Beating the summer heat
Experts offer some tips on how people can avoid the dangers associated with a sweaty summer day
Summer has officially come to Thailand. The season is the best time for kids and parents to spend quality time together on a summer trip on the beach, but it can also be the worst time of year for those who struggle to cope with the heat and humidity.
These two factors can, in fact, be dangerous. They don’t just make us sweaty and uncomfortable but can also make us sick.
“When we are outside in this weather, our body heats up more than normal. Our temperature goes up, causing overheating. And when the body overheats, it starts sweating. If we’re sweating a lot, we have to drink a lot of water and rest. Sweating cools the body and let’s our body temperature return to normal. If that doesn’t happen, we can get sick,” says Suwapat Kittibunchakul, an academic attached to Mahidol University’s Institute of Nutrition.
“When the body is really in trouble, we might develop heatstroke. This requires immediate medical attention; otherwise, it can lead to death.”
Earlier this month, the Department of Disease Control under the Ministry of Public Health warned people to beware of heatstroke.
In the warning, the department’s director general Dr Opas Karnkawingong said heatstroke is a life-threatening condition. It can occur if the body temperature rises to 40 Celsius degree or higher.
People who experience heatstroke may have confusion and slurred speech. They may also feel nauseous or vomit. Their breathing may become rapid and their pulse rate may significantly increase.
Those at the highest risk of heatstroke are agricultural workers toiling under the hot sun, children, the elderly, people with chronic diseases including heart problems and high blood pressure, obese people, those who do not get enough sleep and heavy drinkers.
It’s difficult to escape the sun if you venture outdoors but a good way of coping with the soaring temperatures is to eat the right foods.
Ms Suwapat says we should all add cooling foods to our daily diet. She suggests eating and enjoying a light breakfast every morning comprising fresh fruits and lots of liquids. Lunch should be the heaviest meal of the day in summer and a light dinner can ensure better digestion.
“We could start the day with a bowl of rice porridge. It can keep us feeling refreshed. A bowl of mixed vegetable stew (tom jap chai), or sour soup with Thai green papaya and shrimp or fish (kang som) with a plate of rice makes for a healthy lunch. We should finish the day with a light dinner. Something like Thai suki, which is easy to digest,” she says.
People should stay away from calorie-dense foods like Thai grilled pork with rice (khao niaow moo ping), Chinese chicken rice (khao man kai) and pork leg stew with rice (khao kha moo), she adds. And it’s best to avoid fried foods as they are prone to stressing the digestive tract.
“The body has to work so hard in order to digest food high in calories and fat, so it may increase the body temperature,” the expert warns.
Ms Suwapat also suggests including plenty of vegetables and fruits in summer meals as foods high in vitamins and minerals can help replace sweat loss. Watermelon and cucumber are great choices as they generate cold energy in the body and cool us down. They are also high in water content and relatively low in calories, which is an added plus.
It’s also wise to enjoy seasonal fruits like banana, papaya and pineapple as they not only provide us with energy but also important vitamins and minerals.
“When we sweat, we lose vital minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium,” she explains.
And summer is also the season for food poisoning. To avoid getting sick, Ms Suwapat recommends sticking to fresh and seasonal produce. Food spoils more easily in the summer as the bacteria spread faster.
“And avoid ice cubes as the cubes could become contaminated with gems,” she says.
The academic says people should keep a close watch on sugar consumption, adding that ice cream, soda and the popular drink bubble tea, though tempting, are rich in sugar and cream. They should be avoided.
“A glass of fresh juice with no sugar added would be a better choice. It can quench your thirst too. But room temperature water is best,” Ms Suwapat says.
“Heat and alcohol don’t go well together,” the expert adds.
People should make sure that they drink 8-10 glasses of water per day to stay hydrated and avoid heat exhaustion. Intake of caffeinated drinks which are linked to the dehydration should also be avoided.
“Sipping water throughout the day will help you stay hydrated,” she says.
So how do we know if we are adequately replacing fluid loss? “Checking the colour of your urine is one of the best ways,” Ms Suwapat says. “If it’s a light yellow, it means you’re hydrated. But if it turns darker, that means you are dehydrated. So, you need to drink more fluid to allow the body to function better.”
She also suggests keeping staying indoors and wearing light coloured, loose cotton clothes to beat the summer heat.