When you're pregnant, food cravings can be unpredictable to say the least—sometimes it's fruit, sometimes it's prenatal lobster. Sometimes, you may feel like sinking your teeth into something sweet like chocolate, while at other times, you may be in the mood for something savory and crunchy, like pickles.
"Pregnancy hormones, which can heighten your sense of smell and taste, can lead to cravings for spicy food, as well as some other cravings you might never have thought you would crave," she tells Today's Parent. "Hormones can cause changes in taste buds and taste preferences, as well as a slew of other physical, mental, and emotional changes."
If you're worried that the effects of eating spicy food might affect your baby, don't be! Eating spicy food during pregnancy is generally safe, but there are some things to be mindful of. To get you all the answers you need on this topic, we consulted four dietitians to share which spices you should embrace and others to steer clear of.
So is spicy food safe? Yes, but the reaction to them varies among individuals, according to registered dietitian Nishta Saxena, MSc, RD. "If adding some spice helps you increase your intake of food, it’s a great and easy option to help increase intake," says Saxena. "However, it is best to check out your own tolerance as every pregnant woman’s body works differently."
If you can tolerate spicy food while pregnant well, Schlichter advises sticking with spices paprika, black pepper, turmeric, cumin, and cinnamon (which is great for heart health). "These are great ways to season food with health benefits," she explains. However, moderation is key, so it's best to start with a couple of servings a week and increase gradually.
While spicy foods can definitely make your tastebuds happy, they can irritate your digestive system if consumed in high amounts, says Saxena."If you are already having heartburn, loose stools, or abdominal pain, it's best to steer clear of spicy foods during pregnancy," she explains. "If you are pregnant and have IBD, you may also want to avoid spice."
However, even if you can tolerate spicy foods well while pregnant, you'll want to be mindful of when you consume them. "Women may also choose to limit spicy foods at night before bed, when symptoms may worsen," she adds.
"Further precautions to take around spicy foods include cooking meats and foods adequately and practicing food safety (ie, making sure that you don't touch the spice jar after touching raw meat). And staying hydrated can help with the side effects of spicy foods as well."
According to Saxena, an unborn baby surprisingly reacts positively to spicy food in the womb. "Babies after 15 weeks of development can sense and taste flavors in the amniotic fluid," she says. "Adding spice and flavor to your food helps shape your baby’s taste senses and palate, and may encourage a wider variety of foods when they start solids."
As magical as it can be at times, pregnancy can be a time of uncertainty, especially when it comes to food. If you're left wondering which spices and herbs are safe to eat during pregnancy and which to avoid, here's the good news: Saxena says that most food-based spices or herbs can be used in reasonable proportions to flavor foods.
"There are many old wives’ tales about herbs during pregnancy from all cultures around the world," she tells Today's Parent. "In India, for example, there are several herbs, such as fenugreek and coriander, that are thought to cause negative effects during pregnancy but very positive effects after birth. However, these myths have not been scientifically studied in pregnant women and have been safely eaten by pregnant women around the world."
However, registered dietitian Elysia Cartlidge, MAN, RD, warns that there are herbs and spices that are not pregnancy safe. These include Angelica and Asafoetida, both of which pose a harmful risk to an unborn baby.
"It is not recommended to consume angelica during pregnancy because it contains a substance that acts as a blood thinner, potentially posing risks to the unborn baby," Cartlidge tells Today's Parent. "Pregnant women should also avoid asafoetida as it may increase the risk of miscarriage and can sometimes lead to blood loss."
If you're able to tolerate it, there may be a benefit to eating spicy food during pregnancy, according to registered dietitian Dana Conley."What you eat during pregnancy has been shown to impact your baby's taste preferences," she explains.
"So eating a varied diet, including some spicy foods, may help your child be less picky as they grow up. Additionally, the compound capsaicin, which is what makes chili peppers spicy, has great anti-inflammatory properties."
"Spicy foods can cause heartburn during pregnancy," Conley tells Today's Parent. "As your baby and uterus grow, they put pressure on your stomach, which allows stomach acids to travel further up the esophagus. As a result, this can cause heartburn, GERD, indigestion, and other unpleasant symptoms which can be made even worse by spicy foods."
If you want to eat spicy foods, it's still safe to do so, but you'll want to eat smaller meals and drink plenty of water in between. However, if your heartburn symptoms don't go away or become more persistent, Conley recommends talking with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medications, as some aren't pregnancy safe.
Old wives' tales come in all shapes and forms, and pregnancy-related tales are no exception. However, since there is no scientific evidence or research to support this claim, Conley suggests that it can be disregarded as a myth.
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