Cold Foods and Foods that Cool You

Citrus options
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash
  • If you’re a Cold type, avoid these foods!
  • If you’re a Hot type, these foods may help you
  • Which hot-to-touch foods are Cooling?
  • What to do if  you’re offered only Cold foods!

Cold foods are foods that have a cooling effect on your body.

They may or may not be cold to the touch – in fact they can be cooked and warm, but still have a chilling effect.

It pays to know about them!

Why? Because you can help your body maintain good health by altering what you eat according to the conditions – the environment – in which you find yourself.

Does Eating Healthy Mean Eating Cold Foods?

Eating Healthy – Healthy Eating – means different things to different people.

In the West, science has made us prefer fresh food where possible. (Yes, it should contain all necessary nutrients, of course, but ideally it should be fresh, as in fresh fish, vegetables and fruit.) We realise that fresh food contains the ingredients we need for health, unlike old, decomposing food. When a food smells ‘fishy’ (especially if it’s a fish!), we know it’s going off and losing its nutritional benefits.

Fresh vegetables and fruit are, by definition, uncooked. So there has been for many years in the West a belief that raw food is better than cooked food. So, many vegetarians only ate raw food made  up in fresh fruit salads and fresh vegetable salads.

Well, if you’re in good health with good Stomach energy, raw food may suit you and keep you well. You have a healthy metabolism.

But many of us don’t have good Stomach Qi. Instead we often have Stomach Qi Deficiency. If so, we should help our Stomach by eating easily digestible food, and Chinese medicine has claimed for over 2000 years that raw, fresh food is easier to digest when lightly cooked than when raw.

How to Get Ill! Eat the Wrong Foods!

Lots of people make themselves more prone to illness by eating foods that are wrong for their metabolism.

Do Hot foods have the opposite effect? Click here for Hot foods!

First, you may like to read about Heat and Cold, two of the external pathogenic factors (ie factors that attack you from outside your body) that can make you ill.

From the Western medical or nutritional perspective the Chinese concept of food energy makes no sense.

But from that Chinese medical perspective, a food’s energy can have a huge effect on your health. In the short term it may be more important than the food’s nutritional effect.

In fact, how well your digestion works is more important than what you eat! A good digestion absorbs at least something even from poor foods, but a poor digestion can’t digest even ‘good’ foods.

By the way! There are other checks and balances when it comes to food, as considered from the view-point of Chinese medicine. There’s more about this on our page on Nutrition.


Cold foods are not necessarily Cold!

How you prepare and eat a food can change its energy. Chewing a cold food for a long time reduces its cooling effect a little: cooking it and eating it hot likewise.


Watermelon, one of the main cold foods!
Photo by Floh Maier on Unsplash


Take a melon. Melons are watery fruits that grow naturally in warm countries. They are delicious when eaten in summer when it’s hot.

They have a cooling effect. You wouldn’t normally think of eating a melon to warm you up!

But what would happen if you put the melon under the hot grill?

Grilling it would boil off some of the water in the melon, concentrating its action and possibly charring it a bit. That puts some heat into it and, if eaten warm, the melon would certainly be less cooling than before. But in terms of Chinese medicine, it would still be cooling.

Cooking a cold food does reduce its cooling effect, a little.

Meat is a hot food

Even if eaten cold, in Chinese medicine roast lamb is still warming, just not as warming as it would have been if eaten when hot.

Click here for more about hot foods.


Who should NOT eat foods of a Cold nature?

If you have a deficiency condition, of lack of energy, of chilliness, especially if you are typically yang deficient, avoid cold food!

  • Deficiency? When you are tired and cold, or recovering from a big effort like moving house, or from an illness (eg convalescent), or as you grow old
  • Lack of energy? The symptoms of energy deficiency are much the same as those of general deficiency, but usually occur later in the day as you become more tired when, unless the weather is very hot, you find you prefer to avoid cold air and cold foods
  • If you are chilled, or suffering from a cold virus or illness that makes you FEEL cold, (even if, according to the thermometer, you have a fever) avoid Cold foods. For you in that state, in general the less food you eat the better, whatever its hot or cold nature.
  • But whatever you do eat should not be cold or chilled. Better to eat mildly warming foods or drinks, if anything.
  • Typically yang deficient? Read more under yang deficiency!


Why should you avoid Cold food?

Chinese medicine has found that cold foods – ie foods that have a cooling effect on your metabolism – slow down your digestion.

This means you absorb fewer nutrients from what you eat, and also that your bowels may lack peristalsis leading to constipation or delayed bowel movements.

And when you do finally have a bowel movement, you may find your body hasn’t had the energy to break down what you’ve eaten, leading to undigested food particles in your stools, or maybe even just ‘slops’ instead of proper sausages!

In particular, there are several groups of people that should avoid ‘cold’ foods:


It’s just that cooking food and eating it warm makes it much easier for your body to digest food!

What if there is only Cold food available?

A cup of warm tea to warm you!
Have a warm tea before and after a cold meal. Photo by John-Mark Smith

What if you find  there is nothing to eat except cold foods? Perhaps you are offered a dish containing no hot food, nor anything hot to the touch.

What to do?

First, many foods that are cold to the touch are actually warming or even heating in their effect! For example:

  • Most processed food
  • Cold Meat
  • Pastries
  • Pies
  • Roasted peanuts
  • Cheese ‘nuggets’
  • Spring rolls
  • Deep fried food
  • Many roasted or grilled foods
  • Most ‘junk’ food
fries and ketchup - junk foods that supply HEAT
Junk food is mostly HEATING. Photo by Pixzolo Photography

Surprisingly, when first eaten, some junk foods can have a cooling effect! Why? Because if eaten cold, and if your digestion is very yang deficient, that food may burrow its way right down through you to re-appear as smelly diarrhoea within a few hours. For some of the other effects of eating junk foods, see the list below!

But, if you regularly eat junk foods and even if you chew them well before swallowing, the food’s heating effect will still eventually appear in various ways, for example –

  • bad breath
  • smelly stools
  • rash
  • dry or itchy eyes
  • athlete’s foot
  • dry foot skin


Even so, chewing is best! Otherwise the food goes straight through you and uses up your energy to push it through, offering little in return because your body doesn’t absorb it.


So, what to do about COLD foods?


Ginger tea mug: a great antidote to foods that are too cold for you
Photo by Dominik Martin on Unsplash


If your host offers you only foods classified as cold, for example a cold starter, a salad for the main course, followed by fruit salad afterwards, then if you are very yang deficient,

  • Ask for a mug of warm water (or a hot tea) before you start. Better still if it has a slice of ginger root in it (see picture).
  • When the food comes, chew it well. Whilst in your mouth it picks up warmth and saliva enzymes that make it more digestible. When chewed into small pieces your stomach can break it down more easily.
  • If you are offered cold drinks, don’t swallow them in great gulps: take them in small sips.
  • Ask for the same warm drink afterwards. This dissipates the cooling effects of the food you’ve just eaten.
  • Keep plenty of clothes on: don’t peel off! Avoid sitting on damp, cold ground or seats. Cold transmits into your body through your skin too, so if you are already cold, and sit on something cold AND eat something cold, you put your body at a considerable disadvantage. Seek out warmth.
  • When you get home have a warm bath (or warm shower), and a warm drink with ginger root slices in it.


This way,  you warm your tubes both before and afterwards.


Combining with Hot foods – Balance

Balancing Cold with Hot foods - photo of silhouette photo of man standing on rock

If you have to eat many hot or very warming foods, even someone yang deficient should make sure to include some cool foods to balance.

Equally, if you are naturally blessed with good circulation and usually feel warm when others feel cold, then you will probably benefit from eating more cool or cold foods, to keep you in balance.


Cold Foods

This list will never be complete because new foods are always being discovered, and the Chinese didn’t have access to many of our modern Western foods.

It sometimes takes time to assess the energy of a food.

Also, you may react differently to a food than others. So beware individual reactions.

If you are very sensitive or even allergic to a food, its effect will usually be more warming than cooling.

Foods below are classified according to the typeface used:

  • cool
  • cooler
  • cold


List of Cold Foods

  • apple
  • aubergine (= eggplant)
  • bamboo shoot
  • banana (NB Many people eat bananas, which are not just cooling but moisturising too: in a hot climate this excellent food combats the heat and dryness AND gives you energy. In a cold wet climate, for cold-type people this is the wrong food.)
  • barley
  • crab
sliced cucumber on black textile: cucumber is a cooling food - it cools you.
Cold Foods include sliced cucumber, often used in summer salads: Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis
  • cucumber (regarded in Chinese medicine as an excellent food for acne, which is thought to be mostly caused by Heat in the Lungs and/or Stomach)
  • egg, white of (chicken egg)
  • grape
  • grapefruit (however, the peel is warming!)
  • hops
  • ice
  • kelp
  • lemon
  • lettuce
  • loquat
  • mango
  • melon
  • mung bean
  • mushroom
  • muskmelon
  • orange (the peel is warming and for some people orange fruit is often yang, producing a rash or headache)
  • pear
  • persimmon
Cold foods include peppermint though some people find it's warming.
Fresh peppermint, ready to make cooling tea. Photo by Massimo Adami.
  • peppermint
  • plum
  • radish
  • salt
  • seaweed is mostly cold
  • sesame oil
  • sorbet
  • spinach
  • strawberry
  • sugarcane
  • tangerine
  • tea (Indian and Chinese teas all have slightly different effects but by and large they are cooling. However, as they are sipped warm, the effect is fairly neutral.)
  • tofu
  • tomato
  • Water chestnut
  • watermelon
  • wheat
  • Wild cucumber = Bitter gourd
  • Yogurt, though full of milk fats, is considered to be a cold food. In Indian cooking, a yogurt drink (lassi) is often given to compensate for the hot spices of the main dish. Yogurt includes what is called ‘Greek Yogurt’.


Cooling foods include ice creams though the ingredients can make a small difference to how cooling they are.
Ice Cream choices – Photo by Lama Roscu

Special Question about Ice-Cream!

NB Ice cream is made up of frozen cream, egg and sugar. But dairy foods are mostly warming, so although you feel cold to start with, the after-effect is often warming. However, if you are yang deficient, don’t count on this! Better to avoid it until you feel better. Even in warm climates, take ice-cream only occasionally and when you are hot.

For most people, often eating ice-cream in winter is a bad idea for health. It will tend to produce Stomach Qi Deficiency, followed by Phlegm and a tendency to Damp problems.

Most vegetables are neutral ie slightly warming or cooling. Root vegetables tend to be warming if eaten with their skins.

Questions about Cold Foods

1/ A Question about Yin deficiency and Cold food

Here’s a question!

Question about Cold Foods
Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

If cold is yin, should yin deficient people eat more cold food?

Here’s the answer!

Well, they probably like the feel of cool juice or even ice in their mouths or throats.

But to digest food and turn it into the nourishment that your yin deficient body needs, in other words, to become less yin deficient, you need a good digestion.

A good digestion warms and cooks your food better than a cold one. If your stomach and intestines are icy cold (well, if they’re icy cold, you’ll be several feet under the ground on an indefinite basis, but let’s ignore that possibility on this website which is devoted to better Qi and Health!) they can’t digest your food.

So a warm digestion is better.

That means that if you shove down lots of cold food/drink you are cooling your digestion. A cold digestion means you’ll absorb less nourishment, and that won’t help your yin deficiency towards better health.

So don’t eat cold foods if you’re yin deficient. Sorry.

2/ Why do Cold Foods Make Me Cough?

Overall, cold food weakens your digestion and in Chinese medicine this means you weaken your ‘Spleen‘.

That often leads to two things:

  • It ‘borrows’ energy from your Lungs
  • You get Phlegm and Damp.


Your body often puts that phlegm into your (weakened) lungs. That makes you cough.

3/ Why do I cough when I eat something?

Cough is a big subject. Click here to read our page on cough.

If cold food makes you cough, read our answer at 2/ above.

If hot food makes you cough, probably your body is going through a hot, or ‘excess‘ phase, and hot food antagonises it, so it tries to eject heat either by coughing or by vomiting. (Chinese medicine nerds: please realise – I’m simplifying!)

4/ What to Eat when Sick with Cold?

This depends on whether you are actually feeling hot or cold. (It may be called a ‘cold’ but you may physically be feeling very hot, whatever the thermometer says.) Also, whether this is a recent, acute, condition, or you always feel cold. (‘Acute’ means you just caught it, so it is very recent. (Usually acute symptoms are quite strong and come on fast.)

Acute Heat or Cold

If hot, drink plenty of warm fluids eg water, and allow yourself to perspire.

But take care not to let yourself get chilled, so don’t sit in a cool draft, whether from a window or a fan. And don’t sit downwind of the air-conditioning! Why not? Because you could easily get additional Wind-Cold on top of your Heat. That makes it a more complex condition, harder to clear properly.

If cold, check the page on Wind-Cold. If it fits your condition, take the Do-It-Yourself Formula for Wind-Cold, described on that page.

What if You’re ALWAYS Cold?

If you’re always cold, this page was written for you!

But you should also read some other pages:

Jonathan Brand colours

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5 Responses

    1. Thanks Niels. At present we’re still developing these pages with many more to write so lack the resources to take you up on your kind offer. Best wishes Jonathan Clogstoun-Willmott

  1. This is the right blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you. You definitely put a new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!

    1. Hi Jonas – Glad you liked the page! The page on Hot Foods does much the same thing, and we’ve got other pages coming soon, such as on foods for Qi stagnation problems. Best wishes Jonathan Clogstoun-Willmott

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