The summer heat in Australia can be intense and exhausting. So it’s a given that most of us will reach for a cold drink to provide relief from the burning heat.
But according to research and the international food practices of people living in many hot countries, drinking hot tea in summer has a greater cooling effect on our bodies than an ice-cold brew.
“In Morocco, where temperatures get as high as 49.6 degrees Celsius in some parts in summer, people tend to drink piping hot glasses of mint tea,” says Anika Rouf, an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
Hot tea is also commonly drunk in warm conditions throughout India, Malaysia, Turkey, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
“This practice may seem really strange to some of us living in Australia because if it’s already hot, why would anyone want to drink a hot beverage? But in some countries, there’s a belief that in the heat, you fight fire with fire.
“So in summer, they drink hot tea to cool down. As a result, sweat is produced and your body loses heat.”
Research conducted by the Scandinavian Physiological Society, published in the journal Acta Physiologica in 2012, tested whether or not drinking hot fluids in summer helps you to cool down.
It examined the body heat storage of nine men after physical activity and measured by their physical reaction to drinking fluids of varying temperatures.
The study’s results showed that the participants lost more bodily heat – and cooled down overall – when they drank hot fluids compared to when they drank cold fluids.
The authors reason that hot drinks stimulate the body's thermo-sensors, which makes us sweat, lose body heat and cool down.
“…Body heat storage is lower with warm water ingestion, likely because of disproportionate modulations in sweat output arising from warm-sensitive thermosensors in the oesophagus/stomach,” the study reads.
Rouf, a spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, says that this is the same reason why people living throughout Asia often have soup in summer.
“In Australia, we don’t typically think of eating soup in summer,” explains Rouf. “It’s a dish we eat in winter. But in some parts of China and Vietnam, they tend to have soups and hot pots in the summer heat.
“In the southern region of China, Chongqing, they have a Chongqing hot pot, which is a super spicy soup. It also has beef fat in it. It’s believed that hot dishes like this, with hot liquid and chilli, will relieve the internal heat [or ‘qing huo’ in Chinese].”
Eating hot chillies is another way to cool our body down in hot temperatures.
Chilli derives its heat from a chemical called capsaicin, which produces a neural response from your body and a burning sensation in any human tissue it comes into contact with.
“I’m from Bangladesh where it’s pretty hot all of the year minus one or two months,” says Rouf. “Around our region there are lots of dishes served with chilli.”
Once you have a chilli, you’ll feel the burn in your mouth, get warm all over and then sweat. The evaporation of sweat will remove the heat from your body.
“Hot chillies stimulate the body's thermo-receptors. That makes you sweat a bit more and sweating is the most effective way for our bodies to lose heat and cool down.”
However, in order for your body to perspire, you must also be hydrated so it’s a good idea to drink plenty of fluids as you’re eating spicy chillies in order for it to cool your body efficiently.