The Five Energies of Foods

The energies of foods refer to their capacity to generate sensations-either hot or coldin the human body.

As an example, eating foods with a hot energy will make us experience hot sensations in the body and foods with a cold energy, cold sensations.

In daily life, each of us knows that eating ice makes us feel cold and drinking hot water makes us feel warm. This is because ice has a cold energy and hot water, a hot energy. But ice or hot water produce only temporary effects. To produce long-lasting effects, herbs are used as substitutes for foods that provide only temporary relief In other words, to produce cold or hot sensations, herbs are more effective than foods and foods are more effective than ice or hot water.

What are the five energies of foods?

The five energies of foods are:

  • cold,
  • hot,
  • warm,
  • cool and
  • neutral.

However, the adjectives "cold", "hot", "warm", "cool" and "neutral" do not refer to the present state of foods.

For example, tea has a cold energy, so even though you may drink hot tea, you are actually drinking a cold beverage. Shortly after the tea enters your body, its heat (a temporary phenomenon) will be lost and as it begins to generate cold energy, your body begins to cool off.

Another example, red pepper, has a hot energy. Even though you may eat cold red pepper from the refrigerator, you still consume a hot food. Shortly after it enters your body, its temporary coldness is lost and your body begins to feel hot.

The energies of foods, therefore, refer to what the foods do in our bodies - whether they generate hot or cold, warm or cool, or neutral sensations.

Hot is opposed to cold; warm is opposed to cool; neutral is somewhere between warm and cool.

Cold and cool foods differ from each other, as do warm and hot foods.

Bamboo shoots have a cold energy, black pepper a hot energy; cucumber has a cool energy, chicken a warm and corn a neutral energy.

It is important for us to know the energies of foods, because different energies act upon the human body in different ways. This has important effects on good health.

As an example, when a person suffers from cold rheumatism and the pain is particularly severe on cold winter days, then it is good for him or her to eat foods with a warm or hot energy, which should considerably relieve the pain.

Or if you suffer from skin eruptions that worsen when exposed to heat, it is good to eat foods with a cold or cool energy to relieve your symptoms.

While the energies of foods play an important role in Chinese diet, the Chinese also classify the human body into cold and hot types.

One person may have a hot physical constitution, another a cold one. The person with a hot physical constitution should consume more foods with a cold or cool energy; the person with a cold physical constitution, more foods with a hot or warm energy-a plan the Chinese call "a balanced diet." Such a diet is always related to each individual's physical constitution and may differ from one person to another.

Some common questions

Many people often ask these questions:

  • Is tea good?
  • Is coffee better than tea?
  • Is liquor good for you?

There are no absolute answers. In fact, these are the wrong questions. It would make more sense to ask:

  • Is tea good for me?
  • Which is better for me, coffee or tea?
  • Is it good for me to drink liquor?

Those questions can be answered correctly. Tea is good for you if you have a hot physical constitution, because tea has a cold energy; if you have a cold physical constitution, coffee is better for you than tea, because coffee has a warm energy. If you have a cold physical constitution, liquor can warm you, but if you have a hot physical constitution, it may create many symptoms of certain hot diseases, such as skin problems. For this reason, in the Chinese diet, foods with a cold energy are used to counteract intoxication and alcoholism.

The process of learning the energies of foods is basically the same as that of finding the flavors of foods.

At first, the foods that obviously make us feel hot may be considered as having a hot energy; the foods that make us cold, a cold energy.

For example, obviously ice makes us feel cold, so it is believed to have a cold energy; and since red pepper makes us feel hot, it is thought to have a hot energy. As time goes on, any food that can make us hot is regarded as having a hot energy; any food that can make us cold, a cold energy.

The importance of knowing the energies of food

It's interesting to see how important and relevant the energies of foods in Chinese diet can be.

