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Just a few hours in the scorching summer heat can be enough to leave one feeling unusually spent and desperately in need of some rest. But, nutrition and science have a way of making things a little better, whether it comes to protecting our skin or even helping us reach our health goals, despite the summer heat.

Here are a few evidence-based tips to keep in mind this summer!

 

#1: Eat spicy food

Regardless of the season, including a variety of spices in our diet is generally a good idea. On a large scale, spicy food is less likely to spoil. And when looked at closely, specific compounds present in various spices have pretty powerful benefits; for instance, piperine (a compound in black pepper) helps the body absorb other nutrients from the food we’ve eaten, while glucosinolates (found in mustard) are potent antioxidants.

 

During the summer, they have yet another advantage: they make us sweat.

 

If this seems paradoxical, it actually shouldn’t, because sweating is our body’s cooling mechanism. It’s a physiological response to heat that cools the skin by wetting it, and also takes away some of the heat by evaporating.1

 

Sweating when you eat spicy food is called gustatory sweating, and can be attributed to specific compounds in the spices (for instance ‘capsaicin’ in chilli peppers, piperine, and ‘allyl isothiocyanate’ in mustard and wasabi).2-3 These tend to stimulate receptors in the skin that respond to heat (known as ‘polymodal nociceptors’), setting off a chain of processes that lead to the production of sweat, and the dilation of blood vessels under the skin (which also cools the body by allowing warm blood to dissipate heat).

 

Having said that, though, the more we sweat, the more we need to hydrate.

 

#2: Hydrate- and don’t forget your electrolytes!

Water plays a key role in keeping us alive, making up 60% of the human body.4

 

However, profuse sweating, as seen during the summer, can lower this water content – something that we should all actively try to avoid. Even mild dehydration (with as little as a 2% loss in our water content) can cause headaches, fatigue, a dry mouth and eyes, loss of appetite, flushed skin, heat intolerance, light-headedness, a burning sensation in the stomach, and darkened urine with a strong odour.

 

Here’s the good news, though; more than 20% of all the water we need can be provided by the food we eat, especially water-rich foods (most fruits) and vegetables (cucumber, lettuce, celery and radish, to name a few).5 The fact that they’re filled with nutrients, and are yet naturally low in calories, is an added bonus.

 

Although increasing our water intake takes care of the dehydration issue, there’s something else that simultaneously requires our attention: the possibility of our body’s electrolytes being lost through the sweat (particularly when it comes to regular exercisers, who tend to sweat more quickly and profusely than others, because of the body’s increased need to regulate its temperature during exercise).6

 

Electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium, amongst others) are in charge of maintaining a healthy water balance within and outside our cells. Apart from sweating, drinking a lot of water can also dilute our electrolyte-levels and disrupt this balance. Long-distance runners frequently experience this, and consequently tend to face problems with their muscles and nerves, amongst other things.

 

The solution is to simply boost your electrolytes-intake along with your water-intake.

 

Interesting note: For anyone worried about overdoing their electrolyte consumption, our body has its own failsafe for that scenario: the kidney. It’s designed to regulate the water and electrolyte levels in our body by simply holding on to more water in order to balance out excess electrolytes. 

 

Instead of turning to sugary sports drinks, electrolytes are best consumed through naturally electrolyte-rich drinks like coconut water and fresh lemonade. Moreover, we can also get them from –

  • Calcium-rich foods (dairy, leafy greens)
  • Magnesium-rich foods (leafy greens, nuts, seeds, grains)
  • Potassium-rich food (seafood, eggs, dairy, bananas, leafy greens, tomatoes), and
  • Sodium-rich foods (canned and/or salted foods)

 

#3: Cut down on caffeinated beverages and alcohol

We’re not asking you to completely cut off from your daily coffee/tea or occasional drink, because they do have their merits. Apart from their obviously useful effects, caffeine and alcohol also help us sweat and can otherwise be healthy in small doses.

 

(Caffeine contains a moderate amount of some B-vitamins, potassium and magnesium, and, more importantly, a strong dose of antioxidants. It even comes with several other benefits, from boosting our metabolism to improving our brain functions.7-10 Alcohol is slightly less impressive in its range of positive effects, but does increase our good cholesterol levels and reduce blood clotting, for example)11,12

 

However, more pertinently, both caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, i.e., they increase the amount of water and salt expelled through urine.

 

While the quantity of loss with moderate tea and coffee consumption is mild, and can be easily replaced by water from our food13, alcohol, on the other hand, leads to the expulsion of an incredible amount of water (a large reason behind the throbbing headache and general suffering that arrives the next day).

 

#4: Don’t completely avoid the sun

It’s natural to seek shelter in the heat, but try not to totally avoid the sun, either. That’s where we get our vitamin D from.

 

Apart from being required for healthy bones, vitamin D is also crucial to our immune system, muscles, nerves and the general function of all cells. In fact, its direct or indirect regulation of about 2000 genes has led to every single cell in our body containing a vitamin D receptor.14

 

Foods (like salmon, tuna, egg yolks, cheese and mushrooms) do contain vitamin D, but in limited quantities, making sunlight the most efficient way for us to increase our blood levels of vitamin D, apart from supplementation.

