Food Taboos During Pregnancy – What’s There To Eat?

“You cannot drink coffee when pregnant as it makes your baby skin turns dark”.

“Vegetables and fruits are ‘windy’ and will cause you to have bloated tummy and flatulence”.
“Stop eating seafood, it is toxic!”
“You should eat more animal liver or organ meat as it helps to ‘make’ blood ‘replenish’ blood loss”. 

Good nutrition is important for baby

I believe these ‘do not eat’ and ‘eat more’ are not strange for the pregnant mothers out there. Good nutrition is essential during pregnancy, whether it is for the good of the mother or the growing baby. Mummy-to-be always try to practice the 'best' diet and make a careful selection on the food to ensure the baby is growing healthy and safe.

But one thing that is dished out to pregnant mothers more often than not is the unsolicited and superstitious advice on what to eat and what to avoid to have a healthy baby. This is known as ‘food taboo’ or ‘pantang’.

Most of the time, those food taboos are not science-based facts, but rather the general practices passed from generation to generation.

So below, let’s talk about some of the common food taboos and debunk the truth behind them.

1. "Cold" & "Heaty" fruits and vegetables 

Firstly, the food which is always regarded as the most 'pantang’ food is the fruits and vegetables. There are numerous theories proposed and spread around.

Firstly, they claimed some of the fruits (such as pineapple, watermelon, pear, banana, mangosteen, kiwi, persimmon, etc) and most vegetables (such as cucumber, cabbage, sawi, celery, kangkung, bitter gourd, seaweed, spinach, etc) as a ‘cooling’ food and it will cause muscle cramp, body ache and miscarriage.

Secondly, they also claimed some fruits (such as lychee, durian, pomegranate, mandarin, papaya, etc) as ‘heaty’ and causes the mothers to have oral ulceration, constipation or even abortion. What’s more, some people also say that the vegetables are ‘windy’ or ‘berangin' and will lead to bloated tummy, flatulence and stomach discomfort.

The Fact

However, these theories are inaccurate and there is no scientific evidence to support that the elimination of these foods would bring any benefits to pregnant mothers or their babies. Instead, it brings unnecessary fear to the pregnant mothers and causes them to eliminate this food group from the diet, which eventually leads to nutrient deficiency. Besides, fruits and vegetables are a good source of dietary fibre which helps to relieve constipation issues that are commonly experienced by the pregnant mothers, especially during the later trimesters.

 Therefore, fruits and vegetables should be enjoyed by pregnant mothers throughout the whole pregnancy. Based on the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines, the recommended serving size is to take 2 servings of fruits and at least 3 servings of vegetables daily. 

2. "Toxic" seafoods

Now, we come to the second hot topic, which is the consumption of seafood such as fish, crab and prawns. The myth goes around saying that seafood is ‘toxic’ and will cause pregnant mothers to experience skin itchiness, vaginal bleeding and miscarriage.

The Fact

In fact, seafood is a high protein food that is low in calories and saturated fat, and high in polyunsaturated fat, vitamins and minerals. For instance, seafood (especially oily fish) is the main dietary source of polyunsaturated fat (omega 3 fatty acids) that are essential to brain and vision development in infants. In addition, shellfish is rich in minerals like iodine and zinc which is essential in the neurodevelopment and immune system of the baby. Hence, seafood should also be consumed moderately by pregnant mothers to get those nutrients. The recommended serving of seafood is about 2-3 servings in a week.

3. More "Hot" food in confinement period

Enough said about what should be avoided by pregnant women during pregnancy. Let's discuss some of the food items that are encouraged to eat more during the confinement period.

Among the Chinese population, some people believed that women after labour are in a 'cold' and 'weak' state. Therefore, they are encouraged to eat more ‘hot’ food to counter the coldness. The most common examples are ginger and wine, which are being incorporated into cooking.

These food items are believed as a ‘hot’ food that will keep the body warm, remove toxins and gas in the body, improve blood circulation and enhance milk production. Other than that, the consumption of the ‘natural’ medicine and herbs is also being practiced by the mothers of all races, be it the Chinese, Malay or the Indian, as they believed that it can help to improve recovery and improve the wellbeing of the mothers after delivery.

The Fact

The truth is, although ginger is an ingredient that is widely used in our Asian cooking and safe to be eaten, it is still advised to be consumed in moderation as overconsumption could lead to some mild effects like heartburn and stomach discomfort.

Whereas for the wine, the safest practice recommended is to completely eliminate alcohol especially for breastfeeding mothers. However, if in a situation where total elimination is not possible, it is advised to keep the consumption to not more than 1 standard drink per day and waits at least 2-3 hours before nursing.

The same goes for the alcohol, it is also suggested to remove the natural medicine and herbs from the diet as the 'natural' supplements does not indicate that it is safe for consumption. Besides, it often exceeds the safe dosage for consumption and could be contaminated with a high level of mercury. The harmful content in the alcohol and drug will be passed into breast milk, and it could be damaging to the infant’s development, growth and sleep patterns. 

In a nutshell, the moderate consumption of all food items is the key concept to follow when eating, no matter how good the food claims to be. Overconsumption does not guarantee any extra benefits, but rather, it could bring adverse effects.

Not to be forgotten, it is also important to eat a balanced and variety of food to get the different nutrients. Lastly, mothers should always keep an eye on the infant’s wellbeing, if there are any unusual symptoms after ingesting the particular food, please stop the consumption and consult your physicians immediately.

Shout out to all the mummy-to-be out there, enjoy all the food you like in moderation and enjoy this wonderful journey. Take care! 

Feel the need for a more holistic and sustainable approach for your pregnancy? Let our dietitian help you.

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