Warming and Cooling Foods

Posted by Derek Van Atta, Joshua Hoffman on 19th Nov 2019

"Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food" ~Hippocrates

You're spectacular. You're unique. And because of your "Bio-individuality", your body is constantly adapting to the external world all around you in its own special way. Learning the lessons and language of what makes YOU healthy is a journey of your lifetime. What you eat, how you eat, and when you eat is a hidden path of self-discovery. 

By developing your relationship with your body, you cultivate a conversation with your health. Every bite you eat shifts your microbiome, your hormones, and interacts with all your cells within minutes! So of course it has a huge impact on your health and well-being.

Don't underestimate how strongly food affects your body. Because of how often you consume food in your life, your diet is one of the most influential factors of your health. The amount and quality of sleep, combined with your relationship to stress go hand in hand with your diet as three of the fundamental pillars of your health. By learning to explore these pillars, you unlock subtle understandings of yourself and witness how you show up in your life.

Chinese medicine considers foods to be yin (cooling), and yang (warming). Ayurveda similarly describes the heating versus cooling characteristics of food. Both sciences agree that the right combination and timing of warming and cooling foods is essential to retaining balanced health. And it is this ever-unfolding journey through health that we learn what it means to be vibrant, and to truly thrive!

Warming vs Cooling Foods: Your Bio-individuality  

First off, it's important to understand that each person has unique reactions to and relationships with all foods. 

What is slightly warming to one person could be over-heating to another. The effects of food are unique to each individual, and these effects can act as a roadmap to deeper understanding of the nature of your body, your disposition, and of course your health. 

The effects you feel from a particular food can also vary based on your levels of stress, quality of sleep, the climate you're inhabiting, and whether it's morning, noon or evening. Fresh fruit might be cooling and invigorate you while in a warm and humid climate, but over-stimulating and irritating while in a cooler, drier climate.

The point here is to develop your understanding of your own body, and to learn to hear what your unique needs are based upon your unique circumstances.

So, that said, take these generalities lightly: 

Warming foods warm up your body, mind, and/or emotions. They can help to activate energy in your body and mind, but can also overstimulate an already heated state. Fueling your digestive fire, in one case they will help to clear the fog of the mind and energize stuck emotions, while in another case the same food could over stimulate your body, cloud your mind, and bring up overheated emotions.

All Meats and all Grains are considered by the ancient healing systems to be the most warming foods. Especially when they are also still hot off the stove! But even cold meats and grains can be warming to your system over the next 1-3 hours.  Spices like ginger and cinnamon are generally experienced to be the most warming spices, while salt and cardamon are more mildly warming.

Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes are generally considered to be mildly warming. While most vegetables are considered to be in the neutral, neither warming nor cooling. Starchy vegetables like yams provide more carbs, so they might be considered "Slightly Warming". Whereas Red Leaf Lettuce contains almost no starches and is considered "Slightly Cooling."

Cooling foods can help to enliven and balance heat in the body and mind, and can help to create space in the emotions where heavy or stuck emotion resides.  Some people have experienced less anger after implementing more greens into their diets, as inflammation leaves the body, it also leaves the mind, and the emotions. Cooling foods can calm your digestive fire, ground your mind, and settle down wild emotions.

Citrus Fruits, and Melons tend to be experienced as the most cooling foods. While you might experience a neutral or mildly cooling effect from other fruits. 

Grounding versus Activating Foods: Develop Your Intuition

What's your constitution? Depending on the person, almost any foods beyond coffee or black tea could be grounding in the right circumstance. For example, sitting down and chewing a salad could be more grounding than eating a heavy burger while driving, while eating carby vegetables could be more activating than eating leafy greens or fresh fruit while your hiking. 

Yet the opposite could be true for someone of a different constitution, stress level, or diet habits. One a Sunday for example when you're feeling calm and grounded, a serving of fruit could be nourishing and satisfying, while on Wednesday, at your desk at work, when you're stressed and exhausted, the fruit might be over-stimulating and add to the tension in your body and nervous system.

This is where getting more "in-tune" your relationship with your body is very important. Having a sense of the effect certain foods are going to have on you in what situations is invaluable self-knowledge. Discovering the ways that sleep, stress, and diet are all inter-connected can add excellent milestones to your roadmap, and lead your further down the road of self-understanding. 

For example, you may feel drawn to eat certain foods on the mornings before you have to go to work, while on other mornings when the day feels less full of responsibilities your may crave other foods or nothing at all!  It is unique situations like this where we can learn to explore our bodies and nervous systems, and discover where our diets and habits benefit from shifting or staying the same.

