Eating for Heat
Heat can have a seriously dampening effect on appetite, and if not on appetite, than at least on our willingness to fire up the oven. Even thinking about roasting veggies when you’re already roasting all on your own just isn’t … appetizing.
Why does appetite diminish in hot weather? A 2019 study conducted by the University of Toronto found that leptin (the hormone that signals we’re full) levels were elevated in heat and diminished in cold; conversely, ghrelin (the hunger hormone) concentrations rose in the cold and fell in heat.
It makes sense. When your body is already hot, it doesn’t want to create more heat by finding, preparing, consuming, and digesting food. In the winter when we’re cold, our bodies have to work harder to maintain a healthy body temperature: food provides the fuel.
How do you eat healthy when all you want is ice cream?
Since you have to eat, and cold pizza every day of the summer probably isn’t great for your heart or your wallet, there are ways to get good nutrition, summer flavors, and limit time spent in a hot kitchen.
Here are some additional ways to eat without the heat:
Eat small, eat often
Scaling down portions and meals in the heat isn’t a bad idea. Less digestion = less heat production. Forcing yourself to eat a large meal may make you more uncomfortable than you already are, so eating smaller, cooler, more frequent meals is probably best. Instead of large meals every four or five hours, switch to small meals every two to three.
Eating fat can actually raise body temperature, meaning that gorgeous, cold, full-fat ice cream cone may actually be making you warmer in the long run. If you’re craving sweet and cold, a frozen banana dipped in dark chocolate is delicious, or a frozen fruit or Greek yogurt bar can give you the rich mouth feel without the temp-raising fat.
Wetter is better
Foods that contain water are great for the summer, because hydration is key to cool. Nature, in her infinite wisdom, has provided us with a bevvy of fruits and foods that cool and refresh. Blend up some watermelon and mix in mint and a tiny bit of lemon; add water and chill until you’re ready to consume. Cucumbers are great too; dip slices in hummus to get some good fat and protein. Peaches, berries, pineapple, leafy greens — combined with ice and blended, these make a sweet, cooling summer drink.
Nix the nuts
Nuts and peanuts increase body temperature, possibly due to the effort to digest. Peanuts in particular are said to increase blood circulation and metabolism, and with them, body temperature.
Spice it up
Yep, really. Spicy foods encourage sweating, your body’s natural way of cooling itself.
What about booze?
That flush to the cheeks, redness of the nose, the sweating after a drink or two — surely alcohol warms us up?
Actually, no. Alcohol really confuses the body, to be honest. It opens your blood vessels, which prompts blood to move away from your core and outwards. This heat redistribution cools your core but heats up your skin, causing you to actually feel hotter. You sweat, you flush, which cools your body further. This isn’t a big deal in the summer, but people have been known to get frostbite or hypothermia in winter when they remove protective clothing, thinking they’re hot.
The lesson here: drinking alcohol may cool your body, but you don’t get to enjoy the effects, so maybe limit the booze.
Hit the citrus
Citrus is cooling, so consider a cold grapefruit half for breakfast, some lemon added to your drinking water, and an orange as a snack.
Yogurt is a great one-two punch for cool eating: the low-fat proteins are easier to digest, plus the probiotics are great for the beneficial bacteria in your body — which helps with digestion. Cool, creamy, non- or low-fat Greek yogurt mixed with berries or blended into a smoothie is a delicious, smart summer food.
Find your fiber
Fiber is great for the body. It feeds those beneficial bacteria, keeps you regular, fills you up! But it can require some work to break down, increasing body temperature. Consider different fiber sources: raspberries, blackberries, peaches, nectarines, are all great sources of dietary fiber, but also provide water for easier digestion.
One major concern in the summer is getting enough protein. When it’s hot and we’re more snacking than eating real meals, a lackluster appetite can mean low energy due to not enough protein.
Stasi Kasianchuk, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Exercise Physiologist, Sports Dietitian and Director of Coaching at women’s health site Gennev, had some great ideas on ways to keep up your protein and the power it provides:
“It really helps to have some staples available, cold, in the fridge. Think about hard-boiled eggs, cooked chicken breast, smoked salmon, even canned tuna. These things are great sources of protein, and they can be made into a sandwich, added to a salad, or put on top of a cracker if you feel more like snacking than eating a full meal.
“Another option for the plant-based eaters would be chilled hummus or a black bean dip or a lentil spread. Again, they’re flexible enough for whatever size meal sounds good to you, and you’re getting good protein and fiber.
“When you’re struggling to eat, make sure the food is pretty and presented in an appetizing way. I love a charcuterie board stocked with small amounts of lots of things: sliced meats, cheese, nuts, maybe some hummus; I add whatever berries or fruits are in season. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are all gorgeous, flavorful summer foods. Figs are delicious. Then I add a rainbow of veggies: cut peppers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, sliced cucumber. They’re all so good dipped in hummus!
“Finally, a summer favorite for me is the light, fresh taste of a caprese salad or sandwich: sliced, fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, lots of fresh basil. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Keep it light and fresh with your herbs and condiments: lemon, cilantro, basil, mint are great summery flavors that help you keep your cool. Just make sure to keep things refrigerated or on ice until you’re ready to eat.”
Your takeaway: to eat “cool,” don’t make your body work too hard to digest: foods high in fats, protein, and carbohydrates take more effort to break down. Foods that contain a lot of water require less. Think light: light sauces (lemon or vinaigrette over mayonnaise), light flavors (cilantro, berries), light load on you.
Eat well, be well!
Image by grandriver