An expectant mom barely has the positive pregnancy test in her hand before her whole life changes. That may sound dramatic, but life, as she knows it, does indeed change. Her favorite foods now send her running to the loo, her clothes will begin to feel snug, her hormones will be changing like crazy, and her sleep will forever be altered. Of course, these are all small prices to pay for a bundle of joy, but the food hurdles can be extremely challenging during pregnancy.
Not only will Mom have intense cravings and aversions, but she’ll also be super limited on what she can or cannot eat. In fact, many pregnancy books have entire sections devoted just to food: what should mom eat, what should mom avoid, how much should she eat, and so on.
It seems like everyone has an opinion on food once a woman becomes pregnant. These lists of taboo foods seem etched in stone, but are they? Some taboo foods are taboo across cultural lines, but some taboo foods are only taboo in some countries or cultures. Here are 15 taboo foods during pregnancy: how bad are these foods… really?
15 Sashay Over To The Sushi And Sashimi
This is one taboo food that is really hard for me to give up. I get sushi cravings like other moms crave Ben & Jerry’s. Okay, fine, I crave that too. But do I really need to pass on the Crunchy Unagi Rolls? The Tempura Rolls? Scallop Sashimi?
Japanese moms still eat sushi. Why? What is different about their sushi? In an article that explored the prevalence of expectant moms dining on sushi in Japan, one reporter found this gem: “In Japan, eating raw fish is considered part of good neonatal nutrition.” Note: neonatal nutrition refers to the baby’s health…aka in Japan eating sushi is considering healthy for mom and baby.
But here’s a key factor in their sushi consumption. Sushi is not just slapping together some rice and fish; it is an art form. Sushi in Japan is fresh (hello, ocean!), of the highest quality, and prepared by sushi chefs who dedicate their lives to the art form. While I wouldn’t dine on grocery-store sushi while pregnant, I wouldn’t think twice about eating it fresh from a reputable source. Just check your fish, and abstain from any high mercury fish while preggo. As always, ask your doctor if you have questions!
Poor eggs! They’re good for you, then they’re bad for you, then they’re good for you again. Now, they are taboo for pregnant women?! In fact, this is one taboo that crosses multiple cultures and countries. In the United States, raw eggs (due to salmonella risk) are on the no-no list so that means mom says no way to homemade mayo and virgin eggnog. But what about eggs in general?
While some cultures (such as certain groups in Indonesia) have pregnant women avoid eggs altogether to avoid making their babies “chicken” or wimpy, it’s actually not a big deal to eat an egg… so long as it is cooked. On the other hand, overdue women in the Philippians are told to eat one raw egg to help “lubricate the birth canal.”
So what’s the verdict? Overall, studies are showing that egg consumption is perfectly A-ok, just make sure you have fresh eggs and that you cook them properly.
13 Just Say No To A Drink, Right?
For wine lovers, swearing off that nightly glass of wine can really throw a wrench in that whole evening relaxation routine. Alcohol of any sort is one of the most well-known food taboos when it comes to pregnancy. In fact, every bottle of alcohol in the United States carries with it the Surgeon General’s warning against drinking while pregnant. Take one glance at the label, and you’ll quickly be okay with forfeiting the craft beer or that martini – birth defects? Yikes!
But alcohol isn’t taboo everywhere, which can be quite surprising since its one of the BIGGEST taboos in our country. Other cultures actually encourage a little drinking for moms-to-be. Wait, what?! France and Denmark are two of the leaders who encourage a sip of alcohol. French doctors stress the importance of moderation but tout the benefits of a glass of red wine.
12 We All Scream For Ice Cream
What? Ice cream on a list of taboo foods for pregnant women? Isn’t ice cream supposed to be one of the biggest pregnancy cravings? Unfortunately, whether we admit it or not, soft-serve ice cream is actually on the no-no list because of the risk of listeria.
What do other cultures have to say about that? Chinese mothers-to-be who follow traditional Chinese medicine avoid all cold foods because of the yin of cold food (thought to be negative for the baby). But not every culture views cold foods as a taboo during pregnancy. Other cultures indulge in ice cream - think mango gelato on a hot day in Italy. Yum!
