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Cool Foods for Hot Weather

Let's fess up. Who hasn't come home recently in the heat of the evening thinking, "It's too hot to cook", and, "The last thing I want to do in this heat is stand over a grill"? The heat saps our energy, not to mention our willpower. Attempts to keep the air conditioner from working harder than necessary is a noble goal but this particular stress can often lead to some pretty bad eating habits.

When temperatures stay hot for prolonged periods of time, we tend to eat out more often and go for sweets (especially ice cream) in an effort to keep cool and take our minds off the sweltering heat. The trouble is eating like this can actually make you feel worse in the heat than better. Heavy, starchy foods, baked goods and ice cream—which seem like a good alternative—can leave you feeling sluggish and tired. The good news is there really are some things you can do while you avoid the heat of stoves, ovens and grills that will improve your nutrition and likely your mood.

First, exercise in the morning. Even a short walk will get your metabolism off on the right foot making a cool, easy-to-fix breakfast work harder for you. If you're worried about overheating, take a cool shower or bath before you exercise. Olympic athletes do this frequently during competition.

Start with a breakfast that includes a good amount of protein. Greek yogurt has become popular in many diets because of its high protein and lower carbohydrate content. A well-beaten egg can be cooked in the microwave or you might consider making a few hard boiled eggs to get you through the week. Other breakfast ideas for hot summer days include cold high-protein cereal, cottage cheese and a good portion of seasonal fruit. Consider having your breakfast outside if possible. It may be the only time of the day you can actually enjoy being outdoors.

For lunches and dinners, the venerable sandwich with lean protein can provide a well-balanced meal coupled with a salad. Use salads as another opportunity for you to work some protein into the diet. I suggest beans. Kidney and garbanzo beans (chick peas) tend to be the beans seen most at salad bars, but there are many different beans to choose from and will provide variety to salads that can become a little too routine. Seeds, such as sunflower or chia, and grains such as quinoa or barley can also make your salads less repetitive. And, consider making your own dressing. There are many recipes out there for simple vinaigrettes and yogurt-based dressings that taste good, are inexpensive and made for beating the heat. Just don't use too much!

Cold soups can also provide some relief while pleasing the palate. Gazpacho and vichyssoise (cold potato soup) are some classics but even beets, sweet peas and fruits are showing up in favorites on mainstream recipe sites like allrecipes.com.

Finally, let's talk about snacks and drinks. If you're due for a snack in between meals consider raw vegetables with a light dip, such as hummus or Greek yogurt with some ranch seasoning.

We're blessed with a good variety of fruit this time of year. Fruit, especially the high water content varieties such as apples and watermelon have endless possibilities, such as smoothies, or frozen as popsicles. Consider adding a little frozen fruit such as raspberries with a mint leaf or blueberries to plain water to make it something special. Lemons and limes rich in vitamin C can also add a little zest to plain tap water. If you can, avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol during heat waves. These substances tend to dehydrate your body, which can leave you feeling weak.

Check online for resources aimed at raw foods or vegetarian meals. With a little effort, you’ll find your health and even your mood have improved despite the heat.

Karina Fugett advises patients on nutrition at St. Mary’s Dietary department and can be reached at 816-655-5597.

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