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What’s the Best Way to Eat in a Heatwave?

When the temperature spikes and your body starts responding to the heat and humidity, you might not know what foods to eat or avoid. The last thing you want is to accidentally heat up your home with complicated cooking that will have you feeling bloated and fatigued. But if you pay closer attention to what you’re consuming and follow a few simple strategies, you’ll feel refreshed and energized even on the hottest day of the season.

Let’s cover all the heatwave essentials and how to best enjoy food for hot summer days. Below you’ll find out exactly what your body is doing to keep you cool and what it needs to fuel those activities. Plus, we’re highlighting some hot summer day food ideas and tips for eating well without heating up your kitchen.

How Your Body Copes with a Heatwave

You probably don’t need scientific evidence to prove that the dog days of summer can leave you feeling a little funky. It’s not unusual to notice your hands or feet swelling up or even a change in your appetite. This all has to do with how the body reacts to higher temperatures and humidity levels.

While serving as the director of the CDC’s Environmental Hazards and Health Effects Program, Mike McGeehin addressed how heatwaves impact human health in an interview with Scientific American. When high temperatures combine with high humidity levels, our bodies just can’t keep cool as easily.

“If you have tremendously high temperatures and high humidity, a person will be sweating but the sweat won’t be drying on the skin,” McGeehin explained. “That’s why it’s not just heat but the combination of heat and humidity that matters.” Heat rapidly leaves the body as sweat evaporates. But if this isn’t happening, you won’t be as cool and comfortable as you would in dry heat.

Additionally, when the body gets overwhelmed by the heat, and that the muscles aren’t getting electrolytes they need to function properly, you might start to experience heat cramps. This is also a result of the blood vessels expanding to help promote the loss of excess heat, as the BBC has explained. But when prolonged, lower blood pressure can have some undesirable effects.

Factoring all of these changes in the body, excessive heat can lead to heat exhaustion or even heat stroke since the body simply can’t keep up. Heat exhaustion is often identified by lightheadedness or a headache which can be remedied by moving to a cool environment, resting, hydrating, and replenishing electrolytes, according to McGeehin.

Research has shown that eating food actually raises the body’s internal temperature by a few degrees. As a result, it’s not unusual to experience a general loss of appetite when it’s hot out. But remember that appetite is simply the desire to eat rather than an actual signal that your body needs food. Not eating enough can compound the symptoms of heat exhaustion and prevent your body from recovering more quickly.

So, it’s very important to eat properly, even if it’s so hot that you don’t really feel like it. But what sort of eating habits should you adopt? What is considered a smart choice of food for hot summer days?

Following guidance from the National Disaster Education Coalition, emergency preparedness experts recommend the following strategies for eating, drinking, and generally coping in a heatwave. Not only are they sensible, but they point to refreshingly good eats, too!

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

Water is considered the safest and healthiest beverage during a heatwave, and your body needs it to keep cool. Remember to drink a sufficient amount of water at regular intervals. It’s also important to note that studies have shown cool, room temperature, and warm water to be more beneficial in supporting body heat loss than refrigerated or ice-cold water.

The conventional wisdom of eight glasses per day certainly applies during a heatwave. But you should consider increasing your water intake if you’re especially active and losing more fluids through sweating.

Additionally, sports drinks and electrolyte-infused beverages can help your body regain a healthy electrolyte balance. Just look for caffeine-free versions that are low in sodium and added sugar.

Put Down the Caffeine and Cocktails

While an ice-cold blended coffee drink, margarita, or beer might seemingly take the edge off of any hot weather discomfort, the caffeine and alcohol they contain will actually interfere with your system. As diuretics, they can cause dehydration, too — which is exactly the opposite of what you need. So, wait until the sun goes down before pulling out the cocktail umbrellas, and stick to water and electrolyte drinks throughout the day.

If you’re aiming for a special occasion drink, give homemade fruit-infused water a try! Flavor combinations like strawberry-lemon-mint or cucumber-thyme-lime can be just as fancy as a white sangria, and so much more beneficial for your body. You could also prepare some decaffeinated sugar-free iced tea as a replacement for black tea and coffee.

Avoid Excess Salt

While the salty sea air might be nice during summer, table salt isn’t helpful on a hot day. It gets in the way of your body’s natural perspiration functions and instead causes fluid retention, leaving you feeling bloated and uncomfortable. If you’re looking to add more flavor to your meals, add a kick with fresh herbs and spices instead of salt.

Fill Your Plate With Water-Rich Produce

Nutritionists estimate that 20% to 30% of our fluid intake comes from foods — and certain fruits and veggies are especially helpful at hydrating. Fresh produce picks that can help keep you hydrated include:

  • Apples
  • Bell peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Grapefruit
  • Honeydew
  • Lettuce
  • Oranges
  • Peaches
  • Pineapple
  • Radishes
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Zucchini

Many of these fruits and veggies have a water content higher than 90% — and quite a few are seasonal for summer, as well!

In addition, coconut water, skim milk, and low-fat cottage cheese also contain a high level of H2O, making these good additions to your summertime grocery list.

Choose Fridge-Fresh Ingredients You Don’t Have to Cook

While the microwave won’t be a problem, cooking in the oven or on the stovetop can quickly heat up your home. And trying to disperse the heat with fans doesn’t actually work. On an especially hot day, a fan will create a convection oven effect, blasting hot air around and making you more uncomfortable.

Homemade fruit medleys and crunchy salads are two great hot summer day food ideas for a reason. They’re packed with water to help you stay hydrated, and they don’t involve any cooking. Neither do cool summer smoothies or Perfect Snack products enjoyed straight from the fridge!

Opt for Small, Frequent Meals and Snacks

Digesting a large, heavy meal requires more energy, and the process also raises your internal temperature. Stick with light, fresh snacks, and save that massive cookout for a cooler weekend.

If you’ve just checked the forecast and need some easy-breezy snacks or on-the-go food for hot summer days, the whole family can chill out with Perfect Bar and Perfect Kids.

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