Will a cold drink on a hot day really make me sick?
September 17, 2010 10:07 AM   Subscribe

At the risk of being totally culturally insensitive... What is it with Europeans and superstitions about the temperature of drinks?

At first I thought this thing I noticed was just confirmation bias, but now I've talked to so many different Europeans (Spanish, German, Turkish, Italian) all of whom believe that the temperature of the liquids you drink in relation to your body temperature has an important impact on health.

Example, today I took a bottle of water out of the refrigerator and began to drink it, but my host sister (Turkish) took it from me and said that drinking it so cold would make me sick, and that I should put it on the counter until it comes to room temperature. Also, we regularly drink boiling hot tea in the boiling hot weather because "drinking hot liquids in the heat is very healthy." My host mother in Spain was the same way. I asked about it in class, and a German woman lectured me about it too. She said your body works too hard to heat up a cold drink, and this takes your body out of balance. An Italian friend told me only to get into cool-water pools when I'm already cold beacause I could get sick.

Am I missing something? I am an American, and I have never heard this except when in Europe. For me, iced tea and hot days are a normal (and enjoyable) combination. Is there some science to back this up, or is it a broadly held cultural belief? Or have I happened to meet the few unrelated people with the same strong, random superstition?

I'm not saying that it is unhealthy to drink hot stuff in the heat, I just don't think it makes a difference. Sorry if this is offensive to any non-American mefites. I am just a little blown away by how frequently this topic has come up.
posted by BusyBusyBusy to Society & Culture (56 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Russians and other post-Soviet people refuse ice cubes in drinks. They believe that it'll make one sick.
posted by k8t at 10:08 AM on September 17, 2010


is it a broadly held cultural belief?

This one. It's sometimes found in older American medical advice books, but we pretty much abandoned it in the early 1900s.

It's sort of like "Don't go swimming for 30 minutes after you eat" - no real scientific basis, but incredibly common advice here in the US.
posted by muddgirl at 10:12 AM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know, but you can always tell them that drinking ice cold water can help you lose weight in a small way.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:13 AM on September 17, 2010


Can't say I've ever seen this behaviour in Britain. Do you mean mainland Europe? There's quite a bit of "them and us" when it comes to British people and how they relate to the continental Europeans.
posted by Biru at 10:14 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a data point, I'm in Chile and I have heard most of those things.
posted by Memo at 10:16 AM on September 17, 2010


I'm not Chinese, but friends and guests who are have told me that cold drinks are unhealthy.

I was visiting godparents in England who hadn't seen me since I was a small child. My godfather offered me some scotch and asked "How'd you like it: with water or soda?" I asked if I could have it neat with a bit of ice and my godfather, a former regimental sergeant major with the Royal Marines, roared as only RSMs can, "Ice? Ice?? We've no ice here! Where'd you pick up that filthy American habit from?"
posted by angiep at 10:16 AM on September 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


I got the same lectures when visiting Russians in Estonia. I was also told that drinking a lot of water throughout the day was weird and made me look like a drunk with a hangover. Was even told that eating not facing the table would cause poor digestion.

My theory is that traditional european mothers use health myths to enforce good behavior instead of sin and morality guilt like our mothers do over here. I can think of hundreds of non-sensical things I instinctively find immoral.
posted by bend2squares at 10:18 AM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, I've heard the ice cubes making you sick thing in the U.S.A. Not that they always will, but that they might. It's not an unreasonable superstition since ice cubes could be make from contaminated water, and public water supplies -- even in the U.S.A. -- are not immune to problems from time to time that mean the water is less safe to drink than it usually is.

Europe is not as culturally homogeneous as the U.S.A., so it is much easier for me to say what's with it with all you Americans and your need to drink beer ice cold, than it is to generalize about Europe. Just my 2p.
posted by galaksit at 10:21 AM on September 17, 2010


Could be made. Sigh.
posted by galaksit at 10:22 AM on September 17, 2010


This is absolutely widespread and cultural (continentally, not so much in Britain). Think of it as just another "Put on a sweater or you'll catch a cold."
posted by General Malaise at 10:23 AM on September 17, 2010


Dutch here, and never heard of this. Objection to ice in drinks often has more to do with diluting the drink than with anything else.
posted by HFSH at 10:24 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have heard this in the UK, but only from older people (and not from all older people either). Some sort of strange argument that drinking hot tea makes you cool down, because it evens out the temperature inside and outside? It has been a rather long time since I've heard any argument like this, and I may be misremembering.
posted by Coobeastie at 10:25 AM on September 17, 2010


