Summer enlivens the Fire Element: hot days, steamy nights, spicy foods and angry debates over the coming storm: Will Coronavirus stay strong, come back, go away? Which summer habits to enjoy, which to change? Is there a middle way? How must Qi flow to protect mental and emotional balance, the Shen in the heart?

Qi that is abundant in summer months must flow smoothly to energize us. The Yellow Emperor advised us to benefit from summer’s yang energy, upward, outward. Some interpreted this to mean we should socialize with friends, be active, exercise. Dr. Henri Lu, an acupuncturist, checked the original Chinese text and advised, “ No, Qi movement outward means that we should sweat in summer.” That is the correct Qi movement to balance our body temperature. It also detoxifies the body from heavy metals. Cinnamon, ginger, daikon radish, cleansing bitter greens such as chicory, endive, Chinese cabbage, pickled vegetables, enhance digestive Qi.

Sweating is not enough. When our blood is acidic from poor digestion, high GI foods, stress, pollution etc, sweating brings acid to the surface to trouble our complexion. First and always cleanse:

See Letha’s Kitchen video below “How Blood Cleansing Herbs Work.”

To protect the heart, blood circulation and the brain, we need to assure that blood vessels remain safe from damaging inflammation, flexible not brittle, and not clogged with impurities and cholesterol. Magnesium protects the flexibility of blood vessels. Currently the recommended magnesium requirement is 2:1 with calcium, that is twice as much magnesium as calcium. We need magnesium to fully absorb vitamin D3. Our blood magnesium is reduced by stress and may lead to nervousness, spasm, and hypertension. Magnesium is essential for healthy muscles, nerves, bones and blood sugar levels. Magnesium is found in green whole foods: Spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are good sources.

Oxygen-poor blood brought to the heart by veins is pumped into the lungs to be refreshed with oxygen and sent through arteries to all cells. Is the heartbeat strong, steady, regular? That is the sound of oxygen moving through the heart and out to the entire body. A heartbeat of 50-60 beats per minute is considered healthy. Too slow means blood may not sufficiently nourish organs, too fast indicates stress or possible blockage. The heart that races to signal stress should become steady again after stress is reduced. Panic that raises the heartbeat makes us sweat. Sweating cools us unless we have chronic inflammation. Does the heartbeat jerk or seem sluggish? Western herbalists recommend hawthorn berry to help regulate a stagnant heartbeat and reduce harmful cholesterol. In India, they use arjuna and in China danshen (salvia milt.) to regulate the heart and protect against heart disease and stroke.

The Yellow Emperor advises: bitter foods may energize the heart but too many bitter foods make the heart stiff. . . Balance, the Middle Way. Caffeine, smoking, burnt charcoal foods drain a tired, overworked heart.

Look at your tongue and mouth, the outlet of heart Qi

  • Is the tongue overly red indicating inflammation, dry indicating dehydration, and chronic internal heat? Do you have bleeding gums, a sign of large intestine and stomach inflammation, an early sign of osteoporosis?
  • Is the tongue bloated, pale, scalloped or mauve colored–a sign of weak Qi, poor digestion, stagnation and chronic internal cold?

Chapter Ten of my book Heart to Heart care for your heart naturally covers red foods for heart health. Red is the color of heart fire. Fire may burn slowly, evenly or rage. To moderate the heart we need foods to free Qi flow and refresh a tense heart. Red is the color of several noteworthy heart-healthy foods. Tomato, tart cherry, cranberry, red and purple grapes, and red pears reduce harmful cholesterol while cooling inflammation that damages blood vessels. Cayenne and other hot peppers also help reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and platelet aggregation, while increasing the body’s ability to dissolve fibrin, a substance integral to the formation of blood clots. Cultures where hot peppers are used liberally have a much lower rate of heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism. Not everyone can tolerate peppers. You might add a dash of cayenne to your homemade healthy salad dressing. Here are delicious red foods for heart health.

Tomatoes

Ask any Italian about the health benefits of tomatoes! Sundried tomatoes are sweeter, higher in sugar, than the fresh so use sundried as a sugar substitute in recipes. A number of scientific studies have found that women with the highest intake of lycopene-rich tomato-based foods have a significantly reduced risk of heart disease. Tomatoes are loaded with health-protective antioxidants, including lycopene, vitamins A, C and E but with very few calories. In a five year women’s health study of nearly 40,000 middle-aged and elderly women, as the women’s blood levels of lycopene went up, risk for cardiovascular disease significantly dropped. Excluding women with angina, those whose plasma lycopene levels were highest had a 50% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those with the lowest blood levels of lycopene.

Fresh tomatoes and tomato extracts help lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. In addition, tomato extracts have been shown to help prevent unwanted clumping together (aggregation) of platelet cells in the blood, a factor especially important in lowering risk of heart problems like atherosclerosis. In a South American study of 26 vegetables, tomatoes and green beans came out best in their anti-aggregation properties. No body system has a greater need for antioxidant protection than the cardiovascular system. Numerous phytonutrients in tomatoes have been shown to help prevent excessive clumping of our platelet cells that result in blood vessel blockage.         

