What exactly are heaty and cooling foods?

How many times have you heard your mom warned you not to eat something because its “too heaty and you’ll get a sore throat”? And how many times have you brushed off her comments and end up with a bad throat?

Ask any Singaporean what they know about the concept of “heaty” and “cooling” and chances are they would have at least heard of it before. Although this notion is very popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is , however, not very meaningful to the western medicine department.

So what does “heaty” and “cooling” even means? Are they real? What do they do exactly?


herbal tea

They refer to the different energies in foods, not temperature

In Chinese diet, the notion of “cooling” and “heatiness” are related to the balancing of ‘yin’ (cooling) and ‘yang’ (heaty) in a human body. According to the TCM, there are five kinds of energy in foods: cold, hot, warm, cool and neutral. These energies do not refer to the state of the food, but its effect on our bodies when we eat them.

For example, a cup of hot tea (ironically) has a cold energy, as it generates cold energy in our bodies, clears toxin and calms our blood!


What different effects do they have on our body?

Heaty foods have the ability to warm and improve circulation, dispel cold and stimulate the body. When taken in excess, heatiness can result in symptoms such as fever, sore throat, mouth ulcers, acne, excessive thirst, redness of the skin and irritability.

Cooling foods eradicate heat and toxins, and at the same time, nourish the body. However, they can also trigger conditions including intolerance to cold, a pale complexion, sore muscles and joints as well as fatigue.


chocolate brownie


Neither “heaty” nor “cooling” foods are bad for you

These different energies act upon the human body in various ways and affect our state of health. Although eating too much heaty food can cause symptoms such as scratchy throat and a dry cough, many people can still go on a durian binge-fest without falling ill. That’s because the person has an innate low likelihood of developing “heaty” ailments.

In fact, both “heaty” and “cooling” foods can be good or bad for you, depending on your body’s disposition.

For instance, if an individual suffers from cold rheumatism, eating foods with a warm energy can help to relieve some pain. On the other hand, if a person suffers from heat rashes, it is beneficial to eat food with cool energy to relieve symptoms.


But how do I tell apart heaty and cooling foods?

Nearly 2,000 years of detailed observation has enabled Traditional Chinese Medicine to develop a comprehensive classification system of “heaty” and “cold” energies in food. You may find the here.

But as a rule of thumb, heaty foods are generally sweeter, high in fats content, rich in sodium and are hard, dry or spicy. On the other hand, cooling foods tend to be salty, lean, rich in potassium, and are soft and wet.


Bottom line

How real are this concept and it’s effect on health, we don’t know. Instead, we will ask you to judge for yourself. I mean… I do get sore throat when I binge on those chocolate cookies, that much I know.

If you are a believer of the TCM, here’s what you should do: eat all kinds of food, with moderation. Similar to maintaining a relationship, the key is to master balancing the hot and cold – if you are showing symptoms of heatiness, cool down; and if you are showing symptoms of coolness, warm up.

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