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Dr. Karina Smith

Foods that cause Dampness in Chinese Medicine: Embracing Warm, Cooked foods for optimal health.

I can't tell you how often a patient comes to see me in my clinic in Newport 3015 Melbourne, with a particular health complaint unrelated to digestion, only for us to find out in the consult, that they also have some major issues with their digestion.

For that reason, I'm really passionate about helping people regain good digestive function for their health.

A lot of it does come back to food.

What are you eating?

How much of it are you eating?

How long have you been eating this way?

And to dig a little deeper, what is going on for you mentally and emotionally when you reach for certain foods?

Food is comfort, it can be a way of doping out so we don't have to be present, it can be a substitute for things we think we are missing, it is complex and deeply personal for everyone.

What does happen though, when we are consuming big regular amounts of sugar, dairy, icy cold things, milk, and fried foods, is the accumulation of dampness in the body.


You may not understand anything your Chinese Medicine practitioner told you, but guaranteed you will be curious about dampness!


In the realm of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the concept of maintaining balance and harmony within the body is paramount for achieving optimal health.

This philosophy extends to the foods we consume, as different foods can have varying effects on our body's internal balance.

One crucial element within TCM's dietary philosophy is the concept of "dampness," which refers to an imbalance that can disrupt the body's equilibrium and lead to a variety of health issues.

In this article, I want to delve into some of the foods that are believed to create dampness from a Chinese medicine perspective and explore the significance of consuming warm, well-cooked foods for fostering good health.

How do I know if I have accumulated dampness in my body?

Do you have any of the following:

  • You regularly have undigested foods in your stools

  • Your stools are regularly loose or unformed

  • You have a thick white coating on your tongue (especially towards the back of your tongue

  • You have gained a lot of weight and can't seem to lose it

  • Brain fog

  • You wake up in the morning and your head feels heavy, as if it is wrapped up in a wet towel

  • You experience bloating and distension in your belly immediately after eating

  • You feel very sleepy after you eat a meal

  • You cough up a lot of phlegm

  • Your urine is cloudy

These are all signs that there is likely an accumulation of Dampness in your body, and/or the organs of digestion are not functioning as well as they could be.

Understanding foods that cause Dampness in Chinese Medicine

Dampness, or "shi" in Chinese, is a concept that characterizes an accumulation of excess moisture or humidity within the body. It is considered a pathogenic factor that can disrupt the body's normal functioning and lead to a range of health problems.

According to TCM principles, dampness is often linked to the Spleen and Stomach, which are responsible for digestion and transforming food and fluids into nutrients that the body can utilize. When the Spleen and Stomach's functions are compromised, dampness can arise.

Certain foods are believed to contribute to the accumulation of dampness in the body. These foods are generally characterized as being cold and damp in nature.

Cold and damp foods can weaken the digestive fire, slow down the digestive process, and create an environment conducive to dampness formation.

Some examples of foods that are considered to create dampness in TCM include:

1. Raw and Cold Foods: Foods that are raw or have a cold nature, such as salads and cold drinks, can weaken the digestive system's ability to process food efficiently. This can result in the accumulation of dampness. Examples include: raw salads (especially in the colder seasons), anything cold that you eat immediately after taking it out of the refrigerator.

2. Dairy Products: Dairy is often associated with dampness due to its mucus-producing properties, especially in individuals who are lactose intolerant or have a propensity for phlegm-related issues. Examples include: Cheese (one of my teachers used to say, eating cheese is like eating pure phlegm), processed milk (raw milk is a story for another day), ice-cream, icy-poles, and ice blocks all fall under this banner too.

3. Sweet and Greasy Foods: Excessive consumption of sweet and greasy foods can lead to stagnation in the digestive system, promoting the formation of dampness. Refined sugar is a huge culprit for creating dampness in the body, and because it is heating and drying too, it creates stickiness and dehydration. Also anything deep fried in oil, is a no.