My take on it is that drinking ice-cold liquid is completely unnatural. Nature gives us ways to warm things up. Icing things down is man-made.
posted by whiskeyspider at 10:26 AM on September 17, 2010


Like k8t, I experienced lots of this sort of superstition in Russia. No explanation.
posted by fake at 10:26 AM on September 17, 2010


Ice cubes certainly can make you sick, although it has nothing to do with temperature. They're often either made from an unknown water source that may or may not be dirty, or they are kept in a dirty ice bin (if you have ever worked in a bar and cleaned out the ice cube tub, you'll know how quickly it gets disgusting). Ice in scotch is a *major* no-no for the same reason. Ice cubes always impart a flavour. And just to nitpick, it's not "neat" if you've added anything at all to it.

Anyhow, neither those examples are related to the post, I don't believe. For a datapoint, I will throw in that I have Chinese relatives who are also opposed to drinking cold liquids, and have heard the "don't drink cold liquids in hot weather because it makes you hotter" both in Europe and Canada.

I would guess that the superstition against cold drinks bases itself in the fact that (in times past moreso than now) piping hot food/drinks have less bacteria than lukewarm/uncooked things and would be less likely to make you sick if they were prepared in unsanitary conditions.
posted by molecicco at 10:27 AM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I once heard this when I was traveling in Sweden. The explanation given was that after a long winter, Swedes weren't in the mood to see ice in their beverages.

Personally, I love iced beverages. I live in Massachusetts and happily drink iced coffee in the dead of winter.
posted by fremen at 10:28 AM on September 17, 2010


It's a cultural belief. For another, ask a Korean what'll happen if they use an electric fan in a closed room.
posted by Rash at 10:29 AM on September 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


"drinking hot liquids in the heat is very healthy."

I've heard this from a few Chinese friends, along with convoluted logic about how drinking cold water actually raises your body temperature, sort of in the same way that leaving the freezer door open does not actually work as air conditioning. It seems plausible on the surface, but certainly isn't corroborated by my own experience. In Chinese culture, before the widespread availability of ice, it would have been considered rude to serve a guest room-temperature water, because it shows you don't respect them enough to put on a kettle. So this may also be a cultural reason for hot drinks as the default.

Here's what snopes.com has to say about the theory that drinking cold water causes cancer, which might be partially responsible for "cold water is unhealthy" ideas.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:29 AM on September 17, 2010


One more thought on the subject: Americans are accustomed to potable tap water. It makes complete sense that places with longer cultural memories (or unsafe tap water) would believe boiled water is safer.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:35 AM on September 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


Live in Europe, never come across it.

These beliefs are a hangover from the humoural system of medicine. Lots of people still believe in it.
posted by fire&wings at 10:45 AM on September 17, 2010


I'm seeing a lot of people write this off as a superstition but I'm not seeing a lot in the way of citations to scientific studies.

I'm old enough to remember when the concept of umami was treated in a similar way: most of us didn't know about it, and those that had heard about it thought it was some funny concept that foreigners with big imaginations talked about.

We still have a lot to learn from the rest of the world, and they from us. I don't know which category the ice water falls into.
posted by surenoproblem at 10:48 AM on September 17, 2010


It's definitely not just a European thing. I grew up in India and was never allowed to drink cold things or eat ice cream if I had a sore throat or felt like I was coming down with something. I was SHOCKED to come to the US and find people recommending iced lemonade for sore throats. Citrus was also something of a no-no. I still find myself not drinking or eating cold things when I feel like I might be getting sink. Hot things just feel much more comforting.
posted by peacheater at 10:48 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


angiep, ice shouldn't go in scotch because cold prevents certain nice smelling compounds from evaporating into the air, where your nose can get at them!
posted by SirNovember at 11:03 AM on September 17, 2010


I'm seeing a lot of people write this off as a superstition but I'm not seeing a lot in the way of citations to scientific studies.

