Late summer is a curious season. It doesn’t really have a place in a typical four season cycle in the West, though some people may recognize it as “Indian Summer”. In the East, however, it is a very important season because this is when the atmospheric energy changes to the opposite direction, from Yin to Yang.
Expansive, outward/upward energy (yin), which started in early spring, comes to the peak in mid summer. Then in Late Summer, it gradually starts to slow down, contract, and go inward and downward (yang), as the leaves dry up, shrink, and fall from the trees, while animals retreat for the colder season. Due to this drastic shift of direction, this is also the time when we may experience instability, imbalance, disharmony and dis-ease. At this time we may be more prone to allergies, infections, or even mild depression too.
How can we harmonize with this short, yet significant transitional season? Can we ease into the new seasons with more harmony and stability? These Macrobiotics for late summer tips will help you through this seasonal shift.
Earth energy and digestive organs– Finding stability and nourishment
In the East, the symbol of Late Summer is Earth. The “Earth energy” represents stability, nourishment and internal resources or reserves. And in Eastern medicine there are three organs considered “the Earth organs,” which resonate with the unique energy of this season. The stomach is, as we all know, one of the main digestive organs, functioning mainly to break down proteins. The pancreas controls the blood sugar (glucose) level, which is the main source of energy, and our spleen is responsible for overall immune system, along with blood storage function. Therefore, disharmony in these “Earth organs” directly affects your digestion, energy level, vitality, and all bodily function. From a Macrobiotic point of view, this late summer season is when we need to take extra care of these organs so we can harmonize our body and mind to Late Summer, and prepare for the following seasons.
After months of cold beer, ice cream, BBQ, burgers, as well as raw salads, juice and smoothies during the summer, digestive organs are exhausted. From an Eastern medicine perspective, we might say that the “Earth organs” are imbalanced. There are many physical symptoms of this including:
- Chronic fatigue, low energy or less endurance
- Acid reflux, heart burn, ulcer, and other digestive (stomach) problems
- Weakened immune function, prone to infections
- Risk of hypoglycemia, diabetes
- Strange taste (usually sweet or bitter) in your mouth, or compromised sense of taste
- Yellowish color on your hands/feet
- Flaccidity and weakness in muscles and skin
If you are constantly craving sugar, or just cannot stop eating (and/or never seem to be satisfied), this is indicative of weakened Earth organs, which may have lost the ability to optimally absorb nutrients and turn them into energy. But there can also be emotional symptoms from imbalances in the Earth Organs. For example, when the pancreas is not functioning properly, it directly affects your nervous system and brain function by impairing the ability to receive adequate glucose (did you know that our big brains consume 25 to 30% of glucose we take in?). Fluctuations in glucose (blood sugar) level could lead to emotional instability, such as moodiness and depression. When glucose and blood are not adequately balanced, it can create a sense of instability, stemming from a lack of nourishing resources or reserves. Some of this instability can lead to over-thinking, anxiety, neurosis, OCD, neediness, jealousy, or self-pity.
Things that weaken your Earth Organs
Simple sugars are the number one cause of blood sugar instability, and can damage pancreas and stomach. All sugars are at fault here, whether you choose cane sugar, agave, honey or maple syrup. These simple sugars follow an abnormal digestive process by being directly absorbed from stomach instead of small intestines, which is extremely stressful. Sugar also generates over-secretion of stomach juice (strong acid), which causes inflammation of the wall of stomach. The more sugar you consume, the more your body craves it, and the more damage done to these organs, including damaging your skin. Sugar dependence is very real, and it’s important to break the cycle. And remember, refined foods such as white bread, white pasta and white rice all have similar effect on blood sugar level. Overeating fruits (fructose) or juice can also have the same effect, so please enjoy these foods in moderation.
The protein in dairy foods is almost identical to cells found in pancreas. Since the human body recognizes dairy proteins as foreign substances, the body’s defense mechanism attacks them (causing allergic reactions), and if you eat dairy regularly, it will start to attack the cells in pancreas, too. Some studies show that 3 cups of milk per day increases the risk of diabetes by 5 times!