So what’s the verdict? Sadly, soft-serve should remain on the abstain list – you simply can’t trust everyone to clean the nozzles every night and that’s exactly how listeria grows. But the good news is that ice cream is definitely a-ok! Just opt for the hard ice cream or even gelato!
11 Pass The Brie
One of my all-time favorite cheeses is brie: there are so many ways to eat this deliciousness! On a turkey sandwich with granny smith apple slices, with grapes and crackers, or – my favorite – baked into a buttery pastry shell with apricot jam and candied nuts. Just typing that sentence made me drool. But life isn’t fair, and brie (and other soft cheeses) are taboos during pregnancy.
Soft cheeses are avoided in the US, but what about the cheese-lovers in France? It might make cheese lovers happy to know that not all French mothers forfeit soft cheeses, but rather they do adopt a policy of moderation. Another thought to consider is the quality of the cheese you are eating, which you probably should do, pregnant or not.
10 Denied At The Deli
My sister-in-law called me out on my pregnancy when she saw me pass up a salami sandwich. That’s how prevalent the deli meat taboo is in America. Passing up the deli meat definitely makes packing a lunch a little bit more difficult. Can't-do tuna every day so that leaves PB&J sandwiches for 9 months? No thanks. I love a good PB&J but 9 months straight is a bit much.
Do you think an Italian mama-to-be passes up the prosciutto? I don’t. Most Italian mamas-to-be also order occasionally a regular espresso. Looks like the winner of the day here is moderation and high-quality meat.
Fun fact about Italians and pregnancy: Italians love their pregnant mamas and don’t make them wait in lines for anything – to order a slice of pizza, to enter at the museum, etc.
9 Something’s Fishy About The Fish Ban
Let’s dive into the fish taboo: fish consumption during pregnancy has some serious restrictions. Moms are given a list of safe seafood, good-but-not-great-seafood, and absolutely-don’t-eat seafood. On top of that, she is not only restricted by the type of fish but also the quantity per serving and the number of servings per week.
On the other hand, pregnant mothers are repeatedly told about the importance of Omega-3 fatty acids for the health of baby’s brain. Fish is a great source of Omega-3’s yet we have this giant restriction list. So what gives? Do we eat the fish or no?
Fish is eaten around the world by pregnant women, but the reality of mercury dangers should not be ignored. So skip the high-in-mercury fish and opt for fish lower in the food chain (think: sardines). Never had sardines before? Dip them in buttermilk, then breadcrumbs, and fry them in butter. Throw them on a Sammy with lettuce, mayo, and tomato and you’ve got yourself a mock BLT.
8 Pour A Little Sugar On It
If there’s ever a time to crave sugar, it is during pregnancy. Hello, cravings: ice cream, brownies, cookies, sour gummies. Yet, if there’s ever a time to watch your sugar intake, it is during pregnancy. Bummer!
We are told to watch our diets, try to not give in to every craving, and avoid excess sugar consumption. That’s sound advice for any person, but for someone trying to avoid gestational diabetes, that’s really good advice. Of course, it’s just not good nutritional practice to eat a ton of sugar.
But not all cultures put the ban on sugar. In Finland, moms are encouraged to eat chocolate under the belief that eating chocolate will make a happier baby. Sign me up for that! Happy baby, here we come!
7 So Good Or So Bad?
Because the FDA does not test or regulate herbal supplements, most pregnant women are told to steer clear of herbal supplements and herbal teas during pregnancy. Considering that many herbs are detrimental during pregnancy, it seems like a good idea to avoid all herbs if you aren’t educated in this area.
However, around the world, many pregnant moms actually do rely on herbs (just…the right ones). Common herbal supplements used around the world include ginger supplements for morning sickness, papaya enzymes for heartburn, red raspberry leaf for toning the uterus, and more.
So what’s the verdict on herbal supplements? It seems that a ban on all herbs and herbal supplements is a bit of a stretch, but absolutely do your homework and chat with an herbalist or doctor before starting any.
6 Give It To Me Raw, Baby!
We know that pregnant women need a decent amount of calcium, and most people think of dairy milk as the number one source of it. However, there’s been a bit of a movement away from pasteurized dairy milk. Some moms head over to almond milk, while others find the nutritional benefits of raw milk too hard to pass up. Unfortunately, raw milk is commonly seen as a scary beverage – for pregnant and non-pregnant women alike. But is it really that scary?
