A guide to looking after your physical health during the summer
As it says in Psalm 139 v14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Here the psalmist gives glory to God and acknowledges the miracle of the complexity of our human bodies. God has given us each our own unique ‘model’ as a gift – the temple within which He will dwell in us, so we need to look after it as best we can! (1 Corinthians 6 vs19 ‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?’)
Nutritionally to understand how we can best do this, we as Brits, need to acknowledge that we live on an island with fairly unique weather systems – an island buffeted by Atlantic and Continental currents – and therefore very distinct seasons and very distinct seasonal produce! Each Season will have it’s own ‘foody’ character! So, now that Summer is upon us, let’s consider what is available and what our bodies need to keep healthy….
From the end of May, the abundance of fresh produce really begins to burgeon from the sweetest of strawberries to the earthiest new potatoes. It is so important to recognise that when the temperature rises outside, we can help to keep ourselves cool by the things we eat – and God provides the perfect natural menu! Look for anything that is in season for the best level of nutrition. Fruit and vegetables that are grown in this country will have been transported shorter distances and therefore have better level of nutrients remaining by the time they land on your plate! Here are a few seasonally tasty options:
Asparagus is a wonderful natural diuretic and really helps with kidney health – lovely as a light lunch, steamed and served with a poached egg with freshly ground black pepper!
New potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C – lightly boiled with fresh mint, delicious!
Tomatoes which are also high in Vitamin C and Potassium – delicious eaten fresh in a salad or even lightly sauted, with a little black pepper and a dash of soy sauce served on fresh toasted crusty bread! Or slice them with avocado and mozzarella and add a squeeze of lemon juice and a glug of olive oil, black pepper and basil leaves….dreamy!
Fresh salad leaves – consider adding spinach to your salad as a good source of potassium, magnesium and Vitamin A, or even the peppery salad leaf rocket which is a good source of vitamin K and calcium.
Runner Beans – slice and steam, serve with a vinaigrette – lovely!
Strawberries – high in Vitamin C and potassium. As an alternative to cream, try serving them with a sprinkle of black pepper and a drizzle of dark, thick balsamic vinegar… are you brave enough? Suprisingly tasty!
In a nutshell, we are blessed with an abundance of wonderfully colourful fresh produce in this country. The water content of fruit and vegetables will contribute to our over all general health and help to keep our bodies in an alkaline state (homeostatis) –which is where it is happiest. Eating a wide variety will enhance the levels and varieties of vitamins and minerals in your bodies, and will help to maintain and healthy immune system. The aim is to eat a ‘rainbow’ from yellow bell peppers to the midnight shades of the aubergine, and everything in between. And, as mentioned earlier, at this time of year we can eat raw vegetables which will help us keep cool – so a big bowl of salad with some cold roast chicken, salmon or feta cheese, and handful of crushed walnuts, with a mustard or garlic dressing, is just the ticket!
We are also blessed in this country to have an abundance of antioxidant rich, berries to choose from! Who can deny that a salad of strawberries, blueberries, loganberries, raspberries, blackcurrant, redcurrants, and in late summer blackberries, will get the taste buds watering! Washed and lightly sprinkled with a small amount of icing sugar to macerate them is heavenly – or my preference can be to eat them straight from the plant itself!
Antioxidants are very important for our health as they contribute to the alkaline balance (homeostasis) of our bodies – Vitamin C is an antioxidant and many fruits and vegetables contain excellent levels. Plus the more deeply coloured the skins of a fruit/vegetable will reveal the level of a substance known as ‘anthocyanins’ – which have been recognised for their anti-inflammatory, anti-viral properties, for example, Aubergine, black grapes, blueberries and blackberries and blackcurrants. Try a combination of berries on your cereal in the mornings – what’s not to like! Or put some in a blender with a banana to make a lovely smoothie!
The following recipe may tickle your taste buds and help maintain a high level of nutrients to aid a healthy immune system:
Brown Basmati Rice (approx 300g will serve 3-4 people)
1 Red Onion, finely diced
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 Large Red Pepper, diced
250-300g of Chestnut mushrooms, chopped
1 courgette, diced
4-5 fine asparagus, cut into 1” pieces (discard the tougher stalk end if larger variety)
2-3 Spring Onions, finely sliced
4-5 sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped (reserve the oil)
10-15 Pitted Olives (Green and/or black), sliced
Dark Soy sauce or Tamari
Fresh herbs – Coriander, Flat leaf Parsley, basil and mint. At least a handful of each, chopped.
