This has become an increasingly controversial topic of late as awareness has increased in the foodie world. I want to discuss how vegetarian and vegan diets, according to an Oriental medicine framework, bring about “cold” diseases in most people and why they aren’t always a good path to go down.
While people can approach vegetarianism and veganism from many angles—from a moral standpoint, from a spiritual view and from a health angle – I want to put address the issue in relation to the health and vitality of the individual. Therefore, I will not be going into the moral or spiritual aspects in any depth here.
From my observations of hundreds of people and from my own experience as a vegetarian for five years, vegetarians and veganism tend to produce similar imbalances, which traditional Asian medicine classifies as “cold diseases”.
When we look at disease from an Oriental perspective, part of the diagnostic process is to determine whether it is a “hot” or “cold” disease. The signs and symptoms most commonly experienced from a “cold” disease include deficiency of blood and quality “Qi”, pale white face, poor circulation (cold hands and feet), cold body, weak limbs and poor muscle tone, waves of fatigue, lack of endurance, flighty mind, ungrounded, poor concentration, fluid retention, bloating, stomach cramps and a compromised immune system (susceptible to colds, flu and allergies). All of these symptoms are classic signs of “cold” diseases, often associated with vegetarianism and veganism.
“Hot” diseases produce symptoms that include inflammation, red face, red eyes, excessive heat in the body, excessive sweating, increased anger or outbursts, loud voice, violent dreams, headaches and restlessness. All of these symptoms are associated with a diet that is likely to be too acidic and can often be attributed to too much meat and alcohol.
Now, let’s look at food and how it contributes to “hot” or “cold” diseases. Oriental medicine looks at food as having a particular nature to it. In its simplest forms, it either has a “hot” or “warm” nature, or it is considered “cool” or even “cold”. There are also foods that are considered neutral, neither heating nor cooling. “Hot” or “warm” foods are, for example, chili, ginger, garlic, turmeric, spices, meat, alcohol, coffee and so on. Cool or cold foods include things like tofu, milk, dairy, ice drinks, cold water, vegetables, uncooked foods, fruit, ice cream, yogurt etc.
To support the internal energy system we need to eat both hot and cold nature foods to support the balance of Qi and blood through the system. It is the yin and the yang at play within the body, and we must work with both. If we go too far in either direction, either too cold or too hot, it disturbs the inner state and will eventually produce psychological and physical imbalances and disease. In most cases, vegetarian and vegan food does not produce much warmth or heat in the body, making it difficult for the body to transform it into blood and energy. Meat is one of the most potent sources of energy because it also produces a lot of warmth and is easy for the body to turn into blood, energy and heat. Vegetarian and vegan food tends to produce more “cold” than heat in the body. Raw food is the most “cold” type of food you can eat.
An excessive amount of cold food puts out the digestive fire because it takes a lot of energy from the body to heat it up and transform it into fuel. Over time, cold foods contribute to a very sluggish digestion. If food sits in your belly for hours, and you feel heavy or tired, it’s a sign of a sluggish digestive system that needs a bit more fire. Try hot soups with a bit of chili to get things moving!
Therefore, most of us need to be more conscious of the warming and cooling nature of our foods to support the internal balance. Our environment also contributes to this, for if we live in predominately a cold environment, it is likely that we will need to take in more warming foods, and if we live in a predominately hot environment, it is likely we will need to reduce warming foods.
Another factor that contributes to the likelihood of developing a hot or cold disease is our constitution or genetic makeup. If we have a naturally “hot” body type, we will be able to handle colder foods better than the person next door who has more of a “cold” body type. We can see that each person has his or her own balance to discover, and there is no one diet that suits everybody.
There are some individuals who can handle strict vegetarian or even raw food diets, and they are people who have a very strong and steady body type or genetic predisposition. These people are often very toned, fit-looking, and well-proportioned, even when they do little exercise and probably don’t even follow a healthy lifestyle. These people, due to their robust constitution, can handle cold foods for extended periods and actually thrive on them. For most of us though, this is not the case.
The point I want to make is that while vegetarianism and veganism sound great in theory, they tend to produce imbalances in most people. Those who are aware of the “hot” and “cold” nature of foods and who make the effort to educate themselves on how to eat a non-meat eating diet and still gain the required nutrients will have a good chance at managing it.
Therefore, be smart when it comes to subscribing to any diet or eating program. Always take the time to educate yourself from a variety of sources, use good old-fashioned common sense and work at becoming increasingly aware of your own bodies intelligence which offers the best advice and guidance of all. Any diet or food program, which pushes towards any extreme, is unlikely to be healthy or beneficial in the long term.
List of Cold (Yin) and Hot (Yang) Foods
|Very Yin||Yin||Neutral||Yang||Very Yang|
|Aloe Vera||Apple||Almond||Alcohol||Strong Alcohol|
|Ice cream||Green Tea||Lentil||Coriander|
|Mung Bean||Lime||Cow milk||Ginseng|
|White Wine||Turkey||Red Wine|