Geriatrician, Hospitalist, Patient Advocate, Healthcare Educator

What to Eat in the Heat?

Per Alice Park in an article published in Time, “When It’s This Hot, What Should You Eat?”

“One place to start is to explore how heat influences diets in warmer parts of the world. Why, for example, do the spiciest foods come from the hottest places on the planet? Think southeast Asian curries and peppers, and South American chilis. If spicy foods make you sweat and feel even hotter, why are they such a staple in warmer regions?

…a protein on our cells called TRPV1 acts as a receptor for the active agents in spicy foods, such as capsaicin and capsinoids. The cells that have the highest concentration of TRPV1 receptors are on the tongue and the front of the roof of the mouth. Those spice agents trigger the receptors to send signals to the brain to release norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter primarily responsible for launching the fight-or-flight response. When this hyper-alert response is triggered, the body releases heat by triggering the sweats. That was helpful to human ancestors trying to outrun potential predators thousands of years ago…and also turns out to be useful in adapting to climate change today.There are a bunch of foods and spices that can activate TRPV1.

In addition to hot peppers, sweet peppers and black pepper can also stimulate the receptor. Garlic can as well, through a different chemical called diallyl sulfide, which doesn’t produce the same spicy sensation in the mouth but has the same end effect of activating norepinephrine and generating perspiration. Ginger and galangal, another root vegetable with a sharp, citrusy taste, are other foods—also commonly used in hotter regions—that can cause the same sweating and cooling effect.

Something to keep in mind during the heat is what we eat. In addition to good hydration, hydrating foods such as fruit, don’t shy away from that spicy food!