It actually works the other way. You (in the general sense) hypothesize that drinking cold water when it is warm out is dangerous. The 'null hypothesis' is that drinking cold water is not dangerous. Present a study that disproves the null hypothesis.
posted by muddgirl at 11:05 AM on September 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


The inverse of this (hot drinks on a hot day) was dealt with by a doctor recently on the Brian Lehrer Show. It's a myth.
posted by mmascolino at 11:13 AM on September 17, 2010


Some sort of strange argument that drinking hot tea makes you cool down
Perhaps the idea is that drinking a hot beverage will make you sweat even more and with evaporation from your skin, you'll cool down more? Not saying that it is done intentionally for that, but perhaps ten minutes after a person drank some hot chai in Mumbai, he felt cooler because of the evaporation of all that extra sweat, et voila, a custom and a folk belief is born!
posted by xetere at 11:17 AM on September 17, 2010


Weird. Sounds like the European version of fan death...
posted by schmod at 11:18 AM on September 17, 2010


My mum swears blind that hot tea is better than cold juice when it's hot, something about it raising your core temperature and making you sweat and therefore in the long run making you cooler, just as xetere says. She is English (although being English I don't have much opportunity to verify the hypothesis).

Conversely, my wonderful Chinese colleague told me told that the reason I have an ulcer on my tongue is because I drink too much ice cold water.

So I have concluded that odd superstitions are in fact universal.
posted by citands at 11:36 AM on September 17, 2010


In his book The Frozen Water Trade Gavin Weightman has the theory that the 19th century American trade in natural ice -- it was profitable to send ships with ice blocks to India -- changed the behaviour in the USA far more than anywhere else. Cold drinks weren't even considered to be a luxury there anymore, long before other countries even got to know them -- when households got fridges.

Behaviour changes a lot slower than technology.
posted by ijsbrand at 11:40 AM on September 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's definitely a thing in Chinese culture. (At least the one that I'm familiar with, which is Beijing residents.) Boiled water is considered something very healthy. Doesn't matter what temperature it is outside, drinking just boiled water as hot as possible is recommended. When my grandparents visited us in the US, they would tell me to not drink too much cold water.

I grew up in India and was never allowed to drink cold things or eat ice cream if I had a sore throat or felt like I was coming down with something.

Huh, it wasn't that extreme in China, at least not in Beijing. I distinctly remember that one of the perks of my tonsillectomy (when I was still in China) was that I got to have lots of ice cream and popsicles afterwards. Mmm.
posted by kmz at 11:57 AM on September 17, 2010


My take on it is that drinking ice-cold liquid is completely unnatural. Nature gives us ways to warm things up. Icing things down is man-made.

I've seen plenty of ice in nature.

Not liquid-related, but when my brother was in the Ukraine, he heard one woman scold another about sitting on a rock (I think they were on a hike). She claimed it would "put a chill in her uterus" and she'd be unable to have kids. I'd never heard that one before.
posted by JenMarie at 12:05 PM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Re. the ice and ice cold drink thing, I always just assumed ice and cold drinks in general were more popular in America because we are spoiled, energy-wise.

That is, it takes a ton of energy and technology to cool drinks and produce ice, and America grew up recently and is rich, so has developed this wasteful and expensive habit, whereas the rest of the world is old, and gets along just fine using less. Sort of like how America's cities require cars but lots of foreign cities have excellent mass transportation/biking systems.

When I went to Europe this summer, I felt my preference for ice and cold drinks was just a sign of my typical American gluttony.
posted by 3FLryan at 12:09 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


My take on it is that drinking ice-cold liquid is completely unnatural.
Then you've never drunk out of a spring; or one of the many, many rivers in the world that run very cold; or a stream in the winter time, when it's literally ice cold? Did cave men build a fire to warm their water in the winter before drinking it? Do animals?

Obviously, it's perfectly natural. (That doesn't make it healthy, though, but I haven't seen any evidence that it's not.)
posted by coolguymichael at 12:15 PM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


It could be a cultural element to it but also has some medical value I believe. I'm a professional singer and I live by the rule of never drinking ice cold water. Why? Because it tenses up the muscles and if you're sick, will make it even worse. Room temperature water is best. Someone mentioned how in America we like to consume cold products for a sore throat, which is one of the worst things you can ever do. For me, I never did. My parents are Latino, so I don't know if that has anything to do with it but we stayed away from dairy, because it produces more bacteria in your throat, which can lead to congestion in the chest, and anything cold (for the reasons explained before) especially with a lot of sugar. It just creates more havoc when you're trying to get over a sickness. So, hot relaxes. Cold just numbs for a split second but won't help your body. So you may find it weird but it's not superstition.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 12:27 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


and if you're sick, will make it even worse.

This is an entirely different concept from "Cold water will make you sick." I've heard a superstition similar to yours from an opera-singing friend of mine, and I can't find any evidence for it besides anecdotes.

