During school, summer was probably the most-awaited season, since it coincided with the start of the long vacation. Whole days spent playing with friends; school uniforms and text books swapped for the television and comics; ice creams and ice lollies no longer forbidden by indulgent parents; trips to visit the grandparents or a jaunt to a hill station – what was not to love about summer? Nostalgia probably lends a rose-tint to the glasses with which you look back at those days because summer seems so unpleasant now. Were those days also this hot and sticky, or are we feeling the effects of ubiquitous global warming, you wonder?
The summer sun in most places in India has the power of sapping out your energy and leaving you tired and irritable. Escaping to the cooler climes of hill stations or renting a little cottage in an Alpine village, against a backdrop of picturesque snow -clad mountains, is sadly not an option for most. Sitting closeted inside an air-conditioned room is again not always an option, nor is it the optimal choice health-wise. The upside is that there are several simple and natural measures that one can take to take the edge off the searing summer heat.
Hate UV rays, not the sun
Sandhya Gugnani, a nutrition expert associated with the television show ‘The Great Chefs of India’ says, “Sometimes people ignore the basics. During summer, avoid direct sunlight and protect yourself by carrying an umbrella when stepping out.” It is also essential to apply sunscreen.
When it is bright out, eat light
Heavy meals high in fat and spice are not your best choice when it’s hot outside. Eat small and frequent meals during all seasons, but especially during summer. Dimple Mirchandani, a nutrition and health expert, says that avoiding meat and high-calorie dishes will make quite a difference to one’s overall wellbeing.
Eat green, (and yellow and orange!)
Plenty of vegetables and fruits should be incorporated in the diet. Cucumbers and watermelons have high water content and help prevent dehydration. Sandhya suggests a balanced diet with antioxidants like beta-carotene, selenium and Vitamins E and C. They are present in green leafy vegetables, yellow and orange coloured fruits and vegetables, whole grains, pulses, and nuts and seeds such as almonds, pumpkin, and fenugreek.
Hydrate and hydrate
Drinking water before you feel thirsty is important. Thirst is a sign that your water intake has been poor. Sipping water through the day is a great idea to keep electrolytes balanced in the body. A slice of lime, or orange with a few sprigs of mint in a bottle of water helps make it more palatable. Buttermilk and tender coconut water are also healthy options. Dimple says packaged juices and colas are packed with sugar, which is high in calories and addictive, and should be avoided.
Summer is not an attractive season for exercise, given how much one sweats. But regular workouts keep the stamina up. Dimple says “I wouldn’t recommend outdoor sports when the sun is blazing outside. Either exercise early in the morning or in the evening, or else workout indoors.”
Cotton and comfort
Loose-fitting cotton outfits work best in the summer. Comfortable footwear and a bright scarf for protection from the sun also makes for good fashion sense.
Home sweet home
Staying indoors at home or work during the day and restricting outdoor activities to when it’s cooler outside, before 10.30 am or after 5.30 pm, is recommended especially if temperatures hit near 40ºC and above. Frequently moving from air-conditioned to non-air-conditioned rooms can be detrimental to health, says Sandhya.
Prevention is better
As tempting as they are, it is better to avoid extremely cold foods and drinks. Water-borne diseases are common in summer, so proper care should be taken by avoiding water and food from street vendors. Sandhya feels it’s best to carry water from home. Fruit and raw vegetable salads should be avoided if the hygiene of the place is suspect. Milk and dairy products spoil faster in hot weather and should be consumed with care.
According to Dimple, one common mistake that people make is not understanding seasonal produce. It is the magic of nature that each season brings with it the right diet. Summer fruits like watermelons, sweet limes, and lychees are perfect for summer, whereas apples are excellent for winter. By not following seasonal patterns in our diet, we run the risk of not just eating wrong but also ingesting non-seasonal fruits and vegetables that are usually not organic and have higher chances of being treated with chemicals.
If we take a bit of care, we can get back to the fun of childhood summers. As the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow evoke so perfectly,
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new-created in all the freshness of childhood.