lian was a 16th century poet and medical scholar who was an ardent proponent of the art of nourishing life. His four presentations on the seasons originally appeared in Eight Pieces on Observing the Fundamental Principles of Life (1575 A.D.), which Chinese Medicine Practitioners have regarded as a comprehensive source of lifestyle-related information.

Gao’s recommendations recognize that the element associated with each of the seasons tends to have a stronger energy manifesting in the body at that time. For example, to attain balance, one must be careful about eating foods that would further enhance that energy, while increasing the intake of those foods that would boost the strength of the element (and organ system) suppressed by the dominant element. So, for example during spring, sour foods are minimized, as they promote the energy of the dominant wood element (liver), while mildly sweet foods would be increased because they promote the energy of the earth element (spleen), which is suppressed by the wood element. 


 Dominant Element/Organ

Affected Element/Organ


 Wood (Liver); eat less sour foods

 Earth (Spleen); eat more mildly sweet foods


 Fire (Heart); eat less bitter foods

 Metal (Lungs); eat more pungent foods


 Metal (Lungs); eat less pungent foods

 Wood (Liver); eat more sour foods


 Water (Kidneys); eat less salty foods

 Fire (Heart); eat more bitter foods

As shown above, the three months of summer are governed by the energy of fire, and are therefore in charge of the process of growing and ripening. The heart’s qi is abundant with fire energy, and its associated flavor is bitter. According to the controlling cycle of relationships between the elements, fire can distress metal; metal energy governs the lung, and the flavor associated with the lung network is pungent. Therefore, during summertime, one should decrease bitter foods and increase pungent flavors to nourish the lung… among other things:


Keep in mind that anxiety and aggression runs high in the hot summer months, and holding these icy crystals in your heart will cause heat to flare rather than to diminish. Regulate your breath to put your heart at ease. You can use the sound “haaaaa” to course-correct stagnant heart qi, and “shhhhh” to harmonize its flow. 

During the days when the hot summer temperatures are at their peak, the abdomen actually has a tendency to get cold, and it’s common (plus unhealthy) to succumb to diarrhea— which drains precious yin qi. If this should happen, use diaphoretic herbs. We like this Soothing Digestion Tonic.

Despite the heat, it would be no bueno to fill up one’s belly with icy treats, sweetened cold drinks, cold noodles, or cold cereals. These dietary habits easily lead to abdominal cold, which in turn can likely cause summer diarrhea. 

Better still, would be to look ahead and prevent diarrhea by ingesting some warming substances during the summer solstice, when the wintry forces of yin energy start making their erstwhile hidden comeback at the midnight hour. We like this Kidney Tonic.

By the same token, don’t eat any summer squash, eggplant, uncooked vegetables, or other excessively “yin” foods, because at this time there is already plenty of yin qi present in the abdomen, and the ingestion of coagulating foods like this may promote the formation of abdominal masses. However, DO EAT pungent foods like: scallions, ginger, black garlic, radish, turnip, cayenne, fennel, cinnamon, Garam Masala, and Chai Masala.

It’s hot out… sure, but don’t seek relief in drafty places. Although you may find temporary coolness in shade or near an open window, it’s in places like this that “wind” can most easily invade the body. Rather, seek out the tranquility of a clean and spacious room, or the pure yin nature of an open water kiosk, to achieve a natural state of coolness. 

Also, consider not sleeping outdoors. When you camp in the open you’re more prone to wind invasion. Although you may feel temporary relief or exhilaration, this particular kind of wind invasion is the kind that can cause symptoms like: numbness of the hands and feet, inhibited speech, and muscular lethargy. Not everybody will contract this disorder; there are people who will become afflicted right away, while others seem hardly affected at all. 

Rapid-Fire Advice

  • Drink warm liquids and eat warm food
  • Never fill yourself up to the brim, but eat smaller portions in shorter intervals
  • Drink plenty of fluids, but not ice-cold ones
  • Replenish necessary minerals lost to sweating
  • Drink cinnamon tea
  • Cook with cardamom
  • Eat cooling foods like watermelon, cucumber, and mung beans
  • Avoid the intake of greasy dishes and fatty animal food
  • Get acupuncture to clear heat from the body
  • Moderate physical activity like swimming or walking in the cooler parts of the day
  • Waking up and go to sleep at the same times daily (an eye mask helps)
  • When it comes to skincare, replenish and repair versus detox and exfoliation
  • Protect your head from the noxious influence of wind
  • Comb your head daily 100–200 times w/o being rough on the scalp

* The above was sourced from Heiner Fruehauf, Ph.D., L.Ac., Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, OR in 2010. Changes to formatting and some stylistic edits were added for clarity.