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The Energetics of Cooling Foods?
Steve Gagne


Q: How do you classify chocolate and coffee to be "extremely cooling" when they produce so much heat in the body?

I realize in macrobiotics yin to the extreme would become yang but I thought that cooling foods produce cooling.

Such as eating raw foods cool the body or tofu.... Please explain. Thanks. Susan

The following comments on Coffee and Chocolate are based solely on what the two have in common in terms of cooling properties and the fact that they play such important roles in most diets. What has not been taken into consideration, on purpose, is the fact that each of these two foods has its own unique energetic and nutritional qualities that go far beyond the cooling natures that both of them share.

Let us look at this question of coffee and chocolate being cooling foods from two different perspectives, a physiological perspective followed by an energetic perspective. Before doing so, we must understand that the degree with which a cooling food cools the body is dependent on both the level of physical activity that body engages in and how much of two warming macronutrients (fat and protein) are consumed by that body.

Fat and protein are the most highly thermogenic foods we can eat. To put that simply, fat and protein increase metabolism and an important effect of increased metabolism is warmth on a muscle, tissue, organ, and cellular level. Therefore, healthy proportions of protein and fat in ones diet act as buffers to the cooling effects of low thermogenic foods, or less nutrient dense foods (many vegetables, fruits...) and play an important role in balancing any healthy diet.

A balanced healthy diet is guaranteed to provide both sensory and nutritional satisfaction. Beyond those basics, there are many additional benefits you can expect from eating a balanced diet and you can learn more by attending classes, reading books, choosing and preparing healthy foods and sharing your knowledge with others.

Physiological Perspective

Coffee and chocolate both contain stimulants, coffee in the form of caffeine and strong alkaloids, and chocolate in the forms of theobromine and phenethylamine and probably other yet undiscovered chemical stimulants. These chemicals have been shown to have the same effects and addictive qualities as amphetamines.

These naturally occurring chemicals stimulate the sympathetic branch of the autonomous nervous system. The sympathetic branch acts on blood distribution by increasing its flow from its regulated cycle of circulation in the body to the periphery of the body, hands, feet, and surface of the body in general. This process of moving blood to the periphery of the body can also occur when one is physically active, running, aerobic activity, or any kind of active movement. When active exercise triggers the sympathetic branch of the nervous system, there is an increase in respiration, heartbeat, body temperature, and perspiration… These reactions result in, among other things, dehydration, caloric output, and the need to replenish food and water.

After exercising, the body begins to cool down and it is through the replenishing of food and water that the body regains its warmth and hydration. If the body is not recharged after physical exertion and refueled through food and water, it would eventually cool down to the point of depletion.

Exercise offers an obvious example of how the body regulates its functions from warm to cool and back again but the effect of coffee and chocolate are not as obvious. Both contain stimulants that trigger the sympathetic branch of the nervous system causing blood to flow outward from the center of the body. One then experiences an initial output of warmth as the result of a host of increased physiological functions - the stimulants in coffee and chocolate, although to different degrees, have specific cooling effects on some organs.

Coffee and chocolate can stimulate heartbeat, increase respiratory function, and increase blood circulation along with other effects that occur during exercise as well. However, these stimulants have other effects beyond those shared with exercise. It begins with the pituitary gland thinking there is an emergency. It releases hormones that cause the adrenals to produce adrenalin. This leads to rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, and a slowing of blood to the digestive system.

The stimulation of adrenals, kidneys, and bladder functions increase urination. Unlike exercise where perspiration is increased through exertion, the chemicals in coffee and chocolate do not increase perspiration as much as they increase urination because they are diuretics. With the increase of urination from these diuretics, one begins a process of dehydration.

Interestingly, the neurological messages of thirst and hunger are indistinguishable from each other by the human nervous system and often one has to make a conscious effort to understand which is calling. An interesting point when you think about it because for most people hunger is the prevailing message and the one acted on when a glass of pure water is often what is needed first.

Dehydration resulting from increased urination cools the body temperature and a lack of regulated blood flow to the intestines reduces the warmth needed for proper digestion. If it gets to the extreme, physiological symptoms of dry skin, dark urine, cold hands and feet, decreased circulation in general, reduction in cellular function, cellular flexibility and reduced function of kidneys and adrenals…all of which contribute to physical coldness.

After consuming coffee or chocolate, most people will recharge their cells and tissue with nutrition in some form. Yet for those who choose less thermogenic foods or diets low in fat and protein - they are going to have a more difficult time maintaining bodily warmth than those who consume moderate amounts of fat and protein when consuming coffee and chocolate on a regular basis.

Additionally, the cooling effects of coffee and chocolate can be understood by the way they affect the liver. The stored glycogen (sugar) molecules in the liver are rapidly released when coffee and chocolate are consumed, again due to their stimulating natures.

