If you’re trying to beat the heat this summer, you might want to reconsider what you’re eating and drinking.
A punishing summer heat wave is baking large swaths of the country, exposing millions of Americans to triple-digit temperatures. Experts say making sure that you’re properly hydrated and your body has enough energy is essential to helping you weather the physical toll of extreme heat.
Here are some do’s and don’ts.
Eat big heavy meals. Digestion creates heat, and consuming large amounts of rich foods in one sitting can be difficult for the body to break down, said Leigh A. Frame, director of integrative medicine at George Washington University. “If you’re struggling to digest food, your body’s actually creating more heat.”
Eating a heavy meal when it’s really hot out can also make you feel more sluggish and tired because your body is trying to do too much at once, said Cecilia Sorensen, director of the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education at Columbia University.
Instead, experts recommend eating lighter meals more frequently throughout the day and focusing on hydrating foods that can be easier to digest, such as cucumber and watermelon.
“That is going to make people have more energy and not feel as fatigued during the heat,” Sorensen said.
Consume too much caffeine. Drinks with large amounts of caffeine, such as energy drinks, can be dehydrating because they make you urinate more.
“It depends on the amount of caffeine in them. For instance, the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee is not that much,” Frame said.
Think ice-cold foods and drinks are the solution. Cooling down on a hot day with ice cream, Popsicles or an icy drink might give you temporary relief.
“It’s not like you can be out in the hot, hot sun, and humidity and just eat cold foods and be okay,” said Nate Wood, a chef and instructor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine.
And consuming a lot of cold foods or drinks in a single day could lower your core temperature, Frame said. Your body might respond by trying to heat itself back up, which could drain your energy and make you feel warmer in the long run, she said. Additionally, most ice cream contains dairy, which can be difficult for many people to digest.
“It would be better to use a cold compress on the back of your neck rather than trying to ice yourself from the inside out,” she said.
Eat fruits and vegetables. Food can be a major source of hydration. Unlike processed foods, which typically don’t contain much water and can be harder to digest, many fruits and vegetables are full of water and nutrition.
Experts recommend eating produce with high water content, such as berries, watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, celery and bell peppers. While lettuce is known to contain a lot of water, Wood said darker greens such as kale and spinach can also be hydrating.
These foods have the added benefit that they don’t need to be cooked, so you can reduce the amount of heat generated inside your home.
Hydrate properly. Plain water and low-sugar, caffeine-free drinks are ideal, experts say. Unless you’re playing a sport or exercising, you probably don’t need an electrolyte drink, which often has added sugar.
But it’s important to be careful to avoid drinking too much water. Guzzling water could cause a potentially fatal condition known as hyponatremia, which occurs when the sodium in your body becomes diluted and levels drop abnormally low.
Aside from feeling thirsty, the best way to know if you’re properly hydrated is to assess the color of your urine, Frame said. “If it is a very pale yellow, like the color of light lemon juice, you are hydrated. If it is any darker than that, then you are dehydrated.”
Think about balance. Avoid making drastic changes to your diet, experts said.
Beyond hydration, your body needs calories. Supplement hydrating foods with things that are higher in unsaturated or healthy fats and lean proteins, Wood said.
Keep in mind that if you suddenly start eating more fruits and vegetables than you have before, your body could react poorly, he said. For example, eating way more fiber than you’re used to could cause gastrointestinal issues such as bloating and cramping and changes to your bowel movements, he said.
“One of the best things people can do is just kind of like start adopting these types of lifestyle and dietary modifications chronically, because these are healthy for us anyway,” Wood said. “Then, when the time comes where that becomes really important for literal survival, if not just comfort, you’re kind of already acclimated to doing those things and it’s not such a shock to the body.”