Last months we focused on a common summertime conundrum having to do with color of clothing. This month we’re going to take the discussion one step further and examine how what we eat and drink affects our ability to keep cool. We’re going to look at two tried and true summertime past times; eating ice cream and drinking a cold beer. While these things are usually believed to provide relief from the suns rays they are actually both guilty of making you hotter. Confused? Just keep reading for some simple explanations.
Even though ice cream doesn’t really have to have a cooling effect for you to enjoy it, I guess it would be nice to know there is some benefit besides taste. “Anything ingested that is lower than actual body temperature will initially produce a cooling effect systemically,” says Gerard E. Mullin, M.D., M.H.S., the director of gastroenterology at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
But don’t reach for your ice cream scoop just yet. About 15 to 20 minutes after you eat it, ice cream has the opposite effect. “This is because the parts of the body that are in contact with the ice cream are physically cooled by the contact as heat is transferred to the ice cream. However, as the digestive process kicks in, body temperature increases as the body works to digest and absorb the nutrients in the ice cream, as well as to store the calories,” says Josephine Connolly-Schoonen, Ph.D., R.D., a professor of family medicine at Stony Brook University Medical Center. “The body will physiologically respond to energy (i.e., heat) loss by increasing blood flow to the ‘cool’ region and bring the temperature back up to a physiological ‘body temperature,’” (98.6 degrees), adds Barry G. Swanson, a professor and co-chair of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Washington State University. So, eating cold foods does not really change your overall body temperature.
Hmm…Despite the ice-cold container, beer may not be the best choice to keep you cool. Alcohol creates dehydration. “It does this by inhibiting the release of the hormone vasopressin. Vasopressin (also known as antidiuretic hormone) is responsible for the reabsorption of water from the kidney tubules. Inhibition of the release of this hormone results in less water ‘reabsorption’ from the kidneys and hence more urine production, leading to dehydration,” says Stephen J. Pintauro, a food scientist at the University of Vermont. “Additionally, alcohol requires energy to metabolize, and during the metabolism of alcohol, water is used,” says Swanson. Which further adds to the issues of dehydration. And how does dehyrdation heat you up?
“Body temperature is affected by how well you hydrate your body, how much water you have in your muscles, blood and cells,” says Lona Sandon, M.Ed., R.D., a professor of nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Body fluids also serve other purposes. “The first purpose is to fill small blood vessels near the skin so blood can pass by the skin and lose heat to the environment. The second purpose is to generate sweat that wicks heat away as the sweat evaporates off the skin,” says Schoonen. Therefore, if you do not drink enough fluid, and/or you’re dehydrated, your body water levels will be low, and your body has a harder time staying at normal temperature. “Drinking plenty of fluids will help keep you cool,” adds Sandon.
Now I’m not saying you need to put down the cone or the koozie. While these tasty treats might not actually make you cooler they do make summer more enjoyable. From now on if you want to enjoy your ice cream and stay cool at the same time you should eat inside in an air conditioned room where you are guaranteed to escape from the hot summer sun
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