Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Thermal Nature of Food

March 21, 2015
Tomatoes and Cauliflower - Thermal Nature of Food

Hello universe and happy Spring! Welcome to my health and wellness blog!  I am so excited to share this project that I have been working on.  When I was practicing medicine, I found that my patients had many practical questions for me regarding nutrition, herbs, supplements, fitness, and stress management as well as more theoretical questions regarding Eastern medicine and philosophies, and how it affects them physically and emotionally. I am formally organizing this information and hope you will find it easy to understand and useful in your everyday lives.

I want to begin by talking about something that is important for everyone: the food you eat! More importantly I want to introduce a concept that not many people may be aware of, which is the thermal nature of food. This is a fundamental concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine and using food as medicine to heal. The three qualities that any food possesses are whether it is cooling/cold, warming/hot, or neutral in nature. When I say “hot” and “cold”, I am not only referring to the temperature of the food, but the actual property of the food and its ability to warm or cool your physical body. For example, we eat watermelon on a hot summer day, because it cools us down. We add ginger to our cooking, especially during the colder months because ginger contains a lasting warming property.

Summer Watermelon  Ginger





Click on the following links to see examples of common cooling, warming, and neutral foods.

So what determines whether a food is hot or cold? There are several theories that explain this*:

  1. Foods that take longer to grow (carrots, cabbage, ginseng) tend to be more warming than those that grow faster (lettuce, summer squash, cucumber).
  2. Eating cooked food is more warming than eating it raw.
  3. Warm or room-temperature food is more warming than cold or chilled food.
  4. Red, orange, or yellow colored foods are more warming than similar foods that are blue, green, or purple. (i.e. a red apple is more warming than a green apple, a lime is more cooling than a lemon)
  5. Cooking a food with more time, higher temperatures, greater pressure, more fat and oil, or less water will make it more warming.
  6. Manipulating food in various ways will have a more warming effect.  Finer cutting, pounding, grinding, pressing, stirring, and chewing breaks the food down and releases more energy and heat.
  7. Using gas or wood heat to cook a food creates more warmth than using electricity.  Microwaved food conveys the least amount of warmth to a food.
  8. Foods grown in temperate zones are more warming than foods in tropical or subtropical climates.

Cooking probably has the highest influence on the property of food. In general, moderate cooking (shorter cooking times and lower temperatures) makes it easier for the body to assimilate the nutrients of a food without destroying them. Raw foods, on the other hand, require a stronger digestive system to best assimilate its nutrients. So those who suffer from fatigue or low energy, allergies, and a weak digestive system will assimilate cooked foods better.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Most foods tend to have either a cooling, warming, or neutral effect on our bodies.
  • The way a food grows, its color, and the way it is prepared greatly affects its thermal nature.
  • Moderate cooking (shorter cooking times and lower temperatures) is the best way to assimilate a food’s nutrients.

I will discuss next when you should choose warming or cooling foods.

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Wood

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  • jacin@gmail.com'
    Reply Jacin April 9, 2015 at 1:30 am

    Good information… a lot I did not know before. Goes to show there is no one size fits all diet!

    • Reply Dr Elain April 10, 2015 at 11:50 pm

      Thanks Jacin! Yes, it is true, there is no one size fits all diet and everyone responds to food differently. Thanks for following and stay tuned for more useful and practical information!

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