How to Warm Up Your Diet With Traditional Chinese Medicine

Raw versus Cooked Foods in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Cabinet in Chinese herb store, drawer open revealing herbs. Credit: Barry Austin / Getty Images

Although raw fruits and vegetables are usually considered beneficial, in traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, eating too many raw fruits and vegetables can cause an imbalance in the body. That's because different foods are thought to have different energies, from cold to neutral to hot.

Raw Foods and Cold Energy in TCM

Raw fruits and vegetables possess cool energy. According to traditional Chinese medicine, over-consumption of raw foods may promote chilliness, mucus, congestion, fatigue and depletion, feeling cold, abdominal pain, a poor appetite, and bloating after meals.

These symptoms are said to improve when people change their diets by reducing their intake of raw fruits and vegetables, cold water, and cold dairy products.

Ratio of Cold to Warm Foods According to Traditional Chinese Medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine, the optimal ratio of raw to cooked foods depends on the individual. Animal protein is very warming, so people who eat meat every day are thought to be able to handle more raw foods. Vegetarians, however, are thought to be able to eat less raw foods because they don't consume animal protein. Climate also determines the optimal balance. During the winter, our bodies need a warming, enriching diet to balance damp, windy and cold weather.

How To "Warm" Your Diet With Chinese Medicine

Incorporating more warmth into your diet doesn't require much work. In traditional Chinese medicine, some suggestions on how to warm the diet include: 

1. Cook vegetables, especially in cold weather.

Cooked foods have absorbed the heat of cooking and are believed to generate body heat and stimulate circulation. Try preparing foods by steaming, stewing, and baking.

Most Cool   Most Warm
Raw, fresh foodsRaw, dried foodsSteamed foodsSautéed foodsBaked foods


2. Drink room temperature or warm fluids. Avoid cold drinks.

Many people drink copious amounts of cold water, which can throw off the body's balance.

3. Ensure that you are eating an adequate amount of protein.

Protein is an important source of heat and energy. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g per kg of body weight per day.

Most Cool     Most Warm
FruitVegetablesRoots, tubersGrainsSeedsNutsDairy, seafood, meat


4. Eat foods with a warming energy.

In traditional Chinese medicine, there are many types of foods and seasonings that contain warming energy. Black and white pepper, ginger, garlic, cayenne, walnuts, green onions and chili peppers are particularly warm and stimulating. Other warming ingredients include:

  • Nutmeg
  • Squash
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Chestnut
  • Brown sugar
  • Clove
  • Coconut
  • Dates
  • Fresh ginger
  • Coriander
  • Chives
  • Rice wine or vinegar
  • Cinnamon
  • Black pepper
  • Green/red pepper
  • Caraway
  • Mustard greens
  • Pine nuts
  • Rice milk
  • Parsley
  • Cayenne
  • Turmeric

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Continue Reading