Hot Foods

Hot foods taste great! They add to our enjoyment and some spices have considerable health benefits ... but ...

... you can have too much of a good thing! In Chinese medicine, too many heating foods have adverse effects - see Stomach Fire.

We're all different!

As individuals from different cultures, we react differently.

Someone brought up in South India, where the curries are strong, or Mexico, were the chilli can be explosive, copes better with spicy foods than your typical North European, for example.

Also, some people react with heat to foods classified as cold. (Want to know about the opposite of hot foods? Click Cold Foods!)

Some Western foods are unfamiliar to Chinese medicine, so their effect has not been seen for long enough to know how heating or cooling they are.

What is meant by Hot Foods?

Every food has an energetic as well as a nutritional value.

Nutritional value

The Western medical approach to food is nutritional, calculating the percentage of a food that is protein, carbohydrate, oil etc, and the specific ingredients such as vitamins and minerals.

Energetic value

Chinese medicine lacked the means for this kind of investigation, so they watched, for hundreds of years, what effect foods had on people.

Their approach to food is sophisticated. Read more under Nutrition.

When people mostly produced symptoms of Heat, they classified the foods that produced this as being heating. That's what's on this page. 

Foods have not just cold or hot values. There are many other classifications for food, including whether it is moistening or drying and into which acupuncture meridian a food is said to 'enter'.


For health, the Chinese approach recommends foods that help your body to balance its natural tendencies.

For example, if you are naturally a 'warm' person, with good circulation, warm hands and feet, who wears less than others, then you may be eating too much warming food and would be better eating more cooling food. For you, too much hot food makes you sick.

Conversely, if you have poor circulation and often feel cold, you should eat more warming foods. But even for you, too many very hot foods would be a mistake: warming foods would be best. 

Too much hot food dries and heats your body in ways that appear to you as - for example -

  • burning pains (eg Stomach Fire), like heartburn
  • gastric ulcers
  • bad breath
  • skin problems, eg rashes, eczema, dermatitis, spots, acne
  • irritability and constipation.

What about hot foods when you're sick?

Illness introduces another complication. Often, when sick, your body's genetic inheritance programmes it to produce various forms of heat.

This comes out as fever, or if not a measurable fever a sensation of heat, dryness, soreness (think 'sore throat'), and grumpiness.

If so, usually it's best to let your body fight its fight if you can.

Don't load it up with cold foods, because they'll slow it down. Nor should you force down too many hot foods because they may add needless heat to the situation - which means more suffering for you!

When your body is producing signs of Heat as it fights its battle, usually the best thing is to give it

  • fluids (warm, not cold - hence the importance of tea in Chinese medicine) and 
  • in more severe fevers, simple mildly cool foods like fruit (hence the popularity of grapes as a gift to the infirm!). 
  • But we're all different and whereas grapes might suit me, you might be better off with a warm mug of water in which a slice of ginger root has been steeped for a while. This combination helps your Spleen and Stomach energies.

Grading of hot foods

Here are some of the foods that heat. They are graded according to their typeface:

  • warming, 
  • more warming, 
  • heating, 
  • very heating

The following are the foods most likely to be your downfall, though each of us reacts differently to individual foods: what might be heating for me might be merely warming for you.

The more often you eat something warming the more heating its effect.

Also, the following are only approximate grades of hot foods and one could argue over the precise level of heating of each one of them. For example, most spices tend to lose their heating effect with age, but a few grow stronger for a while.

If a spice is ground to powder it loses its effect faster over time, but if it's fresh, its effect will appear faster when you take it.

How you eat something makes a difference:

  • Meat taken cold will be less heating than if taken hot. 
  • Gin and tonic with lots of ice and lemon, which are cooling, will be much less heating than gin taken neat
  • Fish unless very oily is warming, but if smoked and grilled becomes heating.

Finally, this list of hot foods is incomplete. I just wrote it down from memory and add foods as I think of them. Just because a food isn't here doesn't mean it's not heating: a food omitted may be heating.

  • alcohol, winespirits and fortified wines
  • animal fats
  • aspirin
  • bacon
  • barbecued food
  • beef
  • beef jerky
  • black pudding, fried
  • boiling, ie boiled food
  • butter (brandy butter, even more so - unfortunately - my downfall)
  • cakes made the British way
  • cheese varies, depending on fat and concentration: for example cheese nuggets often contain more fats, plus other substances that increase the overall heating effect
  • chicken
  • chips, potato, deep fried
  • chocolate, the more fat in it the more heating
  • cinnamon as used in the kitchen
  • coffee (for more on coffee click here)
  • concentrated foods such as vegemite and marmite
  • cream from dairy cows
  • chips (assuming covered in fat and fried or roasted)
  • cinnamon bark
  • cloves
  • cooked food
  • coriander
  • crisps, packets of snacks
  • curries, Thai foods, chilli, the stronger the more heating
  • deep frying
  • eating late at night when tired because the food takes longer to be digested so accumulates and creates more heat, like newly cut grass put on a compost heap
  • eating too fast, or when rushed, or snatching food while working; all tend to weaken your digestion and may make the food more heating, if already a warming food
  • estrogen (oestrogen) pills seem to be very warming for many women
  • fats like butterolive oil, animal fat, cocoanut oil, dripping: also full-fat ice-cream (although the temperature it is eaten at makes it initially slightly cooling)
  • fish
  • foods cooked in fat or deep-fried
  • garlic, the stronger the more heating
  • ginger root: ginger is used in many herbal formulae in Chinese medicine because it strengthens the Stomach and Spleen, which digest food and absorb it into your body - but if you ate nothing but ginger it would become heating
  • ginger dried powder
  • greasy food
  • grilling
  • haggis cooked
  • horseradish
  • ibuprofen
  • lamb
  • meat (beef is considered to be less heating than lamb, but all meat is heating to a greater or lesser extent.)
  • microwaving food
  • milk
  • mussel
  • mustard
  • mutton
  • nuts eg brazil, hazel, almond, peanuts
  • onion
  • pepper
  • peppers red or green
  • pork
  • processed foods, can be very heating
  • puddings (but most fruit salads are cooling)
  • roast or fried meat
  • roasted peanuts
  • root vegetables like carrot, potato
  • rosemary
  • seeds eg apricot, caraway, 
  • shellfish
  • smoked food
  • spices like curry spices or chilli
  • steaming (some experts think steaming can even be cooling)
  • sweeteners like sugar are initially warming, but for many have a subsequent cooling action: as for artificial sweeteners, they have many other effects, being concentrated, and more like medicines ... in which case, be sure to read the page on primary and secondary actions. For more on this, click here.
  • tobacco smoke, especially if inhaled (I do not have enough experience of the effects of electronic cigarettes but expect they will be heating)

Checks and Balances

Chinese medicine is very sophisticated.

This site is just an introduction to it all, and within Chinese medicine nutrition is very important.

The theory of Chinese medicine has far more to say about food and digestion than you've read on this page! Do read Nutrition, but you may also discover more on our pages on Stomach and Spleen.

Other useful pages

If you like this page, you may also like these:

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