Suppose on a cold rainy day, on your way home from work, your car breaks down. You walk to a service station to hire a tow truck and by the time you get home, you're soaked to the skin and shivering with cold. You suspect that you caught cold. If you have some knowledge of the Chinese diet, you prepare a bowl of fresh old ginger soup and drink it hot. You feel much better, because fresh old ginger has a warm energy that warms you and a pungent flavor that makes you perspire.

Let's use another example. Suppose you develop hives with severe itching. You cannot cook your meals, because the heat in the kitchen makes your itching intolerable. If you have a fair knowledge about Chinese diet, you cook a bowl of mung bean soup and stir in some sugar. After drinking the soup a few times, your symptoms disappear, because the cold energy in both mung beans and sugar heal your hot symptoms. Of course, many other factors need to be considered as well, but the energy of foods is important.

Suppose you suffer from hemorrhoids and know about Chinese diet. You eat two cooked (underdone) whole bananas (with the peels) every day. The bananas should improve the symptoms, because banana has a cold energy.

On the negative side, let's suppose you have no knowledge about Chinese diet and you happen to make a mistake. In the first example, when you had the cold, instead of drinking hot ginger soup, you drank a bowl of mung bean soup. That would have made your symptoms worse. With the hives, had you taken hot sauce at dinner instead of mung bean soup, your itching would probably have become much worse. With the hemorrhoids, if instead of eating bananas, you drank whiskey every day, that too could make your symptoms deteriorate.

Food of different energies

The following foods are arranged by their different energies:

  • Cold:
    bamboo shoot, banana, bitter gourd, clam (sea and freshwater), clamshell, crab, grapefruit, kelp, lettuce, lotus plumule, muskmelon, persimmon, salt, sea grass, seaweed, star fruit, sugar cane, water chestnut, watermelon.
  • Slightly Cold: hops, tomato.
  • Cool:
    apple, barley, bean curd, chicken egg white, Chinese wax gourd, common button mushroom, cucumber, eggplant, job's-tears, lettuce, lily flower, longevity fruit, loquat, mandarin orange, mango, marjoram, mung bean, oyster shell, pear, peppermint, radish, sesame oil, spinach, strawberry, tangerine, wheat, wheat bran.
  • Hot:
    black pepper, cinnamon bark, cottonseed, ginger (dried ginger), green pepper, red pepper, soybean oil, white pepper.
  • Neutral:
    abalone, apricot, beef, beetroot, black fungus, black sesame seed, black soybean, cabbage (Chinese), carp (common carp, gold carp), carrot, castor bean, celery, cherry seed, chicken egg, chicken egg yolk, corn, corn silk, crab apple, cuttlefish, dry mandarin orange peel, duck, eel blood, fig, grape, guava leaf, honey, horse bean, hyacinth bean, kidney bean, kohlrabi, licorice, lotus fruit and seed, milk (cow's and human), olive, oyster, papaya, peanuts, pineapple, plum, polished rice, pork, potato, pumpkin, radish leaf, small red or adiuki bean, rice bran, saffron, shiitake mushroom, sour plum, string bean, sunflower seed, sweet rice, sweet potato, taro, taro flower, white fungus, white sugar, yellow soybean.
  • Warm:
    apricot seed (bitter and sweet apricot), brown sugar, caraway, carp (grass carp), cherry, chestnut, chicken, chive, chive seeds, chive roots, cinnamon twig, clove, coconut, coffee, coriander (Chinese parsley), date (both red and black), dill seeds, eel, fennel, garlic, ginger (fresh ginger), ginseng, grapefruit peel, green onion leaf, green onion (white head), guava, ham, kumquat, leaf mustard, leek, litchi, longan, maltose, mutton, nutmeg, peach, raspberry, rosemary, shrimp, spearmint, squash, star anise, sunflower seed, sweet basil, sword bean, tobacco, vinegar, walnut, wine.
  • Slightly Warm:
    asparagus, cuttlebone, hawthorn fruits, malt.

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