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Hot Food vs Cold Food...who wins?

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

Hot vs Cold Food

Why do we prefer hot to cold foods? The most obvious reasons are to regulate our body temperatures. When we are warm we look for colder foods or drinks to bring our core temperature down. Likewise when we are cold we tend to want a nice warm meal or drink for the same effect, only this time it’s too warm us up.

Another question I get asked a lot is whether it’s “better” to eat food hot or cold, which sort of translates to raw or cooked. I’ll discuss this below but first the big question I myself have is why some people just simply prefer cold food to hot food or vice versa. It took a some digging and while there is no one answer, this is what I found out.

In relation to preference:

- We tend to choose warmer or hot foods not so much for what they do to our body but our mind (1). Since cooked foods emit smells, we tend to associate them with memories more than we do with cold foods. So on cold days you may want soup like mom used to make, or baked goods, your favourite warm meal, or hot beverage as the smell will bring back a memory that will link to a good feeling that then makes you associate warm foods with happiness or comfort. This is in most cases, there are always exceptions to the rules.

- Our body temperature will also dictate our preference for warm or cold foods as we have all likely experienced. On a hot day you don’t go looking for warm drink or piping hot meal but instead for cold drinks or foods that have an immediate cooling effect. Again many of these choices go back to memory related or learned behaviors from our childhood (2). Freezes, ice cream, slushies, a pop or juice on a hot day was often the first thing you got handed when you went looking for something to cool you down and relieve hunger. Not great choices in hindsight but life was less complicated then too.

- Many of us just simply prefer warm to cold, or cooked to raw. While there are studies out there discussing this, most are inconclusive as it can go as far back as the womb as to what types of foods you will prefer later in life.

Medically Speaking:

- Observations by doctors back as early as 1905 (William Gilman Thompson MD) have noticed that the body will adjust the inner temperature to react to foods, hot or cold, in order to keep our core temperature at approx. 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius (3). Even when alternating between hot and cold foods the body doesn’t go out of balance by more than half a degree. That being said science has also concluded that warmer foods help to relax muscles and even blood vessels (think back to soup when you were sick or cold, it usually worked to depending on the cook).

- As we learn more about the wonderful world of the Microbiome I could not forgo a mention here. These microorganisms (bugs/bacteria) thrive in incubation and this requires warmth thus the more we feed them foods at a temperature they enjoy, the possibility they will perform better is open for discussion.

- The body uses enzymes for every reaction in the body including digestion and like the Microbiome prefers a warm environment to thrive in. When cold foods or drinks are taken in more frequently the body may hang onto these foods longer in order for the enzymes to have a chance to work, as they will have more opposition from the colder foods than they would from the warmer. This can often lead to bloating, gas and even constipation or discomfort.

- Cooked foods may be easier to digest since they are typically easier to chew (this is where digestion starts) and improperly chewed food is more difficult to digest, which can lead to the gas and bloating.

- Cooking can also breakdown many of the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and various other nutrients in your food, especially if over cooked, boiled or grilled. Boiling can reduce water soluble vitamins like C & the B's by 50-60% (4 , 5). It is truly is a fine art to be able to adhere to all the “do this & don’t do that” with your food nowadays. Fear not though, if you steam your veggies and don’t blacken your meat on the grill you can still reap the benefits of them. The crunchier the better with veg to retain as many nutrients as possible so if you can keep from boiling, it is advised.

- Excess cold food consumption may also have an effect on blood flow and circulation, additional movement to keep things moving is advised regardless of hot or cold food.

Different ways to look at things:

- TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) considers people of hot or cold constitutions and how why we crave and how we digest our foods differ based on those constitutions. Cold constitutions tend to not be able to raise their stomach temperature and so have more trouble digesting cold foods and drinks. This leaves them with less enzymatic activity, bloating and gas a potential result.

Hot constitutions on the other hand tend to have too much heat in the body and they may crave cooler foods to help combat this as the heat in the body is easily generated to deal with cold foods. Once the digestion has taken place, the stomach may not cool back to its desired temperature and the heat, it is said, then escapes through the mouth resulting in dry mouth or excess thirst. People who fall into this category may suffer more with constipation as the increased heat in the body may vaporize water in the intestine more quickly than normal (6).

Foods that are healthier raw:

- Broccoli – as it contains 3x the amount of sulforaphane (a cancer fighting plant compound) than cooked broccoli does (7 , 8).

- Onions – despite cooked onions being more palatable, doing so can reduce the anti-platelet agent in onions that is beneficial in heart disease prevention.

- Garlic – like broccoli it has anti-cancer fighting compounds like sulphur, which cooking can destroy. Try adding it to pesto, guacamole, or in dressings to get a bit more of the raw version into your diet.

- Cabbage – contains an enzyme called myrosinase which again, can play a role in cancer prevention but cooking can destroy this enzyme. If you must cook it, try steaming for a short while or just go for a delicious crunchy coleslaw type salad instead (9)

Foods that are healthier cooked:

- Meat, fish, and poultry – it goes without saying that these can harbor bacteria we don’t want in our systems and cooking can help prevent this from happening.

- Legumes – they contain a toxin called lectins which are believed to increase gut permeability and are toxic when consumed in excess. Cooking can reduce this toxic load by over half , so while canned beans are nice, soaking and cooking them is safer in the long term.

- Carrots – cooked carrots actually contain more beta carotene than raw ones do (10)

- Spinach – this one still saddens me as I love raw spinach but iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc are more easily absorbed when it is cooked.

- Asparagus – due to its fibrous walls, cooking can help to make the vitamins A, C, E and folate more readily available.

- Mushrooms – cooking can help to release antioxidants in mushrooms, while degrading agaritine, a potential carcinogen also found in mushrooms (11).

- Tomatoes – while cooking can decrease vitamin C levels it can also raise lycopene levels, a powerful antioxidant associated with reduced prostate risk in men. It is also beneficial in heart disease prevention.

Now with all those facts, opinions, and options to choose from, I do hope I haven’t confused you into wondering how you should eat. Instead perhaps you now might think a bit more about the types of foods you eat and whether they are hot or cold and to what benefit that will have on you personally.

As I’ve said before variety is key. Eat some raw foods daily and some cooked ones, notice which feel better for you and adjust to make them work in your diet.

*Health doesn’t have to be hard and making a few small changes can lead to big results. So as always please get in touch if you have questions and share if you think it will benefit someone else*

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