COLUMNISTS

Prairie Fare: What do you know about living in the Midwest?

Julie Garden-Robinson
NDSU Extension
Julie Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

I participate in many online meetings for my various projects. My colleagues are from across the U.S.

We typically give short weather reports as we begin our online discussions. In the winter, they often shudder when I talk about negative Fahrenheit temperatures.

I have suggested face-to-face meetings in Fargo in January, but they politely decline.

During one meeting, our temperatures were around -20 degrees on outdoor thermometers.

“How can you handle the cold?” my colleagues in warmer states ask me in disbelief.

Complaining about the cold helps a little. Then you just deal with it.

During warmer months, I have a question for them.

“How do you handle the heat and humidity in your state?” I ask.

We all know that we adapt to our surroundings. I tend to do better in extreme cold compared to extreme heat. When the weather warms up into the teens and twenties above zero, we become giddy at the balmy temperatures.

Both cold weather and hot weather can be life-threatening. Really, how can we handle the sometimes dangerously cold winters in the Midwest?

Here is a short quiz as we approach the coldest days of the year. This information is adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  1. What is the name of the condition where your body’s temperature loses heat faster than it is produced. It can occur in cold temperatures and also cool temperatures above 40 degrees when a person gets wet.
  2. Name at least three categories of people who are the most common victims of the condition in question number 1.
  3. What is the name of the condition where you may lose feeling in your hands or feet and the skin may look white, grayish or even waxy?
  4. Name at least three things you should do if you encounter a person with the condition in question number 3?
  5. Name at least five items that should go in an emergency survival kit to be in your vehicle.

The answers are: 

  1. Hypothermia is the condition where body temperature declines to a dangerous level. It can be life threatening.
  2. The most common victims of hypothermia are older adults, infants who are sleeping in cold rooms, people who are outdoors a long time, including homeless populations, and people who use alcohol or illicit drugs, which may mask the sensations. If you come upon a person with hypothermia, seek medical help. Hypothermia is a medical emergency, so call 911. If help is not readily available, move the person to a warm area. Remove wet clothing and wrap them in blankets or other coverings to help them get warm. If the person is conscious, provide warm, non-alcoholic beverages.
  3. Frostbite is a serious condition that could lead to amputation in the most severe cases. Be sure to wear appropriate clothing, including mittens, hats, boots and layers of clothing.
  4. If you come upon a person with frostbit, get the person to a warm area (warm vehicle, indoor shelter). Do not rub the affected area, because that could increase the damage. For frostbite on hands or feet, you could immerse the affected areas in warm – not hot – water once indoors. Seek medical care as soon as possible.
  5. Be sure to keep a winter survival kit in your vehicle. The kit should include a shovel, windshield scraper, blankets, warm clothing (hats, mittens), booster cables, tow rope, high-calorie dried or canned food (and a can opener), a container of water, a can and matches (to melt snow for additional water), a flashlight, batteries and several other items on the “Extreme Cold” list (available at http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/guide.asp).

Remember that staying nourished and well-hydrated is just as important in the winter as it is in other seasons. Your body burns extra calories to keep you warm, whether you are walking outdoors or shoveling snow. You lose moisture as you exhale.

A non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverage will warm you best. Try a cup of peppermint tea or other herbal tea.

For a quick cup of tea, bags are available. See “Take Time for Tea” at ndsu.ag/time-for-tea for more information about the potential health benefits of various types of tea.

Making a pot of tea is a “ceremony” in some cultures. Here’s how to brew tea for the best flavor. Add some honey if you like a sweeter beverage. Grab a blanket, turn on your favorite movie or open a book, and enjoy your warming beverage.

How to brew the best cup of tea

  • Bring freshly drawn water (preferably not softened or hard) to a boil in a glass or enamel container (not aluminum), remove from the heat and cool for one to three minutes.
  • In a teapot made of glass, china or porcelain, place about 1 teaspoon of tea leaves for every 6 ounces of water. Allow the tea leaves to move freely in the water (referred to as “blossom”) and then strain when poured. If using an infusion basket or tea ball, select one large enough to allow the leaves to move.
  • The length of brewing time can affect flavor. Usually steep for three to five minutes. Experiment with the amount of brewing time to get the desired flavor, or follow the manufacturer’s directions.
  • When time allows, warm the tea cup before serving the tea.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.