Rocket Salad leaves
Feta Cheese, crumbled
Fresh Lemon Juice
Black pepper freshly ground
Vegetable or chicken stock cube.
You will need a saucepan for the rice and a large frying pan/wok for the rest.
Start by washing and dicing the relevant vegetables (don’t chop the herbs until the last minute)
- Wash the rice well, 2-3 times in luke warm water.
- Put the rice in a large saucepan of water (usually double the amount of rice) with a vegetable or chicken stock cube.
- Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer for approx 20 minutes – The rice needs to be done, but not ‘pappy’ as it won’t mix well later – although make sure it doesn’t have a ‘bite’ either!
- Meanwhile use the frying pan/wok to gently fry the red onion, red pepper in a little olive or rapeseed oil, and when beginning to soften, add in the mushrooms, asparagus, courgette and garlic, plus a few dashes of the soy or tamari sauce, plus a good grind of black pepper. When the veggies have softened (be careful not to brown them) put them aside until the rice is cooked.
- When the rice is ready, most of the water should have already been absorbed leaving the rice dry but gently moist (if it’s still soupy drain the remaining water off). Tip the rice into the frying pan/wok. Stir gently with a metal spoon to keep the rice separated but coated with the flavours from the pan.
- Tip the contents of the frying pan/wok into a serving dish and carefully stir through the sundried tomatoes, olives, spring onions and the chopped herbs.
- Fold in a few rocket leaves, crumble the feta over the top and finish with freshly ground black pepper with a drizzle of the reserved tomato oil (or olive oil) and squeeze over the lemon juice, (catching any pips!).
I sometimes add in diced cucumber and fresh cherry tomatoes to make it even more summery, and occasionally blanched frozen peas. With the seasoning – always taste as you go, adding in more soy/tamari/black pepper to taste. As an alternative, you could replace the rice with couscous, or to make it a protein rich meal, use a couple of tins of rinsed, drained puy lentils and add a sprinkling of crushed walnuts! The choices are endless! Enjoy!
Another very important issue to remember about Summer health, is to make sure you stay hydrated! We often become de-hydrated without realising it; feeling thirsty is actually our body’s last attempt at trying to tell us to drink something! On average and adult should be drinking between 1.5 and 2 litres of water a day and when it’s hot outside or taking exercise, even more. Water is the very fuel that each of the cells in our bodies needs to survive – so why deprive them!
To help keep hydrated make sure you have easy access to water – a glass of water to hand wherever you happen to be; working at a desk, in the kitchen or take a reusable water bottle with you wherever you go. Drinking water will help to stave of tiredness or lethargy, it’ll help concentration and the list of health benefits goes on…
So, rather than reaching for a cup of tea/coffee when you’re thirsty, your body will thank you for a glass of water or two. Limit yourself to 1-2 alternative beverages a day. Tea and coffee, and also sugary juices, just serve to dilute and reduce the effectiveness of the water contained within them.
And so …. To bed! To put all these wonderful gifts of food that we are blessed with, and the water that we drink to the best use, we need to make sure that we are getting a good nights sleep! Seven to eight hours is a healthy average. Did you know that we are the only species on the planet who choose not to sleep when our body’s tell us we are tired!? We’ve become so adjusted to this way of thinking/living, that it’s become alien to us to recognise that we have been blessed with the capacity to make sure that our health stays on track whilst we are sleeping; providing a full boost of energy – rather like plugging ourselves into the National Grid, and the opportunity for our immune systems to repair! Sleep is the most underrated, health giving, pastime of all!
During these Summer months, sleeping can be a challenge when the temperature is warm. Our bodies naturally prefer a cooler environment to aid sleep – to do this, make sure your covers are light layers that can be peeled back when needed perhaps rather than a thick quilt; natural fibres can be better than synthetic (unless allergies are an issue). To keep the temperature in your bedroom at an even level, let’s take a top tip from permanently warm countries – keep blinds and curtains closed during the day, and open the windows at night when the air is cool, to get a breeze – failing that invest in a fan!
Finally, we are created in God’s image, and I’m sure He created all these wonderful, natural, health giving nutrients and the opportunity to rest, for our good – they are blessings from our loving Heavenly Father! Let us embrace these gifts, making sure we play are part as best we can in keeping well, and ultimately be able to serve His Kingdom, for His glory! Happy Summer to you All!