Animal foods are extremely hard to digest, compared to plant foods, because they naturally contain big protein molecules and no fiber. Animal foods are also high in saturated fat (solid in body temperature), which accumulates around vital organs, making them work overtime. Over- and regular consumption of animal foods can harden the pancreas with the fat, and it eventually loses flexibility to regulate glucose level. The more you eat protein, the harder the body has to work, which stresses the entire system. Avoiding or limiting animal foods will help your whole body heal.
Cold food & drinks
Imagine jumping into ice cold Arctic water. What would happen to you body? Shock! Tension! This is exactly what happens to your stomach when you have ice cold water, smoothies or ice cream. Consistent, long term shocks or tension leads to exhaustion of our body. Choose room-temperature or warm beverages that are more gentle on the body.
Ways to Strengthen and Nourish our Earth Organs
Eat Better Food
Earth energy is associated with sweet tastes, according to Eastern medicines. While strong, extreme sweetness (simple sugars) can harm the organs as mentioned above, natural, mild and “gentle” sweetness (complex sugars) are very nourishing because they provide slow and constant supply of glucose (fuel and resources) to the body. Examples of this type of mildly sweet foods are pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrot, parsnips, turnips, cabbage, onion, daikon and other root vegetables which produce the “right kind of sweetness” when properly cooked.
Millet, on of the few among whole grains, is particularly nourishing for digestive organs, along with sweet corns and sweet brown rice. One of my favorite dishes in colder seasons is cooked millet, sweet brown rice and winter squash. A dish like this is great for the main dish for dinner with roasted pumpkin seeds or nori, and if you mix with cinnamon, it can be a wonderful breakfast on a cold morning!
Saliva contains digestive enzymes that function to break down complex carbohydrates, which turns into glucose at the end of the long digestive process. Chewing thoroughly, until the food is almost creamy, helps stabilize your blood sugar level and decrease the stress on your stomach.
Chewing, instead of gobbling down our meals, also has a calming and relaxing effect, which promotes emotional stability.
Add Warming foods
Tensed and exhausted digestive organs need to be relaxed and cared for. Warm food and drinks ease the tension in our internal body, just as a nice warm bath can relax our outer body. At this time of year it’s important to add some “heat” to your cooking instead of raw salad or juice. Hand touch healing (Reiki) or using heating pads on abdominal area also helps relax.
No matter what you eat, healthy or unhealthy food, overeating exhausts your organs and systems. Overeating is a sign of Earth organ imbalance, too. Giving some rest to the digestive organs is the best way for healing. A rule of Macrobiotics is to eat until you are 80% full (harahachibu), and don’t stuff yourself!
Have a structure in your daily diet
Chaotic eating can create instability in all aspects of your life. Pasta today, short ribs tomorrow, salad the next, then pizza for the weekend? Many traditional diets have a core foundation of vegetables and grains. These nourishing foods should be the base of all your meals, and you can add other additional foods around it. When you have this dietary foundation, you will be able to develop the stability both physically and emotionally.
Cultivate Stability in your life
“Earth” represents the foundation of all lives. When the Earth energy is balanced, you have a strong sense of stability. Likewise, if you develop more stable life style, your Earth organs will be nourished and energized. Try to find regularity in your life: get up, go to bed, and eat at about the same time as much as you can. Find some time for regular exercise everyday, and find things in everyday life that pulls you back to your center. Here’s a recipe to help you nourish your Earth organs and find some balance.
Healing Soup with Sweet Vegetables and Millet
¼ cup millet
1-inch square kombu seaweed
1 dried Shitake mushroom
3 to 4 cups filtered water
About 4 cups chopped sweet potato, pumpkin or squash, turnip or daikon
1 onion, diced
2 Tablespoons sweet (white) miso
Herbs for garnish (parsley, chives, cilantro etc)
- To a saucepan add millet, kombu, mushroom and water. Bring to a boil and cook on low until millet is soft, about 15 minutes.
- Add onions and vegetables to the millet and cook until soft (10 min or so).
- Remove from heat. Remove kombu and mushroom and chop into small pieces, return to soup. Remove some broth and dissolve miso into the water. Add back to soup, stir to combine and garnish with herbs. Serve warm!