What to Eat in the Heat

What to Eat in the Heat

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With summer’s rising temps come diminishing appetites. On a hot night, most of us would turn down a rich bowl of pasta in exchange for lighter options with more fresh fruits and veggies and fewer weighty carbs. That choice doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that we eat healthier diets as the outdoor thermostat rises. Ice cream shops boom in the summertime for good reason.

Our ability to adapt our diets to fit our climate is an elegant example of the human body’s amazing versatility. This article, written for health care providers and science nerds but worth perusing if you’re inclined, explains in great detail why we eat what we eat when we are hot or cold. Sure, this piece of literature is 25-years old, but its bottom line is as true today as it was back when we were all wearing scrunchies and parachute pants: as the temperature goes up, our desire to eat goes down and interestingly many of us crave fewer proteins, too. We may steer away from heavy foods but not necessarily sweet ones. All of this means it can sometimes take a little bit more work to feed ourselves a balanced diet at the peak of summer.

What we really seem to want is a nice cool beverage, which basically explains why an ice-cold lemonade on a hot day can feel like plenty. Hydration during a heat wave – or anytime the body is overheated such as after a workout or when you’ve got a high fever – is key. But not all beverages are created equal. Water is typically best, sometimes with a few electrolytes added in there to help restore balance. When a person is on the cusp of dehydration, a bit of added sugar or salt can go a long way. But heavily sweetened drinks don’t just replenish our fluid reserves, they can also pack on the pounds. If the downside of drinking sugary beverages sounds like common sense, it is: this article was published nearly a decade ago, and health care providers are still preaching the same gospel.

Parenting during a heat wave can feel perilous. Some parents struggle with already picky eaters who need to consume more in order to gain weight and grow. Diminishing hunger may be normal when it’s sweltering outside, but this response can trigger a whole lot of stress for the parent whose job it is to feed, feed, feed. Other parents battle with fluids. If your kid is a Gatorade-or-Bust type, knowing that they are guzzling a liquid candy bar can feel like a losing battle. Add to this that it’s the rare adult who is his or her best self during a scorcher, but that’s largely because, like our kids, we are not feeding ourselves as much or as well as we usually do, so we are probably teetering on the same brink of nutritional imbalance or fluid-deprivation. 

So this summer, as heat waves roll through, start to become mindful of how the weather changes what we all consume. Stay a step ahead by drinking lots of water and keeping plenty more accessible. Not sure you’ve had enough? Everyone in the family can just follow the color of their pee – when it turns deep yellow, you need more hydration; the goal is clear pee or at least a super pale shade. And don’t forget to eat, which is easy to do when it’s so hot. Small snacks throughout the day work fine, just make sure to keep them balanced with protein-containing options.