Tuesday, July 25, 2017

True or False: Hot Foods Cool You Down in the Summer

Can hot foods actually cool you down in the heat of the summer? Warm tea is a staple in India. Spicy foods abound in Mexico. So it makes sense to ask this question even though it sound counter intuitive.

It turns out folks may be on to something. If the conditions are right, hot foods may actually make you feel cooler.

Here’s how:

  •        Our bodies are really good at regulating our internal temperature. One of the main ways it does this is through sweat.
  •       In the case of hot beverages, it’s through the temperature receptors in the stomach. The hot beverage hits the stomach and your internal temperature increases about .5 degree Celsius (about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit). The body says “I’m heating up – I need to cool down”. To cool down, you start to sweat.
  •      With spicy foods, the end result is the same – increased sweating. But this time, it’s the receptors in the mouth that send the signal to the body that the temperature is rising. This is “gustatory sweating”.

·    But here’s the kicker: in order for sweating to cool us down, you’ve got to have air flow for the sweat to evaporate and cool you down. Humid air and too much clothing keeps the sweat from evaporating.

So, is there research that supports all this? There’s actually some from a researcher at the University of Sidney in Australia. Dr. Ollie Jay’s research shows that the cooling effect of the sweat outweighs the added heat of the hot beverage – as long as the sweat can evaporate.

So, go ahead and indulge in that hot coffee or spicy salsa this summer. Just make sure you’re catching a breeze at the same time! 

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham