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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you have a deficiency condition, of lack of energy, of chilliness, especially if you are typically yang deficient, avoid cold food!
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:
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 –
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.
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,
This way, you warm your tubes both before and afterwards.
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.
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:
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.
Here’s a question!
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.
Overall, cold food weakens your digestion and in Chinese medicine this means you weaken your ‘Spleen‘.
That often leads to two things:
Your body often puts that phlegm into your (weakened) lungs. That makes you cough.
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!)
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.)
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.
If you’re always cold, this page was written for you!
But you should also read some other pages:
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The spicy taste in Chinese medicine adds lightness and energy to your diet, helping your lungs work better. You need some, but not too much!
Foods classified as having a sweet taste in Chinese medicine are vital for health. But too little or too much ‘sweet’ food leads to disease.
Taste in Chinese medicine describes, like short-hand, what foods and herbs can do for your health. Discover the right balance!
you have a great blog here! would you like to make some invite posts on my blog?
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
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!
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
Hello, I log on to your blog on a regular basis. Your story-telling style is
awesome, keep up the good work!
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