Pregnancy Food Myths

It isn’t always easy to keep up with what you should and shouldn't eat during pregnancy. Soft cheese, liver and pâté may all still be off the menu in the UK, but recent research has now revealed that avoiding peanuts might not actually be the surest way to prevent children from developing nut allergies.

Where do food myths come from?

BBC journalist Daniel Silas Adamson points out that much of the uncertainty comes from a mixture of badly-reported science and well-intended old wives tales. And he isn’t the only one to suggest that the media is often at fault.

Linda Geddes, mother of two and author of Bumpology, a book that tackles pregnancy food myths, says: "Journalists will seize on any study about pregnancy because they know that people are interested.

"Often, inconclusive or early stage studies get picked up, and by the time a scientific consensus has emerged - sometimes years later - the story has become too old and boring to report. So you end with a lot of misleading information out there. The result is that when a woman googles a question, she's faced with a mass of scare stories."

To eat, or not to eat

If you’re feeling confused about what you’re supposed to be avoiding during pregnancy, at least you can take some comfort in knowing the pregnancy food rules exist the world over – and some of them are quite surprising:

What to eat

Korea: Seaweed Soup – eaten before and after birth to improve breastmilk supplies

South Africa (Zulu): Isihlambezo – a herbal brew that can include a variety of ingredients, like daisies, milkweed or dried hyrax urine

Iran: Pomegranate Juice – although there is no strong evidences about the potential benefits of pomegranates, their high vitamin and mineral content makes them a popular choice.

Senegal: Bone-Marrow Broth – said to ease morning sickness and aid healthy fetal development

Philippines: Raw Eggs – eaten before delivery to help lubricate the birth canal

What not to eat

Japan: Spicy Food – it’s thought that it might cause the baby to develop short temper Mexico: Eggs – may make the baby smell bad China: Crab – could lead to a mischievous baby, or cause them to grow an extra finger

Nigeria: Snails – could make the baby sluggish

                Yams – might cause the baby to grow too big to deliver

Tanzania: Fish – eating fish is thought to cause a late delivery

Indonesia: Chicken – believed to make the baby ‘chicken’ about being born, and so prolongs delivery

Experts vs. Family

While we often won’t take advice from a stranger on what is or isn’t safe to eat during pregnancy, information from official sources and particularly people we trust is much harder to ignore.

Prof Carol Lummi-Keefe, Editor of the Handbook of Pregnancy and Nutrition, suggest that women may be inclined to accept inaccurate advice from close family members. "Whatever the information from experts may be, we're unknown to them. So [pregnant women] test what they hear against what their mother or mother-in-law says."

For author Linda Geddes, it is this gauntlet of advice that can turn eating for two into a 9-month-long guilt trip. "Pregnant women are uniquely vulnerable. Often, they've never been pregnant before, and they're desperate to do the best thing for their child,” she said.

“The idea that they might do something that harms the unborn child is horrifying to them. That makes them vulnerable to marketeers, and vulnerable to scare stories."

Current NHS guidelines

  • Avoid mould-ripened soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert and goats' cheese, and soft blue-veined cheeses such as Danish blue, Gorgonzola and Roquefort.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked eggs and meats, unpasteurised milk, raw shellfish, all types of pâté, and liver and liver products.
  • Limit the amounts of oily fish and certain other types, and avoid shark, swordfish and marlin completely.
  • Caffeine should be limited to 200 milligrams (mg) per day – that’s about two cups of coffee.
  • It is now advised that alcohol should be avoided entirely if you are pregnant or trying to conceive.


Sources: National Geographic; BBC Magazine