Turn Up the Heat

By Casey Seidenberg

Last summer my boys subconsciously boycotted peanut butter, chicken sandwiches and other foods that they found hard to eat in 90-degree baseball camp heat. They handed me untouched lunch boxes because they could not stomach the heavier fodder I was packing; they craved strawberries, watermelon, tomatoes and other hydrating, cooling foods.

Now that the seasons have shifted and schools have been delayed because of glacial temperatures, it is not surprising that my kids are eschewing those once-desired strawberries. Anew, they are drawn to meat, nuts, spicy foods and other fare that naturally creates heat in their bodies. Bacon for breakfast is a frequent request, after months in anonymity. It is fascinating that our bodies intrinsically know what to do, if only we would listen. As much as we rely on the wonderful grocers that carry strawberries all winter, our bodies can get what they need without these unseasonal offerings.

According to Chinese medicine, certain foods affect our internal temperature by heating and invigorating the body. This is more than eating a hot food such as soup. Cooked meals warm more successfully than raw foods, which are naturally cooling, but there are also foods that heat by pushing blood and energy to the surface of the body during the digestion process. Spicy foods are the most obvious. When we eat a hot pepper, our face might even flush; that’s why we call them “hot.” Other foods create this same heated sensation on a less observable scale.

I looked to Paul Pitchford’s “Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition” for some ideas:

Grains, nuts and seeds: oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, millet, walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds.

Vegetables: chili peppers, winter squash, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, turnips, shallots, garlic, onions, leeks.

Fruits: dates, coconut, cherry, mango, blackberries.

Animal products: beef, eggs, lamb, pork, poultry, oily fish, butter.

Flavorings: clove, coriander, ginger, pepper, nutmeg, turmeric, miso, soy sauce

Many people believe a hot toddy is a means to a warm body. This is both true and false. Alcohol can increase blood flow to the skin, which induces warmth, but it can later cause the body to sweat, which will ultimately have a chilling effect. Ginger tea is a more effective warming drink.

Digestion increases the body’s temperature; so don’t skip meals if the aim is to stay warm. In other words, that January juice cleanse is a much better idea in July. Or try one of these warming foods to keep your digestion working throughout the day:

● Apple slices with nut butter

● Sweet potato, parsnip or rutabaga fries

● Mini wraps (pitas or sushi) with brown rice, beans, vegetables and avocado.

● Mini pancakes (sweet potato pancakes, oatmeal pancakes, buckwheat pancakes)

● Hummus or guacamole

● Dried fruits such as dates, cranberries and figs

● Whole-grain toast with nut or seed butter, apple butter, cheese or egg salad

● Homemade muffins or breads (pumpkin, gingerbread)

First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, January 16, 2014.