By Julie Wilson

Did you know that almost all foods have a heating, cooling, or neutral effect? Understanding these properties is important when it comes to using food as medicine. For instance, tropical foods are much more cooling than those grown in temperate zones, Rebecca Wood explains in her book, “The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Resource for Healthy Eating.”

The following is an excerpt from the text identifying the differences between whole foods and refined foods, as well as seven ways to pinpoint a food’s thermal properties:

Medicinal benefits

Foods are more subtle in their action than an aspirin or shot of penicillin, but they undoubtedly act upon us. Nibble a Sichuan pepper or drink an espresso and you experience a physiological reaction. Foods have multiple energetic properties, and discerning and using these properties to enhance well-being are an age-old activity.

Hunter-gatherer people had a profound understanding of local plant species and knew each one’s edibility and medicinal value. This ancient knowledge helped form Western Herbology and traditional Asian medical systems.

While much of this wisdom has been lost in the West, it has, however, remained vital in India and even more so in China, where written records of a food’s medicinal applications for humans extend unbroken for more than 4,000 years.

Traditional Chinese medicine has the most sophisticated and time-proven pharmacopoeia in existence.

Whole foods

A whole food has only one ingredient—itself. Most whole foods have been in our diets for eons. Favouring whole, intact food builds your health. Fragmented food, even whole wheat flour compared to the whole wheat itself, imparts less energy.

Eating integral foods that are capable of regenerating themselves supports our own regeneration. Nutritionally there’s no difference between the whole wheat flour in a bagel and a handful of wheat grains … energetically there’s a world of difference.

Refined foods have something taken away from them and therefore are not as wholesome. Apple juice is just part of the apple and, as such, is metabolised as a simple sugar. In excess, fruit juice is problematic, though apple juice is far better (closer to being “whole”) than a cane-sugar-sweetened soft drink. But then a soft drink sweetened with what once actually grew (cane) is far superior to a drink sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, chlorine-containing Splenda, or the chemical compound aspartame.

Traditionally refined foods that you can duplicate in your home kitchen are in a different league than today’s highly processed foods. Simple technologies do not denature a food. At home you can extract extra virgin coconut or olive oil from a coconut or olives, but you cannot produce “lite” olive oil or an aroma-free coconut oil.

Likewise, you can make delicious and healthful soymilk or tofu from soybeans, but you cannot make soy isolates, margarine, TVP, soy deli foods, or lecithin. Highly processed foods resemble nothing you could grow in your garden or produce in your home.

They’ve been stripped, coloured, extruded, refined, bleached, injected, hydrogenated, genetically modified, irradiated, gassed, and grown with hormones, fertilisers, pesticides, antifungal agents, and herbicides.

No matter what the FDA claims or what slick marketing strategies exhort, ignore newfangled ingredients and products. Rely on whole foods that for thousands of years have promoted human health.

Thermal properties of foods

When consumed, foods have an overall cooling, neutral, or warming effect. This observation helped form Western Herbology and medicine from Persian times until the seventeenth century. It remains a critical tenet in traditional Oriental medicine as well as in Ayurvedic medicine.

1. Food that takes longer to grow, like cabbage and winter squash, are more warming than foods that grow quickly, like lettuce and summer squash.

2. A food is more cooling when eaten raw than when it is cooked.

3. Chilled food is more cooling than warm or room-temperature food.

4. Blue, green, or purple foods are more cooling than similar food that is red, orange, or yellow; thus a lime cools more than a lemon does.

5. Cooking a food with more time, more oil or fat, less water, greater pressure, or at higher temperatures makes that food more warming.

6. Food cooked over gas or wood heat impart more warmth than food cooked with electricity. A microwave-cooked food holds and conveys even less warmth than food cooked on an electric range.

7. Tropical and subtropical foods tend to be more cooling than food grown in temperate zones.