Forbidden fruits: eating fruit during zuo yuezi

During my month-long Chinese postpartum retreat (坐月子, zuò yuè zi), I ate fruit after nearly every meal.  My hospital meals usually came with sliced papaya or an apple.  And when I returned home, my Chinese postpartum doula (yuepo) would slice pieces of fruit and layer them like a lotus flower for me to snack on.  So I was surprised to read blog references about raw fruit being forbidden during zuo yuezi, especially in luxury confinement centers in mainland China. 

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Taiwan has a subtropical climate and rich soil fertilized by almost constant seismic activity.  It is unsurprisingly a fruit paradise, with almost every conceivable type of tempting tropical fruit available.  Much of the fruit is so exquisite that it is often given as gifts for important holidays, much in the same way as we would gift chocolates or wine back home in Australia.  We have received boxes of fat, golden persimmons, nashi pears the size of footballs, and boxes of specialty wax apples from Pingtung – a Taiwanese fruit that popular during Chinese New Year. 

A box of persimmons from the inner Taiwan mountain range near Guguan, sent by a friend

A box of persimmons from the inner Taiwan mountain range near Guguan, sent by a friend

I am sure I don’t need to convince people about the health benefits of fruit.  After childbirth, fruit can provide an important source of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals.  But Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory holds that only some fruits are appropriate for the diet of a new mother during her postpartum retreat. 

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TCM is about creating balance in the body — think the bagua diagram with swirling yin and yang forces represented in white and black.  In winter, you are encouraged to eat warming foods and in summer to eat cooling foods.  A woman’s body is more cool (yin) after giving childbirth and needs to be rejuvenated with warming foods.  Many fruits are yin, and some are extremely yin.  But some fruits are actually heaty (yang), or are neither particularly hot nor cold.  The secret is to understand the properties of each fruit and to modify consumption accordingly.  Also, let the seasons be a guide as to what fruit is best eaten when (e.g. it is generally better for your body to eat more cooling fruits in summer than in winter).

Like many cultural traditions, there are different interpretations of what you ‘should’ or ‘should not’ eat.  The same is true with classifying what foods and ‘yin’ or ‘yang’.  And every person’s body is different so will react to food in different ways.  But below is my attempt at classifying what is helpful or otherwise to eat after childbirth based on my own zuo yuezi experience.  Please feel free to leave a comment to help refine the list.

The good:

  • Cherries
  • Papaya (paw paw) — good ripe or green, cooked or raw, excellent for encouraging lactation
  • Guava — good for weight loss
  • Dragon fruit
  • Dates — lactogenic properties
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Red grapes — anything red is apparently good for the blood supply
  • Kiwi fruit (my yuepo told me that kiwi fruit are good for new mothers, although I have read elsewhere that they are very yin)
  • Lychees (litchees) and longan (fresh or dried)

Enjoy in moderation:

  • Pineapple
  • Tomatoes
  • Mangos
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Lemons (e.g. as an addition in food in small amounts)
  • Strawberries

The bad:

  • Watermelon
  • Nashi pears
  • Grapefruit
  • Orange
  • Persimmon
  • Star fruit
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About taiwanxifu

‘Taiwanxifu’ (pronounced ‘shee foo’) means ‘Taiwan daughter-in-law’ in Chinese and has been my nickname ever since I married my Taiwanese husband, Sam. I love sampling Taiwanese food, even local specialties such as stinky tofu, pigs blood cake and Taipei beef noodle soup with offal. But there are many other options on the menu. Promise!
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6 Responses to Forbidden fruits: eating fruit during zuo yuezi

  1. a. says:

    I’ve always heard/been told that lychees and longan are to be eaten in moderation, it influence the yang. Surprised to see watermelon and nashi pears in the bad, especially watermelon since the fruit is mostly water!

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Lychees and longan are very yang (heaty). They are best avoided during pregnancy altogether, or if you must indulge have only a bit. Mr Taiwanxifu bought a bag of huge red, rose-scented lychees when I was about eight months pregnant and I couldn’t resist. I was quite scared by the way the baby kicked and squirmed around after I had the lychees. I stopped after that and rested, and thankfully was okay by the next day.

      After birth, a woman’s body is quite weak from both the physical effort and less of blood. So for the first month or so the zuo yuezi diet promotes eating rich and warming foods. Dried longan in particular features in many of the soups and teas consumed by new mothers. But of course if you kept eating the rich and ‘warming’ zuo yuezi foods all the time it would not be good for your health. For one thing, it would be easy to get fat and for another it could lead to high cholesterol. And watermelon and nashi pears are usually good in summer/autumn, just not for new mothers whose bodies are week. Depending on the individual, it can take seven to eight weeks for a mother’s milk supply to become constant and after that you can relax (a bit) about eating colder foods.

      This is my understanding based on my rudimentary knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine. I am finding there are differing interpretations of what to eat or what not to eat, and I hope this blog post will incit some more debate and useful information.

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  3. Olivia says:

    Seriously.. LOVE THIS WEBSITE!!!!! I am really learning a lot and enjoy it!! THANK YOU! Sorry i didn’t get to reply to your email but i will :) I will definitely see what I can do as a vegetarian :)

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