AMY JO GENGLER IS A LICENSED ACUPUNCTURIST, NUTRITIONAL COUNSELOR, FEARLESS COOK, COOKING AND HEALTH INSTRUCTOR & FOUNDER OF COOKING-DIVA.COM. SHE SPECIALIZES IN RESTORATIVE DIETS, SHARING HEAPS OF GREAT RECIPES, FOOD TIPS, AND ONLINE CLASSES TO GET YOU ON THE SUPERHIGHWAY TO VIBRANT HEALTH, GREATER FOOD CONSCIOUSNESS AND GAINING AUTONOMY IN YOUR KITCHEN. CONTACT HER VIACOOKING-DIVA.COM
"Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." ~Michael Pollan
"It's always good to use the ideal as a reference point for where you are headed and what you want to accomplish." ~Lonny Jarrett
"Soul strength comes from knowing, prior to thought, that the process is inherently good." ~Andrew Cohen
Brrrrr-rrr-rrr! It’s January in Boston, and dare I say, it’s unbelievably cold outside? Each day on my walk to work, I can’t help but notice at least a handful of what I refer to as ‘true Bostonians’ walking down the street–these women holding a giant Dunkin’ iced coffee, wearing cropped pants & ballerina flats with bare feet, despite the 12″ of snow on the ground & bone-chilling wind tunnels. This astounds me, and this delicate southern flower’s hat is off to you ladies!
Despite my daily sightings of these bad-ass Bostonian chicks, I see ten times that amount of people in my practice suffering from symptoms caused by ‘cold’, such as: cold hands & feet, gas & bloating, constant runny nose, sinus issues, poor digestion, low back pain, low energy, foggy brain, poor circulation, and general lack of pizzazz. In Chinese Medicine, this is what we call ‘Yang Deficiency’.
Yang, as in ‘Yin & Yang’, and pronounced with an ‘ahhh’, like ‘long’, not an ‘eh’ like dang. Yang is the root of of our fire: digestive fire, drive, activity, action, force, sunlight, warmth, excitement and our general ability topounce. When the Yang gets smothered by cold things, many of the symptoms listed above will start to surface and it’s easy to feel like a wet blanket as your fire is slowly diminishing. Stoking the Yang back up, fortunately, doesn’t take much once you know how, and once you quit doing the things that are killing it. I do this all day long in my practice, so if you’re ready for more energy, more drive, warmth, and pounce-a-bility, call me for help and let’s get to work.
For now, I’ve compiled this list of 10 0f the most cold-inducing things that may be compromising your health, and a few home remedies for warming yourself back up. All of these cold items are particularly hard on the Spleen, and since we who practice Chinese Medicine believe that all disease starts in the gut, it’s important to keep the Spleen happy if you want to have strong immunity and age like a martial arts master.
1. ICED COFFEE
Cold drinks are hard on the digestive fire, especially when it’s cold outside. I love a big ol’ iced tea in August, but drinking cold drinks in winter not only slows down your digestion, often leading to gas, bloating & low energy, but can also lead to more PMS, muscle pain, and contributes to infertility struggles and weight gain.
If there was one food-like product I could nix from humanity completely, this would definitely be a front runner. In terms of Chinese Medicine & general health, the combination of cold, diary (or ‘dairy’), and sugar is really just asking for trouble. This binds up the digestion due to the cold temperature + stagnating properties from food that creates phlegm in the body (dairy, sugar, gluten, chemicals). However, the bigger elephant in the room is that Fro-Yo places shamelessly manipulate with their marketing. Somehow they have collectively convinced customers that Fro-Yo is ‘healthy’, and consequence-free, but unfortunately, it is highly processed and contains a shocking amount of chemicals all cleverly disguised in these cute & innocent little yogurt cups–with sprinkles, no less. Don’t believe the hype! Check out this great investigative report from foodbabe.com.
