What are Hot and Cold Foods?

Here's how I found out about hot and cold foods. It was the last week of October, with winter just around the corner. My roommate sighed as she walked through the door - arms full of groceries - explaining how tired and cold she had been feeling.

“So I bought a bunch of hot foods.”

I noticed onions and a pouch of garlic cloves at the top of her grocery bag. I wondered: Hot foods?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, foods may either have warming or cooling properties that affect the body’s energy, or Qi. My roommate broke it down for me with the concept of yin and yang; cool foods raise yin, the energy that cleanses, cools, and hydrates, and hot foods raise yang, the energy that warms the organs and increases circulation. She explained that her hands and feet felt cold because of her deficiency in yang. You may be deficient in yang if you are often stressed or lead a busy lifestyle involving excessive physical work; if you are always on-the-go and rushing from one task to another, you may experience the following symptoms of deficiency:

  • Frequently cold
  • Fatigue
  • Poor digestion
  • Pale complexion
  • Weakened immune system
  • Lower back pain or soreness
  • Low libido

My roommate’s groceries–onion, garlic, and nectarines–are hot foods, which encourage circulation and dispel coldness in the body. Other hot foods include pumpkin, chestnut, chili, cinnamon, pepper, beef, and chicken; one of the most popular foods for warming is Jujube.

If there is too much heat in your body, you may be deficient in yin, which is responsible for moistening and cooling the body. This may develop from excessive work, lack of sleep, or poor dietary habits. Symptoms of Yin depletion include:

  • Dryness; in throat, lips, eyes, mouth
  • Increased thirst
  • Frequently hot
  • Insomnia
  • Night sweats
  • Low grade fever
  • Constipation

Examples of cooling foods include cucumber, leafy vegetables, watermelon, banana, persimmon, and drinks such as chrysanthemum tea.

 Chrysanthemum tea is consumed for its cooling properties.


After our conversation, I decided to research on behalf of my unanswered questions--for starters, what defines a food as hot or cold? Rather than the temperature at which food is consumed, the nutritional and chemical properties are what determine a food’s cooling or warming qualities. Statistical studies performed by the Journal of Agriculture and Food Research Varying in 2020 found that varying concentrations of six main vitamins play a role in the hot or cold nature of food hot foods were found to have higher concentrations of niacin, VC, VE, AND VA, whereas cold foods contain folate, B6, and B12 vitamins. Additionally, hot foods had a 32% higher average amino acid content than cold food.

List of Hot vs. Cold foods in Traditional Chinese Medicine

On a micro level, there were also significant differences in mineral elements distinguishing hot and cold foods. Anions of the elements Fe, Co, Ni, and Cu contributed to cold properties, whereas elements such as Mn, Ca, P, and K were present in hot foods.

Maintaining the well-being of your body requires a holistic approach to health, and knowing the hot and cold foods is essential to making mindful dietary choices. Moving forward from a valuable lesson from my college roommate, I urge you to join me in becoming more attentive to the needs of our bodies in order to live with vitality.

By: Suzie Lee, Student at Cornell

 

Sources: Ping Ming Health, Medical New Today, Naturopathy, MeAndQi

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