These stored glycogen molecules are initially stored in the liver to supply a steady source of fuel, energy and warmth to the body and when released in abundance as a reaction to stimulating chemicals, creates an initial feeling of warmth through sheer caloric out put but is short lived as the liver now must rebuild its storage base of glycogen. This too results in a cooling effect on the body and it can further result in strong cravings for sugar due to the livers now depleted reserves of glycogen.

Today many people consume their chocolate and coffee with sugar and milk unlike traditional peoples. While milk does buffer some of the cooling and drying effects of these foods and the sugar may help to restore glycogen to the liver – many believe these combinations to be unhealthy for various reasons.

Physiologically speaking then, both coffee and chocolate through their chemical constituents tend to cool the body by over stimulating various physiological functions that result in an initial warmth with an after effect of cooling and decreased circulation due to loss of water, loss of caloric fuel (glycogen), and the diluting effects they have on protein and fat.

Energetic Perspective

Both coffee and chocolate are derived from plants that are highly sensitive to cold temperatures. Both are small seeds with an intense bitter taste. Coffee beans (fruits, berries) are from a bush/small tree while cacao beans are the seeds of the cacao pod that grows on trees. Both are roasted before being consumed which increases their already bitter taste.

Coffee beans are roasted and dried. Cacao seeds are left to ferment for four or more days in the sun then sun dried and roasted at a low temperature. After roasting, both coffee and cacao seeds/beans are ground and consumed in several ways.

The bitter taste has the effect on the body of drying and purging and it resonates or enters the heart and small intestine. This includes all bitter foods and does not mean that the bitter taste is good for these organs. It simply means that bitter enters these organs. For example, dandelion and burdock roots have long been traditional remedies for numerous ills. Both have bitter tastes and therefore enter the heart and small intestine via the meridian channels.

Coffee and chocolate too, have a bitter taste and will enter the same organs but will have a stimulating effect on those organs. The non-stimulating bitter taste of dandelion or burdock, neither of which are of tropical origin nor sensitive to cold temperatures, have a tonifying effect on the heart and small intestine.

Being energetically sensitive to cold temperatures (coffee and cacao cannot be grown where there is frost) coffee and chocolate impart in the consumer similar qualities and when consumed in excess demand a balance to their cooling effects in the form of warming nutrient dense foods. The bitter taste with its dehydrating and purging properties not only contributes to drying of body cells and tissue: the purging effect of these bitter stimulants can deplete the stored bodily warmth derived from warming fats and proteins and when depleted will compel strong cravings for both.

It is interesting to note that traditional cultures had a variety of bitter foods in their diets, unlike modern industrialized cultures. Various herbs for cooking, bitter tasting green vegetables, roasted foods, grilled foods, toasted foods (seeds, nuts, crackers, toast…) and smoked foods all contributed to the bitter taste in traditional diets.

Aside from the stimulating effects that make coffee and chocolate so widely popular perhaps the lack of a variety of traditionally consumed bitter tasting foods in our modern diets also plays an important role in the high consumption of these two most interesting foods.

The second part of this question, “…how do raw foods and tofu cool the body?”


Let us begin by making it clear that not all raw foods are cooling. As mentioned before, nutrient dense foods, those higher in fat and protein tend to be warming foods, as do some starchy foods. Raw food diets generally contain an ample amount of nuts and seeds in their preparations. Olive and coconut oils are also used on a regular basis.

These foods can have thermogenic properties and thus are warming compared to fruits and leafy vegetables. It is also important to note that the addition of cooling foods in ones diet is just as important as warming foods. A balanced diet contains a wide variety of both cooling and warming foods all year round.

Food Temperaments

Each food has a temperament that it is grown or raised with. This temperament is a food’s identity, what it is, and has the potential to effect the human body with that identity. Food temperaments are comprised of four basic temperatures, hot, cold, cool, and warm. These four are then paired with one of two degrees of moisture, dry and moist (damp).

Generally, those foods that fall into the category of cold/cool are foods of plant origin that are high in water (juice), grown in water, high in vitamins and anti-oxidants, high in simple sugars, grow in tropical or semi-tropical climates, are fermented, and are lower in fat and protein.

Generally, those foods that fall into the category of hot/warm are foods of plant and animal origin that are lower in water content, grow in temperate climates, are high in fat and protein or high in starches like some root vegetables, beans and some grains.

I say “generally” because once you add that stamp of dry or moist to the warm or cool food it is more specifically defined in temperament.

Temperaments are easy to observe in people. A heavy set man, overweight by 70 or 100 lbs., perspiring profusely, with a red face and irritable and angry disposition is obviously carrying a general temperament of hot and moist. A skinny man with sunken cheekbones, dry hands and feet, pale complexion, poor posture…is obviously carrying a temperament of cold and dry.

These temperaments are not unlike those of foods and like foods, they can be changed. Our temperaments change through our life choices and food temperaments can be changed through preparation methods (steaming, boiling, roasting, marinating…)

Using the two examples of men in the previous paragraph, let us now put them on one of two diets in order to determine the cooling or warming natures of foods on the human body. Diet 1. Fresh raw fruits, raw vegetables, raw nuts, and seeds. Diet 2. Cooked animal products, moderate amounts of fats and oils, some vegetables, and grains.

