The life of a pregnant woman is more or less the same all over the planet. surprisingly, anywhere you go, pregnant women are constantly showered with opinions on what to do, what not to do, what to eat and so on. in the chaos of these voices, sound evidence-based advice often gets lost among thousands of old wives’ tales and badly cooked science fiction. Many of us have been advised to stay away from Chinese food when pregnant. Is this another urban myth or does this advice possess a pearl of deep hidden wisdom? Let’s find out.
Common Chinese Pregnancy Food Beliefs
The old Chinese folk culture has many guidelines for the pregnant woman’s diet. Eating a dish of crabs will grant your baby an additional finger or a toe and also make them mischievous. Drinking milk will lighten the baby’s skin. Squid will make your womb ‘sticky’.
Many parts of the world are changing. Generations of mothers have stopped yielding to folk customs, making them slowly vanish for good. But even in the best circles of educated societies, we sometimes catch remnants of these myths secretly whispered. Let’s now see the fear factors surrounding Chinese food.
Is Ajinomoto bad? Depending on who you ask, Ajinomoto is either the deadliest neurotoxin in the universe or it is a simple natural taste enhancer derived from the starch of tapioca.
A short rewind into the story of Ajinomoto:
- MSG was first discovered by Kikune Ikeda, a chemistry professor from Tokyo, in 1908.
- MSG has an ‘umami’ flavour, which means savoury.
- Glutamate is the magic behind the umami flavour of MSG.
- Glutamate is naturally found in grape juice, tomatoes, dried mushrooms, potatoes, walnuts, egg yolk, chicken, shrimp, parmesan cheese, human breast milk, green peas, broccoli, anchovies, cured ham, mackerel, clams, Emmental cheese, cheddar cheese, Roquefort cheese, dried tomatoes, mushrooms, cow’s milk, sheep milk, and other fruits and vegetables.
- Humans carry around 10 grams of glutamate in our organs and tissues, which is produced by our own body.
- Professor Ikeda isolated glutamate from dried kelp or the kombu seaweed. He added sodium to it to stabilize the compound, creating monosodium glutamate, shortly known as MSG.
- Ikeda named his creation AJINOMOTO which means ‘the Essence of Taste’.
- In 1968, Dr Ho Man Kwak described a numb feeling at the back of his neck that sometimes spread to his back and arms, with heart palpitation and general weakness whenever he ate at a Chinese restaurant. He sent a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine describing this syndrome.
- A flurry of researches began on MSG shortly thereafter.
- Dr John W. Olney from Washington found that injecting enormous doses of the compound subcutaneously to new born mice caused developmental problems. He then tested the same on baby rhesus monkeys and found similar results.
- After him, 19 other attempts were made to inject monkeys with MSG and developmental damage was not noted even in a single study.
- A study gathered 130 people who said they were sensitive to MSG in 2000 and were given either MSG or a placebo. A round two was conducted after to check if the participants showed the same results. Only 2 individuals maintained constant reactive feelings after round 2, and in round 3, they both ended up being inconsistent.
- People did end up reacting to MSG when they were given more than 3 grams of MSG in water with no other food intake, a scenario that is rare in everyday life. Their brains showed unusual excitement, causing MSG to be classified as an excitotoxin. According to the FDA, people average at about 0.55 grams of MSG in their diet in a day, with around 1.07 to 2 grams for those living in china or Tokyo.
- Mice were found to endure 18 grams of MSG per kilogram of their body weight before they succumbed to glutamate poisoning. Baby mice were found to be more reactive than older mice.
Since then, FDA labelled MSG as generally safe for consumption. Today, the amount of MSG consumed is rising at an alarming rate. But where is all this MSG being used? In Chinese food? Nope.
Excitotoxins have embraced the processed food industry in a death grip. We are being fed loads of MSG under different names. MSG is added to everything from cereals to bread flour to make even the blandest food taste yum.
These additives always have MSG in them:
- Hydrolysed protein
- Hydrolysed vegetable protein
- Hydrolysed plant protein extract
- Hydrolysed oat flour
- Plant protein extract
- Yeast extract
- Autolyzed yeast
- Textured protein
- Calcium caseinate
- Sodium caseinate
Besides, these additives very frequently have MSG in them:
- Stock flavouring
- Broth flavouring
- Malt extract
- Malt flavouring
- Natural flavouring
- Natural chicken spices
- Natural beef spices
- Seasoning spices
- Bouillon broth
How many of these do we see in our everyday food?
