上火是什么意思? What is ‘shang huo’?

When you live in China, you will no doubt hear the term ‘shang huo’ a lot. All the Chinese know this concept of heat in your body. You get this by eating to much heating (yang) food. And you see when someone has ‘shang huo’ in their body by the pimples or ulcers in the mouth. 

The principle of ‘shang huo’ goes back to the yin yang principle, the duality in life. All foods are categorized into yin and yang food. So, if you eat too much yang food, your body will accumulate heat in the body which will be visible on your skin or other bodily discomforts. Yang foods are for example barbecue, deep fried food, spicy food, coffee, alcohol, but also certain fruits like mango. Yin foods are soy products, beans, yogurt, apples, watermelons,…
So, Chinese people all know how to bring their body in balance. That’s why you see grown-up men drinking a small carton of milk right before they will drink alcohol, or everyone is, after they ate barbecue, rushing to the store to buy ‘Wang lao ji’, a herbal tea which reduces ‘shang huo’. A long time I was skeptical about this, I believed it was more based on Chinese superstition. But, every spring I have a lot of pimples in my face and on my back. I love spicy food and coffee, but as the weather gets warmer, my body is not reacting well to it. So, now I hear myself tell people that I have ‘shang huo’, but I love spicy food or I need my coffee every morning. If one of my foreign friends complains about ulcers in their mouth, I immediately ask if they eat spicy food or eat too much Chinese fast food (which is quite oily). When they say yes, I say: Ah, no wonder, you have ‘shang huo’, where they then look strangely at me…

It’s so strange that we in the west lost all connection with nature. If we feel uncomfortable, we will take a pill or if we have pimples we will buy a cream to apply on it. We became so used to cure the symptoms, but we never think at why it happened. Why do we have pimples? Why is our stomach upset? We can learn a lot from Chinese eating habits, although not everything, there are other things in their eating habits that I totally disagree with and that are not scientifically correct. But, we can eat more balanced nutritious food and feed our body the fuel it needs instead of all the processed food we are giving it now and which is so bad for our long-term health.

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