If all we wanted to do was cool down the heavy set man from the first example it would not take very long with Diet no. 1 but it might take some time with Diet 2. Likewise, in order to warm up the skinny cold man we would obviously suggest Diet 2. While these examples do not describe exactly how raw foods cool it does reveal that the principle foods of some raw food diets have the potential to break down excess, reduce fat, and thus cool the body.

All is relative of course but here is another simple example. Conventional ice cream and soy milk ice cream. I think we can all agree that these are cooling, cold foods. However, which one is more cooling with longer lasting effects? The soy based frozen dessert is more cooling because it does not contain the thermogenic qualities inherent in animal milk. The temptation to expose this soy based fraudulent food is powerful but let us ignore it for now.

Getting to know the temperaments of foods is one way to begin understanding the warming and cooling properties of foods.

Building up and Breaking down

Another way to understand the cooling or warming energetics of foods is through their effects in the human body. The human body builds mass from warming foods that tend to be protein and fat based and there is no doubt the Western world has consumed these in excess but a simple fact is that muscle, tissue, organs and cells are built by proteins and fats.

High fiber raw fruits and green vegetables are lower in these two components yet high in vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients. These cooling foods are break down foods in the sense that they have the ability to reduce excess fat and protein in the body through high enzyme activity, especially when eaten raw. When fat and protein reserves are diminished the body cools, blood pressure drops, and numerous other changes occur.

One could argue that fruits and vegetables are building foods for apes and monkeys but if you think about an ape and its eating patterns you will find that it eats massive quantities of plant foods at one sitting and a cow grazes all day long. Furthermore, we human omnivores are neither apes nor cows so the argument is not even worth debating. Further, most herbivores get their daily share of animal foods in the form of insects for grazing animals and insects and small rodents for monkeys and apes.

Enzymes and Fermentation

Witness the powerful effect of papaya on meat. A single slice of papaya placed on a piece of meat will immediately begin digesting, breaking down the meat. Fruits are high in enzymes and one of the primary roles of food enzymes is to break down concentrated nutrient dense foods in the human body.

A diet high in breakdown foods (raw fruits, vegetables and seeds and nuts) can be beneficial for those wanting to cleanse the body of excess heat and lose weight. It may not be the best approach for everyone but it is an option that does get results. However, like a strict macrobiotic diet and vegan diets it too leads to the physiological reactions ranging from being hungry all the time to intense cravings for fats and proteins.

In summary then, cooling break down foods are mostly plant foods that contain high levels of enzymes, high fiber content, high simple sugar content, high chlorophyll content (green foods), and fermented foods.

Fermentation actually facilitates the break down of plant fibers and alters the cellular structure of plant cells. This form of decomposition also has a cooling effect on the body. Fermented foods are essential in any healthy diet because they assist in the break down and absorption of warming fats and proteins.

What about that tofu? Is it cooling? Hold it in your hand, feel it, squeeze it, bite it. The temperament of tofu is cold and moist. Okay, now slice the tofu and fry it. Add it to a hearty stew of root vegetables and fish, seasoned with miso. Now what is the temperament of that tofu?

How about that papaya? Temperament, cold and moist. Dry that papaya and its new temperament is cool and dry. A foods temperament can be altered by what is done to the food and by what other foods are combined with it. There is no one correct way to eat foods.

By that, I mean 100% raw is not the way to go nor is 100% cooked the way to go. Both are essential for a healthy human diet. Should we eat a carrot raw simply because it has more enzymes that way and were it cooked those enzymes would be destroyed? Carrots are also high in carotenoids, beta-carotene, which is a fat-soluble vitamin.

Sautéing carrots frees the carotenoids for absorption and offers another way of getting benefits from carrots you would not get if you ate them raw all the time. Both are great ways to eat carrots depending on what you are preparing and what kind of energetics you are looking for.

Digestion and absorption are part of an organized process that requires warmth. Your digestive fire is activated and sustained by fats and proteins and the regulation of your metabolic fire is dependent on these two macronutrients as well. They are the foods that keep the digestive fire burning.

This does not mean one should eat excessive quantities of these foods but to maintain healthy digestive fire one should consume these warming and building foods in small quantities to offset the cooling break down effects of a high plant based diet.

Other ways you can learn to understand the warming and cooling natures of foods are to think about how a food grows and the environment where it is grown; near water or in water, on fertile land or dry land, in a forest, high or low sun exposure…? How was it was eaten by traditional people and why?

These and other important qualities of food are all influences on the human body and mind. Some are subtle while others are obvious. Many of these unique qualities of foods, which were clearly understood by our ancestors through energetic science, are often taken for granted or given little thought by us. Meanwhile, more and more of these energetic qualities are being rediscovered and confirmed through modern science. One of the latest fields of food research has to do with plant communication.

Oh yes, food does communicate with us. Listen, observe, taste, and learn.

Posted: May/June2008





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