There is some evidence that hot water vapor loosens mucous in our sinus cavities, and that drinking hot water can introduce enough vapor to increase mucous velocity and air flow. This does not mean that cold water will make otherwise-healthy people sick.
posted by muddgirl at 12:43 PM on September 17, 2010


The "don't drink milk while you're sick" is another pernicious myth. An Australian study has shown that milk does not increase mucous production (unless it is consumed by someone with a milk allergy).
posted by muddgirl at 12:47 PM on September 17, 2010


I've heard it explained as being because your body attempts to maintain an even temperature at all times. So if you drink something really cold, your digestive system cools down, below your normal body temperature, and your body compensates for that by trying to heat up your digestive tract. I don't know if it's the fact that it therefore uses more calories (= heat) which is said to make you hotter in the next few minutes, or that it diverts energy away from sweating and the other things it's doing to cool your skin down.

I don't have any scientific studies to quote. And I've never heard the converse, that you should drink cold drinks in the middle of winter. But it does make some sense to me - so I think there's more to it than pure superstition. Doesn't stop me loving an ice cold beer on a hot summer's day though!
posted by finding.perdita at 12:48 PM on September 17, 2010


Beyond differing cultural traditions, etc., I'm thinking something like this:

- ice cold = $$

- hot/fire heated = $

- room temperature = 0

Would seem culture could justify what's most easily/cheaply available (as ijsbrand suggested above).
posted by 5Q7 at 1:14 PM on September 17, 2010


I don't think it's just ice. In almost every country I've visited, except maybe the UK and commonwealth countries, people seem to fear breezes, drafts, and open windows. I can't tell you the number of times I've been on sweltering trains or buses fighting about an open window.
posted by lunalaguna at 1:48 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I haven't been to Europe but I did get this a lot from my Chinese (and other Asian) friends when I would ask for a really cold glass of water. I think it has something to do with shocking or stressing your system, which in some way affected your body's "balance".

Seems like this sort of thing was rooted in medical ignorance. Like in the olden days people bathed infrequently because the fear of catching cold, or the notion that drinking cold things can give you a cold, and even my father telling me not to sit on a cold floor as it would make me infertile (LOL at that one!), etc..
posted by loquat at 2:08 PM on September 17, 2010


Ice cold drinks give you a sore throat, duh. (Okay, maybe not but it's the explanation I've been taught.)

The hot tea thing is Asian.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:54 PM on September 17, 2010


Sitting on cold floors gives me a UTI, regularly.

And I imagine that cold water swimming can stress your body circulation.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:56 PM on September 17, 2010


On the other hand, drinking very hot tea (like some comments have heard people say is good for you) can actually increase throat cancer risk.
posted by elpea at 3:29 PM on September 17, 2010


angiep: "I'm not Chinese, but friends and guests who are have told me that cold drinks are unhealthy."

Nor am I, but reference to cold wine being bad for the vital organs appears in Dream of the Red Chamber, lending credence to this being a rather ancient belief.
posted by Gin and Comics at 3:38 PM on September 17, 2010


Live in Europe, never come across it.

Yeah me neither, and I know a lot of Europeans from all over the place. (and am one myself)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 3:53 PM on September 17, 2010


Did cave men build a fire to warm their water in the winter before drinking it?

There is no reason a cave-dweller could not collect the ice-cold water and carry it with them for sometime until it warmed to a more comfortable temperature -- warmed by their own body heat. This would seem easy and preferable over drinking ice-cold water in ice-cold temperature.

My point is that it is easy to warm ice to room temperature. It's hard to turn room temperature water into ice. One seems natural, the other does not.
posted by whiskeyspider at 4:08 PM on September 17, 2010


In Honduras I also heard that drinking hot drinks (coffee) on a hot day was a good idea... can't say I enjoyed it. I'm not surprised this is prevalent across Europe too, the land of one ice cube per drink.

PS. Scmod - fan death is real (sort of)!
posted by _Silky_ at 4:38 PM on September 17, 2010


The Chinese version of this belief is also mentioned in an Amy Tan book, I think "Kitchen God's Wife". No wonder all the men in San Francisco are falling ill in the early 80s, says an elderly Chinese character, when they mix cold drinks with hot spicy food…
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:53 PM on September 17, 2010


> My point is that it is easy to warm ice to room temperature. It's hard to turn room temperature water into ice. One seems natural, the other does not.

You seem not to be aware of the existence of large parts of the earth. Or indeed that "room temperature" isn't a constant.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:59 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


For the years that I lived in Europe, I can confirm that I heard from many different Europeans that iced drinks would make me sick. Also, air conditioning makes people sick. But what puzzled me most was the notion that opening any window in 40 degree heat was going to give me a cold.

