Survival Guide for the Indian Summer

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Mar 30, 2015

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Indian summers are oppressively hot. While the Western world greets the onset of Spring with open arms and immense relief, we, on the other hand tend to be wary of the first hint of heat. Most Indians welcome warm weather by airing out the cotton clothes in their wardrobe; dressing in light colours and natural fibres is a time-tested summer ritual based on common sense. However, overheating isn’t the only risk during Indian summers. Read on to learn about seasonal health risks and how you and your family can avoid them.

HEALTH RISK 1Not drinking enough water

It’s a common enough problem: People seldom realize how much water the body loses through sweat. Either we’re too preoccupied to drink water as often as required, or find it impractical to lug a water bottle around all day. But dehydration can leave us feeling dizzy, fatigued, beset by headaches and – if severe enough – affect the functioning of our internal organs.

“During the summer, your water requirements increase drastically. Your metabolism can dip, even if you’re only slightly dehydrated,” says Deepshika Agarwal, a Mumbai-based dietician and sports nutritionist.

Agarwal recommends consuming 3 litres of water a day and adding lots of fresh fruit to your diet.

“Most summer fruits are rich in fibre, packed with anti-oxidants, and can keep you refreshed,” she says. “The best choices are watermelon, cherries, cranberries, black currant, strawberries and mangoes.”

Eat whole fruits instead of the juice, and if you’re watching you weight, don’t binge on mango, which packs a lot of carbohydrate and sugars.  Also, Agarwal advises limiting your intake of tea, coffee and other caffeinated beverages.

“Be wary of your intake of tea, coffee, and other caffeinated beverages,” she says. “Excessive caffeine can dehydrate the system. If you must have tea, opt for green tea, cold ice tea and Oolong tea, which is much more nourishing.”

HEALTH RISK 2: Using too much soap, lotion, or prickly heat powder

Constant sweat, grime and stickiness in the summer months can drive you to the shower. But if you lather up several times a day, then you’re being a little too harsh on your skin.

“The frequent use of soap can irritate your skin, damaging its protective layer,” says Kolkata’s Dr Saumya Panda, a dermatogist and executive editor of the Indian Journal of Dermatology. “While cold showers are the most effective way to beat the heat, skip the soap or switch to mild, alcohol-based cleansers that don’t contain the abrasive chemicals that most commercial soaps do.”

These are usually liquid gels that, when washed away, still leave a layer of protective moisture on the skin.

“Avoid the use of anti-bacterial soap, as it can destroy the natural flora of the skin,” Dr Panda advises. “It washes away the good bacteria, leaving you prone to bacterial and fungal infections.”

Applying creams and lotions indiscriminately isn’t recommended either, as this can block pores, leaving you vulnerable to acne and fungal infections. And as tempting as it is to use antiperspirant and prickly heat powder during the hot months ahead, steer clear of these for the same reason.

HEALTH RISK 3: Digesting slowly

Digestion definitely slows down during the hot months, causing energy levels to flag. To avoid this, eat six light meals spaced throughout your day instead of three large ones, says Agarwal. Add a mini-meal or a snack in between breakfast, lunch and dinner. She recommends nutrient-dense energy bars with dates, oats and nuts, for this, which keep fatigue at bay. Strictly avoid fried foods, because the calories can add up. Also, watch how you put away those fluids.

“Never drink water during meals as this can slow down your digestion by diluting the enzymes that are essential for the process,” says Agarwal. “Always drink before a meal, or wait twenty minutes afterward to enhance absorption of nutrients.”

HEALTH RISK 4: Choosing the wrong sunscreen

We’re often told to slather on the sunscreen, but we rarely choose one that specifically suits our skin type and the weather. While shopping for sunscreen this season, choose a brand that isn’t too thick, advises Dr Panda. A dense consistency can clog your pores, leaving you sticky and uncomfortable. And all too often, sunscreen is washed away by sweat, defeating its purpose.

“The ideal formulation for sunscreen is one that is aqua-gel based,” says Dr Panda. “It should sink into your skin and dry immediately upon application.”

For most Indian complexions, Dr Panda adds, a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15-30 is adequate coverage.

HEALTH RISK 5: Gorging on ice-creams and fizzy colas

’Tis the season to consume ice-cream without guilt, but most of us tend to go overboard, packing on excessive calories and kilos. If you want to slake your thirst while appeasing your taste buds, opt for traditional drinks instead, advise dieticians. Some all-time favourites that are high in nutrition are: tender coconut water, jaljeera (a combination of spices such as jeera and ginger in water), and buttermilk.

“Consuming colas in excess can be a temptation during the summers,” Agarwal warns, “but this can only add empty calories to your diet, affect your blood sugar levels and, because of an ingredient called quinine in colas, it can be bad for bone health too.”

And if you’re dying for a cool, sweet treat on a hot afternoon, Agarwal suggests frozen yoghurt with fresh fruit puree—half the calories but all the refreshment of ice cream.

Good luck beating the heat this Indian summer!

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Written By Kamala Thiagarajan

Kamala Thiagarajan is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the International New York Times, The Reader’s Digest (Indian edition), National Geographic Traveller, American Health & Fitness, Firstpost.com and more. She has written articles on the subjects of health, fitness, gender issues, travel and lifestyle for a global audience and has been published in newspapers and magazines in over ten countries. Visit her virtual home at kamala-thiagarajan.com or follow her @Kamal_t

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