Of course salad, in and of itself, can have so many nutritive properties–especially when you add wonderful things like kale, avocado, nuts & seaweed. However, salad, being a raw food, is also hard on your digestion when eaten without something warm to help digest it. When food is cold to start with (like everything on this list), the Spleen (chiefly in charge of how we digest, and the first thing to freak out when not treated right) has to expend a lot of energy to warm up the food prior to digestion, often running out of fuel before the digestion process has finished. This is what leads to that 3pm energy slump, unexplained water weight, low energy, lethargy, sugar cravings, heaviness in the limbs, and inability to lose weight. Save the salads for summer, and instead, indulge yourself at the hot soup bar and warm, bubbly casseroles for now.
Wow, juicing has become wildly popular! How could it not, when it looks soooo beautiful, and so many authors, health coaches & bloggers are saying how amazing it is? Fresh juice is basically liquid Qi, and that is very intriguing. With it’s yummy concentrated flavors, it’s like sunshine in a glass. However, juicing, like all trends, must be taken with a grain of salt.
Juicing easily damages the digestion for a few main reasons: Juices are energetically cold and they are full of sugar, both of which damage the spleen and digestive fire. Unless you are consistently hot, with fast digestion, a red tongue, and tend to sweat quite easily, more than 8 oz of juice per day leads to what we call ‘damp’ conditions in Chinese Medicine. This manifests as a thick coat on the tongue, low energy, heavy limbs, runny nose, chronic sinus issues, gas & bloating and feeling cold all the time.
Seasonally speaking, Juicing is fantastic in the SPRING. And by spring I mean May, not January. Because juicing is so cooling, doing a juice cleanse when it is still cold outside will do more damage to your spleen and digestion, than good. It’s best to wait until it’s warm outside, and even then, if you still have any of these issues, try drinking some warming teas like ginger & cinnamon to counterbalance all of the cold & damp.
Closely related to juicing, is it’s frosty cousin–The Smoothie. Yet another fallacy pointing to ‘weight loss’, the smoothie often becomes a vessel for inducing diabetic episodes in many an innocent soul. Similar to juicing, the smoothie is also typically full of sugar, the main difference is that it’s even colder than juice with it’s primary ingredients being frozen, or the addition of ice–think blended popsicles. Again, similar to juicing, a little smoothie is fantastic in Miami in August, but other than that, please take my advice and give your spleen a break. For a delicious and much more nutritive, low-sugar alternative, check out my Favorite Kale Shake and try this at home.
6. COCONUT ICE CREAM
Well…all ice cream, really. I find that the worst offenders are people who are addicted to Coconut Ice Cream, but all of it hurts you just the same. Coconut Ice Cream tends to fall in that same confusing category as Fro-Yo: It’s typically marketed to be healthier than regular ice cream, so we somehow twist this into thinking we should eat it every day….right? Especially for those with limited diets, who no longer eat dairy…the power of the coconut is strong! For now I will urge you to avoid the frozen section at the store at least until May. Eating any form of ice cream or sorbet–especially at night–is why you are freezing cold all the time, have constant sinus issues, stuffy ears or runny nose, foggy brain, low energy, and eventually will gain weight from sleeping on a cold stomach. If you need something sweet after dinner, try eating 1/2 an apple or perhaps a little chocolate.
By now you have probably read plenty about how controversial and polarizing Antibiotics are. One thing you should know is that Antibiotics (ABX) were one of the biggest revelations in health care, as we know it. Prior to their discovery in 1928, many people suffered dearly, and even died from many conditions that are considered easily treatable today such as salmonella, tuberculosis, syphilis, and some forms of meningitis. That being said, a sore throat or even a sinus infection are not enough reason to pummel your digestive tract with such severe medications.
Like everything on this list, ABX are very cold and produce ‘damp’ in the body. On the one hand, this is good because in fighting bacterial infections, they have the ability to dramatically cool down inflammation. On the other hand, they don’t have much regulatory ability, so they also tend to cool the digestive tract too much, especially with repetitive use, and this is why they are a bit dangerous.
‘ABX Resistance’ is related to what I said earlier about Chinese Medicine stating that all health starts in the gut. Repeated ABX use can lead to resistance, often requiring stronger medicine each time one gets sick. According to Chinese Medicine principles, this is because we need a certain degree of healthy digestive fire to support a healthy immune system. All of the symptoms I am speaking of in this article (cold limbs, slow digestion, runny nose, chronic sinus issues, gas & bloating) are all signs of a weakening digestive system, which ultimately effects one’s immunity.
