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Hot Flashes? Avoid These “Yang” Foods

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When in the throes of a menopausal hot flash, we should rightly be given permission to strip naked and jump into a snowbank. For relief, conventional doctors often recommend hormone therapy, but it has been linked to an increased risk for breast cancer, heart disease and stroke — and a recent study found that users had a 29% greater risk for ovarian cancer than nonusers.

To discuss safer alternatives, I called Laurie Steelsmith, ND, author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health. She explained that you can minimize hot flashes by avoiding foods that are “warming” — a classification that, surprisingly, has nothing to do with the temperature at which a food is served and often is not based on its level of spiciness. Rather, warming foods are those with a lot of yang or “hot energy.”

“According to traditional Chinese medicine, yin and yang are opposites or counterparts that exist everywhere in the universe. Yin is associated with cold, quiet, passivity, water and nighttime… yang is associated with heat, noise, activity, fire and daytime,” said Dr. Steelsmith. Women tend to have more yin, while men tend to have more yang. At menopause, yin gets depleted — in fact, estrogen and progesterone are both cooling yin hormones — leaving an excess of yang. Stress exacerbates hot flashes because stress hormones such as cortisol are yang. Warming foods, which have more yang than yin, promote hot flashes because they create more of a yin/yang disparity than you already have.

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A food is deemed yin or yang based on centuries of tradition, the food’s innate traits and how it makes the body feel, Dr. Steelsmith explained — not necessarily on whether it is hot or cold. The classification system is sometimes somewhat intuitive. For example, meat generally is more yang than fruits and vegetables (since mammals are warm-blooded and mobile while plants are cool and stationary). Some plant foods are more yin than others — for instance, lettuce (which is soft and spoils quickly) is more yin than a carrot (which is hard and lasts a long time). Warming foods tend to grow in colder climates and vice versa, so a peach is more yang than a papaya.

But: Sometimes there is no clear rationale. For instance, although trout is said to be particularly yang, many other types of seafood are not… and while most spices are yang, salt and a few others are yin.

Admittedly, this gets complicated — so instead of trying to figure out or remember which foods are yang, just print this article and post it in your pantry. You don’t want to avoid all yang foods since many are nutritious, but with trial and error you’ll see which ones trigger your hot flashes and which are OK for you.

Yang foods to limit…

Fruits: Cherries… coconuts… guavas… kumquats… lemons… lychees… peaches… raspberries.

Vegetables: Cauliflower… mustard greens… onions… pumpkins… scallions.

Grains/nuts/seeds: Chestnuts… pine nuts… pumpkin seeds… sticky (glutinous) rice… walnuts.

Dairy: Butter… goat’s milk… yogurt.

Meat/poultry/seafood: Anchovies… chicken… crayfish… lamb… lobster… mussels… shrimp… trout… venison.

Herbs/spices: Anise… basil… caraway… cardamom… chives… cinnamon… cloves… coriander… dill… fennel… garlic… ginger… nutmeg… pepper… rosemary… saffron… thyme… turmeric.

Miscellaneous: Alcohol… brown sugar… coffee… molasses… soybean oil… vinegar.

Dr. Steelsmith explained that regular consumption of cooling foods that are more yin can reduce the number and severity of hot flashes (though eating them during a hot flash won’t have a quick enough effect to halt your heat wave). When you do eat a yang food, counterbalance its effects by having a cooling yin food at the same time.

Yin foods to keep you cool…

Fruits: Bananas… grapefruit… kiwifruit… loquats… melon… mulberries… oranges… papayas… pears… persimmons… plums… pomegranates… strawberries… tangerines.

Vegetables: Alfalfa sprouts… asparagus… bamboo shoots… broccoli… burdock root… cabbage… celery… cucumbers… eggplant… lettuce… lotus root… kelp… mung beans… mushrooms… nori… radishes… spinach… summer squash… sweet potatoes… tomatoes… turnips… watercress.

Grains/nuts/seeds: Barley… buckwheat… millet… wheat… wheat bran.

Seafood: Clams… crab… octopus.

Herbs/spices: Green tea… marjoram… peppermint… salt.

Miscellaneous: Sesame oil… soy sauce… tofu… water.

Many other foods are fairly equally balanced in yin and yang, Dr. Steelsmith noted. These are unlikely to affect hot flashes one way or the other.

Neutral foods include…

Fruits: Apricots… figs… grapes… pineapple… red dates.

Vegetables: Beets… carrots… olives… peas… potatoes… string beans… yams.

Grains/nuts/seeds: Almonds… corn… hazelnuts… oats… peanuts… rice… rye… sesame seeds… sunflower seeds.

Dairy: Cheese… cow’s milk.

Meat/poultry/seafood: Beef… duck… ham… oysters… pork… sardines… white fish.

Miscellaneous: Eggs… honey… white sugar.

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Source: Laurie Steelsmith, ND, is the author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health (Three Rivers) and a medical reviewer for HealthyWoman from Bottom Line. Her private practice in naturopathic and Chinese medicine is in Honolulu. www.NaturalChoicesForWomen.com Date: April 21, 2011 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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