Desi Nutritionology

This article is about the popular Asian belief that a given type of food has either a warming or cooling effect over the body, known as it’s “taseer”.

“I’m addicted to Instant coffee” — ezuhaib.deviantart.com

The belief:

Simple. Warming foods warm the body and cooling foods cool it. The warming and cooling affect one’s health positively or negatively. Warming results in conditions like acne, acidity and liver diseases. Cooling results in cough and common cold. Too much of a certain “taseer” of food is bad for health. In addition, warming foods are to be avoided during summers and cooling foods to be avoided during winters.

True?

No. It contradicts science on many grounds. Despite being totally pseudo scientific, it is widely believed upon in South Asia and China, by the illiterate and literate alike. Most of my colleagues, medical doctors by profession, happen to believe in Desi nutritionology too.

What makes food feel “cold” and “Warm”.

While attributing warmth or coolness to food is theoretically subjective, there is a degree of consistency in this subjectivity which perhaps is the main thing reinforcing widespread belief in Desi nutritionology. Defendants of this concept of ‘taseer’ keep asking skeptics of explanations to these consistencies. Here are a few reasons which I think make certain foods “actually” feel either warm or cool thereby resulting in these consistencies.

  1. Texture. Smooth creamy foods are thought to be warm because one perceives them to be nutritionally “heavy”.
  2. Serving temperature: While “taseer” isn’t about temperature of foods, temperatures do matter. I guess that if double blinded studies are ever carried out , people will almost universally perceive hot milky tea to be having warm taseer and non-dairy ice tea to have a cooling one.
  3. Allergic tendency: Some foods may cause allergies in susceptible people. If the allergic effects are predominantly dermatological, or involve apthous ulcers, people shall perceive the food to be warm. On the other hand if the effects revolve around breathing, the food shall be perceived to be “cool”. These allergies are idiosyncratic and sporadic wheres Desi nutritonolgy attributes concrete dose dependence to them.
  4. Placebo effect
  5. Gastric transit: Fatty and protein-rich food stays in stomach longer than nutritionally neutral or carbohydrate rich foods, making one feel fuller longer. This may lead to fatty foods as being perceived as “heavier” and hence “warmer”.  This perception has an important biological role to play, but eastern pseudo science goes way too far in drawing conclusions from these innate judgments we make of food.

IMPORTANT: Food does effect health and disease. Always follow dietary guidelines given by your physician. Only steer away from scientifically unsupported wisdom.

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