Simple Korean meal
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5 Best Korean Foods For Postpartum Recovery

In honor of Mother’s day and for the several mommies I know who just delivered this month, here are 5 Korean foods that can help you lose weight and bounce back quickly and easily.

Until I became a first time mother, I never really appreciated the restorative value of Korean food.

Up until then,  I knew that Korean food tasted good and controlled my weight better than your average SAD (Standard American Diet) food, but I didn’t know that it could be used as medicine until I experienced it myself.

My wise mother taught me, just as other Korean mothers before her taught her, that certain Korean foods are better at helping you bounce back after pregnancy than most modern medical therapies.

This is why I’m so glad I can pass that tradition on to you!

Why American Medical Care Doesn’t Care

Although new mommies need care, as much, if not much more than our newborn babies do, the postpartum care in hospitals would make you think otherwise.

These were my OBGYN’s parting words to me as I was leaving the hospital:

  • Avoid alcohol or other abusive substances if you’re nursing
  • Any pain or bleeding call 911
  • Refrain from strenuous exercise until my stitches (perineum) heal

Kind of leaves you wanting doesn’t it?

It’s not to say that any of her advice was wrong but I guess I wanted to hear something more caring and reassuring than what sounded like a prescription label. After all, I’d been through a major ordeal in my mind…

It was almost as if I was hearing a fire safety officer telling me to:

Stop, Drop, and Roll.

Stop, Drop and Lose Weight

There is this prevailing sense in Western culture that once you give birth, you’re done and now your body just has to drop the weight and bounce back as if nothing happened.

Fashion magazines, for instance, tout celebrities who drop their post pregnancy weight as if they just melted it off —so easy peasy. 

And even some of my well meaning girlfriends suggested that I juice, or use energy bars, or drink wine to lose my baby fat (Are you kidding me????).

But my Korean mother? Ohhhh…. how she cast aside all these fast track weight loss measures…

Instead, after I had my first son, my mom flew over here from Southern California armed with her own arsenal of dried kelp (she said that the ones over here are all from China and therefore toxin laden).

She also smuggled in all these pre-made side dishes onto the plane (Who has time to make stir fried anchovies when she has to cuddle her grandson?). She also brought along some facial masks, a 10 page grocery list with menus, and a home made belly band.

It was because of her care, and not because of what I’d learned from books (What To Do When You’re Expecting for instance), or physicians, or other mommies that got me back to my pre-pregnancy weight and health, faster than many other mommies I knew.

And this happened not just once, but with all three of my pregnancies: The first, starting when I was in my 30’s and my last, when I’d turned 40.

5 Healthy Korean Foods For New Moms 

Here are the detailed list of foods and links to recipes that come close to what she “prescribed” and cooked for me during her two weeks of intensive postpartum care.

The great thing is, these foods are good for any season of your life, may it be postpartum, post surgery, or if you just wanted to reset your body in any way.

1. Miyeok Guk (Korean Seaweed Soup)

bowl of Korean Seaweed soup
Image from Korean Bapsang

As every other Korean mother worth her salt knows, seaweed or kelp is THE quintessential food you feed anyone who has just undergone a major physical ordeal—giving birth or otherwise. 

Sea kelp contains fuicodan which not only increases blood flow , it lessens inflammation.

My mom, put it this way:

“Miyeok cleanses your blood”.

She was right of course, as research shows, the seaweed in Miyeok Guk is a great antioxidant–fighting off bad free radicals which are damaging to the body and protecting those cell membranes better than Vitamin E.

Besides that, it’s also a great natural laxative; Who doesn’t need that after giving birth?

The other benefits of sea kelp are:

Miyeok Guk Recipe

For a great recipe much like my mothers’ own home cooked version try this one from Korean Bapsang. It’s a “short cut” version than the kind my mom prefers to make with a home made beef broth.

Although the home made broth version tastes and is probably much more nutritious than the short cut version, both are helpful in aiding your postpartum recovery.

But try not to overdose on this like I did when my mother-in-law forced me to eat it for 7 days straight before my mom came to my rescue.

Everything is only as good as it’s done in moderation so be sure to include other vitamin rich foods alongside it (rice doesn’t count). Otherwise, the high doses of iodine found in kelp can adversely affect your thyroid function.

2.  Pumpkin Porridge (Hobakjuk)

Pumpkins abound during Thanksgiving time here in America, but Kabocha porridge, or Hobakjuk as it’s called in Korea, is used all year round to speed up recovery after delivery and even surgery.

Not only do the high levels of beta-carotene found in Kabocha pumpkin reduce oxidative stress on the skin, it’s also great for reducing the appearance of scars and blemishes (bye bye stretch marks!).

Hobakjuk is the best comfort food on cold days.

All this rich beta carotene also converts to Vitamin A in your blood cells and in turn boosts immunity.

And because this particular pumpkin variety is lower in calories than butternut squash and yet sweeter than most other pumpkins, it can help you curb those sugar cravings that often strike when you’re massively sleep deprived (Hello, 2 hour feeding schedules!)

And just like the kelp, the high dietary fiber content in Kabocha also aids in weight loss (makes you feel fuller) and regulates bowel movements.

But the best part about this porridge soup is that it has great anti-inflammatory properties.

