Eating for dampness and phlegm

Dampness and phlegm are two common causes of disease in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Dampness is heavy and cloying, and causes symptoms such as:

  • Feelings of heaviness within the body
  • Aching limbs
  • ???Foggy??? thinking
  • Digestive issues
  • Edema

When dampness is present in the body for a long time it can transform into phlegm, especially if there is excess heat too. Phlegm is even heavier than dampness and sticky too. It blocks the channels and leads to symptoms such as:

  • Cough with mucus
  • Digestive issues
  • Lumps, bumps, and cysts under the skin
  • Emotional disorders

Dampness and phlegm are usually created due to a weakness of the Spleen, although the Kidneys and Lungs may also be involved. The Spleen plays a major part in digestion in TCM, and so one of the best ways to keep it healthy and avoid dampness is by eating the right foods.

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Dietary Therapy for Dampness


  • Asparagus
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Kohlrabi
  • Mushrooms
  • Mustard greens
  • Onions
  • Pumpkin
  • Radish or daikon
  • Scallion
  • Turnip


  • Lemon
  • Plums

Beans and Pulses

  • Adzuki beans
  • Kidney beans


  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Job???s tears
  • Rye

Fish and Seafood

  • Anchovies
  • Mackerel

Herbs and Spices

  • Basil
  • Caraway
  • Cardamom
  • Clove
  • Garlic
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Parsley


  • Green tea
  • Jasmine tea

Dietary Therapy for Phlegm


  • Celery
  • Mushroom
  • Mustard greens
  • Olives
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Radish or daikon
  • Seaweed
  • Watercress


  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon peel
  • Orange peel
  • Pear
  • Persimmon
  • Tangerine peel

Nuts and seeds

  • Almonds
  • Walnuts

Fish and Seafood

  • Clams
  • Shrimp

Herbs and Spices

  • Black pepper
  • Garlic
  • Licorice
  • Marjoram
  • Mustard seed
  • Peppermint
  • Thyme

You will notice that many of the foods used to treat dampness and phlegm are similar, and that is because they are very similar in nature. If you want to prevent dampness and phlegm from invading your body, the foods to avoid are also much the same.

Foods to Avoid to Prevent Dampness and Phlegm

The foods that cause dampness and phlegm are usually rich and difficult to digest. They put an extra strain on the Spleen and prevent it from transforming fluids as well as it should, leading to excess dampness. Some of the worst foods for creating dampness in the body include:

  • Dairy products
  • Rich meats such as pork
  • Concentrated fruit juices
  • Bananas
  • Sugar/sweeteners
  • Wheat
  • Bread
  • Yeast
  • Beer

As well as avoiding these foods as much as possible, you should also take care of your Spleen by following the TCM guidance on good eating habits. These will ensure that your Spleen is functioning at its best and help you to keep dampness and phlegm at bay.

Good Eating Habits in Traditional Chinese Medicine

According to TCM, there are some basic good eating habits that everyone should follow in order to look after their Spleen.

Eat Little and Often

Your digestive system loves routine and knowing when it is going to be fed. Therefore, it is best to eat at regular times throughout the day and space your meals out evenly. Overloading your Spleen with too much food at once will reduce its ability to digest, so it is best to eat little and often rather than having three large meals a day.

Chew your Food Well

The digestive process starts before food has even entered your stomach, and chewing each mouthful properly can give your Spleen a head start. Chewing food well means that your digestive organs do not have to work so hard to break it down, and you will be less likely to suffer from dampness or phlegm.

Eat a Good Breakfast

According to TCM, the digestive organs are most effective in the morning, and least effective in the evening. It is best to eat a substantial breakfast, a medium-sized lunch, and a lighter dinner to accommodate this.

Ensuring that you have a good breakfast will also set you up with enough energy to get through the morning. Include some protein and slow-release carbohydrates (for example, eggs on wholemeal toast) to ensure you have all the nutrients you need for a healthy start to the day.

Take Time Out to Eat

We are all guilty of eating on the go sometimes, and the temptation to check a few emails over lunch can sometimes be too much. However, from a TCM viewpoint, it is important to take time out to eat and really focus on your food without distractions. Enjoying the smell and taste of your food helps to promote good digestion, and will stop your Spleen from becoming swamped.

Treat Yourself

No matter how healthy you are, it is important to treat yourself from time to time. Food should be enjoyable, and a little bit of what you fancy will do you good. However, moderation is key, so eat well most of the time, treat yourself occasionally, and don???t feel guilty when you do!

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