It may sound counter intuitive to think of steaming hot tea or cup of hot soup when the temperatures soar above 30 degrees Celsius. But in some of the hottest climates in the world, food is both hot (temperature) and hot (highly spicy). In Thailand, diets feature curries; in India, there’s daily hot tea; in Fiji, spicy coconut stews eaten on sweltering hot days.
According to traditional Chinese medicine books, for example, the core idea of ancient medical practices is to maintain the harmony of human beings and nature. The more you follow a natural clock, the healthier you get. So given that our normal internal body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius, hot liquid keeps a smooth blood flow in tune with normal body functions.
The idea has spread to North America. In New England, for example, eating hot corn chowder on hot muggy summer days has also become a tradition. No one ever suggests that the soup be cooled down!
Testing the idea – Does it work? It depends. There’s been various research studies to find out why choosing hot over cold actually does help cool us down. But the key to why it works has to do with an increase in perspiration. If you drink a hot beverage, you sweat more, and as long as the sweat is allowed to evaporate, you experience a definite cooling effect on your body.
A researcher from the University of Ottawa tested this idea on a group of cyclists. Each cyclist was equipped with skin temperature sensors so the scientists could measure how much heat was released when they consumed a hot beverage. Although the researchers are still unsure why, hot drinks do lead the body to sweat more, under certain circumstances, and when this happens, body temperatures drop.
Ready to give it a try? – Prepare yourself a pot of hot tea, soup, or a spicy meal and give it a try. But for best results, remember the following:
- It only works on a hot, dry day. If it’s humid outside, you don’t sweat enough for the effect to make a difference.
- You need to be wearing light (or little) clothing. Otherwise, the fabric absorbs the effect and again, no cooling is felt!
- And finally, you have to enjoy a hot drink over cold!