 

The process takes place in our skin when it’s exposed to sunlight, taking about 12 minutes to kick off.15,16 The exact amount of vitamin D produced is influenced by factors like our age, the season, latitude, time of day, use of sunscreen and other environmental factors.

 

In the summer, the sun’s rays are best sought earlier in the day, to avoid their harshness later on. It’s also a good idea to keep one’s arms and legs bared while getting out into direct sunlight, and roam around for about 30 minutes. Don’t forget to eat plenty of vitamin D rich foods as well!17 

 

#5: Avoid eating uncooked foods with questionable freshness 

Cooked and uncooked foods, together, give us a great range of nutrients and should both be included in our regular diet. That said, the latter tends to spoil at a much faster pace during the summer (being conducive to the growth of bacteria), making it a good idea to eat only if its freshness isn’t of a dubious nature. It’s especially best to stick to cooked foods at an untried restaurant that doesn’t seem to deserve your trust.

 

#6: Make your food colourful (with plants)

All year round but especially during the summer, our skin needs to be protected from the sun’s harsh rays. Otherwise, the UVA and UVB rays of the sun penetrate through the skin, creating free radicals, which create havoc. They wreck the cells, proteins and structures in their path (especially the skin’s collagen, its main protein), eventually leading to rough, uneven, and generally prematurely aged skin amongst other issues that are better off prevented than dealt with.

 

Beyond protecting our skin externally through broad-spectrum sunscreens, we can also adopt a highly underrated skin care solution that lies in the food we eat: antioxidants. These compounds can neutralise all the free radicals that do manage to get created in the body, and protect us from the damage they’d otherwise cause.

 

Vitamins C and vitamin E make up our body’s natural antioxidant system, which needs to be replenished on a daily basis. Apart from these, however, there are a few exceptionally potent antioxidants that have been clinically demonstrated to specifically protect our skin.

 

Most of these are known as phytonutrients, which are plant-based nutrients. Carotenoids, a group of phytonutrients that’s found in yellow, red and orange fruits and vegetables (and are, in fact, the pigments that give them their colour), are particularly adept at absorbing the sun’s UV rays and preventing the damage they cause.

 

Take lycopene, for example; it’s a red pigment in red fruits and vegetables (like tomatoes) that, after being consumed, actually lines up against the skin’s uppermost surface, neutralising the free radicals right there. Then we have beta-carotene, the orange pigment in carrots. Apart from its strong antioxidant properties, beta-carotene is also notable for helping the body produce vitamin A – a nutrient that (in addition to its many other functions) essentially helps create skin cells. Finally, both lycopene and beta-carotene give our skin a healthy colour. 18,19

 

Other phytonutrient groups like flavonoidsglucosinolates and resveratrol also come with powerful antioxidant benefits, and can be found in fruits, vegetables and even beverages like coffee. An easy way to get plenty of all is to simply make sure your food’s as colourful as possible!

 

While subjecting ourselves to the heat in this weather isn’t always avoidable, its consequences are completely in our control. A few simple shifts in our routine is all it takes to stay healthy and happy in every season!

 

References:

1.    Benarroch EE. Autonomic Neurology: Contemporary Neurology Series. Oxford University Press 2014: Oxford, UK.
2.    Everaerts W, et al. Curr Biol 2011; 21(4): 316-321.
3.    Okumura Y, et al. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 2010; 74(5): 1068-1072.
4.    Thomas DR, et al. J Am Med Dir Assoc 2008, 9(5): 292-301
5.    Popkin BM, et al. Nutr Rev 2010; 68(8): 439-458.
6.    Lee J-B, et al. PLoS ONE 2014, 9(4): e93976.
7.    Dulloo AG, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 1989, 49(1): 44-50.
8.    Koot P, ey al. Ann Nutr Metab 1995, 39(3): 135-142.
9.    Han L, et al. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1999, 23(1): 98-105.
10.    Klatsky AL, et al. Arch Intern Med 2006, 166(11): 1190-1195.
11.    Booyse FM, et al. Ann Epidemiol 2007; 17: S24-S31.
12.    Baum-Baicker C. Drug Alcohol Depend 1985; 15(3): 207-227.
13.    Maughan RJ et al. J Hum Nutr Diet 2003; 16(6): 411-420.
14.    Hossein-Nezhad A, et al. Mayo Clin Proc 2013; 88(7): 720-755.
15.    Kragstrup TW. Scand J Prim Health Care 2011; 29(1): 4-5.
16.    Leray C. Lipids: Nutrition and Health. CRC Press 2014; Boca Raton, USA: 132.
17.    Holick MF. Am J Clin Nutr 2004;80(6 Suppl):1678S-88S.
18.    Ribaya-Mercado JD, et al. J Nutr 1995, 125(7): 1854-1859.
19.    Stephen ID et al. Evol Hum Behav 2011; 32(3): 216-227.

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