Hot Foods – may energise but can overheat you

Bacon in a pan
Photo by Andrew Ridley on Unsplash

Key Learning Points

  • So-called ‘Hot Foods’ warm you up: they are ‘heating foods’!
  • If you’re a ‘hot’ type, they’ll make you feel worse
  • But if you’re the ‘cold’ type, many will help you feel better
  • BUT … Avoid these ‘heating foods’ to stay cool!

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.

YES! We’ve got hot and cold food lists for you on separate pages: this page is on hot ie warming, even heating foods. Click here for Cold or cooling foods.

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, where 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.

fried fries in white pack beside red squeeze bottle
Chinese medicine wonders about the effect of new foods. Photo by Miguel Andrade

What is meant by Hot Foods?

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

Nutritional value of Hot Foods

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

Energetic value of Hot Foods

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, and based round the theory of Chinese medicine. Read more under Nutrition.

When people mostly produced symptoms of Heat, they classified the foods that produced this as being heating – hot or ‘heating’ foods! 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’.



Image by Devanath from Pixabay


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 many hot foods make 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 (as in Stomach Fire), like heartburn
  • gastric ulcers
  • bad breath
  • skin problems, such as rashes, eczema, dermatitis, spots, acne
  • irritability and constipation
  • explosive, foul-smelling diarrhoea
Hot foods when you're sick?
Feeling Ill? Should you take hot foods? Photo by Kelly Sikkema

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. If it’s not a measurable fever it may be a sensation of heat, dryness, soreness (think ‘sore throat’), and grumpiness.

If so, usually it’s best to let your body fight its own 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 you’ve steeped a slice of ginger root for a while. This combination helps your Spleen and Stomach energies.
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Grading hot foods

Red as a symbol of Hot Foods
Measuring hot foods – how hot is hot? Photo by Charles Deluvio

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

  • warming – so the list below is what you may call a ‘warm food list’!
  • 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. In other words, the heat accumulates.

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 over time, and when freshly ground, its effect appears 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. So a food that’s been omitted may be heating.

Hot Foods Chinese Medicine – our Hot Foods list!

It’s an unfortunate fact that many ‘hot’ foods are highly indulgent!


Wine: especially red wine, comes under hot foods
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay


  • alcohol, winespirits and fortified wines
  • animal fats
  • aspirin
  • bacon
  • barbecued food
  • beef
  • beef jerky
  • black pudding, fried
  • boiling, in other words, 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


Cup of coffee: yang in nature, hence warming: hot foods
Photo by Jakub Dziubak on Unsplash
  • 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, coconut 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 tea

Ginger is an important herb in Chinese medicine

  • 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
  • icecream (bet you weren’t expecting this one! But icecream is full of fats – dairy fats and sugar – so although it does have a cooling effect because it’s ice cold, once it starts to be digested, the fats and sugar produce heat in you)
  • 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 such as brazil, hazel, almond and peanuts
  • onion
  • pepper
red chili peppers - hot foods!
Peppers are usually hot! Photo by Elle Hughes
  • 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 such as apricot and 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. Artificial sweeteners, being concentrated, have many other effects and are more like medicines.  So, 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 also be heating)


Then there are foods that specifically benefit a particular body energy, such as foods for Kidney Yang.

low angle photo of assorted book on bookshelf
Chinese medicine is sophisticated. Many venerated texts for 2500 years! Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN

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.

What, you wonder, do modern medicines do to you? That varies, but check our page on antibiotics.

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