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 petrol onto it 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.
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 having too much SWEETNESS in food 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 does include sugar of all kinds, fructose (yes even from ‘healthy’ organically-grown fruit!), syrups of most kinds, 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.
Foods made from glutinous grains. There’s quite a list of these. First, which grains contain gluten and how might we encounter them? Barley (some soups), bulgur, farina, durum wheat (pasta, semolina), kamut, farro, rye (bread), semolina (couscous, pasta, orzo), spelt (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!)
Dairy products. 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 roducts 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!
Foods classified as strongly yin, including ‘cold foods’. This includes 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.
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. So hot spices (as from chilli) can do this. So can garlic and some onions. Alcohol can do this too. Many such foods are classified as ‘hot foods‘.
Even this is not the end of it! How and when you eat have an effect too.
in a rush
if arguing and emotional
too late at night, just before sleep
too much at a time
when standing or walking
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!
Some of the following foods are in the list of foods above that cause Damp!
It’s a matter of degree and digestibility. Barley, for example, often helps your digestion work better, even though it contains some gluten.
Ginger – sliced from raw ginger root. This herb benefits your Spleen and is warming, but not hot in action. (Ginger powder, however, is regarded as ‘hot’, so don’t use it to clear damp.)
Some garden herbs like coriander leaf, marjoram, oregano, rosemary and thyme are fragrant and lighten foods that might otherwise be too yin, too heavy or damp-producing.
Cinnamon is warming and helps you better digest foods that otherwise slow you down, like puddings, especially puddings made with dairy food.
Barley. Chinese medicine regards barley grain as a mild diuretic. Use it in soups and stews. (But, as explained, it does contain gluten so may not be suitable for those who are gluten-intolerant.)
Mushrooms – fungi. The thinking here is that mushrooms grow in damp places and absorb damp as they grow, so they know how to help your body clear damp. In Chinese cookery, they are always cooked before being eaten. So this does not include raw mushrooms.
Mildly spicy foods. These don’t produce the moisturing response of strong, hot spices. Instead they gently prod your metabolism to perform better and digest food better: they also encourage your Spleen to work better. (One of the Spleen’s functions is to clear Damp.) See next on seeds:
Mild spices made from seeds often stimulate the digestion and make it more efficient, so reducing Damp. These include caraway, cardamom, coriander, cumin, fennel, star anise and turmeric. Get in the habit of adding them to dishes.
Sprouts eg from beans but also from grains (not the glutinous ones, of course!) But sprouts have a cold energy so must be cooked and eaten hot to compensate.
Theoretically, non-glutinous grains help clear Damp because they help you absorb nutrients without irritating your digestion, so helping your metabolism work more efficiently. Gluten-free grains include: amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, corn – maize, kasha, kudzu, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, sago, sorghum, soy, tapioca and teff. One variety of millet is Job’s Tears (coix lacryma-jobi) which is used in many Chinese herbal formulae to clear Damp.
Snow peas and snap peas. Other names for these include ‘sugar snap’ peas, ‘green’ peas, ‘Chinese’ pea, and ‘pois mangetout’ in French. If you’re still unsure, they all belong to a cultivar group based on pisum sativum var. macrocarpum. The main point is that the pods are edible.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchee.
Warm food. It is an important tenet in Chinese medicine that warm food digests better than cold food.
Well-chewed food. Chewing initiates digestion by mixing digestive enzymes in the mouth with a larger surface area of food. Smaller chunks of food break-down more easily in the stomach and proceed more smoothly through your digestive tract.
For some people, ‘food combining‘ is important, so that foods of different kinds work together. The belief is that meat/protein dishes don’t mix well with fruit (there are important exceptions, of course) or grains, but do mix with vegetables. Vegetables mix with almost everything, but fruit and grain mix together less readily. This ‘food combining’ diet, also known as the ‘Hay’ or ‘Kensington’ diet suits many people and if you suffer from Dampness, you may wish to try it for a while, whatever the science may say at https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/food-combining!
Some foods are traditionally associated with increasing urination. Of course, increasing urination doesn’t necessarily mean Damp will be cleared, but if you urinate very little it makes it harder for your body to clear Damp. However, there may be reasons for reduced urination which you need to know about before changing your diet – so see your practitioner. Foods that make you pee more include beans that grow in bean pods: snap peas, garden peas, snow peas, string beans, broad beans etc.
Tea made from cornsilk is a traditional diuretic.
Many bitter foods have a diuretic effect. The classic is dandelion greens, but many varieties of cabbage including Brussel sprouts are somewhat bitter. Also artichoke, bitter melon, broccoli, celery, chicory, endive, radicchio and spinach. For more, see our page on the Bitter taste. When taking these foods, make sure to take them cooked and warm. Celery, for example, has a cold energy so if used as a diuretic you need to cook it to compensate for the coldness.
To clear Damp, your body mostly urinates it out but it’s important not to lose too much fluid at a time. Consequently many of the above foods are used in soups and stew which replace the moisture. The classic dish, a very frequent part of food in Chinese and SE Asia, is made from rice: try our recipe Clogstoun Congee.
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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.
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!
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.
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!
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).