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Understanding Food Temperatures: The Impact on Your Health and Well-being

Hot and cold milk - a simple question with deep implications for our health

The Overlooked Aspect of Our Diet: Food Temperature

The temperatures of the food we eat can have a major impact on our health and well-being. Our obsession with calories and fats etc has meant that one of the most fundamental ideas about our diet is largely unknown.

The Hidden Depth of Food Temperatures

"Would you like your milk hot or cold?"

Of course, waiters do not actually ask me this as I drink black coffee but it is a question you might hear whiling away your time in any cafe at any time of day. At least here in Spain. But what you may not realize is that the question holds within it something infinitely deeper than just whether the milk has been heated up or not.

The Ancient Wisdom of Oriental Medicine on Food Temperature

I just have pull out any one of the books on Oriental medicine in the shelf behind me to see that food temperature is a very important concept for your health. These books would inform me that food can be classified by their temperature in five different ways from hot or warm to neutral and cool or cold. You may be thinking just how simple that sounds. If you heat the food and eat it while it is at a warm temperature then it must be hot. And if you eat something straight from the refrigerator, it must be cold. Easy, right? Well, it is not that simple.

The Difference Between Eating Temperature and Food's Inherent Temperature

We have to make the distinction between the temperature at which you eat the food and the actual temperature of the food. The former is referring to how the food is before you eat it. The latter however is referring to the temperature changes inside the body after you eat it. And this is the key to understanding temperature.

Hot-Natured vs Cold-Natured Foods: Peanut Butter and Octopus

Let me give you an example with a peanut butter sandwich. You fish out two slices of bread, put them side-by-side and then slap on a layer of peanut butter. If you are in the US you might spread some jelly in there too. The bread, the peanut butter and the jelly are usually at room temperature or cold (we store the peanut butter in the fridge when it's summer). It is obviously not hot when you bite into it but when it reaches the stomach, it causes a reaction inside the digestive process which causes heat. Peanut butter therefore is considered a hot-natured food (no matter if you eat it heated or not).

Freshly cooked octopus - a cold-natured food despite its hot serving temperature

Take eating octopus as another example. Let's say I go to a fancy restaurant, order octopus and it arrives at the table freshly cooked and almost too hot to eat. I then eat it by blowing on it and moving it around my mouth till the heat dies down. I swallow it and during the digestive process cold, not heat is produced. This is because by its nature, octopus is not hot but cold.

Examples of Hot-Natured Foods and Their Effects on Health

The temperature in food I am referring to here is this biological change within the body and not how you cook or prepare the food (although sometimes this can change things).

You may be wondering how on earth we can know which foods are hot or cold or warm or cool or neutral. Well, the ancient Chinese wondered just that and spend the best part of two millennia working it out so we don't have to.

Here are some examples of foods which can be considered hot-natured:

  • lamb

  • smoked fish

  • black and white pepper

  • chillies

  • cayenne pepper

  • cinnamon

  • dried ginger

  • mustard

  • whisky

  • peanut butter

So what this means for your health should be obvious. If you eat or drink too many of these foods, they can cause you to be hot inside.

And if you have too much heat inside and have many of the following symptoms, you will very probably get worse:

  • sweating at night

  • dizziness

  • dry mouth

  • headaches

  • vertigo

  • thirst

  • a sore back

  • scanty urine

  • constipation

  • strong dreams

  • feeling worse in the evenings

Examples of Cold-Natured Foods and Their Effects on Health

Now to the other extreme. Here is a list of common cold-natured foods:

  • bananas

  • persimmons

  • melons

  • mangos

  • tomatoes

  • watermelons

  • cucumbers

  • lettuce

  • salt

  • tofu

  • crab

  • yogurt drinks

  • yogurt

If you eat too many of these cold-natured foods, you will become cold inside. If you have lots of heat inside then that is not such a bad thing but if not, then it can cause symptoms like:

  • lower backache

  • weak and cold knees

  • feeling cold in your back or abdomen

  • weak legs

  • tiredness

  • a desire to lie down

  • chronic digestive problems

  • frequent visits to the toilet

Too many cold foods also slow down digestion and can cause you to gain weight. And don't believe the adverts on TV about yogurts to help your digestion, cold is cold. If you have cold symptoms then these yogurts will make you worse.

Clearly then it is very important to be aware of the temperature of the food you eat to help prevent imbalances in the body and to stay healthy.

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