January 17, 2022

Heaty and Cooling Foods - What's It All About?

3 Minutes Read

If you’ve ever heard someone say, “That’s too heaty, you might get a sore throat!” chances are, they have some idea of what “heaty” and “cooling” foods are. You see, in the East, what we eat is broadly categorised into three groups:

  1. Yin or Cooling
  2. Yang or Heaty
  3. Neutral, meaning neither heaty nor cooling

These groups indicate the way food reacts with our bodies. For example, heaty food like spicy dishes, red meat, potato chips, and some fruits (durian, jackfruit) generates warmth in the body. And cooling food, like cucumber, green tea, water chestnut, watermelons cool you down.

In Chinese culture, you might hear that a lot of ailments relate to the body either being too heaty or too cool. For example, having a sore throat? That bag of potato chips must be the cause! The same goes for acne, bad breath, etc. Or, if you’re easily cold, tired, you must have been consuming too much cooling foods, so they say.

Should You Eat More Heaty or Cooling Foods?

The short answer is neither. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses Yin (Cooling), Yang (Heaty), and neutral foods to bring a body back to equilibrium, the optimal state. And for that, you’ve got to know your foods.

Yin (Cooling) Food

For those suffering from excessive heat and a build-up of toxins, TCM practitioners encourage consuming more of such food:

  • Fruits: mangosteen, apple, watermelon, strawberry, persimmon, pear, lemon, orange, kiwi, banana, grapefruit
  • Meat, dairy, seafood: eggs, crab, clams, yoghurt
  • Condiments, beverages: sugar cane, chrysanthemum tea, water chestnut, peppermint tea, green tea, soya sauce, salt, sesame oil
  • Vegetables: lettuce, mushrooms, bitter gourd, broccoli, eggplant, celery, green leafy vegetables, asparagus. spinach, swiss chard, alfalfa sprouts, cauliflower, cucumber
  • Grains, legumes, seeds: whole wheat, buckwheat, tofu, mung bean, soy bean, millet, wheat bran, barley

Yang (Heaty) Food

But if you seem to catch colds easily, bring a jacket everywhere, or have trouble sleeping, you’re encouraged to tuck into more of these heaty foods instead:

  • Fruits: durians, jackfruit,  apricot, raspberry, chestnut, coconut meat, guava, cherry
  • Condiments, beverages: wine, coffee, brown sugar, vinegar, garlic, cumin, black pepper, clove, fennel seed, cinnamon, rosemary, chilli, basil, ginger
  • Grains, legumes, seeds: glutinous rice, walnut, pistachio
  • Vegetables: squash, onion, mustard greens, leek, pumpkin, squash
  • Meat, seafood, dairy: red meat such as beef, mutton, lamb, ham, prawns, lobster, sea cucumber, butter, chocolate

Neutral Food

Now neutral foods are those that do not have yin or yang properties, and so are perfect for all types of constitutions, such as:

  • Meat, seafood, dairy: oysters, fish, cow’s milk, duck, pork, scallop
  • Condiments, beverages: honey, licorice, rock sugar, peanut oil, saffron
  • Grains, legumes, seeds: white rice, yellow soybean, kidney beans, sunflower seeds, peanuts
  • Fruits: goji, berries, olive, lemon, figs, grape
  • Vegetables: Chinese cabbage, potato, white fungus, black fungus, carrot, corn

How Should You Pair Yin and Yang?

Generally, sweet foods like desserts tend to be heaty and nourishing, bitter foods absorb “heatiness” and “dampness”, sour foods are believed to be astringents, spicy dishes are heaty, and salty foods help retain fluids in the body. TCM practitioners work to strike a balance between yin and yang, so one does not fall sick easily. For example, after a tasty rice dish, you would want to wash down that heatiness with cooling green tea.

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