As my mom would say, Hobakjuk reduces all the water retention that makes you feel bloated and cranky.

Or as my husband, the sleep expert would say, the lesser the inflammation, the better sleep you’ll get and the faster you’ll recover and feel better overall.

Hobak Juk Recipe:

For the best Hobakjuk recipe, look no further than Kimchimari. She offers both an instantpot and a stove top version here.

I’ve tried both versions and can vouch for their yumminess as do the many other mom’s I’ve made this for.

Just substitute coconut sugar or honey instead of the processed sugar the recipe calls for (white processed sugar will just negate whatever benefits you’ll get from this pumpkin porridge!). I personally think it’s sweet enough without any sugar—just add a bit of maple syrup and some walnuts on top and call it a power meal!

3. Bibim Bap (Rice bowl with Veggies)

Bibimbap in earthen bowl
Image from Korean Bapsang

My favorite meal for post baby recovery is Bibim Bap.

Literally translated, this dish means “rubbed (bibim) rice”. Figuratively speaking, it’s a vegetarian dream come true.

The hi-light of this dish is in the heaping amount of vegetables you add on top of the tiny bit of rice you have at the bottom.

My mom even likes to add torn up lettuce leaves to the bottom of the bowl to add more roughage then to top it all off with every veggie imaginable.

Traditionally, this was how Korean moms used up left over banchan or side dishes in Korean homes.

You can use: cucumber, spinach, or squash, mung bean, fern rake or even just chopped up broccoli and carrots.

Just be sure to cook each veggie (with the exception of lettuce leaves) so as to ease digestion.

The best part of this, of course, is the gochujang (chili paste) sauce and sesame oil you “rub” into all of this veggie glory! The combination of spice and nutty flavors blend so well together you won’t even notice that you’re eating enough vegetables to feed an entire village.

If you add some cooked beef or eggs on top, I guarantee that you’ll stave off your hunger cravings for hours!

Not only that, all the vitamins and minerals from all these vegetables, will fuel you up to nurse your child and trim your waistline all at the same time.

Bibimbap Recipe

The recipe for bibimbap that I’ve used again and again is from Korean Bapsang (I love her!). 

In case you’re still craving more veggies, I recommend that you browse through her post on the 15 Veggie Side Dishes to try, too!

4.Home Made Kimchee

I kid you not when I say that my mom is a kind of kimchee superhero. If you can name a veggie, she can use it to make kimchee-green cabbage, Chinese bok choy and even romaine lettuce—she can turn any leafy green into  kimchi. She calls it being resourceful. I call it “kimchi magic”!

Perhaps its because she grew up making kimchi ever since she was 13 while her mother (my maternal grandmother) and her older sister worked full time and there was no one else but her to manage the home during her post war Korea days.

My mom mixing her industrial sized kimchee…

Thanks to my mom, kimchee was a staple in my family growing up.

And of course, she made kimchee as part of my postpartum recovery plan.

As she did so, she recalled again and again, the medicinal properties of kimchee—that kimchee builds immunity (good source of Vitamin C) while making you crave less carbs.

As recent research has shown, kimchee also has great probiotic properties that helps you get your gut back in gear.

Kimchee Recipe

I realize not many of you can make kimchee as easily as my mom can (including me), but this site makes it pretty easy to make it yourself. 

The great thing about this recipe is that you can find all of the ingredients at most grocery stores and not just Asian.

For the more adventurous types, Kimchimari has a variety of great kimchee recipes you can try.

The great thing about kimchee is that you can make a whole batch of it in advance before you deliver and it can last until you feel well enough to make some more.

5. Fish and Lean Proteins:

Last but not least, your post baby body will need lots of fish and lean proteins, to add sustainable energy to your diet.

The fish will restore the iodine you lost during your pregnancy, and replenish the Omega 3’s (brain power) to help you think better.

The lean grass fed beef will also replenish all that iron you’ve lost during delivery.

The great thing about Korean food is that you need not limit yourself to just fish and steak. You can use clams in Spinach Doenjang Soup or have some stir fried anchovies with your Miyeok Guk. They’re both a great source of lean protein.

Although, Korean marinated beef like galbi, or bulgogi are great as a treat once in a while, my mom avoided making me these during my recovery process.

There’s a lot of sugar in these recipes so if you do crave these meats, mix in pineapples or kiwi into the marinade like my mom does to break down the fats and to sweeten it.

Eat By Choice And Not By Want

In our busy, modern fast food culture, food has become something we eat to satisfy our craving and not something that we choose for its restorative properties.

But just as a professional athlete needs to eat a well balanced diet to get his body in shape, every new mother should choose to eat wisely in order to restore, recoup and replenish after delivery.

This is what my mom helped me do with those 5 Korean foods after every 3 of my pregnancies. And this is why I think that given my risk for other health issues like diabetes, depression, and weight gain, I’m still healthier than most other younger women I know.

So my advice to you, new moms, is to avoid short circuiting yourself to get into your skinny size 2 jeans after undergoing one of the most momentous feats of your life.

Instead, do what Korean moms have been doing for ages.

Give it time. Enjoy your little one. Feed your body right. When you do, you will get you back on your feet so that you and your family can enjoy many more years and perhaps many more babies in the future!

Happy Mothers Day everyone!

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