In Europe, raw milk is sold in vending machines, so what gives? In the rest of the world, people drink raw milk for a few good reasons: it can actually be an immune booster due to the good bacteria not being cooked off during pasteurization. Because raw milk isn’t pasteurized, raw milk requires cleaner dairies, meaning the milk you get might just be cleaner than the pasteurized after all.
Watch any cereal commercial, and you’ll more than likely see this: a bowl of cereal (with extra fruit added), a piece of toast, and a tall glass of orange juice. Who doesn’t love a big glass of orange juice? Freshly squeezed juice is like eating the fruit – only better!
Yet, American moms are told to avoid freshly squeezed juice. No juice bar for you! It seems so wrong to avoid a fruit, doesn’t it? After all, we need those vitamins and we are told to eat plenty of fruits and veggies. We are told to avoid it because of the risk of e-coli. But think about this: eating the fruit itself presents just as much risk.
In Iran, however, pregnant women cannot get enough juice – pomegranate juice to be precise.
So the verdict? Whether you drink your fruit or eat it, you must (MUST) wash your fruits!
4 Verdict On The Sprouts
When I was little, a sprout sandwich was a pretty typical lunch: bagel, cream cheese, sprouts, and lots of salt and pepper. Eventually, sprouts became a trendy, healthy food, and now they show up at many mainstream restaurants.
Sprouts, though, are a taboo food for pregnant women because of the risk of salmonella. Experts say that the salmonella cannot be washed out if it is contained in the seed. However, those little packages always remind us to wash sprouts before consuming. Even if you’re not pregnant, washing your produce is good practice.
What do moms do in other countries? Sprouts are not necessarily banned throughout the world. Sprouts can be eaten if cooked. Alphalpha or broccoli sprouts may not be so great cooked, but you can absolutely toss a little bunch of bean sprouts into your next stir-fry. Yum!
3 Joe Or No?
For the vast majority of adults, especially the parents of small children, it’s hard to imagine starting the day without a cup of coffee. Or two. Unfortunately, caffeine is a taboo during pregnancy so pregnant moms who already have little kids may seem to face a triple whammy: exhaustion from the kids, exhaustion from the pregnancy, and no caffeine to help.
In America, pregnant women are told to limit caffeine to fewer than 200mg per day or better yet, avoid it all together. We are told to avoid caffeine to limit miscarriage risk and birth defects since the placenta does not stop caffeine from entering into the baby’s blood. So do you take the 200mg limit or abstain altogether? Tough decisions.
If you try to order a decaf latte in Italy, you’ll get a strange look. Why? Their pregnant women just limit their coffee consumption, they don’t feel the need to switch to decaf or cut it off completely. They enjoy a moderate amount of the real deal.
2 A Heart To Heart
Did you know that pregnant women gain a lot of blood during pregnancy? An average woman will gain about 1250ml of plasma throughout her pregnancy. Despite the increase in blood volume, low iron levels and anemia can be a common experience during pregnancy. It’s an easy fix most of the time; simply consume more iron-rich foods.
High in iron, organ meat is a good choice for individuals with anemia or low iron levels, but in the USA, pregnant women are told to avoid or limit organ meat because of the high levels of vitamin A. Too much vitamin A during pregnancy is a big deal, so this taboo is taboo with good reason. Better iron choices would include spinach or a supplement.
1 Not The Bacon?!
We know deli meat is taboo, but cold cuts are not the only meat that is taboo. Bacon, hot dogs, and many sausages are also on the banned list. Why? Pregnant women are instructed to avoid these foods because they contain sodium nitrites. Does the rest of the world avoid sausages and bacon? Nope. Not every country relies so heavily on the nitrates/nitrites.
I would argue that even non-pregnant individuals should steer clear of nitrate-containing meats as it can dramatically increase the risk of diseases like colon cancer. This is one taboo that should be taboo for everyone.
What to do? Just spring for the nitrate-free meat and indulge guilt-free.
Source: Stuff.co.nz, theplate.nationalgeographic.com, cdc.gov, empr.com, babble.com, bbc.com, americanpregnancy.org, rebootedmom.com