Chinese Food During Pregnancy

image001At some point during their pregnancy, most women will hear that you should avoid Chinese food as it is harmful to both you and the baby. The main concerns behind the restriction against Chinese food are the freshness of the ingredients in addition to the possibility of the presence of MSG, monosodium glutamate.

Some experts and moms say it is unhealthy due to the MSG in it, but it is usually safe to have Chinese food during pregnancy in small quantities. Some people will have a negative reaction to MSG and if you are one of them, you should avoid it.

Is It Safe to Eat Chinese Food During Pregnancy?

Concerns of Potential Harms

  • In some cases a reaction to MSG will be very similar to that of an allergic reaction. Those who are sensitive to it will experience headaches as well as cold and hot flushes. In some more serious cases you may even have face numbness or heart palpitations. In pregnant women in particular, MSG could make morning sickness worse.
  • Worryingly, some studies have shown that a portion of MSG, glutamate, is able to go through the placental barrier where it will affect the development of the nervous system and brain of the fetus.
  • An additional concern with MSG is the presence of sodium. When this is consumed in large quantities you can experience osteoporosis, high blood pressure, bloating, or dehydration. While the sodium content in MSG will affect everyone, only certain people will experience headaches and other reactions associated with it. However, it does pose harm to your body, such as water retention during pregnancy.

What the Experts Say About MSG

According to Babycenter, Monosodium glutamate, MSG, occurs naturally in many different foods and is most commonly known for being in Chinese and other Asian dishes. This is a natural salt that is part of glutamine, an amino acid and is always in our bodies in minimal amounts.

Despite being deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration, manufacturers still have to label if their dishes contain MSG. This is in case someone (whether or not they are pregnant) experiences a negative reaction.

Those who are sensitive to MSG may experience nausea, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, or sleep disturbances. You should definitely avoid MSG during pregnancy if you were sensitive to it previously. Additionally some women who have had no adverse reactions in the past choose to avoid it as well.

If you are not sensitive to MSG and choose to consume small amounts of MSG during pregnancy, you should know that this has not been proven harmful to your developing fetus. Experts feel that even if you had a large dose of it your baby would not be negatively affected even if you experienced vomiting or nausea.

The Conclusion

Always talk to your doctor before you start trying a new food or if you want to learn more about which specific Chinese dishes to eat and to avoid during pregnancy.

As long as you are not sensitive to MSG, it is usually safe to eat Chinese food during pregnancy. If you are really worried, be sure to find a restaurant that offers dishes with low doses of MSG and sodium. Stick to noodles, rice, steamed vegetables, low mercury fish and lean meats. Avoid fried Chinese foods high in fat and calories such as egg rolls.

Some dieticians even believe that certain Chinese foods can be helpful during your pregnancy. These include:

  • Chinese ginger. This can help relieve nausea and revitalize the body due to its antiviral and antimicrobial properties.
  • Coconut milk. The protein, magnesium, sugar, and potassium can help with fetal development.
  • Fresh tofu. It contains anti-oxidants and protein.
  • Bean sprout. They contain phyto-nutrients, proteins and B vitamins. They may also help with brain development and fetal health.
  • Chinese tea. Green tea also has anti-oxidants which can help both you and your fetus. Simply keep an eye on the caffeine content.
  • Conjees. These are Chinese soups traditionally used in Chinese medicine for their therapeutic properties. Although they are bland, they are filling and can be a good option while experiencing nausea during pregnancy.

More Notes on Food Safety During Pregnancy

Another important thing to remember is that when eating any food, Chinese included, you must find a healthy balance that covers most of the food groups, avoiding fat and sodium. You should avoid any seafood dishes because of the possibility of high mercury levels. Fried foods should also be avoided.

In addition to avoiding seafood, be careful of undercooked or raw meats, processed meats that may have nitrates, unpasteurized milk or juice, raw eggs, and alcohol. If you want to continue eating Chinese food, opt for items that have less sauce and instead rely on herbs for their flavor.

Suggestions from Other Moms

Learning about what others have to say about this Chinese food during pregnancy can help you make better decisions:

“I agree that certain people are simply sensitive to MSG while others are not. If you are one of those people, then stay away from it during your pregnancy and the rest of the time. Eating MSG isn’t going to harm your child in any way so you can eat at a restaurant that uses small quantities without any worries. You can even ask them to leave it out if you want. I think it’s fine because women all over Asia eat MSG every day, but still have healthy babies. I also know that we eat it regularly, although not as often, and certain foods such as shitake mushrooms have high quantities. Despite this, experts say we can still have mushrooms during pregnancy so a little bit of MSG should be fine.”


“I just want to clear up the misconceptions about MSG. I’m a medical student with a MS in Bio-engineering. I know that MSG is a glutamate that is a canonical amino acid and sodium ion. We are made up of the amino acids and the sodium ions are necessary to control fluid and blood pressure. From a chemical or biological perspective, MSG is two components that are bonded covalently and that we need to live. If someone says you have to worry about MSG, they probably don’t have a science background. When people have a negative reaction, it is probably similar to another type of allergic reaction, such as those to phenylalanine, a free amino acid. Although there won’t be an issue if you consume MSG during pregnancy, there is no harm in avoiding it either.”

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