I tried to clarify with many people why that would make me sick - why ice cubes in my drink or an open window would spread germs on me and give me a cold - but no one ever had a reason; they just insisted that it was true.

And the notion of hot drinks in the heat of the day to cool you down is something that is done (at least at a few houses) in Calcutta. Along with that is the idea that eating a spicy hot curry for supper - 3-5 in the afternoon - will also aid in cooling you down, and perhaps be even more efficient at it than a piping cup of tea.
posted by kirstk at 5:16 PM on September 17, 2010


Data point:

I went to Austria when I was 12 and while in Vienna we ate at this ribs place. Great ribs. These Austrians knew pork. Before the meal, when it was time to order beverages, my dad had a beer and I just ordered water (soda was way expensive). They brought the drinks, which included the water, sans ice. I asked the waiter if I could have some ice for my water and which earned me a slantways look. He returned from the kitchen, a small, ice containing, soup bowl in hand and set it next to my glass of water.

I look at my dad and at the rest of our dining companions, then we shrugged in unison and I tipped the bowled ice into my glass. I glanced over to the kitchen doorway and I swear, half the freakin' staff was watching me, like they were curious to see what the strange American wanted with iced water. Strangest memory from that trip.

When I serve myself water, now, I have it w/o ice.
posted by fook at 5:30 PM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's widespread in Poland too. As well as the fear of drafts and driving with your windows down no matter how hot it is outside.

Not liquid-related, but when my brother was in the Ukraine, he heard one woman scold another about sitting on a rock (I think they were on a hike). She claimed it would "put a chill in her uterus" and she'd be unable to have kids. I'd never heard that one before.

I was given the same scolding in Ukraine...along with strict instructions to wear warm underwear.
posted by juva at 1:33 PM on September 18, 2010


A character in a dialog from the textbook (written by the dept chair) of a college German class was once served his beer in a glass in a slightly larger, lower vessal full of warm water, to bring up the temperature to avoid drinking a chilled beverage. Needless to say my classmates (this was the U of MD) found this custom bizarre, and I've never actually observed it during my trips to Europe.
posted by Rash at 1:50 PM on September 19, 2010


The continental Europeans in my former company put it down to the energy consumption involved in freezing ice to then be used to cool & dilute drinks. They considered it to be more efficient to cool the liquid you intended to drink rather than to ice it. No one ever brought up any perceived health concerns. Closest thing to that was our German contingent insisting that drinking beverages during a meal leads to digestion problems.

My wife accompanied me on one trip to Germany. The hotel room in Düsseldorf had a mini-fridge, but no ice cube tray & of course, no ice. We were driving from a stop I had to make around Köln when she spotted a Shell station that rivaled any gas-convenience-market here in the states. She sent me in for ice, b/c she was feeling withdrawal from American culture. My German is OK, so I went in & asked for some.

Of course, the clerk directed me to ice cream. It was a real Frick & Frack moment as I went back to him and said, No, I want Ice, and he said, Yeah, ice, right there! Repeat about 3 times, until I made it clear that I wanted water frozen into the shape of small cubes. He allowed as how he thought that maybe was what I wanted, but he couldn't figure why anyone would want that.

He & I shared a humorous cultural moment--he truly couldn't believe that people would pay for frozen water. He also chided me (as the representative of all Americans) for drinking so many soft drinks that seemed to require ice. So I did what almost anyone would do at that point--I bought beer.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:46 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's just ice. In almost every country I've visited, except maybe the UK and commonwealth countries, people seem to fear breezes, drafts, and open windows. I can't tell you the number of times I've been on sweltering trains or buses fighting about an open window.

South Koreans seem to have a phobia about fans. Seoul has (so my son tells me) a humid sub-tropical climate. His hakweon (학원) manager promised that his apartment would have A/C. No such luck. Months of haggling with the landlady also produced no results. Every time he brought up buying a fan, though, his Korean friends would caution him against it, saying that it was not good for the health b/c it stirred up the dead spirits.

Eventually, the hakweon manager relented, and brought him a "portable" A/C. A FAN WITH A DRAWER FOR ICE!!!
posted by beelzbubba at 7:06 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another datapoint: when I was in Tajikistan (a former Soviet, Muslim, and Central Asian country) I heard this as well. Lying on cold floors, drinking cold beverages, and just being in the cold in general would make you sick. When I was feeling under the weather, my host family blamed it on my trip to the mountains earlier in the week.
posted by Gordafarin at 1:47 PM on September 22, 2010


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