The Five Energies of Foods

The energies of foods refer to their capacity to generate sensations - either hot or cold - in the human body. For example, eating foods with hot energy will make us experience hot sensations in the body, while foods with cold energy will create cold sensations. In daily life, we all know 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 has a hot energy. However, ice or hot water produces 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.

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

When discussing the energies of foods, therefore, we are referring 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 has a hot energy, cucumber has a cool energy, chicken has a warm energy, and corn has a neutral energy.

It is essential to know the energies of foods because different energies act upon the human body in different ways, which can significantly affect good health. For 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 symptoms. On the other hand, if you have a hot physical constitution, you should consume more 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 "hot" and "cold" types. One person may have a hot physical constitution, while another may have a cold physical constitution. The person with a hot physical constitution should consume more foods with a cold or cool energy, while the person with a cold physical constitution should consume more foods with a hot or warm energy. Such a diet is always related to each individual's constitution and may differ from one person to another.

In my lectures and clinical practice, people often ask me: Is tea good? Is coffee better? 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 people with a cold physical constitution because it has a cold energy. If you have a hot physical constitution, coffee is better for you than tea because coffee has a warm energy. If you have a neutral physical constitution, you can consume a balanced diet with foods that have a neutral energy. It is important to understand that the energies of foods can have a significant impact on our health, and consuming foods that are not suitable for our physical constitution can cause imbalances and lead to various health issues.

Learning about the energies of foods is a process that involves understanding which foods make us feel hot or cold. At first, the foods that obviously make us feel hot may be considered as having a hot energy, while the foods that make us feel cold are thought to have a cold energy. For example, ice makes us feel cold, so it is believed to have a cold energy, and red pepper makes us feel hot, so it is thought to have a hot energy. Over time, any food that can make us hot is regarded as having a hot energy, while any food that can make us cold is regarded as having a cold energy.

Understanding the energies of foods can be particularly useful in everyday life. For example, suppose you get caught in the rain and feel cold and shivery. In that case, you can prepare a bowl of fresh ginger soup, which has a warm energy that can warm you up and a pungent flavor that can make you perspire. Alternatively, if you develop hives with severe itching and cannot cook your meals due to the heat in the kitchen making your itching worse, you can cook a bowl of mung bean soup and stir in some sugar. The cold energy in both mung beans and sugar can help heal your hot symptoms and alleviate itching.

However, it is essential to note that the energies of foods should not be considered in isolation, and many other factors should be taken into account when planning a balanced diet. Understanding your physical constitution and the energies of foods can be a helpful guide, but it should not be the sole basis for making dietary choices.

In conclusion, the energies of foods are an essential concept in Chinese diet and traditional medicine, and they can significantly impact our health. Understanding the energies of foods and our physical constitution can help us make informed dietary choices and maintain a balanced diet.