Having discussed beneficial foods to consume during pregnancy, we move on to examine foods which should be avoided at all cost. Incorporating advice provided by Ms Lim Siew Choo, a senior dietitian at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, we also examine traditional dietary recommendations to see if they should be followed. Finally, a mother who was formerly from the medical industry shares her experience with nutrition during pregnancy.
FOOD THAT SHOULD BE AVOIDED
Raw Meat and Raw Eggs
Bacteria such as salmonella and listeria can be found in raw meat and eggs. Apart from causing food poisoning, a listeria infection can result in miscarriage, still birth and respiratory infections or meningitis in the newborn. Thus, raw or partially-cooked meat, such as sashimi, medium-rare steak and half-boiled or raw eggs should be avoided. Raw eggs may be found in sukiyaki dips, some types of ice cream and home-made mayonnaise.
Dairy products made from unpasteurised milk, such as goat’s milk and soft cheeses like brie and feta, should be avoided as they may contain listeria. Hard-serve ice cream, yoghurt and hard cheeses like parmesan and cheddar, which have been made from pasteurised milk are safe for consumption.
Consumption of alcohol increases the risk of miscarriage and birth abnormalities. As a safe limit of alcohol intake has yet to be established, it is best to avoid it completely. The alcohol content in some in over-the-counter cough and cold medications can be as high as 25%, so avoid self-medicating during pregnancy. As a rough guide, alcohol used in cooking, such as Chinese rice wine, may be safe to consume if the food has been simmered or baked for at least an hour.
Chinese Herbs and other Herbal Products
Due to lack of scientific research into the effects of Chinese herbs and other herbal products during pregnancy, it is best to avoid taking them. Specifically, Black cohosh, blue cohosh, Chinese angelica (Dong Quai) and ginseng can possibly affect the baby’s development if taken in concentrated amounts.
TRADITIONAL NUTRITIONAL ADVICE
There is a belief that eating pineapple during pregnancy can cause miscarriage. Pineapple indeed contains a small amount of bromelain, an enzyme which is thought to bring on labour. However, there is little research to support this theory and you will probably need to eat many pineapples for the bromelain to have an effect. Still, if you would like to play safe, eat other fruits instead.
Some Chinese view pregnancy as a “heaty” condition, thus too much “cooling” food, such as watermelon, should be avoided. According to senior dietitian Ms Lim Siew Choo, “there is no firm scientific evidence to suggest that fruits like pineapple and watermelon are harmful during pregnancy. However, if you are more comfortable avoiding pineapples and watermelons, just ensure that you still have an adequate intake of other fruits.”
Traditional Chinese believe that eating liver can help promote the eye development of the baby. However, Vitamin A in a non-beta carotene form is found in liver, and consuming excessive amounts can cause birth defects. Pregnant women are thus cautioned against eating liver and liver-based products like pâtés and cod liver oil.
Pregnant mothers may be treated to the luxury of bird’s nest to “nourish” their bodies. As author Ng Siong Mui explains in her book The Chinese Pregnancy and Confinement Cookbook, “bird’s nests are eaten for they possess nutrients which benefit the major organs of the body”. However, while bird’s nest is a source of protein, carbohydrate, iron and fibre, and is generally considered safe to consume, Ms SC Lim says that “there is still a lack of scientific evidence to show the health benefits of consuming bird’s nest during pregnancy.”
Ginko Nuts and Barley dessert (Foo Zhok Tong Sui)
Ms SM Ng recalls in her book: “When I was pregnant for the first time, whenever my relatives visited me, they always presented beancurd strips (foo zhok) and fresh hen’s eggs to me. They also advised me to have this dessert more often. Later, my mother explained to me that in the old days, it was customary for relatives to give these ingredients to the expectant mother as they wish her to have a baby with a fair complexion!” However, there is no scientific truth in this, as the baby’s skin colour is determined by the parents’ genes and is not affected by the mother’s diet.
A MOTHER’S EXPERIENCE
Mrs SY Chong, a stay-home-mother of two, was formerly from the medical industry. She shares her experience with nutrition during her pregnancies.
How did you ensure an adequate intake of food despite pregnancy conditions which affected your appetite?
Nausea, bloatedness and reflux were some issues I had during my first trimester. Since my appetite was poor, I grazed my way through the day, eating small amounts but regularly. I avoided spicy and oily food as these would trigger my reflux.
What were some foods which you avoided?
I avoided raw food at all cost due to risk of listeria infection. For both my pregnancies, I had a major craving for soft-serve ice-cream which is unfortunately also on the list of food to avoid due to possible listeria contamination. I also avoided fishes with high mercury content and deep sea fishes, but would eat the smaller fishes. I consumed chocolates and sodas in moderation.
Was it harder for you to maintain a balanced diet when you were pregnant with your second child?
Yes, since I had a three-year old to look after. Lunch was something easy and quick to make that both mother and child could eat, such as sandwiches and fruit salads, fried rice with a good mix of vegetables and meat, parboiled vegetables and oven roast chicken bites or porridge. My mother cooked dinner for us. On my really tired days, I would succumb to fast food, but would keep that to a maximum of once a week.
What nutritional advice would you give expectant mothers?
Maintain open communication with your doctor and always check with your doctor first before consuming any food which you are uncertain about.