Food is important at all times of the year, but even more so in summer. And it has a scientific explanation: heat makes a bad diet, both for excess calories and lack of hydration, more easily unbalance the metabolism and this has more immediate effects, such as headache, dizziness, muscle weakness or dry mouth. This is confirmed by scientists from the Gadea Foundation such as José María Ordovás, one of the world’s leading experts in aspects related to gene-diet interactions and cardiovascular diseases, who has dismantled some myths.
Hot food to cool down
The temperature of food and beverages affects the desire we have to eat them, but although it seems logical to think that the colder, the better, it is not so. “Cold food and drink have an initial relieving effect, but it doesn’t last long,” warns Ordovás. “The digestion of food generates an increase in body temperature which, combined with the rapid cooling caused by food and/or cold drinks, causes the temperature to rise… So you can end up worse than you started,” he explains. Therefore, although foods such as hot soups have less satisfying immediate effects, they are more beneficial in the long term: “When you eat hot food, our body perceives it and transmits signals to the brain to cool us. The same goes for spicy food: it induces sweating and therefore cooling of the body. In fact, in cultures like Korea this is followed to the letter, the motto there is “fight fire with fire”, but here few are able to “give up the immediate pleasure of eating a good gazpacho in summer.
Solids also help hydrate
Although each person is different, both genetically and in their levels of activity, in summer we have to hydrate more because we lose more fluids through the sweat that our body automatically generates to cool down. But not only liquids provide hydration. Of course, “water, unsweetened drinks, tea or coffee” are recommended – alcoholic beverages, such as beer, to a lesser extent because of their diuretic capacity – but “let’s not forget that solid foods also contribute to hydration, especially some fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, cucumbers, courgettes, celery, lettuce, melon or watermelon”, specifies the expert.
The calorie expenditure is not greater because it is summer and it is hot, “as always, depends on individual activity. In fact, according to Ordovás, “normal calorie expenditure usually decreases during the summer”, although it must be borne in mind that heat does reduce appetite, because “the body tries to regulate the temperature by reducing the functions that generate heat, such as the digestion of food”.
Not everything is a myth: the risk of food poisoning does increase
Food-borne illnesses increase during the summer for two reasons: “Bacteria multiply faster in warmer temperatures, and preparing food outdoors makes it difficult to handle safely,” says Ordovás. That’s why it’s not a good idea to let your guard down in the summer, either at home or away from home.