Heaty and Cooling Foods - What's It All About?

Heaty and Cooling Foods - What's It All About?

Is your favourite spicy dish too "heaty" for you? Can "cooling" green tea be a bad thing? We tell you the yin and yang of everyday foods

If you’ve ever heard someone say, “That’s too heaty, you might get a sore throat!” chances are, they have some idea of what “heaty” and “cooling” foods are. You see, in the East, what we eat is broadly categorised into three groups:

  1. Yin or Cooling
  2. Yang or Heaty
  3. Neutral, meaning neither heaty nor cooling

These groups indicate the way food reacts with our bodies. For example, heaty food like spicy dishes, red meat, potato chips, and some fruits (durian, jackfruit) generates warmth in the body. And cooling food, like cucumber, green tea, water chestnut, watermelons cool you down.

In Chinese culture, you might hear that a lot of ailments relate to the body either being too heaty or too cool. For example, having a sore throat? That bag of potato chips must be the cause! The same goes for acne, bad breath, etc. Or, if you’re easily cold, tired, you must have been consuming too much cooling foods, so they say.

Should You Eat More Heaty or Cooling Foods?

The short answer is neither. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses Yin (Cooling), Yang (Heaty), and neutral foods to bring a body back to equilibrium, the optimal state. And for that, you’ve got to know your foods.

Yin (Cooling) Food

Chrysanthemum flowers, seeped into hot water, makes a cooling tea

For those suffering from excessive heat and a build-up of toxins, TCM practitioners encourage consuming more of such food:

  • Fruits: mangosteen, apple, watermelon, strawberry, persimmon, pear, lemon, orange, kiwi, banana, grapefruit
  • Meat, dairy, seafood: eggs, crab, clams, yoghurt
  • Condiments, beverages: sugar cane, chrysanthemum tea, water chestnut, peppermint tea, green tea, soya sauce, salt, sesame oil
  • Vegetables: lettuce, mushrooms, bitter gourd, broccoli, eggplant, celery, green leafy vegetables, asparagus. spinach, swiss chard, alfalfa sprouts, cauliflower, cucumber
  • Grains, legumes, seeds: whole wheat, buckwheat, tofu, mung bean, soy bean, millet, wheat bran, barley

Yang (Heaty) Food

Spicy foods are believed to be heaty in nature

But if you seem to catch colds easily, bring a jacket everywhere, or have trouble sleeping, you’re encouraged to tuck into more of these heaty foods instead:

  • Fruits: durians, jackfruit,  apricot, raspberry, chestnut, coconut meat, guava, cherry
  • Condiments, beverages: wine, coffee, brown sugar, vinegar, garlic, cumin, black pepper, clove, fennel seed, cinnamon, rosemary, chilli, basil, ginger
  • Grains, legumes, seeds: glutinous rice, walnut, pistachio
  • Vegetables: squash, onion, mustard greens, leek, pumpkin, squash
  • Meat, seafood, dairy: red meat such as beef, mutton, lamb, ham, prawns, lobster, sea cucumber, butter, chocolate

Neutral Food

Rock sugar, considered neutral in TCM

Now neutral foods are those that do not have yin or yang properties, and so are perfect for all types of constitutions, such as:

  • Meat, seafood, dairy: oysters, fish, cow’s milk, duck, pork, scallop
  • Condiments, beverages: honey, licorice, rock sugar, peanut oil, saffron
  • Grains, legumes, seeds: white rice, yellow soybean, kidney beans, sunflower seeds, peanuts
  • Fruits: goji, berries, olive, lemon, figs, grape
  • Vegetables: Chinese cabbage, potato, white fungus, black fungus, carrot, corn

How Should You Pair Yin and Yang?

Generally, sweet foods like desserts tend to be heaty and nourishing, bitter foods absorb “heatiness” and “dampness”, sour foods are believed to be astringents, spicy dishes are heaty, and salty foods help retain fluids in the body. TCM practitioners work to strike a balance between yin and yang, so one does not fall sick easily. For example, after a tasty rice dish, you would want to wash down that heatiness with cooling green tea.

Make Your Own Yin Yang Herbal Tea

But it’s not just food. Herbs too, can speed up the body’s restorative process if one uses them correctly. Generally, ginseng, jujube or red dates are commonly available ones that are effective in improving blood circulation, something which a more yin (cooling) body type would need.

And here’s one way to make your own herbal tea at home with goji berries and jujube dates, it's something that our foodie, Sarah Huang Benjamin swears by: 

"Jujube, or red dates, are often found in Chinese sweet dessert soups, so you would be forgiven for overlooking their medicinal properties. However, these little parcels of sweetness are used in TCM to regulate qi, nourish the blood, calm the mind and boost immunity. They’re especially loved by women who turn to red dates for regulating their hormones.

Like Goji berries, they have a sweet and pleasant flavour, making them the perfect gateway ingredient to herbal teas. Red dates lean towards being ‘heaty’ in nature, so while those who have ‘heaty’ constitutions should use them with discretion, they’re an essential part of traditional Chinese confinement after birth, imparting warming nutrition to new mothers.

Use Jujube in conjunction with Goji berries in the recipe below for a yummy and healthy treat that the whole family will love.


Simmer 4 jujube dates and ½ cup Goji berries in 500ml water for 20-30 minutes. Strain and enjoy.

If you’re using this recipe to regulate your hormones, make sure to drink it before or after that time of the month, but not during."

This is just one of ten ways to make your own herbal tea, with simple and quick recipes written by Sarah Huang Benjamin. Check out the full article here

All health content on asianfoodnetwork.com is provided for general information only, and not intended as medical advice to diagnose, treat or cure. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. 

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