If you’ve traveled, you know that drinking ice cold drinks may make you sick.
Whether in Europe, Russia, Southeast Asia, Egypt,…it seems everybody but Americans know this is true. But is it?
The last time I was in Central Asia, I had to convince the hotel restaurant to give me ice in my drink. I was able to convince them that even though it may be true that cold drinks will make you sick; as an American, I was given ice to drink and cold drinks in the hottest time of the year since I was a small child. That I had developed an immunity and my body did not react to the cold, and that I never got colds or sick due to ice. This seemed to convince them, not that the fact itself wasn’t true, but that by years and years of conditioning, I had an immunity to sickness caused by excessively cold drinks. While they didn’t believe this to be wise, or exactly healthy, I got my ice even as other travelers and locals looked on covetously and were politely refused the same service.
Can cold drinks be unhealthy for you? Even cause cancer?
Is there any truth behind the myth (if that is indeed what it is, an old wives tale)?
It is commonly held that excessively cold drinks can cause shock to your system, discourage you from drinking enough liquids (because you are refreshed by the coldness, instead of the quantity, of the fluid,
Another fear is that cold water can solidify the oily or fatty foods that you consume (at the same time). Slowing down the digestion and encourages fats to line your intestines, encouraging heart attacks. (Medical literature does not offer support for this idea.)
But what about if you are already sick? Is it god or bad to drink cold water or eat ice?
Rod_Moser_PA_PhD says: “Any liquid, cold or hot, is desirable when someone is ill. Maintaining adequate hydration is essential. The temperature of the liquid is not important or medically significant. If your child wants something cold, then give it to her.” (http://forums.webmd.com/3/cold-and-flu-exchange/forum/214)
Often, excessively cold air conditioning, or going from very hot outside temperatures to cold office temperatures (and back and forth repeatedly) is also considered a prime causes of colds and sickness. And in Russia, sitting on a cold rock (while on a hike or waiting for a bus) was considered harmful, especially to those wanting to have babies, and older women might rebuff you for doing so!
Why? Why not?
When overseas, especially in hotter or more humid climates, drinking something very cold or iced may refresh you without really drinking a lot. This can lead to dehydration due to excessive perspiration. You may not even be aware of how much fluids your body is losing in hot, dry climates such as in Arizona (The Grand Canyon, Sonoran desert, Phoenix) or in the UAE, where the dry air keeps you from feeling sweaty even if your body is working hard to cool you down.
Third, sweat is what cools you down. You may have heard “don’t drink cold liquids in hot weather because it makes you hotter” both in Europe and even in Canada. And it’s true that drinking something like hot tea on a hot day will cause additional sweat which in turn will cool you down faster. It may also help cause the outside temperature to not feel as hot. This concept is similar to wearing more layers of clothes (loose clothes) when hot outside, to facilitate sweating (instead of as little as possible) as a natural form of air conditioning. Dogs do this by having two coats to help transport sweat and aid in cooling. This also applies to wearing black in the heat rather than white clothes (guess all those people living in the desert, and wearing all black, know what they are doing after all!) But they’ve also learned to cover up as much as possible against sunburn. Eating chilli can also help cool the body by making you sweat more. It’s no coincidence that some of the hottest locations worldwide also have the spiciest food and eating a lot of chilli can lower your temperature even while it’s heating up your mouth.
In Asia especially, there is a strong belief in harmony and balance and creating this harmony. Obviously excessively cold drinks on hot days is all about contrast and drastically changing your body’s temperature, which is simply seen as harsh and excessive and remember, excessive = bad and unnatural (or at least an extreme measure).
When Ice is dangerous
Driving on ice is dangerous. So is eating ice or drinking pop with ice in it. Unless it’s from boiled water or bottled water. Because ice can be made from a bad water source, (and ice is seen as preserving contaminated water and germs), ice can be dangerous. Especially in areas where the water is already suspect. This is very different than boiling water and then freezing it which should be considered safe. So if locals usually drink bottled water, or encourage you to do so, that is a sign to take their advice and AVOID ASKING FOR ICE in your drink! This also goes for brushing your teeth with local water, and washing plates or dishes. Travellers’ diarrhea is the most common illness contracted abroad, affecting 20-60% of overseas travelers, and is by far the biggest risk you’ll face if you travel overseas, so exercise caution. If you are unsure about water in the country you are traveling to, check out the app, “Can I Eat This offered free by the CDC (review here).
Some foods you might also want to avoid
- Salads, such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers…
- uncooked fruits and vegetables, (like melons), unless they have been washed in safe water and peeled by the traveler (not washed or handled after peeling)
- fresh or cooked food that has be allowed to stand at room temperature in warm environments, or that has been exposed to flies, such as in an open buffet
- unpasteurized milk, cheese, ice cream or other dairy products
- raw or undercooked shellfish or fish
- food off utensils or dishes freshly washed or exposed to dust/dirt
Once again, like the “electric fan death” belief, Snopes has an article on drinking cold water.
The concept of ice or excessively cold drinks probably goes back to the humoural system of medicine, and in Western medicine to Hippocrates. In America still, when someone is sick we often recommend tea or warm chicken soup to comfort the system and aid in healing.
Of course, when refrigerators and freezers, as well as continuous electricity, were a luxury for the rich, it was also easier to say that cold things were not good for you as an easy justification for not having them.
I don’t remember anyone living near a cold stream (and using it for chilled water) saying that you should fill a glass, but then wait until it achieved room temperature before ingesting it.
As said on another site: I’m think it’s something like this:
– ice cold = $$
– hot/fire heated = $
– room temperature = 0
So it would seem culture justifies what’s most easily/cheaply available.
Of course, if in doubt, when you travel, always make sure you have good, affordable travel medical insurance, whether traveling to a country that discourages cold drinks, or serves them with little umbrellas while you lounge in the sun….That way, you’ll be safe whatever may come your way.
What about you? What do you think? Are you tempted to drink less when drinks are cold/freezing cold? Or do you think most people who drink cold water are likely to consume more of it, since it tends to taste better and is more satisfying?