Dec 19, 2019

7 min read

What to eat during a heatwave - A definitive guide

Extreme heat, the likes of which we are experiencing more and more in the present day, brings with it a very unique set of challenges. Several experts have noted, for instance, that the extreme temperatures brought about by this year’s heatwave have had a significant impact on productivity and stress levels across the population. They also tend to disrupt people’s routines and affect their sleep cycles. Studies also show that when mercury levels rise, people experience a significant decline in their cognitive abilities and perform measurably worse on a wide range of mentally challenging tasks.

Proper nutrition can go a long way towards ensuring that you are well prepared to cope with increased temperatures and are well prepared to tackle the challenges that extreme heat poses on your body and mind.

Eating During The Summer

Getting your diet right during the peak of summer can be daunting. If you are like most people, when the weather gets scorching hot, food is probably the last thing on your mind. Appetites are not often prolific when you are dripping with sweat and all you can think of is how you can’t wait to get to the nearest air-conditioned zone.

While it is definitely the case that the body doesn’t require as many calories in hot weather as it does during cold weather, there are still specific nutritional demands that need to be met in order to ensure that your body functions optimally and gets you through the summer months with minimum fuss and maximum energy.

Although the idea of indulging in ice cream or chugging ice-cold sodas might seem intuitive, they are definitely not doing your body any favours in terms of keeping cool.

Basic Principles

There a few key ideas, following which can help you understand and achieve optimal nutrition during hot weather. The most important thing to bear in mind is that you should lay off heavy foods during the summer. This might be very intuitive advice because most people generally report an aversion to eating large portions of food during hot weather.

More than just quantity, the types of food you eat can influence the way your body regulates its temperature.This makes it vital to include more “cooling”, water-rich foods such as cucumbers, leafy greens, berries, watermelons etc. in your diet, during the hotter months.

On the other hand, it is recommended that you cut down on meat-based dishes and starchy foods such as rice and bread. You can also add highly processed and/or sweetened foods to this list. These foods can be quite hard for the body to digest and lead to excess heat being generated.

Keeping your portion sizes small and consuming your calories over several small meals is definitely a great strategy. It is also very important to make sure that you lay off foods rich in protein and simple carbohydrates. Heavy foods tax your digestive process which in turn, leads to an increase in your core temperature. An increased core temperature obviously isn’t what you should be shooting for during a heatwave. Conversely, you should try and maximise your intake of foods which replenish your fluid levels and keep you cool, such as cucumbers, spinach, berries etc.

Without getting too much into the finer details of organising a healthy diet for a heatwave, the basic thumb rules to remember are to limit your intake of meats and sugars while increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables and greens you consume. Additionally, it is also vital to drink plenty of fluids such as water or unsweetened beverages.

Runny dishes such as soups, curries and stews are great for the summer. Not only do they help you stay hydrated, but they are also quite easy to consume when it’s hot outside. Here’s a pro-tip - Try and add some coconut milk to your soups and curries. Not only does it add a lovely bit of texture and taste delicious, it is a great source of good cholesterol, which is great for your heart.

Foods You Should Be Eating More Of

1. Spinach

Large quantities of spinach should definitely be finding their way into your shopping cart, when a heatwave is on. Spinach is not only rich in water (About 92% water), but is chock full of minerals and nutrients, which makes it a wonder food for the hotter months. It is rich in iron, magnesium and B-vitamins and is therefore, great for your skin, hair and overall energy levels. It also helps keep your blood pressure in check, which in turn will help keep you cool.

Much like spinach, other leafy vegetables like kale, lettuce and collard greens are a great bet for the summer.

2. Turmeric

It might be a great idea to tuck into some Indian or Thai food when a heatwave is on. Turmeric, a vital ingredient in these cuisines has been shown to have extraordinary anti-inflammatory properties and is also great for your circulation. These effects are predominantly due to turmeric being rich in a compound called curcumin, which has numerous health benefits.

3. Chilli Peppers

This might sound counterintuitive at first, especially if you are not a fan of hot foods, but chillies are great for cooling your body down, when it gets sweltering. Hot peppers contain a compound called capsaicin, which essentially tricks your brain into thinking that you are on fire. This triggers the brain into sending signals that your body is overheated and needs to be cooled down. While they do raise your temperature momentarily, the subsequent sweating causes a cooling reaction which is great for your body in hot weather.

4. Watermelons

Watermelons make for an amazing snack in the summer months. Firstly, they are very water-rich, which makes them great for replenishing fluids lost to the sun. Secondly, they contain some vital nutrients such as citrulline which help you feel relaxed and dilate your blood vessels, which can help you keep your blood pressure in check and stay relaxed.

5. Mint

This might be a bit of a no-brainer, but mint has a load of health benefits that make it a great dietary addition for the summer. Mint delivers a very pleasant, cooling sensation which can help take the sting out of a scorching hot day. Additionally, it relaxes the body and does wonders for your digestion. As mentioned earlier, your ability to digest takes a bit of a hit during a heatwave and mint might just be thing to include in your dishes and drinks, to give your tummy a bit of a helping hand.

6. Berries

Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries among others are great sources of antioxidants and vitamins. They have a positive effect on the immune system and can also be beneficial for skin health. However, moderation is key. While they come with a host of benefits, they also contain a lot of natural sugars, which when consumed in excess, are not very desirable for your body when the heat is on.

Honourable Mentions: Bananas, Tomatoes,Cantaloupes, Celery, Lemons, Oranges, Kefir, Fortified Cereals.

Foods to Avoid/Reduce

  • Meat
  • Bread and Pastries
  • Soy
  • Ice cream

Staying Hydrated

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the body loses a lot more water in hot weather. Constantly replenishing lost fluids is essential to maintaining your energy levels and health, during a heatwave.

It is not very wise to exclusively rely on your thirst as a signal to re-up on drinks, during a heatwave. It is essential to keep reminding yourself to hydrate periodically to make sure you don’t let the sun get to you.

It is recommended that you drink 2.5-3 litres of water a day. It is normal for some people to exceed this recommendation and provided you have healthy kidneys, this should not be a problem.

What to Drink?

In addition to water, which might get monotonous, healthy alternatives include coconut water, green tea, lemon juice etc. You should definitely try to keep away from cola, packaged drinks and other sweetened beverages, as they are sure to leave you dehydrated and groggy. Fruit juices can be a decent alternative, but in moderation, as they are dense in natural sugars, which might make you dehydrated. Consuming a lot of sugar, even natural sugar found in fruits, isn’t going to do your health many favours, especially in very hot weather.

Coconut water is rich in minerals and is an especially healthy option to quench your thirst with. While tea and coffee are generally considered to be fine in moderation, there is a school of thought that holds that caffeine may have a diuretic effect in high doses, which can lead to dehydration. The same holds true for alcohol and It is certainly advisable to lay off alcohol as much as possible, until the weather cools down.

About the author

Abishek Swaminathen

Senior Content Manager

Abishek is ONiO’s senior content manager. A medical doctor by profession, he stumbled onto a writing career almost by accident, as it were. Words have enthralled Abishek since the day he first held a book and at ONiO, he channels his inner wordsmith towards providing our subscribers with regular doses of fun and informative content.

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