Is It Safe To Eat Chinese Food During Pregnancy?

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Many women crave Chinese food during pregnancy but are worried about its effects on their baby’s health. Chinese food and traditions are also surrounded by many myths, such as eating crabs during pregnancy may cause you to give birth to a naughty baby as the many legs of the crab symbolically represent naughtiness (1). However, the real reasons to avoid Chinese food during pregnancy are its high sugar and salt content and the addition of monosodium glutamate (a taste enhancer), which makes it unsuitable for consumption by an expecting mother. Moreover, consuming Chinese food may also increase the risk of getting bacterial infections. This post is a guide on why you should avoid Chinese food during pregnancy.

Reasons To Avoid Chinese Food During Pregnancy

The high sugar content of sauces used in Chinese preparations makes it a no-no for pregnant women. The liberal usage of vinegar, especially in dishes like Sushi, also puts the cuisine under the scanner. Mostly, these vinegars, which even go into the making of many of the Chinese rice, are both salty and sweet. Dietitians strongly discourage pregnant women from taking sodium and fats in their diet (2).

If Chinese women are eating Chinese during pregnancy and they still give birth to healthy babies, then why can’t we? One major culprit that brings all this bad name for the Chinese foods is MSG or monosodium glutamate. It is a typical ingredient that is widely used for Indian Chinese preparations. Ajinomoto is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, a nonessential amino acid that is used to enhance flavors (3).

Categorized as excitotoxin, MSG is potential enough to harm a growing brain and nervous system. Reports have indicated that MSG and aspartame, another excitotoxin increasingly found in Chinese foods, readily crosses the placental barrier and over stimulates the growing brain of the fetus. The excitatory neurotransmitter in MSG can even cause autism, schizophrenia and cerebral palsy in the later years of life. The medical circles fear that an early exposure to MSG by these infants can cause a tendency to criminal behavior and episodic violence in the future (4).

A Complete Chinese Food Guide

The NSW Food Authority is a statutory government organization that helps ensure the food is safe and correctly labeled. The organization has listed a few foods as a complete no-no in pregnant woman’s diet. They have also classified some foods to be had with caution while also giving a clear green signal to a horde of others.

One of the major reasons to blacklist these foods is due to a higher chance of containing a lethal bacteria called listeria or salmonella. Below is a table that lists a few Chinese ingredients which according to the NSW safety precautions is better to avoid, have precautions and is okay to have in pregnancy. (5)

Don’t EatEat With CautionOkay To Eat
Ham, salami and chicken (If cooked at 750 degree Celsius or more, you may eat)Any raw meat or other under cooked forms of poultry Refrigerated pate, meat spreads and sea food
Store bought sushi Most forms of cheese ( not to be had unless cooked at 75 degrees or more)Fried ice cream, mayonnaise, pancake batter Prepared or prepacked salads, alfalfa sprouts, sunflower sprouts, soybean sprouts etc.
Take away chicken ( Ensure the leftovers are reheated to at least 60 degrees and had within the same day of preparation)Soft cheese, refrigerated should be had within two days of opening the pack Store bought custard Always eat leftovers stored in the refrigerator and eat within a day or two after reheating to at least 60 degree CelsiusHome cooked chicken, eaten on the same day of preparation. Home made sushi with fresh meatTofu, soy yogurt etc. after checking the use by date labels. Follow storage instructions

Due to the myriad cravings for various food choices, while pregnant, it is common that you may also feel like trying Chinese food during pregnancy. Ideally, it is best to avoid Chinese due to the high salt, spice, and sugar content, along with ingredients such as Ajinomoto or monosodium glutamate in these foods. These components could lead to pregnancy-related complications for your fetus. However, if you cannot resist eating Chinese during pregnancy, you may try safer options and ideally prepare them at home to suit your taste preferences.

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Shivani Sikri

(Public health and Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics)
Shivani Sikri is the chief nutritionist and co-founder of Nutri4Verve. After completing her Masters, Shivani Sikri did a postgraduate in nutrition and health education, a postgraduate diploma in public health and nutrition (PGDPHN), and a postgraduate diploma in nutrition and clinical dietetics. She has also completed her certification in Nutrigenomics from the US.   Shivani recommends a well-balanced, holistic lifestyle... more

Ria Saha

Ria is a techie-turned-writer and writes articles on health, with special emphasis on nutrition. She did her B.Tech from West Bengal University of Technology and was previously associated with IBM as SAP ABAP technical consultant. She moved into freelance content writing in 2013 and worked for various websites including MomJunction, Brainpulse Technologies, and Emarketz India.