Nutrition for hot weather

watermelon3It’s hot out.  Nutrition to the rescue!  Here are 7 tips on dealing with the heat.

  1. Dehydration, or lack of fluids, is the key concern.  Did you know: serious dehydration can trigger cardiovascular events.  Blood is thicker and harder to pump, increasing risk for stroke or heart attack.  Contrary to popular myth, coffee and tea are not dehydrating.  Iced tea and iced coffee help keep you hydrated, as well as plain water, carbonated water, lemonade and juices.  Just be cautious about caloric beverages.  Juices may be healthy, but they shouldn’t be your only fluid source.  Limit those to 1-2 cups per day at most.  That includes sweetened tea, sugary coffee drinks, soft drinks and sports drinks.  When in doubt, avoid drinking calories.
  2. Eat fluids.  Did you know foods can also be good sources of fluid?  You’re in luck here, because summer is the time those high fluid foods are in season: cucumbers, melons, zucchini, berries, peaches, plums, nectarines, tomatoes, peppers and lettuce.  Citrus, pineapple and other tropical fruits are also full of water.  Added bonus: all this high water content foods help fill you up and kill your appetite.  They also are loaded with nutrients, particularly potassium.
  3. Alcohol is dehydrating.  Don’t guzzle alcoholic beverages if you’re thirsty.  Drink water first.  And in really hot weather, drink plain water along with any alcoholic beverages.
  4. The elderly are less able to regulate body heat.  This is critically important, because many heat-related deaths involve elderly people.  The reasons are many: lack of knowledge about appropriate fluid intake, confusion, existing disease, medications like diuretics that impact fluid balance.  And “elderly” is a relative term.  Someone aged 50 can experience difficulty in hot weather.  Anyone on multiple medications who is concerned about fluid intake can get more guidance on that from their physician.
  5. Infants and toddlers are less able to regulate body heat.  This problem is complicated by the fact that they can’t communicate their thirst or discomfort very well.   In addition to milk, breast milk and formula, the best fluids for young children during heat waves are water or juice.  But juice should only be offered to infants 6 months and older.  Older children can eat watery fruits like watermelon for extra fluid.
  6. Do you need more sodium if you sweat a lot?  Not necessarily.  Our sweat glands adjust to our sodium intake; the more sodium you consume, they more will be in your sweat, and vice versa.  The average person, sitting at a desk or in a car most of the day, maybe working out for an hour and eating a typical Western diet consumes plenty of sodium.  But if you’re an athlete, working out extensively in heat, participating in long distance events or working at strenuous outdoor job, you may need more at least temporarily.  Wild land fire fighters are one example of workers who need extra sodium while on the job, as well as plenty of extra fluids.  If you typically limit sodium intake, and will be participating in a long distance athletic event, such as marathon, in high temperatures, eating some salty foods ahead of the event is a good idea.  Simple items like pretzels or pickles can suffice.
  7. Do you need more potassium if you sweat a lot?  No, since potassium loss in sweat isn’t significant.  However, most people need more potassium anyway, because few of us consume the recommended 4700 mg per day.  Which takes us back to Tip #2.  If you consume more fluids from foods like fruits and vegetables, you’ll be consuming more potassium, since those foods are all naturally high in potassium.
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