Food in Chinese medicine

I often talk about the “nature” of a food in Chinese medicine ie when to avoid hot or heaty food, and when too much of a “damp” food can damage the Spleen function etc. But sometimes what is obvious to me may be baffling to someone else and I often forget this fact.

Such was the case when I was discussing heaty foods to avoid and a patient suggested I write a list so that she could look up a particular fruit or vegetable. I have no idea why I didn’t think of this myself! It is by no means an extensive list, and I plan on adding to it, but do have a look and let me know what you think.

This list pertains to the “nature” or property of a food type as understood in Chinese medicine. It does not refer to the temperature of something, hence a cooked bitter melon is considered “cold” and a mango is “hot”. However sometimes the property of a food can be changed due to the method of cooking and you should clarify this with your practitioner.

For instance, pork is cooling but all barbecued meats is considered hot. Coffee is interesting – it is “bitter” in property, so is classified as cooling in effect, but due to the roasting of the beans, the long term effect is actually heaty. Cold brews would presumably maintain the cooling effect.

The important thing to remember is that everything is best in moderation. Just because it’s on the list of foods appropriate for you doesn’t mean you should have massive amounts of it.

Warming foods: 

  • Black pepper (warning to hot)
  • Caraway seed
  • Cinnamon twig
  • Fennel
  • Garlic (warming to hot)
  • Ginger (warming to hot)
  • Goat meat
  • Goat’s milk / cheese
  • Linseed
  • Leek
  • Mustard
  • Oats
  • Onion
  • Pumpkin
  • Red wine
  • Turmeric

Hot foods

  • Alcohol
  • Beef
  • Chillies
  • Chocolate
  • Durian
  • Lamb
  • Mango
  • Peanuts
  • Pineapple


  • Almond
  • Beans
  • Black tea
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Chamomile
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Cider vinegar
  • Fish
  • Grape
  • Kale
  • Lentils
  • Rice
  • Rocket (neutral to cooling)

Cooling foods:

  • Apple
  • Asparagus
  • Blueberry
  • Celery
  • Coffee*
  • Coriander
  • Courgette
  • Cream cheese
  • Cucumber
  • Dandelion (cooling to cold)
  • Grapefruit
  • Green tea
  • Lettuce (cooling to cold)
  • Passion fruit
  • Pear
  • Pork
  • Spinach
  • Tomato
  • White wine
  • Yogurt

Cold foods:

  • Banana
  • Bitter melon
  • Kiwi
  • Lemon
  • Rhubarb
  • Watermelon

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