Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Hot and Cold Foods

It appears that Chad is not well yet, though he certainly feels much better; he'll try and go to the university today, and see how he feels. But he's still coughing and sneezing like there's no tomorrow. As is always the case, when Chad gets sick, we both take precautions - otherwise, I get sick, then he gets sick again, etcetera. My folks keep asking what pills Chad is taking for his illness; and are always surprised when we reply "ginger", or "curry", or "carrot soup". In fact, what you see above is the lunchbox Chad's taking to school today, with his vegetable curry and red rice.

The art of healing through food has been practiced for many ages in China, and it relies on a holistic type of diagnosis. Good Chinese medicine doctors do not just pay attention to the specific new symptoms the person tells them about - they "read the map" of the person's body to tell them about the overall situation, which is related to - but not encapsulated in - the present ailment. When you go to a Chinese medicine clinic, the doctor will usually look for a while at your face, finding your shen - the spark in your eyes - and letting her or him know how you are. He or she will then look at your tongue, which is a wonderful instrument for assessment, then take your pulses. That's right - in Chinese medicine, three pulses are measured on each hand, in different location; both shallow (on the skin) and deep (pressing in the hand) pulses are taken. Altogether, this produces twelve different bits of information, which help the doctor relate your ailment to the patterns of qi, blood and moisture in your body.

Your symptoms, general constitution and feelings, usually add up to a more general picture, telling the doctor whether your condition indicates deficiency or excess, yin or yang, cold or heat, moisture or dryness. There are many intricacies in these categories, some of which neatly map on Western medicine conditions and some don't. What we call a cold, or a flu, can be "cold" - making us feel cold, moist, inactive and weak - or "hot" - accompanied by fever, flush and unrest. The illness is traced to a certain energy path in the body, which indicates which points should be gently pressed, heated or punctured with a needle, and which plants and foods should be consumed to correct the imbalance.

One of the basic distinctions is between cold and heat. The logic of Chinese medicine requires that you consume cold, or cooling, foods when you are hot, and hot, or warming, foods when you are cold. The definition of "hot" and "cold" food does not refer merely to the food temperature, but to its energetic properties. It's important to look at the food and tell whether it is cooked or raw; what its color is; whether it's spicy or bland. In his wonderfully informative book, Healing with Whole Foods, Paul Pitchford lists several cooling and heating foods; here are a few examples from the list with some modifications from my studies at the Berkeley Acupressure Institute. You can look at the list and see if you get a feel for the foods' different energies:

Cooling Foods

citrus fruits
all leafy greens
broccoli and cauliflower
soy milk, tofu and other soy products
mung beans
lemon balm

Neutral Foods

large beans

Warming Foods

ginger root
all root vegetables
spicy leafy greens, like jale and mustard greens

We try to eat a diet that balances between warming and cooling foods, though we lean more toward the warming list, since we're both vegetarians and relateively thin. Folks who are larger, or eat a lot of meat, need more cooling, raw vegetables in their diet, though this is just a rule-of-thumb and can be modified to fit your own condition. So, these days, when we both feel a tad cold and weak, our diet includes more warming foods. Hence our carrot-ginger soup, and the following beautiful curry made by Chad yesterday.

Actually, the curry is a good example for how "cooling" vegetables can be matched with "warming" spices to get a generally balanced (a tad towards the warm) and satisfying meal. The types of vegetables and other ingredients can vary; you can add any root vegetables, eggplant, or tofu cubes if you so desire.

Vegetable Curry with Coconut Milk

4 garlic cloves
2 stalks of green onions
1/2 white onion
10 large forest mushrooms
vegetable oil (we're in the Middle East, so we use olive oil)
black pepper, powdered
red pepper, powdered
1 inch of ginger root
1 inch of galanga root
1 can coconut milk
5-10 inch long stalks of lemongrass
3-4 lemon leaves (we have a little lemon tree on our balcony)
4 tomatoes
5-6 large leaves of manguld, kale, collards, bok-choi, or any other leafy green vegetables

Start with a wok with some oil. In the oil, heat the ginger, garlic, and pepper. Be quite generous with the pepper. If you have a jar of curry paste, you can add a spoonful to the oil; if not, nevermind. When the spices are sizzling and aromatic, add the mushrooms and sautee a bit. Then, add about a teaspoon of coconut milk, and mix a bit so everything becomes nice and yellow. Then, add the rest of the coconut milk, and chop in the vegetables, the lemongrass, the galanga, and the lemon leaves. If curry seems too thick, add a bit of vegetable stock. Curry's ready when the vegetables are ready. Serve with brown or red rice.


