Who doesn’t instinctively seek lighter, simpler food in hot weather? Our natural appetites gravitate toward foods with higher water content. This usually means more fresh, uncooked ingredients, and luckily the choices are diverse, adundant, ripe, and more reasonably priced at this time of year.
You might seek ice-cream or chilled drinks to lower your temperature when you’re hot or overheated – but don’t be fooled: the cooling benefit is transient. Anything below body temperature does initially cool, but the body quickly responds by increasing blood flow to bring your temperature back up to norm (a similar effort is required by the body with hot food, except in reverse). Incidentally, one of the biggest benefits of raw food in general is even energy levels; this is partly achieved through eating foods that are around blood temperature, thus minimising an energy drain. Physiologically, the process of digestion and the energy it subsequently releases, raises temperature, so making lighter digestive choices in summer makes innate sense.
Here are my recommendations on the best foods to pick if you want to stay calm, cool and collected:
- Vegetables and fruits with a high water content
This serves the obvious need for hydration. The advantage of juicy foods over pure liquids is that water is combined with fibre so that it releases it slowly. Some people believe water-rich foods can thin the blood, and this in turn helps your body release heat.
Leafy greens such as spinach, watercress, lettuces, or bak choi are good examples of hydrating items, as are tomatoes, radishes, squashes, cucumber, celery, carrots. Watermelon is the quintessential fruit in this category, but don’t overlook the other melons. As well as delicious eaten solid, they all blend into fabulous smoothies. Soft juicy fruits such as berries, peaches, pineapple, mangoes, papaya, and citrus are great choices, as is the water and flesh of young coconuts (alas, not always easy to buy in the UK. An alternative is pure, electrolyte balanced coconut water).
- Vegetables/Fruit with sun-protecting factor (SPF)
Yes, some do have compounds that may offer a degree of UV protection for your skin due to high levels of anti-oxidants, lycopene, caratenoids, or polyphenols.
Tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, red/orange peppers, spinach and whole-leaf green tea. If you’re an outdoors person, get a regular helpings of these items.
- Spices that make you sweat
The food culture of people in hot climates all feature strong spices. This produces gustatory sweating due to the presence of an oil called capsaicin. Sweat carries heat out of the body, and the evaporation of moisture on the skin creates a cooling sensation.
Chillies, peppercorns, cayenne, paprika, and fresh ginger are classic examples. Additionally, wasabi, horse-radish, and mustards.
- Flavours that cool or refresh
Just as some foods have positive thermal effects on the body, some are reknown for their coolness.
Everyone will be familiar with mint, but herbs such as basil, coriander and dill also have the same tendency. Citrus fruits are instantly refreshing as they are less sweet than most, and the same goes for rhubarb and gooseberries which contain a natural bitterness and astringency. Mildy bitter flavours are generally cooling, so gourds, rocket, cresses, and dandelion greens will help you keep your composure. Drinking (or bathing with) tepid as opposed to chilled liquids offer a longer lasting benefit.
What foods do, or don’t, work for you?