Chinese medicine classifies food according to its energetic effects. An especially important time to pay attention to this is after pregnancy, as your body requires not only healthy food but food that aligns with your body’s individual constitution. There is much information about what to do during pregnancy but surprisingly little about how to best recover during the postpartum period. You can read more about the best herbs for postpartum recovery and how to boost milk supply and get more sleep, but for the purposes of this article, we'll dig into the best foods to eat after giving birth.
Giving birth has tremendous effects on the body and unfortunately in western society many women need to rush to go back to work very shortly after. In the weeks after birth all five organs (heart, spleen, kidney, lung and liver) are weaker, including Qi and blood. Women who are breastfeeding require more energy and nutrition. Breast milk originates from the blood, resulting in deficiency of Qi, blood, yin and yang.
In China, the postpartum period is treated with extra care. Traditionally there is a 40 day lie-in, where women focus on rest, bonding with their babies, and eating more warming foods that are easy to digest with warming spices, including warm water (no ice!!). The goal is to help bring your body back to a normal balanced state from deficiency.
Pho is a classic Vietnamese soup of spiced beef broth, rice noodles, thinly sliced beef and fresh herbs. It is easy to make as long as you have some good quality beef stock or bone broth to start with. You can make your own or purchase a quality version online or from your butcher. The raw sprouts and herbs are slightly cooked in the hot broth so they are more readily digestible. When eating food from the refrigerator, allow it to set out 20-30 minutes to warm up slightly so that it is not cold. Avoid cold/frozen drinks which can cause stagnation - cold can lead to blood stasis which according to Chinese Medicine is the root of postpartum depression. Avoid wind/cold air as this affects joints. Your body is in a state of recovery at the very same time that it is required to be the main source of nourishment for your baby. It is important to nourish with food, rest, warmth and emotional support. Chinese medicine theory would say to dispel wind, boost blood circulation, and revitalize strength. Shield from wind and damp air both of which cause aches, pains, migraines and arthritis.
Remember that this recipe is only a starting point and guideline so feel free to add or remove ingredients to better align with your constitution. For example, add more Qi/blood ingredients such as leafy greens, beets or black beans if you are fatigued or depressed.
This all aligns with what we talk about in the DAO Middle Burner Diet as it is always important to protect the spleen and stomach to keep digestion and your middle burner fire strong. Soups are always a good choice when thinking of how to best maintain your middle burner with nourishing broth and lightly cooked vegetables.
Pho - 2 Servings
- 1 Quart Beef bone broth collagen – tonifying blood and Qi
- ½ Yellow Onion, Thick Slices – warm, counteracts damp and cold
- 1 ½ Inch Ginger, Sliced Thin – warming, reduces wind cold
- 2 Pods Star Anise - warm, tonifies Yang and Qi
- 1 Stick Cinnamon - warm, tonifies Yang and Qi
- ½ Teaspoon Coriander Seeds – promotes Qi circulation
- ¼ Teaspoon Fennel Seeds - warm, tonifies Yang and Qi, counteracts cold
- 4 Whole Cloves - warm, tonifies Yang and Qi
- 1 Ounce Fish Sauce
- 4 ounce Sirloin – warm, tonifies Yin, Qi and blood
- 4 Ounces Rice Noodles – rice is a blood and Yang tonic that nurtures the spleen and stomach while promoting good digestion.
- 2 Scallions – warm, tonifies yang
- ½ Bunch Mint - promotes Qi circulation
- ½ Bunch Thai Basil – warm, tonifies Yang, counteracts damp and cold
- ½ Bunch Cilantro – promotes Qi circulation
- 1 Cup Bean Sprouts – detoxify the body, tonify Yin
- 1 Jalapeno – Yang tonic, enhances blood and Qi circulation.
- 1 Lime – promotes blood circulation and removes toxins
- Hoisin to Taste
- Sriracha to Taste
Make a batch of bone broth or simply buy some but make sure it is good quality as this is the key ingredient.
Place your sirloin in the freezer as it is easier to slice thinly when it is slightly frozen.
Simmer the onion, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cloves, broth and fish sauce until flavors come together, about 15-20 minutes.
While the broth simmers, cover the rice noodle with boiling water and let sit until tender, about 10-15 minutes and strain as soon as desired tenderness is achieved so they don’t overcook. Strain the broth as well. Thinly slice your slightly frozen sirloin across the grain and pick the leaves from the fresh herbs. Slice the scallions.
Now the fun part begins as you start to individualize and build your Pho by arranging the ingredients in a bowl starting with the rice noodle then add slices of the sirloin and pour the hot flavored broth over the top. Add the bean sprouts, scallion, fresh herbs, jalapeno and lime slices then add hoisin and sriracha to taste, you can start with about a teaspoon of each and go from there.
The raw sprouts and herbs are slightly cooked in the hot broth so they are more readily digestible.
*Be mindful of adding too much spice, while jalapeno and sriracha are part of this classic dish you may opt to leave them out depending on your constitution during this time. Raw bean sprouts may not be recommended for people with weakened immune systems.
The recipes on The Way are intended as an East meets West look at food and its relationship to health and nutrition. Food is powerful, and every bite can either greatly benefit your system or effectively work against it. In Chinese Medicine, each grain, vegetable, meat, fruit, and spice has unique properties that can be harnessed to help us achieve and maintain balance in our bodies. Our recipes seek to incorporate some of the age-old principles of Chinese medicine into the culinary practices more familiar to the West.