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The Concept of Hot and Cold

About Food

The ancient Chinese concept of Hot and Cold remains popular nowadays, but is full of confusion due to all kinds of rumors flying around. My purpose is to clear up this confusion by restoring some common sense to make it practical.

Why do we need such a concept?

This is a simple concept for everyday use to distinguish between two contrasting properties or conditions. It will lead to further understanding about balance and Yin Yang.

What do we mean by Hot and Cold?

It means something obvious like temperature. Besides the obvious, it also means we can categorize many other things such as symptoms, conditions, feelings, and effects on the body.

Obvious examples of Hot and Cold:

Hot: high temperature, fire, hot weather, sweating, thirsty, fever, excited.

Cold: low temperature, water, ice, cold weather, shivering. cooling, calm.

Hot and Cold food based on their natural properties:

Hot: Pepper, ginger, hard liquor, hot chocolate, and hot coffee, all of which give you a hot sensation.

Cold: water, ice, fruits, vegetables, and cold drinks, all of which give you a cooling and soothing sensation.

Note: Some tropical fruits like durian, lychee and longan have a Hot effect if consumed in large quantities.

Cooking method can make a food Hot:

Barbecued food prepared on fire.

Deep-fried food with longer cooking immersed in oil.

Roasted nuts, coffee beans prepared with fire and heat.

Oven-cooked food.

Steam cook is not considered Hot because the heat is neutralized by water that is Cold in nature.

Note: All Cold-natured vegetables are rendered Hot after being deep-fried or barbecued.

Some less obvious examples of Hot and Cold:

Shellfish such as crabs, clams, oysters, and mussels cause existing skin rash to erupt, thus considered Hot.

Stress or lack of sleep results in a high-temper mood, thus considered Hot.

Rainy weather makes you feel cooler, inactive, sleepy, or perhaps a little depressed, thus considered Cold.

In many cases, we instinctively know what is Hot and Cold. For instance, when we go to a barbecue, we tend to pick a cold drink or a cold beer rather than a hot chocolate or hot coffee. Why? Because we instinctively associate barbecue with fire that is Hot in nature, and thus want to find a balance by picking a cold drink.

How to apply this concept?

During a fever, which is a Hot condition, avoid eating Hot food. Try to eat Cold stuff like vegetables and fruits. Drink a lot of water, and rest. Your body will recover sooner when you do the Cold things.

For itchy or dry skin, a Hot condition, Hot stuff will make it worse.

When your body is weak, or feeling cold and tired, consuming more Hot food will make you feel better.

There is nothing good or bad about Hot or Cold. It is just the nature of things. What we need is to understand them and roughly achieve a balance between Hot and Cold. If not, your body will feel uncomfortable.

Many things resist categorization under Hot or Cold because there is no simple reasoning or criteria to back it up. Some examples are: rice, bread, dairy products, potato, beef, pork, chicken, fish, sugar, salt, etc. Anything in doubt should be conveniently grouped under Neutral. That means we are not sure about its effects on the body. We just don't know.

About Herbs

The Hot and Cold concept can be easily extended to Chinese herbs and the nature of illness. In so doing, we'll be able to apply the herbs effectively in a mixture to create healing synergy without contradictions.

Every Chinese herb has multiple effects as explained in the herbal dictionary. Furthermore, every herb can be either Hot or Cold; or Neutral if not sure. Consequently, Hot herbs are used for Cold conditions, and Cold herbs are used for Hot conditions. Neutral herbs are good for both conditions.

Simlarly, an illness can be categorized as either Hot or Cold; or neutral if not sure. Some examples:

Hot: fever/cough, skin rash, pimples, hemorrhoid, menopause hot flash, delayed menstrual, stress, sleepless.

Cold: weakness, fatigue, joint pains, virility, infertility, aging, hair loss.

Neutral: nasal allergy, migraine, digestive problems, depression.

So this is the fundamental logic for prescription writing. You must first understand the nature of illness and herbs so that you can roughly categorize them into the three basic groups described above. These groupings will make it easier to select the right herbs (for example, Cold herbs for Hot conditions). Most of the time, a patient has a package of problems that include both Hot and Cold conditions. A skillful herbalist can put the Hot, Cold and Neutral herbs together to achieve effective healing for the patient's package of problems. (April 2014)