Is MSG the only excitotoxin added to processed food? Nope again. Aspartame and L-cysteine are two other powerful excitotoxins that are present in everything we pick off supermarket shelves. Also, when products containing soy protein concentrate, protein concentrate, soy protein isolate whey and carrageenan enzymes are processed by our body, they end up releasing a lot of MSG and/or other excitotoxins.
Are you avoiding Chinese food because of Ajinomoto?
Based on what we saw above, a freshly cooked Chinese meal now and then when you are pregnant is not a big risk. Chinese women eat them the whole duration of their pregnancy. But you have to be mindful of the amount of MSG that you are eating when you are pregnant. Stay away from processed Chinese food and all other processed food to keep toxins at check.
Risky Chinese Food for Pregnant Ladies
We do recommend that you stay away or take great care when eating certain Chinese recipes when you are expecting. Here are a few notable ones:
Raw Eggs and Partially Cooked Eggs
Raw or partially cooked eggs are viewed as a risk for Salmonella, which can give you a good bout of vomiting and diarrhoea. if you wish to enjoy stuff like mousses, soft boiled eggs, mayonnaise or souffle, make sure they are made from pasteurised eggs. Any non-hen eggs like quail or duck eggs should be thoroughly cooked.
Chinese Cheese Lobster with noodles, Yunnan Rushan Sticks etc.,
Mould ripened soft cheeses with white rinds and soft blue-veined cheeses are full of moisture with very little acidic content. They make a great place for bacteria to grow. Eating infected cheese could cause stillbirth or miscarriage. If you are opting for any cheese dish, make sure the cheese is well cooked till it is thoroughly done and has been heated to steaming hot levels. You are free to eat soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk or any hard cheese like parmesan or cheddar.
Raw or Partially Cooked Meat
Raw or partially cooked meat is viewed as a risk for Toxoplasmosis. Cook all the meat in your Chinese dish very thoroughly until there are no bits of pink or blood left on it. This should be followed even for burger fillings and steaks – no rare steaks until you deliver your little one.
Chinese Liver and Onions, Stir-Fried Liver, Chinese Duck Liver or Pork Liver Sausage
A pork liver sausage with sweet soy sauce might sound like heavenly music to your ears, but sadly, liver is a no-no. Liver can contain too much vitamin a, which can be harmful during pregnancy.
Cold meats like Pepperoni and Salami are simply cured and fermented. This brings them under the radar as they could give your Toxoplasmosis. If you love ready to eat meats, buy them a week before and throw them in the freezer for at least 4 days to freeze kill the parasites. Or just cook your meat well. If you are buying prepacked meat, check the labels to see if it safe for you.
Fishes to Beware
Swordfish, Marlin, and Shark are off-limits for you when pregnant. Tuna is okay in moderate amounts – not more than 4 medium cans of tuna or 2 tuna steaks in a week, because it contains higher levels of mercury which can be harmful to developing foetuses. Oily fish like Trout, Mackerel, Salmon, and Herring are also restricted to two servings a week because they can contain pollutants like PCBs and dioxins. The loop here is, you can have two servings of tuna plus two servings of oily fish every week, so enjoy! Smoked fishes are good to go!
Lobster, Mussels, Prawns, Crabs, Scallops, and Clams must be well cooked. Pre-cooked cold prawns are fine.
You can have raw or partially cooked fish in the form of sushi or other dishes if they have been frozen first. If you are sure that the raw sushi fish is from a clean farm, then you can have it fresh and raw.
High caffeine intake can hinder the healthy weight gain of your baby in the uterus. Very high caffeine can cause miscarriage. Chinese teas are very exquisite and can be hard to skip, so moderate them. A cup of instant coffee has 100 mg of caffeine and a cup of tea or green tea has 75 mg of caffeine. Your daily max is 200 mg, so plan your teas and coffees accordingly. If you also have the habit of drinking colas or having chocolates, your caffeine can quickly add up. Try decaf Chinese teas and avoid liquorice root teas.
In the end, we now know that Chinese foods are not the archenemy of pregnant women. Chinese food can be deliciously soothing, nutritious, and joyfully healthy. The key is to stay away from the processed-to-death, fat-saturated, MSG loaded and sodium drenched sloppy excuses sold in the name of Chinese food and stick to dishes made with love from fresh organic ingredients.
We hope this article helps you enjoy the right food without anxiety. Stay happy and enjoy your pregnancy!