Feng Shui in Food - Myth, Fact or... TBD?

Feng Shui in Food - Myth, Fact or... TBD?

If you grew up in a Chinese household (or knew someone who did) you may have heard of the terms “heating” and “cooling” in relation to food. While it would be logical to think these ideas should relate to the idea of eating your food while it’s hot, it actually has nothing to do with temperature. Instead, these ideas relate to the Qi (energy in English) of the food and how that energy relates to your body. 

The Chinese Believe in Vampires?

The short answer? Sort of. While there are some superstitious stories of Chinese Vampires that were believed to have fed on a person’s Qi, this idea of  a vital energy is pervasive throughout Chinese culture. While slightly misguided according to today’s scientific research, thousands of years of refinement and practice have yielded some practical applications and may be key to understanding why some of these beliefs hold water to today’s scientific research. 

Did you know ostriches don't stick their heads in the ground

First, it is important to understand that many tenets of ancient Chinese medicine are based on pseudoscience. Meaning, not everything is proven to work, nor can foods or ancient practices replace modern medicine. However, the belief that food can be good for the body is common to many different cultures. East Indian cultures have Ayurvedic medicine, many European cultures have home remedies, Mayan culture also used many superfoods that have become popular today. There are countless foods that humans have found helpful over the years and this article is meant to help you determine what foods may be good to incorporate into your diet and how these foods have held up to scientific scrutiny today. Hopefully introducing a few new foods will help you live a healthier lifestyle (hint: you should eat your vegetables). 

Akin to how myths handed down by the ancient Greeks and Norse of European cultures have become popular in modern Western cultures, the Chinese also often turned to superstition to help explain the natural phenomena around them. While Aesop used fantastical fables to teach morality, the Yellow Emperor, considered to be the 'father' of traditional Chinese medicine, taught how certain foods affect the internals of the human body. And while not all of his teachings stand up to the rigor of scientific research today, the idea of how ginger can affect internal body temperature and support gastric irritation is studied today as being a form of thermogenesis

Extricating Fact from Chinese Myths to Support Your Health

This could mean that what is called heating or “heaty” foods by the Chinese may actually be how your body processes the nutrients in those foods. The idea of heaty foods could be explained by the idea of the widening of blood vessels in the human body to increase blood flow and better deliver needed macronutrients to various parts of the human body. This should not be seen as a direct interpretation however, since red meats are believed to be heaty foods and science has proven that red meats will cause clogged arteries and actually narrow your blood vessels. Ultimately, a key insight to understanding heaty foods is that the Chinese limit the intake of heaty foods as much as possible because it is believed that these foods will lead to too much energy in the body, which brings an imbalance and sickness.  

Foods which are believed to be heaty, include: 

  • Spices like ginger, turmeric, chili, etc. 
  • Acidic fruit, such as pineapples, mangoes and oranges 
  • Coffee and energy drinks 
  • Red meats 

“Cooling” foods on the other hand, are believed to have a laxative effect on the body. Best identified by the “cool” sensation which these foods are believed to have in your mouth and throat, it is no coincidence that raw foods and cold drinks were classified as cooling foods. However, the commonality of these foods we are most interested in are the fact that all these foods encourage your microflora to grow and help you to evacuate your bowels better (i.e. your poops go smoothly). Examining these foods under a modern eye using science to try and justify their effects, one could guess that one reason these foods were valued is because many have a wealth of antioxidants. Possibly coincidental, many cooling foods come in an array of colors which also give access to many well-thought of phytonutrients, such as carotenoids, anthocyanin, chlorophyll and many others which are being studied more vigorously today. It’s important to note however, that Chinese beliefs do not condone only eating cooling foods. There should be a balance, otherwise those laxative effects mentioned above are believed to begin kicking in. 

Foods which are believed to be cooling, include: 

  • Sweet fruits, such as watermelon, cherries and strawberries 
  • Fruits and vegetables high in fiber, such as raspberries, blueberries, mangosteens, grapes, carrots, beets and broccoli 
  • Leafy vegetables, like lettuce, kale, spinach and bok choy 
  • Bitter herbs, such as chamomile, peppermint, burdock and dandelion roots

How Knowing What is Heating or Cooling Helps You

Ultimately, we’re not asking you to go out and become food critics who evaluate the mouthfeel of every food you eat or even become experts in Chinese culture (though Tai Chi is a great low-impact exercise for those who have trouble doing other types of exercise). What we are advocating for is achieving balance between the foods you want to eat vs the foods you should be eating, such as those high in fiber, antioxidants and micronutrients. 

We should also make it clear that Chinese parents are not shoving thermometers down their children's throats to best evaluate if a food is the right level of heating or cooling. Instead, Chinese culture teaches a balance between eating foods which heat up the body with foods which give the sensation of cooling down the body. The mouthfeel sensation is one easy to remember rule of thumb: foods which “coat your mouth” and persist or make you feel like the beginnings of a sore throat are considered to be “heating.” Meanwhile, foods which feel as if your mouth is “slick” and do not have a lingering aftertaste are considered “cooling.” 

However, with the advent of processed foods infused with mint, agave nectar, cucumbers and other commonly well-received “cooling foods” the general rules of thumb described above do not apply. The most important thing to remember about this idea is to eat whole plants and vegetables that are not processed into flours, milks or otherwise industrially fortified foods. While eating fortified foods is better than eating no vitamins or minerals at all, nothing beats eating whole plants and vegetables due to the fact that you are also ingesting fiber and foods rich in many other beneficial micronutrients. These whole foods also greatly benefit your microbiome, which coincidentally do not do well when you eat too many processed foods. This is why our supplement is made from a variety of whole fruits and vegetables, to give you as many micronutrients as conveniently as possible. However, as much as we love our supplement, it is still not a replacement for whole foods. Instead, think of it as complementary for the days you can’t eat as much whole foods as you would like. 

So the next time you are out traveling for work and don’t have any of your local favorite healthy food spots to stop at, consider what cool foods you can eat to keep feeling slick and healthy. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of fiber, micronutrients and eating natural foods, check out the doctor’s easy to follow health plan here

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