I clearly remember how new and strange it seemed the first time I was encouraged to eat hot food on a hot day to cool down. I was in Nicaragua on a particularly humid day in August when I was given a large bowl of steaming chicken soup. I was sweating profusely, but as a gracious guest I did my best to eat the whole thing. It was not until later that I learned the belief in Nicaragua (and many countries outside of Western culture) is that warm foods are best eaten on warm days. And it wasn’t much later when I learned why physiologically this practice makes sense as well.
As the temps here in Seattle start to rise my mind wanders back to that time. Because the 80 plus degree days here are quite rare, most of us bypass the option to invest in air conditioning and, instead, seek alternatives for chilling out. For hundreds of years we lived without air conditioning even in the warmest of climates, but how?
Here are a few simple (AC-free) tips to try when you just can’t get comfortable in the Summer heat:
Eating lightly in the heat is advisable, but your appetite will likely be low in higher temps anyway. Focus on foods high in water, as we lose quite a bit in the heat due to sweating. Choose salads, sprouts and watery fruits such as apples and watermelon. Eating warm foods like teas and soups can stimulate sweating which, as I found, helps cool the body better than any amount of ice cream. Spicy peppers are recommended on hot days as they, too, stimulate sweating which is our body’s natural AC system. In Chinese medicine these spicy foods are meant to help “disperse” inner heat. Try to avoid very fatty foods cooked for extended periods like meats and eggs. What to do: Try creating a cooling beverage of Summer fruits -- Blend watermelon with cucumber and a mix of berries. Steam or lightly sautee your dishes or opt to eat your veggies raw instead.
Hydrotherapy (healing water treatments) have been used in Naturopathic medicine for ages. Water makes up most of our bodies and we need it to survive, so of course it makes sense that it would have healing properties. Some traditions advocate using warm water as in short, warm showers to induce sweating and thus cooling the body. The more traditional school of hydrotherapy recommends using cool water on the body in many forms including cold mitten friction, wet sheet wraps and cooling compresses to cool down. Something even as simple as a neutral to cool shower at bedtime can mean all the world to someone who fears a poor night’s sleep due to a warm home. What to do: Try cold mitten friction -- simply take a bowl of ice water and dip a washcloth in, wring out and then briskly rub the cloth on your skin toward the heart in short strokes. The cool water causes blood vessels to constrict and then dilate which helps bring more heat to the surface and away from the core, cooling your body overall. Try a cool compress on your neck -- soak a washcloth or hand towel in ice water. Wring out the towel and roll up then place on the back of the neck. The compress to this area has the ability to quickly cool the large volumes which supply the brain.
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Dr. Katie is a next-generation natural medicine doctor and proud dog mom living in the mountain west.