What are Heaty and Cooling Foods?

Published: 13th April 2008
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Copyright (c) 2008 Ruth Tan

When a Chinese uses the terms 'heaty' or 'heatiness' to describe the kinds of foods he/she would like to have or avoid, most Westerners would probably have no idea what those concepts are or find them strange. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the notion of heaty (yang)(as opposed to cooling or yin) is related to the balancing of 'yin' and 'yang'. To most people, especially the Chinese, in Asian countries such as China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singaporeans, such concepts are very much part of the indigenous culture and are commonly used as a form of expressing certain set of symptoms or sensations often associated with emotional or physical reactions such as:

- Feelings of irritability;

- Short temper;

- Fever;

- Constipation;

- Flushed face or cheeks;

- Dark yellow urine;

- Sore throat;

- Nose bleed;

- Outbreak of pimples and acne;

- Rashes;

- Mouth ulcers;

- Indigestion.

Excessive "cold" energy in the body, on the contrary, will make us feel weak, lethargic, tired and restless.

The constitution of each person is influenced by congenital factors as well as the acquired lifestlye (e.g diet, stress level, amount of exercise and sleep, living environment), and this varies from person to person. In other words, different foods act upon the human body in different ways and affect our state of health. The body's metabolism, functioning of organs and organ structure all combine to determine our susceptibility to these heaty and cooling effects of foods. Examples of cooling and heaty foods:

Cool (yin) Foods:

Bamboo shoot, banana, bitter gourd, clam, crab, grapefruit, lettuce, persimmon, salt, seaweed, star fruit, sugar cane, water chestnut, watermelon, lotus root, cucumber, barley, bean curd, chicken egg white, marjoram, oyster, pear, peppermint, radish, strawberry, tangerine, and yogurt, broccoli, cauliflower, zuccini, corn, tomatoes, pineapple, turmeric.

Neutral (balanced yin and yang) Foods:

Corn, abalone, apricot, beef, beetroot, black fungus, carp, carrot, celery, chicken egg yolk, cuttlefish, duck, fig, honey, kidney bean, lotus fruit and seed, milk, olive, oyster, papaya, pork, potato, pumpkin, radish leaf, red bean, plum, sunflower seed, sweet rice, sweet potato, white fungus, yellow soybean, brussels sprouts, snow peas, sweet potato, taro, dates, figs, raspberries, raisins, sage, rosemary, thyme, brown rice, apple.

Heaty (yang) Foods:

Pepper, cinnamon bark, ginger, soybean oil, red and green pepper, chicken, apricot seed, brown sugar, cherry, chestnut, chive, cinnamon twig, clove, coconut, coffee, coriander (Chinese parsley), date, dillseed, eel, garlic, grapefruit peel, green onion, guava, ham, leaf mustard, leek, longan, mutton, nutmeg, peach, raspberry, rosemary, shrimp, spearmint, sweet basil, tobacco, vinegar, walnut, jackfruit, durian, leek, shallots, spring onion, , apricots, blackberries, black currant, mangoes, peaches, cherry, mandarin orange, grape. How a food is prepared also matters. E.g Beef is considered as neutral, but if you have it deep fried or grilled, it would be considered as heaty. In addition, there are some interesting broad guidelines to determine whether a certain food is heaty or cooling:

Heaty/yang foods:

- grow under the hot sun;

- are sweet;

- have lots of fats;

- rich in sodium;

- are hard, dry or spicy.

Cold/yin foods:

- grow in little sunshine;

- are salty;

- are lean;

- rich in potassium;

- soft and wet;

The heatiness and cooling effect of foods refer to their capacity to generate sensations - either hot or cold in our body. They do not refer to the state of the food but its effect on our bodies. For example, tea is a cooling food. This means that it generates cold energy in our body. To seek a balance in diet, we can classify food as predominantly yin or yang. Hence, if you eat predominantly yin foods, your body will be capable of producing only cold energy, in contrast, eating predominantly yang foods produces hotter energy. If a person suffers from cold rheumatism, eating foods with a warm or hot energy would be helpful. If a person's acne condition deteriorate due to consumption of fried foods, it is beneficial to eat cooling foods to counter heatiness and relieve symptoms. Hence, to strike a yin-yang balance in the diet, it's almost natural for the Chinese to have a glass of a lemon barley or winter melon (cooling) drink to go with a plate of (heaty) fried rice, or a bowl of (heaty) spicy noodle with some (cooling) fruits such as star fruits or water melon.

The concept of heatiness is not meaningful or relevant in the western medicine paradigm. However, it is believed that there is some parallel to Acid (heaty) and alkaline (cooling) balance, or protons and positive charges (heaty) and cooling (electrons and negative charges). Medicine evolves. Conventional medical doctors in the west has long started to integrate and learn about alternative treatments or medicines and incorporate them into their practice. Today they believe that these new medical approaches are beneficial and effective in many ways.


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