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Proper diet is antidote to damp summer illness
By Zhang Qian

SHANGHAI’S continual summer rain not only robs many people of a good mood but also poses a threat to their health by creating conditions for pathogens, which love dampness.

Pai shi, or dispelling pathogenic dampness, is an important rule for keeping health during summer in the city, apart from avoiding attacks of pathogenic heat. Doctors recommend a plain diet with proper dampness-dispelling ingredients.

Pathogenic dampness is a big enemy to the spleen (digestive system), which operates best in a “dry” environment, says Dr Liu Wen, chief physician of Longhua Hospital attached to Shanghai University of TCM.

The spleen, according to TCM, is responsible for digesting and transporting nutrition to all organs and supporting water metabolism within the body.

When pathogenic dampness invades, those processes are disrupted, which may lead to indigestion problems like abdominal distension, poor appetite and diarrhea that causes fluid loss and exhaustion.

In addition, pathogenic dampness may also threaten the healthy “yang” energy in the human body, which may lead to problems such as chest-stuffiness, short urination and fatigue that are hard to relieve. Damp pathogenic diseases such as eczema and rheumatism are often aggravated or recur.

“Though most people will feel discomfort in the season, they do not necessarily all suffer that much,” says Dr Liu. “Some people may naturally get over it within days when they get adapted, but it may stay as a problem for the weak.”

Physical problems from pathogenic dampness, according to TCM, may also come from an unhealthy lifestyle, in addition to the damp environment. Continuous rain and high humidity contribute to an unhealthy environment that allows pathogens to invade the human body and disturb the healthy energy balance. Eating too much cold or greasy food and having very limited physical exercise often suppress the healthy “yang” energy further.

A plain and warm diet is highly recommended to counteract pathogenic dampness, according to Dr Liu. Too much greasy, spicy, fried, sweet or cold foods will do no good but burden the already weak digestive system, and aggravate pathogenic-related problems.

Foods that help benefit the spleen and dispel pathogenic dampness can help relieve seasonal discomfort. They include yams, pearl barley, white gourd, white radishes, tomatoes, dried purple seaweed and kelp.

Herbs like eupatorium, watermelon rind and dendrobe may also help.

Apart from that, getting a good night’s rest, maintaining a positive mood and exercise are always recommended to maintain health and the immune system.

Lotus leaf and tuckahoe congee

Ingredients: One piece of lotus leaf (dry or fresh), tuckahoe (50g), rice (100g)


1. Cook soup with the lotus leaf, and filter the soup.

2. Cook congee with the filtered soup, tuckahoe and rice.

3. Add a little sugar to sweeten.

Benefits: Helps dispel pathogenic heat and dampness, soothes nerves, ceases diarrhea, and relieves cardiovascular problems.



Purple sweet potato, lily’s root and white fungus soup

Ingredients: One purple sweet potato, fresh lily’s roots (15g), white fungus (15g), rock sugar as needed


1. Soak the white fungus with cold water for one hour and tear them into small pieces.

2. Peel and chop the purple sweet potato into small pieces.

3. Put the white fungus in an earthen pot with water.

4. Bring it to a quick boil and turn to gentle heat. Simmer for about
one and a half hours.

5. Add the purple sweet potato and lily’s roots in for about 5-10 minutes. Add rock sugar to sweeten.

6. Drink once or twice daily.

Benefits: Helps dispel pathogenic heat, nourishes lungs, soothes nerves, and benefits heart. It can help relieve problems like sleeplessness, poor appetite, fatigue, sore throat and continuous thirst.

(Note: It is advised that those suffering indigestion already skip the purple sweet potato.)


Pearl barley and red bean soup

Ingredients: Pearl barley (15g), red bean (15g), rice (100g)


1. Soak the pearl barley and red beans for two hours.

2. Put all the ingredients in an electric cooker with water and bring it to boiling. Keep cooking for another two hours after the boiling.

3. Add some rock sugar to sweeten.

4. Drink once or twice daily.

Benefits: Helps dispel pathogenic dampness, benefits the digestive system, promotes urination, relieves edema, and benefits the heart.

Pearl barley and yam congee

Ingredients: Pearl barley (10g), yam (10g), rice (100g)


1. Wash the ingredients; soak pearl barley for 20 minutes. Chop the yam.

2. Make congee with the ingredients in an electric cooker.

3. Eat once or twice daily.

Benefits: Dispels dampness, benefits the spleen and improves appetite.

 Five beans congee

Ingredients: Soy beans (15g), green beans (25g), red beans (25g), black beans (25g), fried hyacinth bean
(25g), black sticky rice (50g) and rice (100g)


1. Wash all the ingredients and soak them all together for about four hours.

2. Put the ingredients in a saucepan with water.

3. Bring it to a quick boil and turn to gentle heat.

4. Keep cooking for about an hour. Turn off the heat and simmer for another 15-20 minutes.

5. Eat once or twice daily.

Benefits: Dispels pathogenic heat, improves energy circulation, and benefits digestive system, kidney and lungs.

Heat may stay for transitional season

Though summer heat is supposed to end for most regions in China on Saturday when the Chu Shu (end of heat) solar term begins, the temperature may not drop so quickly for some southern and southeastern regions, including Shanghai.

At the turn between summer and autumn, days around Chu Shu may carry characteristics of both seasons — the heat of summer and the dryness of autumn.

The high temperatures stay in many regions in southern China even after Li Qiu (autumn begins), which fell on August 7 this year, and Chu Shu. Chinese people tend to identify such climate as qiu laohu (autumn tiger), to describe the strong and annoying heat.

Though the temperature may drop quickly at night, it can still be quite hot during the daytime.

Strong “cold energy” foods like watermelons recommended in the summer are no longer suitable at this turn of seasons. Considering that pathogenic dryness is slowly replacing dampness, doctors advise eating more yin-nourishing and moisturizing foods. They include pears, apples, grapes, white fungus, lily’s root, lotus seeds, honey, celery, spinach, sticky rice, sesame, beans and dairy products.

Spicy or baked foods are not recommended in the season because they may aggravate the pathogenic dryness problem in the body.

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