Damp Foods: that Cause and Clear Damp

Fungi often make good Damp Foods: foods that help Damp conditions
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Damp foods are foods that often make Damp problems worse in your body.

If your Damp problem is severe, avoiding what I call damp foods will help even if it doesn’t cure all the Damp in your body.

This page will make little sense unless you know what we mean by Damp! Click on Damp to catch up!

Also, if you want a bit of the underlying theory behind all this, go to https://www.acupuncture-points.org/yin-and-yang

There are three parts to this page:


I suggest that concentrating on the foods that help to clear Damp without also avoiding the foods which make it worse is like trying to put out a fire while pouring on petrol at the same time!

Also, you should read our page on Nutrition which puts things into perspective and supplies important information about maintaining digestive health.

Which Foods Make Damp Worse ie Damp Foods?

Please realise everyone is different. You may find some of the following foods all right – for YOU! Not so for ME.

And there may be other foods that make YOU worse, but not me.

These are just foods, observed by cooks and medics with a knowledge of Chinese medicine over 3000 years, that produce symptoms of Damp.


spoon of sugar, one of the worst 'damp foods'
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon

1. Sugar and sweet-tasting or forming foods

These include foods that quickly turn into sugar in your digestion. Most of them have a high glycemic index, but this isn’t absolutely vital because it’s too much SWEETNESS that’s the problem. You need a little ‘sweet’ tasting food daily for health, but what sweet-tasting means in Chinese medicine is different to what we in the West often understand by the term. This category of damp foods does include sugar of all kinds, fructose (yes even from ‘healthy’ organically-grown fruit!), most syrups, and sweet fruits like banana and dates: also honey! Too much sweet food upsets your Spleen’s actions. Your Spleen assists your digestion. Upset it and you get overgrowth of undesirable bacteria and fungi, the ‘baddies’ who subvert your immune system. But also, too much sweet food reduces the amount of healthy nutrients absorbed into your Blood through your intestines. So after a quick ‘high’, you feel worse.

This category includes chocolate, particularly milk chocolate (see also ‘dairy’ foods, below.) Sorry!

2. Foods made from glutinous grains.

There’s quite a list of these. First, which grains contain gluten and how might we encounter them?

  • barley (eg in some soups),
  • bulgur,
  • farina,
  • durum wheat (in pasta & semolina),
  • kamut,
  • farro,
  • rye (in bread),
  • semolina (in couscous, pasta, orzo),
  • spelt (in bread),
  • triticale,
  • wheat (bread, biscuits, cakes, buns, pasta, pizza, many instant foods and it doesn’t make any difference if it’s ‘whole-wheat’ or organic or enriched … it’s all wheat!)
wheat - glutinous grain that sometimes increases Damp
Wheat – Photo by David von Diemar

If you often eat food made from the grains listed above, being Damp Foods, you may increase Damp in your body.

So, you ask (!),  which grains do NOT contain gluten? Here are the main ones:

  • amaranth
  • buckwheat
  • millet
  • oats
  • polenta
  • quinoa
  • rice – both brown and white rice
  • sorghum
  • tapioca
  • teff


So eating non-glutinous grains from the list above will be less likely to increase Damp.

If you like, they are non-Damp foods!

But don’t assume they are all right for you until you’ve tried small quantities of them over a period of time.

We are all different and you may react to one of them differently to me!


3. Dairy products are nearly always Damp Foods

Although this applies particularly to food from the dairy cow, it may apply, for some people, to milk from other animals like goats and sheep.

Dairy products include milk, cream, cheese, yogurt, kefir, lassi and so on. It makes little difference if the milk is fat-reduced. Yes, this does include ice-cream! And chocolate, especially milk chocolate!

And although some authorities differ, I think even organic, non-sweetened natural yogurt, full of all the probiotic goodies, is damp forming.

4. Damp Foods classified as strongly yin

ice cream with cherry on top: cold foods are nearly always damp foods.
Cold Foods increase Damp – Photo by Sebastian Coman Photography
  •  ‘Cold foods’. These include foods eaten chilled or cold, raw, or uncooked and not warmed before eating.
  • But many foods are classified as cooling, even if eaten warm. Make sense of this by reading the cold-foods page.


5. Foods that evoke a moisturising response by your body

For example, in some people

  • spicy dishes such as curries evoke runny noses, tearful eyes and even perspiration, all signs of Dampness.
  • hot spices (as from chilli) can do this. So can garlic and some onions.
  • Alcohol can do this too, in some people.


Many such foods are classified as ‘hot foods‘. You might think that being ‘hot’ foods, they would dry out damp conditions, but if they produce moisture in you, for you they are still ‘damp‘!


assorted flavor donuts: damp foods!
Photo by Rod Long

Even this is not the end of it! How and when you eat have an effect too.

Eating …

  • in a rush
  • when working
  • when reading
  • if arguing and emotional
  • too late at night (ie when tired), just before sleep
  • too much at a time
  • when standing or walking
  • if stressed
  • if exhausted


Don’t skip over that list! It’s important and can – alone – make a huge difference to how well you digest and how well your system clears Damp!

Which ‘Damp’ Foods  help to DRY Dampness?

Before clicking on the link below, please do realise that, being a yin-type of problem (for more on this, read our page on yin-excess), Damp takes a while to appear and manifest in your body.

It doens’t appear suddenly! It builds up gradually before you notice its symptoms. By the time you have symptoms, it’s probably quite entrenched.

So, it takes your body, even with you eating all the right foods and avoiding all the wrong foods, a while to clear it.

It didn’t come overnight and it won’t go overnight!

Here’s the link to read about ‘damp foods’ that help to clear Damp:

Click here for a page on anti-dampness foods, that help clear Damp from your body.

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How to increase your Metabolism to help clear Damp

A huge subject!

Some constitutions easily burn off damp in the body, others struggle.

If you are familiar with Ayurvedic medicine, you’ll know that the Kapha body though potentially very strong, easily stores Damp, unlike the Pitta and Vata types. It is easy for Pitta bodies to warm up and clear Damp, not so the Kapha!

However, one can say that apart from nutrition there are several ways to help your metabolism clear Damp.


Photo by Olia Nayda on Unsplash


  1. Breathing well. Dampness impedes breathing, and good strong lung action impedes damp formation. If you’re alive, you probably think you know how to breathe. You may not! Singers spend years learning how to breathe and various techniques have been developed to help different conditions (eg Buteyko for asthma.) For calming yourself, learn diaphragmatic breathing but to clear damp you need to harness other parts of your lungs too. There are many yogic techniques. I suggest you investigate ‘breathing well’ on the internet! Your Lung acupuncture channel starts in your stomach! The action of your lungs enormously enhances the action of your stomach and digestion. Remember too that good posture aids good breathing – so sit up straight!
  2. Exercise. If you exercise enough to get out of breath, you will force your body to breathe more deeply and possibly better, though even here you may benefit from advice. Exercising vigorously forces your body to circulate blood faster, raising your heartbeat and breathing rate, it warms you up and helps to reduce stress. This act of increasing your metabolism automatically works to clear Damp.
  3. Live and work somewhere warm and dry. It seems obvious, but many of us overlook this! Sun and fresh warm air help clear Damp.


What About Foods to Boost your Metabolism?

Though you may be tempted, don’t eat foods that claim to increase your metabolism.

All they do is speed it up temporarily, demanding your body expend Kidney yang energy, which may slightly heat you up but is also tiring.

It’s like taking coffee to speed your brain: it’s a temporary solution. It’s not easy to increase your metabolism. Doing it gradually with diet, good breathing and exercise is your best policy.

It helps if you start when you’re young!



Exeercise assists Damp Clearing foods
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash


Lastly …

Damp is a yin-excess phenomenon: it tends to be moisturising (obviously) and cooling. It is usually made worse by yin factors (eg Cold, Damp conditions, Phlegm, Staying Still) and is better for yang factors (eg warmth, movement).

So keep warm and active!


The following questions about damp foods won’t make much sense to everyone, but they often occur so can be important:

Q. How do you treat someone who has both yin deficiency AND dampness?

A. This can be difficult because with yin deficiency you have a lack of fluids and a tendency to feel a little warm, but easily tired. This is because your body’s yin energy, its cooling energy, is weakened (perhaps from overwork or a serious depleting disease.) With yin deficiency you may have yang deficiency too, albeit concealed by yin deficiency symptoms.

What seems like yang, that tendency to feel a little warm, even to perspire during sleep, isn’t enough to boil off or transform the damp. Also, with yin deficiency you’ll probably be mildly thirsty and want to eat or drink stuff that you can’t fully digest, leading to Damp build-up: maybe phlegm after eating too.

So, in effect you’re eating stuff that produces the very Damp you want to clear!

Theoretically, unless deficiency is marked, treatment would first aim to clear or transform Damp, it being a problem of yin excess. (If you don’t clear the excess first, it’s a bit like treating someone for tiredness when they are carrying a heavy load. Probably they need rest and time to recupe, but first you need to remove the load from their shoulders.)

Then, when Damp is substantially cleared, treatment would aim to strengthen Yin.

gray ceramic mortar and pestle
Chinese herbs can help clear Damp. Photo by Katherine Hanlon

But you could argue that the above is a herbal approach and that acupuncture could do both together! In my acupuncture practice I would probably do a bit of both, mainly working on Damp first and if the body responded, adding more treatment for yin deficiency as treatments proceeded. But everyone is different and I can’t generalise.

Also, one could give a herbal formula for one aspect and do acupuncture for the other.

Q. What about treating Qi Deficiency with Dampness?

A. With Qi Deficiency and Dampness, you have both exhaustion and the heaviness and soreness (from Damp). I’ve seen this with fibromyalgia.

The problem may seem that by increasing Qi you also increase Damp.

In practice, I would say that often the Damp exists because the body’s qi has been too weak to clear it. So by increasing qi you equip the body with the energy it needs to transform the Damp.

With acupuncture, you can easily combine points both to clear the Damp and ‘tonify’ the Qi, sometimes on the same channel. For example: St40 fenglong and St36 zusanli.

Indeed, sometimes you don’t even need to stimulate Qi, just to enable it to flow again by clearing the channels.

Having done this, you notice the pulses have normalised, and just request the patient returns a week later, by when – often – he or she is feeling much better.

(How do you clear the channels I hear you ask! Answer – palpate along them for blocks. Either massage the blocks away or treat with micro-acupuncture round or under them. If you do it right, the patient’s pulses suddenly recover a lot of their energy. Then all you need do is wait a few days.

 free waterfalls surrounded of trees
Force of Water flowing freely. Photo by Adrien Olichon

It’s like removing large debri from round a drain-hole. As water begins to flow it carries away any remaining small debri so allowing the full force of the water to build up into a healthy stream.)

Likewise, with herbs you could do one thing with herbs and the other with acupuncture.

Other pages connected with Food and Nutrition:


Book on Chinese Dietary therapy

The two books by Andrew Sterman listed below give you a real feel for Chinese medicine and how it approaches food as a source of health and disease. I highly recommend them.


Each of the following books also has merits:


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2 Responses

  1. Thank you for your good content. But I disagree with you on some point about honey as you say it creates dampness, it doesn’t as ayurveda says honey is good for kapha (the acidity in honey balances the sweetness).
    Also some fruits are good to reduce dampness like apples, pomegranate etc dampness is the kapha type of Ayurveda.

    1. Thanks Joe, and yes, Ayurveda has different traditions.

      What can we make of this?

      First, that it depends on your personal reactions, and the lists here are warnings: some people have no problems with sugar, amazingly! But most people do have problems with very sweet foods, of which honey is certainly an example.

      (And if this is a reader’s first introduction to all this, just remember that Damp appears in all sorts of ways, including athlete’s foot and other moulds on or in the body, the mouth for example: not just the heavy sore fatigue mostly associated with it.)

      Of course, how much you eat, and how fast, and in what combination and whether raw or cooked, all make a difference too.

      Second, in warm countries, with different cuisines, cold damp may appear less, perhaps because Stomach Yang is stronger. On the other hand there is possibly more Damp Heat. Apple is cooling which combats the Heat side of this. Also, apples come in many tastes, some much sweeter than others. Probably the sweeter ones, taken in excess, would cause damp.

      An old lady came for treatment for cystitis. The day before she’d got hot while looking after her grandson of about 7, I think. She withdrew to the shade of some trees, and a light, cool wind, very pleasant, blew up. Her grandson asked for money to buy an apple – this was September in Nanjing, China in 1982 and the park didn’t have an ice-cream seller, just apples! He got her one, too. She enjoyed it but soon got an urgent need to pee. The next morning, she woke with cystitis and came to us for acupuncture. From her knowledge and experience of traditional Chinese medicine, she knew her problem was Damp-Cold, and we agreed. She said, that although the cool wind tested her yang defences, she was sure it was the apple that tipped her over. We used moxa on needles in her lower abdomen and legs and she needed just the one treatment. This was one of my first experiences of practical Chinese medicine in action near the start of my time there.

      Thanks for your contribution!

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