Monday, July 30, 2012

What to Eat to Beat the Heat: Foods to Eat & Avoid During a Heat Wave

An extreme heat wave has been sweeping the nation.  When dealing with the exhausting heat and humidity of any heat wave, it’s important that you use every available defense to stay as cool as possible.  “As far as eating well during a heat wave, I tell my patients to understand that that they need more water than they think,” says New York City’s medical internist and weight loss management specialist Dr. Sue Decotiis.  “If you are dehydrated, you don't sweat and the symptoms may be headache, dizziness, malaise muscle cramps - even diarrhea and not merely thirst.”  According to Dr. Decotiis, with each decade people become less adaptable to extreme heat. 

Check Dr. Sue Decotiis' simple tips on what types of food to eat and avoid during these long, dog days of summer.
Water, Water, Water
Water is your BFF when the temperature rises, so your goal should be to consume and maintain as much water as possible. Take advantage of this and maximize the amount of foods that contain high levels of water to minimize the intense heating effects of the sun. As is the case with astringent foods, vegetables and fruits such as cucumbers and melons will hydrate the cells in your body and translate to a lower body temperature. The colder these ingredients are when consumed, the better.

Remember, you may not realize how thirsty your body actually is in a heat wave, advises Dr. Decotiis. “Even being outdoors for 5 minutes can tax the body.  Sometimes you might think you're hungry when all you actually need is water.”

Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate the body.   Avoid drinking a lot of “energy drinks” and sodas. Check the label for excessive caffeine and sugars.  These can make the effects of the heat worse.  This also goes for alcohol, especially beer. 

Eat Spicy Food
When we eat spicy foods, we sweat. When we sweat, our bodies cool down. Spicy foods have been shown to stimulate heat receptors in the mouth, cooling the body down by causing enhanced circulation and sweating.

Avoid Protein-Rich Meals 
Protein can warm the body and increase metabolic heat; it's also really hard to digest. It takes a lot of different molecules and enzymes to transform a piece of meat into something the body can use. When your body performs this process, it creates heat — a process known as thermogenesis. Other foods, such as carbohydrates in the form of fruit or bread, are more easily digested, use much less energy and produce a lot less heat by thermogenesis. In fact, it can take anywhere from 50 to 100% more energy to break down protein compared to carbohydrates.

Vegetables & Fruits
Fresh vegetables such as lettuce, celery, cucumber and spinach are packed with calcium, which is crucial to your body’s thermoregulatory abilities. Thermoregulation is the process by which your body regulates its internal temperature. So how does this relate to calcium consumption? Basically, all those leafy greens give you the calcium your body needs to efficiently send signals between your body and your brain (and vice versa), making thermoregulation possible. 

Staying hydrated is key during a heat wave, and one tasty way to do so is by eating water-based fruits, such as watermelons and grapes.
Whole Grains
Almost all whole grains, like barley, contain high levels of magnesium, also referred to as "nature's tranquilizer." Armed with the ability to relax muscle and nerve cells — not to mention increase the absorption of calcium in the bloodstream — magnesium helps your body maintain a more constant body temperature.

Avoid Cooking Indoors
One of the quickest ways to increase the heat in your home is to turn on your oven or broiler. Instead of cooking on the stove in the midst of a heat wave, try eating foods that don't require using the oven, such as salads and sandwiches.

 Information courtesy of: Dr. Sue Decotiis,

About Dr. Sue DeCotiis
Sue G. DeCotiis, MD is a Board Certified Medical Internist and New York State Licensed Physician in private practice for 20 years. She is also an attending physician at Beth Israel Medical Center as well as Lenox Hill Hospital. Dr. DeCotiis obtained her medical degree from the New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York. Her internship in Internal Medicine was completed at Lenox Hill Hospital, and her residency in Internal Medicine and Pathology were completed at Westchester County Medical Center and NYU Medical Center respectively. She is the author of A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Health, Pocketbooks (Simon and Schuster), and publishes a quarterly newsletter sent to all patients. A firm believer in the benefits of exercise, Dr. DeCotiis is an avid tennis player, kayaker and a beachcomber – and dog lover.

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