Choose bright red or orange organic tomatoes with smooth skin and consume them within one week. When cooking use the seeds and skin which are full of valuable nutrients. According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2013 report “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides,” conventionally grown cherry tomatoes are among the top twelve fruits and vegetables on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found. Therefore, avoid cherry tomatoes unless they are grown organically.

Quick Tomato Aspic

Here is a sweet reat made in minutes without pectin and sugar. Store it in the refrigerator. Serve it with vegetable dishes, kafir or salads.  Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 – 3 packages of unflavored Gelatine (Knox Gelatine or vegan)

¼ cup cold low sodium tomato juice

2 cups thinly sliced fresh organic cherry tomatoes or rehydrated sundried

1 cup boiling hot Earl Grey tea

¼ tsp stevia powder

lemon juice

Mix the unflavored gelatine powder with the cold juice in a bowl, let it stand 1 minute until the gelatine is completely dissolved, Add the hot tea and sliced tomatoes, stevia and lemon juice. Pour the mixture into a sterilized glass container or dessert mold. Refrigerate it overnight to set the aspic. If you use one packet of gelatine instead of two along with enough tea it will be soft and you can use it as jelly. Store the jelly up to 2 weeks in refrigerator or 1 year in the freezer.

Tart cherries

Pretty and delicious tart cherries are super health foods. For heart health, I recommend adding at least 1 teaspoon of tart cherry juice to tea twice daily. The sour taste is refreshing and the phytochemical content reduces chronic inflammatory discomforts. Tart cherries get their deep red color from disease-fighting phenols called anthocyanins. Slightly more than 3 ounces (100 grams) of tart cherry juice concentrate delivers four times the necessary amount needed to maintain a good antioxidant defense system. A quarter cup of dried tart cherries daily is the amount you need to stay healthy. You might steep a handful of dried cherries in hot water as tea. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that tart cherries surpass well-known antioxidants like red wine, dark chocolate and orange juice. Regularly enjoy tart cherries may also improve your sleep.

Cranberry

Fresh cranberry season is Labor day through Halloween. Add them to salads or juice them. Freeze fresh cranberries and use them as ice cubes. Cranberry is recommended for naturally treating urinary tract infection (UTI). It is an excellent source of vitamin C enhancing health, immunity and fertility. Cranberry has proven health benefits throughout the digestive tract, including decreasing our risk of periodontal disease, stomach ulcer, and colon cancer. Recent research has shown that cranberry may optimize the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract because the relative amount of Bifidobacteria is increased by consuming cranberry.

Cranberry benefits the heart. The combined impact of cranberry antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients make it a heart healthy food. Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation increase our risk of plaque formation and atherosclerosis (blood vessel wall thickening and blood vessel blocking) can be greatly increased. The antioxidant components of cranberries play a key role in cranberry’s cardiovascular benefits leading to a decreased risk of high blood pressure. Three related compounds in cranberry—resveratrol, piceatannol, and pterostilbene—provide cranberry with unique (antioxidant) ability to support our cardiovascular system. Cranberry helps us lower LDL-cholesterol and total cholesterol, while simultaneously helping us increase our HDL-cholesterol.

Red chili peppers and your heart

Ask someone from the American Southwest or Mexico about the health benefits of chili peppers! They will say they like it hot! Cayenne and hot peppers help protect the cholesterol in your blood from oxidation, which is the first deadly step toward atherosclerosis. That means hot peppers literally melt the stuff that silently, slowly blocks arteries and puts blood flow at risk. Scientists have reported that chili peppers are a heart-healthy food with potential to protect against the No. 1 cause of death in the developed world. However, a good diet is a matter of balance not binging on one or two ingredients.

Cayenne’s bright red color is from a high content of beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A. Two teaspoons of cayenne pepper provide 47% of the daily value for vitamin A essential for healthy mucous membranes that line the nasal passages, lungs, intestinal tract and urinary tract and serve as the body’s first line of defense against invading pathogens. But it burns all the way down. Sweet red peppers contain substances that significantly increase thermogenesis (heat production) and oxygen consumption for more than 20 minutes after they are eaten. The comfortable heat helps you lose weight.

Sprinkle cayenne into your cooking and serve sliced red bell peppers with salads and soups. Make a salad of fresh watermelon, tomato, sliced red onion, red pepper or a dash of cayenne. Steam salmon in pineapple juice on top of sliced red onion and red bell peppers. Brighten your cooking with lively heart healthy red foods and live longer and better. For healthy aging and longevity, we need to increase our optimal nutrition for fewer calories.

How Hot is Too Hot?

Look at your tongue. Is it pink and moist, red hot or ashen white? Check your stomach acid, your appetite, complexion and nerves. How is your mood? Is your heart free enough to enjoy simple pleasures despite troubles? Does nervous chatter disturb your sleep? Is your laugh a moan (weak kidney/adrenal Qi), a sigh (weak lung Qi), a shriek (hyper heart Qi)? Balance settles us in reality, in comfort and longevity.