East vs West


Having spent big chunks of my life in both the East and the West, it is really interesting to witness how both cultures view things very differently. There are some “concepts” that are more dominant in one versus the other. A classic example is the notion of interdependence vs independence. Generally, interdependence sets the foundation for family and society in Eastern (Asian) cultures, while in Western cultures independence is often emphasized…

This past week Lysia and I were trying to understand why we haven’t gotten a sore throat for almost a year since we moved to Austin. Back in Singapore, getting a sore throat was a bi-monthly occurrence for me. We concluded that this had to do with a concept that is part of everyday life in the “East”, but almost does not exist in the “West” (or exists in a completely different form) –  related to the concept of “Yin” and “Yang”, but applied to foods. Chinese people often refer to foods in two categories – “heaty” and “cooling”. If you’re reading this and from the “West”, you may find this concept very intriguing.

Here’s an excerpt from an online source: (by no means a legitimate source but does an adequate job of providing a brief explanation)

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the notion of “heaty” foods is related to the balancing of ‘Yin and ‘Yang. To most people, especially the Chinese, in Asian countries such as China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singaporeans, such concepts are very much part of the indigenous culture and are commonly used as a form of expressing certain set of symptoms or sensations often associated with emotional or physical reactions such as: Feelings of irritability, Short temper, Fever, Constipation, Flushed face or cheeks, Dark yellow urine, Sore throat, Nose bleed, Outbreak of pimples, Rashes, Mouth ulcers, Indigestion. Excessive “cold” energy in the body, on the contrary, will make us feel weak, lethargic, tired and restless.

We asked the Americans around us if they ever came across this concept of “heaty” and “cooling” foods, and almost everyone gave us a very puzzled glare. Fascinating. A ubiquitous concept where we grew up in the East, but a completely foreign concept where we are living right now in the West.

The definition of “heatiness” and “cooling” do not directly refer to the physical state of the food, but it’s effect on our bodies. For example, cucumber is a “cooling” food because it generates cool energy in our body. In contrast, something like mangoes is a “heaty” food which produces hotter energy. Striking a balance in both groups of food provides an “yin-yang” balance in your diet. The interesting thing is, you can actually turn a “cooling” food into a “heaty” food just based on the style of cooking. One of the famous delicacies in Singapore is an amazing dish called Chilli Crab. Now crab is defined to be a “cooling” food, but Chilli crab is considered to be a “heaty” food because of how it gets prepared.


One may think that this is indigenous folklore of sorts. In fact, I am not sure if this concept can even be proven with science. However, back to the story I started this piece with – a great reduction in occurrences of “sore throat” – qualitatively I can assert that it makes a lot of sense. When we were living in Singapore, a significant portion of our diet consisted of “heaty” foods such as tropical fruits and (google ‘durian’ and ‘jackfruit’) various spices. In the US, we have adopted very different diets that could have “turned down the heat” in our bodies. Yes, we avoid fast/fried food often. Now, do note that different people have different thresholds to “heat” or “cool” – so it really depends on the individual as well.


Every darn concept and idea in the world originates from somewhere, and to a large extent, has its own authenticity based on real people who experienced or witnessed it. “heaty” and “cooling” foods are a classic example.

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