Many of you might be aware that the rural folks in desert areas before stepping out of home during hot weather conditions, eat raw onion. Many of them have their staple diet as just raw onion and chapattis and fresh buttermilk with salt (especially those who can’t afford other vegetables), but still you find them fit as a fiddle. So how does onion help in battling severe heat wave and what are the other ways and means of managing it? Let us understand this through simple science of Ayurveda…
Ayurvedic texts clearly mention that bitter taste neutralizes Pitta (heat). This is because while excess heat speeds up our blood circulation thereby over-stretching our body like an inflated balloon, bitter taste blocks signals between nerves thereby reducing electricity/heat/pitta in the body thereby deflating an overinflated balloon. Basically bitter foods widen our blood vessels by reducing excess stretching due to heat. It is this over-inflation due to excess heat that leads to excess acidity which results in high fever and issues like cough etc during onset of summers. This is the reason that with onset of summers, we should gradually start increasing bitter taste in our food.
Also, since heat increases acidity and acidity increases sourness which results in expansion of cells/body and thus more heat, it is essential that during summer time, we gradually reduce sour taste and increase astringent taste in our food. This is the reason that during summers we should graduate to bitter, astringent and colder grains/vegetables/fruits/spices/drinks like barley floor, bottle gourd, ridged gourd, bitter gourd, cucumber, round gourd, lady finger, yellow carrots, melons, pomegranate, coriander, cumin, small cardamom, fennel, rose syrup, khus (poppy seeds) syrup, lemon (which is sweet even if sour), milk, cottage cheese, fresh buttermilk, sweet curd etc. and taper off hot, sour and pungent foods like tomatoes, millets, sorghum, corn, mushroom, spinach, mustard, red carrots, hot spices (garam masala including ginger), turmeric, asafoetida, potatoes, fermented foods including cheese etc…The list is indicative.
Now, Onion is highly bitter in nature apart from being quite pungent and warm in potency. Our tongue is not able to detect its bitterness because its pungency overpowers our sense of taste. That is why it’s wise use reduces heat/pitta especially when consumed with cold foods like fresh buttermilk. However, since bitter foods reduce Pitta, excess of them reduces too much of Pitta in us thereby making us lose our wisdom, apart from overly widening our blood vessels and dropping of blood from upper body to lower and from peripherals into core. That is why we should have bitter foods only for reducing excess heat/Pitta and not for going tipsy as mal-practiced by many by using highly bitter foods/drinks like alcohol, poppy seeds, cannabis that too in excess.
This also means that if we consume bitter wisely then it can help us in keeping diseases at bay including hypertension, fever, cough due to high Pitta (heat). Paracetamol is highly bitter and that is how it controls fever. In fact even, a mildly bitter and astringent drink like beer (but only in moderation), is not bad for health during summers as long as it is not used for making one tipsy and lose wisdom. On the other hand, its indiscreet use can create havoc inside our body. For example, allopathic BP meds like sartan which are highly bitter are okay to be consumed during summers for controlling one’s BP, however continuing to consume them during winters further reduces Pitta (heat) in the body which is already low in atmosphere leading to weakened circulation of blood which goes into core of the body thereby totally deflating our body. That is why people consuming BP meds for long tend to face high BP issues during winters even with the medicines. In other words, we should avoid consuming bitter during winters unless heat is too high in us which is rare in most. It also means that we should consume lesser bitter in late evenings when weather becomes relatively colder
*** Hotter the weather, more cold, astringent and bitter food we should eat and colder the weather more hot, sour and pungent food we should consume. For moderate climates and weather conditions, we should create a mix of such foods. We should also remember that while excess of anything is bad, even less of it (less than needed) is also bound to create issues. For example, hot potency gives us energy and consumption of only cold potency that too when weather is mildly warm (and not hot) is bound to create excess exhaustion. On the other hand, excess of Pitta is also bound to create exhaustion due to dehydration which must be balanced by staying in cool environment and by drinking cooling and hydrating drinks.
*** While for cold climates, one can increase immunity by consuming warm, sour and pungent Rasayanas like Chyawanprash with milk, for slightly warmer climates (but not hot) one must go for colder and bitter Rasayana like Brahm Rasayana with milk. Remember immunity is nothing but continuity of blood flow in the body which can be achieved only by eating right food in line with weather and constitution.
*** It is time that we become conscious of why traditions were in place whether it was for eating in line with weather or living in line with it. For example black carrots are bitter and astringent. That is why during onset of summers they were consumed as a drink (called Kanji) after mild fermentation with Rye to cool down body and also digest toxin build up. Same goes with methi water during transition of weather from cold to hot.
*** Cooking kills most of bitterness and that is why onion becomes sweet in taste and accordingly can be utilized for good.
Please also check this blog for deeper understanding of how foods work on us and how we should eat in line with weather conditions AYURVEDA FOR HEALTHY AND BLISSFULWINTERS
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