Exploring this relationship with your diet also brings great opportunity to discover how different situations and circumstances affect your body. By discovering that a certain pattern in your life causes your nervous system to react a certain way, you can learn what foods will help you balance that out, and also know what circumstances you might consider removing yourself from in the future. Your relationship with food can be a great teacher for bringing to light what patterns or practices in your life do or do not serve you.

Opening doors into understanding your body and health through diet can open doors to other realms of self-knowledge. 

Season and Geography: Climates Affect Your Relationship with Food

The location that you live has a lot to do with your body's relationship with foods. If you live somewhere like Colorado or Maine, your body is going to experience dramatic weather changes from Winter to Summer. Thus, your body will experience varying states as well, as it seeks to retain balance inside of a changing environment. This dance of keeping balance can particularly affect your nervous system, which in turn affects other parts of your being. 

You'll notice that people tend to crave certain foods in certain seasons.  Do you have a favorite winter meal? How does it compare to your favorite summer meal? Each of our unique diets is also shaped by the season and climate.

Nature teaches you about foods connection to climate. When it is cold outside, a plant's energy leaves its branches and leaves where it is surrounded by cold influencers, and returns its energy to its roots where the warmth of the surrounding ground provides insulation and protection. Roots tend to be regarded as mildly warming foods. As winter settles, for many of us it is good to eat these warming roots in warm dishes to balance against the cold outside.

As summer comes, it can be helpful to shift your diet and help fight the heat off with cooling foods like fruits or green salads. Right on cue, nature provides leafy greens and fresh fruit, creating foods that are cooling to most peoples bodies right when the climate is becoming hot.

But, what if you live somewhere like Hawaii where the climate stays much more consistent from season to season? You might find that this affects your diet, because the environment around your body is staying much more consistent and as a result your body has less climate changes to adapt with. Thus, your diet might be much more consistent.

Yet, keeping bio-individuality in mind, there are always exceptions to these guidelines.  For instance, someone living in a climate like Hawaii may still feel better eating very differently from morning to evening. Or someone who's nervous system is stressed might find that even in a warm, humid environment the mildly warming roots are still beneficial because they are calming to their system, and help to 'cool' down their minds and emotions as they ground their energy. 

You are Unique. A Bio-Individual.


This is blog is only a starting point. Use this information as a very loose guideline. Don't make this into a dogma or an absolute!

In the science of Yoga, we're reminded to test every technique in our own life. And the Buddha said something very important at the very end of his life when he was asked to summarize much of his teachings. He said "Be a light unto your self". This applies to just about every facet of our lives.

There just isn't anybody exactly like you! You deserve special treatment. In fact, you need it! Your body type, your disposition, the climate around you, and many other factors affect your system as a whole, and help you create the quality of your life. And this quality, like the sun is constantly shifting in the sky our your health. The internal workings of your body act as both causes and effects. Discovering where the wheel of cause and effect connects in your diet and lifestyle is key to retaining balanced physical, mental, and emotional states.

So, look at your inclinations. Do you enjoy melons, or citrus fruits, or fruit salad slightly more in Summer than Winter? If so, you are probably already very intuitive about what your body really wants. Most of us were "trained" to eat mostly by our taste buds. Yet listening closely to the subtle signals from your body can enhance your day-to-day experience of health and well-being!

Life is full of rhythm, tides, orbits, and other examples of inter-relationship.  Diet inevitably is an intimate example or our physical relationship with the world.  Thus, the rhythms, tides, and orbits show up quite literally in our personal lives. For some, foods have rhythm, and can be grounding or activating at certain times of the days. For others, certain diet habits are helpful during the tides of menstruation.

By learning what foods suit your Bio-individuality, you give yourself powerful help in achieving and keeping your vitality. The internal atmosphere of your body, mind, and emotions along with the external atmosphere of your surrounding world relates to your body's journey towards balance. By using diet as another lens of self-exploration you break free of the dogmas and rigid rule imposed by over-generalized sciences.  

Allow your diet to serve you with an opportunity to dive deep into knowing yourself, use it a tool for cutting away the rhythms of your life that do not serve you so that you might synchronize yourself with the natural tides around you, and align yourself with the river of your true nature. This can seem challenging at first, but using simple techniques like observing the heating and cooling affects of food on yourself can simplify the process, and give you guides to focus your attention.  As you focus your attention on your body, you get to witness the miracles of intuition and intellect unite and unfold into deep self knowledge. And it is in this deep self knowledge where the temple of the of your body is remembered.

So take it easy, and let it come easy. Developing self-awareness is the road to your evolution, and a path to your heart.  Following this path leads you to health and vitality!  You can certainly thrive if you want to! And you can start right now!

Love Your Body!   Love Everybody!