Barbara said...

This rumination on hot and cold foods comes at a good time for me.

For some reason, during this pregnancy, I have been very cold all the time. More yin energy than I am used to going through me? I don't know, but I have a hard time getting warm and staying warm, which is really unlike me.

So, I was going to ask you about warming foods, other than meats, ginger and garlic. I am glad to see root vegetables and spicy greens.

I have some Cantonese medcinal soup recipes I am going to be trying, and I may add some of these ingredients to them to help with the warming energy.

Hadar said...

Oh, I'm glad this was helpful, Barbara - feel well! Yes, root vegetables are warming, and eggs, and spicy things. Also, I would also strongly recommend quinoa. I'd cook it with mustard greens, grated carrots, and sauteed onions and garlic, and spices.

I can totally see why one's yang would be depleted during a pregnancy. So much energy is put into internal nourishment, that less of it can engage with the external. There are several things that could help balance yin and yang; going out more, seeing people, spending more energy on the external would make life more "yang-like", and helps warming up. Are you doing any exercise? walking, yoga, pilates? Also good ideas when one feels cold.

Barbara said...

I have been gardening and walking for exercise. I also have a stationary bike that I cycle on when there is rain as there has been for the past week. And, I have to go up and down a lot of stairs in this new house--the home is built on a steep hill, and is built into the hillside, so there are steps and stairs all over the place.

So, exercise is covered. And I have been eating eggs, beans, some chicken and greens--a lot of them. I cannot tolerate much in the way of red meat--especially beef, but pork sometimes, too, especially if it is too fatty. So, I have been eating meat substitutes, especially beans, but I have also cooked a great deal of chicken.

We are going out and seeing people more--we went out on Friday with the doula we chose--she is a garden designer, too and she took us to her favorite nurseries in the area so we could meet the wonderful eccentric plant people here. It was great fun, and next Saturday, we are going to a potluck at her house for the neighborhood association, so we can meet our neighbors. I think this is helping, because I am having less tendency to be cold.

I have also found certain spices in Indian food to help. Fenugreek seems to help (it also helps with milk production too, if ever you need to know that)--I discovered that tonight. And it smells very good on my hands. I cooked aloo methi tonight and have been warm since then. Mustard helps, too--the vindaloo and the dal that I made both had mustard and I feel much warmer.

Thanks for everything!

Hadar said...

You're really doing everything right, Barbara... a healthy pregnancy if there ever was one. Be well and happy!

AJewel said...

Thank you so much for the intro info on hot and cold foods!! Yours is the only web site kind enough to do that. I am a new first time mother and my hormones have been wonky, I am on chinese herbals and there is a warning on the box, eat no sour or cold foods. Thanks again I will be visiting often.

Anonymous said...

I wan to know if anyone can tell me where do get an books or literature hot and cold foods based on TAM..

Please email

Beyond Prenatals said...

Thanks so much for this post. I just came home from my first visit with an acupuncturist, who taught me about hot/cold foods. When I was pregnant with my son, I was so hot but I am usually a cold person. My son tends to be very hot and sleeps with the air conditioner on all year-long! From looking at your list, I notice that he tends towards the cooling foods and he is actually allergic to some of the hot foods (eggs and sesame). I guess he knows what he is doing, but I will also try to be cognizant of it. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post - I've been researching regarding breakouts in Chinese medicine, and it turns out I needed to eat 'cold' foods to balance 'lung heat'. So your list is very helpful and quite simple to incorporate in my daily diet. Thanks again..

Sajee said...

This is very helpful. I am suffering from a food allergy which I think caused by eating lots of heaty food within a short period of time. I never thought root vegetables are warming and have been eating to cool down. Now I have to shop again. Shockingly, all the food I love to eat and I eat regularly are warming food about now I am more aware of the kind of food to keep the balance.