Summer has arrived in Thailand. It’s that time of the year when the heat is oppressive enough to make you think twice about going outside during the day. While there are a variety of ways to protect against sun exposure and high temperatures, did you know that certain foods can provide a welcome source of heat relief?
A proper diet is a pillar of good health. The leading rule of thumb is to eat a balanced diet that covers all five food groups – proteins, carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and fats. During the summer months, however, it’s best to limit fat consumption as your body doesn’t need to store much fat for use as a heat source. Limiting your intake of fats and meats gives your digestive system a welcome rest and reduces potential exposure to spoiled meat episodes.
It is important to stay hydrated, so be sure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day; it will help keep the body’s electrolytes in balance while reducing the risk of heatstroke. Top choices are cold water and mildly acidic juices; fresh coconut juice is also good.
Certain herbal drinks are also recommended for quenching summer thirsts, especially teas made from bael fruit, chrysanthemum, Roselle, Lao Han Guo and Za Liang. However, drinks that are heavy on added sugar are best avoided.
Water-heavy vegetables and fruits are also excellent for staying hydrated – top choices include cucumber, gourd, bitter melon, write green, bottle gourd, radish, watermelon, pear, cantaloupe and pineapple. If you’re looking for something sweet, fruit served in chilled syrup is a refreshing choice.
What to avoid
The hot season is a good time to steer clear of certain foods. Avoid foods prepared using coconut milk; healthier choices include clear soup dishes such as Kang Som Pak Ruam, Tom Yum Nam Sai and the traditional Thai summer dish called Tom Jeud, as well as Kao-Chae (rice soaked in ice water). And if you enjoy Japanese cuisine, chilled soba noodles are a delicious way to cool off.
When temperatures soar, it’s common to feel tired or sluggish, and it’s more difficult to work up an appetite for a big meal. A healthy alternative is to eat smaller, more frequent meals – four or five small meals per day -- to ensure ample nutrition. Also, when eating out in summer, be sure to use ice only from trusted clean sources to avoid digestive problems.
Many of us don’t realize that the summer heat makes the body more prone to digestive disorders. Even when you’re vigilant about making sure food is well-cooked, the risk of diarrhea rises with the temperature because heat promotes growth of bacteria. Protection comes from proper refrigeration and food storage. Eat food that’s been freshly cooked, and quickly refrigerate leftovers and then heat them well before serving.
Pay close attention to the raw foods you’re storing in the refrigerator; be mindful that refrigeration only slows the growth of bacteria, but doesn’t disinfect food. For greater safety, wash raw food items before storing in the refrigerator. If you love ice, make it safer by using boiled water that’s cooled to room temperature. Last but not least, always wash your hands before and after meals to avoid many of summer’s most common health threats.
Written by Ruksaya Ungkagasamarat, Dietician, Bumrungrad International Hospital