With this sweltering weather upon us, how do we stay cool? By Lea Wee
According to TCM, taking cold food and drinks can irritate the gastric system and cause stomach cramps. Photo: Antonio Guillem / 123rf.com
It is sweltering outside and you find yourself reaching for a cool drink.
A traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physician would tell you not to, while a doctor trained in Western medicine would probably say go ahead.
With the weather station warning of warmer days ahead, health experts with different approaches to medicine and health offer different advice on coping with the heat.
Says TCM physician Anita Pee, who is with Chinese medical chain Eu Yan Sang: “Taking cold food and drinks in such weather can increase dampness in the body and irritate the gastrointestinal tract, causing stomach and intestinal cramps.”
Cold food and drink can also stress the digestive system, she says, because the body has to work harder to raise the temperature of the food. She recommends food and drinks that are lukewarm or at room temperatures.
In ayurveda, a traditional Indian system of holistic living, cold food and drinks are also considered bad for digestion and should be consumed at room temperature, says Ms Vasanthi Pillay, president of the Ayurveda Association of Singapore, which runs regular workshops on ayurvedic nutrition.
Dietitians and doctors trained in Western medicine, however, believe it is more important that you drink enough water when it is hot.
Ms Lynette Goh, a senior dietitian at the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics, says: “If drinking cold water can encourage you to drink more fluids, then have it cold.”
She adds that there are studies which show that drinking colder fluids may cool the body down better in hot and humid climates.
Dr Lim Kai Hung, a family physician at LifeScan Medical Centre, says sweating in hot weather can lead to dehydration, so constant hydration is important. When the body is unable to cope with excessive heat, a heat stroke can occur.
He says non-caffeinated isotonic drinks can help replenish body salts lost due to sweating.
How much fluid a person should drink depends on his body weight, but an easy gauge, says Dr Lim, is the colour of your urine. “Ideally, the urine should be light yellow to clear,” he says.
Ms Goh recommends eating food that contain lots of water such as cabbage, cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, watermelon and citrus fruits to combat the heat.
She also suggests adding sliced citrus fruits to cold water for a refreshing treat and cutting down on coffee, tea, caffeinated soft drinks and alcohol as these beverages can be dehydrating.
Both TCM and ayurveda do not encourage the consumption of these beverages in hot weather too.
During hot weather, TCM recommends not eating “heaty” food such as spicy, fried and oily food.
Instead, eat more food and drinks with “cooling” properties such as drinks made with barley, chrysanthemum, sugarcane and luo han guo fruit, as well as green bean soup.
Ms Pee, however, cautions that people with a weak spleen or digestive system should avoid too much “cooling” food as it can further weaken the spleen and digestion. (These TCM foods help you cool down when it’s hot.)
Similarly, ayurveda believes that “cooling” food may not benefit those with weak “digestive fire”.
But according to ayurvedic principles, when the weather turns warm, the “heat” in the body rises.
So for people who are generally healthy, ayurveda recommends naturally sweet food, such as watermelon and grapes, and bitter and astringent food, such as celery and broccoli, to help cool the body.
“Cooling” drinks include young coconut water and buttermilk.
Ms Pillay says adding spices such as cumin and coriander to buttermilk will not only cool the body, but also improve digestion.
Young coconut drinks are also popular with Malays when the weather turns hot, says Ms Aziza Ali, 66, a Malay culinary consultant and chef.
She adds that air biji selasih (basil seed drink) is another popular beverage that Malays drink to cool themselves down.
Also a hit are salads containing ingredients such as raw cucumber, tomatoes and pineapples, and soupy fish dishes such as singgang asam, which has ingredients such as tamarind juice, lemongrass, and belacan (fermented shrimp paste).
Ms Aziza says: “This dish is popular during hot weather because it is mild and does not have heaty spices such as those found in curries.”