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Eating to Beat the Heat

by Sarah Cimperman, ND

When temperatures heat up, it feels good to stay cool. What we eat and drink during hot weather makes more difference than most people realize. Icy drinks and cold, raw foods may taste good during warm and sunny weather, but temperature isn’t everything. Some foods contain important nutrients that protect our skin from ultraviolet sunlight. Others stimulate internal thermoregulatory mechanisms that help the body adjust to high external temperatures. If you make good choices, food and drinks can help you keep your cool this summer.

Hydrate Often

Despite claims made by sports drinks, water hydrates better than any other beverage. Unless you have kidney disease or have been directed by your doctor to limit fluid intake, it’s important to drink plenty of water, especially when the weather is hot. A good general rule is to consume half your body weight in ounces each day (a person weighing one hundred fifty pounds should drink seventy-five ounces of water daily). Add four to six more ounces for every fifteen to twenty minutes of physical activity and an extra eight ounces for each caffeinated or alcoholic beverage consumed.

Ice Your Tea

If you prefer more flavorful fluids, drink water in the form of unsweetened brewed ice tea. Green, white, red and herbal teas taste great cold and have bonus botanical benefits. Red tea, an herbal infusion of rooibos, is very high in antioxidants, like green and white teas. Green tea has also been found to have anti-cancer properties, improve heart and brain health, and stimulate production of enzymes that strengthen the immune system. Dandelion tea supports healthy liver function. Ginger tea can reduce nausea and inflammation in the body. Peppermint, chamomile and fennel teas act as antispasmodic and carminative agents to improve digestion, relieve stomach cramps and reduce intestinal gas production.

For iced tea, steep five of your favorite tea bags in one cup of boiling or near-boiling water: three minutes for green teas (175°F), one minute for white teas (175°F), and five or more minutes for red and herbal teas (208°F). Add the concentrated solution to a pitcher and dilute it with cold water to the desired strength. Serve the tea over ice or chill it in the fridge for future use.

Avoid Diuretics

If you don’t usually drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages, don’t start during hot weather. Alcohol and caffeine have dehydrating effects on the body because they act as diuretics, stimulating the kidneys to excrete more water. If you do drink alcohol, limit yourself to one glass of wine each day. Red is the best choice because it is higher in antioxidants than white varieties. If you drink coffee, limit yourself to one cup per day and monitor caffeine intake from other significant sources, including chocolate and black tea.

Replace Electrolytes

Our bodies sweat more when conditions are hot and sunny, particularly when we are active. To compensate, eat plenty of foods high in electrolytes to replace those lost in sweat. Sports drinks designed to do this may replenish sodium, chloride and potassium, but they often contain additives that are better avoided, like refined sugars and syrups, food dyes, artificial flavors and sweeteners, and stabilizing and emulsifying agents. Instead, use food to replenish electrolyte stores.

In general, fruits, vegetables, beans and fish are all good sources. Those that top the list include avocado, apricots, prune juice, dried figs, watermelon, sardines, broccoli, tomatoes, wild salmon, kidney beans, artichokes, steamed spinach, mustard greens, cherries and celery. Eat several servings each day, especially after exercising outside in the summer.

Eat Your Antioxidants

Like humans, plants use antioxidants to protect themselves from the sun. Ultraviolet sunrays create reactive oxygen species in the skin that cause cellular damage and increase the risk of skin cancer. But as several studies have shown, antioxidants we consume can help protect skin from this damage (along with sunscreen). One clinical trial in France followed twenty-five healthy adults for seven weeks while they took a daily antioxidant complex containing lycopene, beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol (a form of vitamin E) and selenium. Researchers found that the antioxidants improved epidermal defense against DNA damage induced by ultraviolet radiation, protecting skin against aging and cancer.

Although antioxidants can be taken in supplement form, colorful fruits and vegetables are the best sources. Lycopene can be found in red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit. Orange, yellow and green fruits and vegetables are high in beta-carotene. Raw nuts and seeds are the best sources of vitamin E, but it can also be found in olive oil, sweet potatoes, tempeh, blueberries and green leafy vegetables like wild purslane, spinach and dandelion leaves. Selenium sources include Brazil nuts, halibut, salmon, Swiss chard, oats, oysters, sunflower seeds and brown rice.

Season with Diaphoretics

Certain foods contain diaphoretic compounds that cool the body. Not to be confused with diuretics, diaphoretics increase diaphoresis, or sweating, which is a thermoregulatory mechanism the body uses to reduce its internal temperature. The most common food sources are ginger, cayenne and peppermint. Use these herbs and spices to season foods and drinks during hot weather.

Add a Salad

Every adult should eat seven to nine servings of vegetables each day but many fall short. Ensure adequate intake by eating a big, colorful salad once or twice per day. Toss together your favorite salad greens with other fresh, colorful vegetables, some raw nuts or seeds, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil and your favorite vinegar. For a balanced main course meal, top your salad with cooked fish, beans or tempeh. Vary the ingredients for an endless array of healthy, seasonal salads.

Choose Fruit for Dessert

Hot weather may inspire dreams of ice cream, but make it only an occasional treat. For a refreshing end to any meal, eat a rainbow of fresh fruit instead. Get the benefits of a full spectrum of electrolytes and antioxidants by including all colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green and blue or purple.


Dr. Sarah Cimperman is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine in private practice in New York City. For more information, call 646-234-2918 or visit www.drsarahcimperman.com   

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