The Myth: Is it true that in Vietnamese culture one should avoid soy sauce after surgery because it will make the scars darker?

It’s a prevalent belief that consuming dark soy sauce while recovering from any major surgery or during pregnancy, which involves stretch marks, will result in dark spots or scars. The idea is that the dark pigmentation will somehow seep into one’s skin while healing, or toxins in foods will deter healing and cause scarring. Some even add more forbidden foods to the list like light soy sauce, seafood and even chicken.

What most fail to realize is that scars are an unavoidable part of the healing process, regardless of what you do (or do not) eat. Most would rather blame food they’ve eaten, rather than accept their evolutionary limitations. The truth is that eating soy sauce, seafood or chicken will cause complications only if you have some sort of allergy toward any of the mentioned items to begin with. Sadly, some medical practices have to go so far as to put up notices telling people not to avoid particular foods, as doing so might reduce important protein in your diet, truly hindering recovery.

The Myth: My Vietnamese wife just had a baby and is now confined to her room for a month without showering and can only eat certain food. What is going on?

According to Vietnamese culture, a woman’s body is the weakest and most vulnerable to future ailments after childbirth, and thus a confinement period of at least 30 to 40 days will ensure a faster recovery and future long-term health. During confinement, the confined mother will have to observe and endure a series of taboos and traditional rituals, and follow a strict diet.

Confinement cuisine basically consists of ‘heating’ ingredients such as aged ginger, sesame oil and black vinegar, which are used excessively in almost every meal. Chinese herbs such as ginseng and dong qui are also vital tonics to help the body heal. Water is a no-no as it will cause water retention, hence hot drinks such as ginger & date tea and longan & date tea are prescribed.

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Also, certain dishes are must-haves during this period. The most common ones are ginger and black vinegar pig trotters, sesame oil chicken, pork liver and kidneys cooked with ginger and sesame oil, pig stomach soup, etc. The dishes also have to be consumed while hot or warm. Suffice it to say, confinement meals are not your regular everyday cooking, but a series of concoctions prepared only in the traditional way to nourish the body.

Confinement also comes with a laundry list of taboos but the most unbearable of all to a confining mother (and anyone else who’s living in the same house) is not being able to shower and wash their hair for an average of 30 to 40 days. It’s hard to fathom that this belief still exists but
the contact of cold water is said to cause the penetration of ‘wind’ into the body, and will lead to severe body ache and future ailments. The concept of ‘wind’ also extends to not leaving the house during the confinement period, no air-conditioning, no fan and no sleeveless tops. The confined mother has to be wrapped up in layers of clothing and socks, as not to expose the body to the ‘wind.’

There is no scientific evidence to support any of this, but whatever your beliefs are, it is important to have a well-balanced diet rather than specific food types to replenish your body. This is especially so during breastfeeding. If necessary, as in the case of vegetarians or vegans, iron or vitamin supplements may be taken to satisfy these nutritional demands.