Winter Camping Myth: A cup of hot tea will keep you warmer than a cold orange juice or a soda.

There are many variations and opinions on what is the best thing to drink to keep you warm or to warm you up when you are cold. This is one of the questions that Murray Hamlet, DVM, had to answer in his long career at the Army Research Institute in Environmental Medicine laboratory (ARIEM). It was essential for the military not only to know how to keep personnel warm, well-fed, and well-hydrated in the cold, but also, if troops became cold, what was the most effective way to rewarm them.

As it turns out the real answer has little or nothing to do with the temperature of the liquid but it has everything to do with the amount of calories or sugar  in the drink.

Sugar, i.e. carbohydrates, is the log that is thrown on the fire in each cell to provide fuel, heat, and to power life. Glucose and fructose, two of the simplest sugars, are burned in the mitochondria, a small organelle in each cell, to provide that cell with the energy to drive the engine of life.  I hate to say it, but without carbohydrates there is no life – carbs are your friend.

As far as the temperature of the liquid is concerned while it is more comforting to drink a warm liquid in the cold, think of the physics. Take an average man, weighing about 170pounds (80kg). Since we are 70% water, that 170pound (80kg) man is 120pounds (56kg) of water or 15 gallons (56liters) of water (one gallon of water weighs 8 pounds).

So, if you were to take 1 quart (1 liter) of hot tea water at 110ºF (43.3ºC) and pour it into 15 gallons (56liters) of cool water at 90ºF (32.2ºC), it will raise the temperature from 90ºF (32.2ºC) to 90.3ºF (32.4ºC), not enough to make a clinical difference. But, if instead, you throw into that 170pound (80kg) man, 1 quart (liter) of a fluid containing sugar, now he has fuel to put into the furnace to burn, to get warm, stay warm, shiver, function, survive, and thrive.

BUSTED – it is not the temperature of the liquid but the calories of sugar in the drink that will keep you warm. There is nothing wrong with a warm drink that you can wrap your cold hands around, but it is important to remember that carbohydrates are your friend. They provide the energy for life. (Remember, we’re talking real sugar, not artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes.)

From the Wilderness Medicine Newsletter.   Follow our occasional Tweets @WinterCampers and visit us on Facebook.


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