If you have never seen a Chinese Herbalist, what are you waiting for? You will be amazed at how effective Chinese Herbs are for all respiratory and digestive issues, including allergies, sinusitis, poor digestion, and just about everything else under the sun. They say that Western Medicine is the Study of What Makes You Sick, and Chinese Medicine is the Study of What Makes You Healthy. Building up a stronger body, stronger digestion and stronger immunity is never a bad idea, in my opinion, and this is where Chinese Medicine excels!
Tofu’s primary energetic is also cold and produces damp in the body, which isn’t that surprising if you’ve ever cooked with it. Ever noticed how squishy it is? It’s basically solidified soy milk. However, tofu is also quite versatile, and while bland in flavor by itself, tofu readily takes on the flavor of whatever it is cooked with. If you eat Tofu regularly, try adding some hot chili paste and curry for more warmth, then oven roasting it to dry it out a bit.
Dear Gentle Readers, please understand I am truly sorry for this one, but I would rather tell you the whole truth so you can make educated decisions. Raw fish is very cold. Combatting this is perhaps why Sushi is often served with ginger, wasabi, saké, and miso soup–all warming items. I certainly don’t want to rain on your sushi parade because it IS one of the most beautiful and artful foods on earth, just make sure you partake in all of the warming items available to accompany your meal.
10. YOU LIVE IN BOSTON
Yep, with a yearly average of 30+ days below freezing each year, living in Boston (and anywhere above 40* latitude) automatically predisposes you to being cold, inside and out. And while one can combat brutal weather by bundling up and wearing insulated boots, many of us need an extra boost to fight off the cold.
3 KEYS TO RE-KINDLE YOUR INNER GLOW
1. COOK YOUR VEGETABLES
Make sure to cook all of your vegetables and pass on the raw foods, salad, juices & smoothies until it’s warm enough to break a sweat outside. Check out the Diva’s recipe collection and my Pinterest page for great ideas & cooking inspiration.
2. KEEP IT SPICY
Use more warming spices in your food like Ginger, Cinnamon, Chiles, Black Pepper, Garlic, Fennel & Cloves. One easy way to do this is to eat more Indian food and drink more Chai. Just watch out for refined sugar in your chai–opt for honey instead, which is also gently warming.
3. TAKE A GINGER BATH
Taking a warm or hot bath will always beat a hot shower, especially in winter. And on those days when you can’t get warmed up, adding some freshly steeped Ginger water to your bath will change everything. Heat about 4 cups of water on the stove. Once it has come to a boil, add 1/2 cup to 1 1/2 cups of freshly grated or chopped Ginger, turn off the heat, and cover it with a lid. Let steep for 3-5 minutes, then strain the Ginger out, adding the Ginger water to a bathtub full of hot water. Soak as long as it stays warm enough, and enjoy the toasty warmth.
4. SEE A CHINESE HERBALIST
Chinese Medicine Practitioners offer the most unique, effective and affordable solutions to 99% of all health problems. We are trained to treat each patient as a ‘whole person’, rather than just addressing this or that symptom in isolation. Because of this approach, you should expect a steady and consistent improvement of all aspects of your health, when you check in regularly with someone who practices Chinese Medicine (acupuncture, too!). If you live in the Boston area, schedule an appointment with AJ here.
While I agree with most of the things being said in this article, I do think that we can adapt certain things to make them less "cold" on our system.
For instance, you can keep eating your salads as long as you add a cooked protein to it, or combine it with a cup of soup or a hot beverage. That way, the warm element will help bring the cold element up to body temperature and help facilitate digestion.
Likewise with juices or smoothies, adding a nice piece of ginger to it, will bring up its energetic temperature to something warmer and therefore better tolerated by our digestive tract.
However, If you do have a cold or "yang deficient" constitution, you want to avoid those cold foods, juices, etc....in the winter time. Save those for when you are in warmer climates....