THE DIET WITHIN THE DIET: Excess Hot & Spicy
Updated: Nov 22, 2020
Dietary subtleties to be considered from the perspective of Chinese Medicine and Western Science
"If you're not your own doctor, you're a fool." ~ Hippocrates
The series of articles called “Diet Within the Diet” refer to the micro-adjustments that we can make within any type of diet . Despite calling these settings “micro", they can really make a huge difference in health and diet success. How many times do we hear people saying that they are vegan, or vegetarian, or even that they have a “balanced” diet? What always comes to my mind is: How many possibilities of vegan, vegetarian and “balanced” diets are there? Sure as many as there are people in the world. The perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is extremely interesting, because it provides very interesting comments on eating habits beyond the food itself. Even though I fully adhere to a vegetarian diet, the following concepts can be applied to any type of diet. It should be noted that the diet proposed by the TCM is not strictly free of animal products, although it (traditionally) encourages a really small consumption of such foods and all other foods appear in their whole form, being processed foods totally inexistent.
Excess Hot (in nature and temperature) and Spicy
Chinese medicine considers that an excess of Hot* and/or Spicy foods can generate symptoms of Internal Heat. Curry, alcohol, lamb, beef and some spices such as cardamom, dry ginger, cinnamon, clove, cayenne pepper, are all Hot products and some of them Spicy or Pungent. In general, these flavors, used in small quantities, stimulate digestion and that is why especially spices are traditionally used in many cultures to stimulate the digestive system and its functions. On the other hand, when they are used in excess they can generate an internal Heat pattern (from TCM perspective), which can dry, in the long term, our organic fluids.
If we remember the Yin-Yang theory, when one of both elements reaches its maximum point, it becomes its opposite. That explains why in tropical countries the spicy flavor is usually used extensively. In small quantities it can warm up and aid digestion, but in excess it produces sweating that cools down our body. The spicy flavor (judiciously used) stimulates not only digestion but also the Lungs, helping several of its functions and expectoration in case of mucus or phlegm. The Internal Heat includes countless symptoms that are never absolute and universal and depend specifically on the person, its constitutions and environment, for example: fever, yellow or green phlegm, heat or hot flashes, halitosis, constipation, high blood pressure, inflammations, swelling, rashes. (See also Diet Within the Diet: Excess Cold) Regarding temperature, Chinese medicine always advises us to balance and avoid excesses and extremes, that is why taking VERY HOT food or drinks is not advisable.
In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) included very hot drinks (more than 70 degrees C) as "potentially carcinogenic to humans." The results come after a group of 23 international scientists analyzed all available data on the carcinogenic factors of coffee, Yerba mate, and a range of other hot drinks, such as tea. It was decided that drinks consumed at very hot temperatures were linked to esophageal cancer in humans. "These results suggest that the consumption of very hot drinks is a probable cause of esophageal cancer and that the temperature is responsible, rather than the drinks themselves," said Dr. Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
There’s a convention about capitalizing Chinese Medicine terms to be able to differentiate them from regular everyday terms. For example, Hot can be more extensive in its Chinese meaning that the regular word ‘hot’… The same is true when talking about the Chinese concepts of Stomach and the Western, anatomical stomach.