4. Processed and Refined Foods: Highly processed and refined foods lack essential nutrients and are often difficult to digest. Their consumption can contribute to dampness. It really goes without saying, dampness or no dampness, that processed (and a new term being used now "ultra processed" foods are not at all good for our health.

5. Cold Drinks and Ice Cream: Cold beverages and frozen desserts can extinguish the body's internal fire, hindering digestion and promoting dampness accumulation. Having any drink with ice in it is an absolute no no! I'm talking icy smoothies, gin and tonics, a slushy from the petrol station (please don't), icy milkshakes, the list goes on.

Eating cold foods and drinks and expecting your digestion to function properly, is like going camping, pouring cold water over your cooking fire, and still expecting it to cook your dinner.

The importance of warm, well-cooked Foods

To counter the effects of dampness and promote a balanced internal environment, TCM emphasises the consumption of warm, well-cooked foods.

Warm foods are believed to support the body's digestive fire, enhance nutrient absorption, and aid in the elimination of excess moisture.

Cooking methods such as boiling, steaming, and stir-frying are favored in TCM as they transform raw ingredients into easily digestible forms and help eliminate dampness.

Here are some reasons why warm, well-cooked foods are considered beneficial for good health from a TCM perspective:

1. Supporting Digestion: Warm foods help to strengthen the digestive system, promoting efficient breakdown of nutrients and reducing the likelihood of dampness accumulation.

2. Energizing the Body: Warm foods are believed to provide energy to the body, invigorating the Spleen and Stomach's functions and aiding in the transformation of food and fluids.

3. Balancing Internal Temperature: Warm foods can help balance the body's internal temperature, counteracting the effects of cold and dampness.

4. Facilitating Nutrient Absorption: Cooking breaks down complex nutrients into simpler forms that are easier for the body to absorb, ensuring optimal nutrient uptake.

5. Promoting Circulation: Warm foods encourage blood circulation, helping to disperse stagnation and maintain the body's vital energy flow.

6. Reducing Dampness: Properly cooked foods are less likely to contribute to dampness formation, as cooking methods eliminate excess moisture.

In TCM, the concept of individualization is crucial.

What works for one person may not work for another.

Factors such as constitution, lifestyle, climate, and specific health conditions are taken into account when determining dietary recommendations.

Therefore, it's essential to consult a qualified TCM practitioner before making significant dietary changes.

If you simply can't stop having your breakfast smoothie...

I get it. Making dietary changes is hard.

Especially when someone just wrote a blog about how all your favourite foods are no good! Below are some helpful ways you can start to make dietary changes for the better:

Smoothie: frozen ice, berries, frozen banana, frozen spinach, almond milk

Can you......

Take out all the frozen things. Use fresh banana, and fresh berries, and put a small amount of grated ginger or cinnamon powder in.

​Cold salad

Can you....

Roast some vegetables: pumpkin, beetroot carrot, sweet potato, and toss through with a salad mix and have a warm salad instead

Ice-cream after dinner

Can you....

​Have a handful of pitted soft madjool dates, and some red and blue berries to get the sweetness instead.

Drinking iced water

Can you.....

Start training yourself to drink room temperature water, and warm water I the colder months

Morning smoothie

Swap for

Cooked oats

Cheese plate

​Swap for

​Rice crackers and dips (not too cold), nuts and fruit

Embracing a Balanced Approach

Incorporating the principles of TCM into our dietary habits can have a profound impact on our overall well-being. While the avoidance of foods that create dampness and the preference for warm, well-cooked options are important aspects, they are just one part of a holistic approach to health.

Regular physical activity, proper hydration, stress management, and adequate sleep also contribute to achieving balance and harmony within the body.

By understanding the properties of foods that contribute to dampness and embracing the warmth and nourishment of well-cooked dishes, we can work toward achieving optimal health and vitality.

Just as nature seeks equilibrium, so too can we find harmony within ourselves by aligning our dietary choices with the wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine.

If you want some further help with your diet and digestion:

Making changes with our diet can be hard, but the long term benefits of increased energy, better bowel movements, less brain fog and overall wellbeing are definitely worth it!

Love Karina x


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