Pregnancy food: Debunking dietary myths

You may have heard of a number of pregnancy food taboos, and every Malaysian surely has a story or two about them. While some of these can be backed by science, many of these taboos are traditional beliefs that have been passed from one generation to another or old wives’ tales. We talked to Dato’ Dr Siti Zaliha, consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist in order to separate the facts from the myths regarding pregnancy food in Malaysia.

To Eat or Not to Eat: A Closer Look at Pregnancy Food Myths

Pregnancy Food Myth #1: Pregnant Women Should ‘Eat for Two’

Healthy eating is very important when you are pregnant.1 But, “eating for two” does not mean eating twice as much as you did before.1, 2, 3  Let’s take a closer look at actual nutritional requirements of a healthy pregnancy food diet:

  • In the first trimester, you need an extra 80 kcal/day from the normal recommended energy intake of 1,840 kcal/day.4

  • During the second and third trimester, your energy needs increase by 280 and 470 kcal/day, respectively.4

pregnancy food instead of doubling down on serving size. These include foods that are rich in essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, as well as vitamins and minerals that are important for both you and your developing baby.3, 5

In cases where you are pregnant with twins (or multiples), your pregnancy food and nutritional demands will be magnified as the presence of multiple foetuses causes a rapid depletion of your nutritional reserves.6 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended a daily intake of 3,500 kcal/day calories for twin gestations. That’s more than 1,000 kcal/day additional calories as compared with single pregnancies.4, 6

Pregnancy Food Myth #2: Cooling Foods Are Harmful During Pregnancy

Avoiding pineapple, watermelon, cabbage, cucumber, and other food that is considered cold or cooling is another pregnancy food taboo among Malaysian women.7 This is due to the belief from traditional Chinese medicine that consuming cooling food is linked to  miscarriage, excessive bleeding during labour, or deformities in childbirth.7, 8, 9

Generally, pineapple is a safe-to-consume pregnancy food.10 There are even benefits to be had, as fruits such as pineapple and watermelon are high in fibre and contain important nutrients such as vitamins A, B1, B12 and C, copper and manganese.10, 11

Pregnancy Food Myth #3: Eating Liver Contributes to Foetal Eyesight Development

Vitamin A is good for the eyesight, but for pregnant women, it can be dangerous. Eating liver can potentially harm the foetus as it contains high levels of vitamin A.12, 13 When making a pregnancy food plan, expecting mothers should avoid consuming too much liver or products containing liver (e.g. liver pâté, liver sausage or haggis) as excessive intake may result in toxic effects for the mother and foetus.12, 13

Pregnancy Food Myth #4: Eating Nuts During Pregnancy Will Give Your Child a Nut Allergy

In a recent study, it was revealed that children whose mothers had the highest consumption of peanuts (more than five times a week) during pregnancy, had the lowest risk of peanut allergy.14 This was especially true among pregnant mothers who are non-allergenic (or have no allergic reaction to peanuts).12, 14 Therefore, unless you are allergic to peanuts or your doctor advises you not to, it should be safe to eat peanuts or pregnancy food that contain peanuts when pregnant. 12

Pregnancy Food Myth #5: Pregnant Women Should Avoid Raw or Partially Cooked Food

Eating raw and undercooked meat may expose pregnant women to toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by the Toxoplasma parasite commonly found in raw and undercooked meat, untreated water and cat’s stool.12, 14, 15

On the other hand, it is safe for pregnant women to eat raw or lightly cooked fish as part of a healthy pregnancy food diet plan, provided that any raw wild fish used to make it has been frozen beforehand.12 Freezing kills the small parasitic worms that are normally found in wild fish.12

It is not suitable to include uncooked eggs in a pregnancy food diet plan. Raw or partially cooked eggs may contain Salmonella bacteria, and this may cause food poisoning. If you have symptoms such as diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting12, 15, 16, consult a doctor immediately.

Pregnancy Food Myth #6: Pregnant Women Should Avoid Products Made from Unpasteurised Milk

Another important tip in pregnancy food is that unpasturised milk may contain Listeria bacteria which is associated with abortion or premature delivery.14, 15, 16 It is safe to eat commercially manufactured ice cream as they are made with pasteurised milk and eggs, therefore eliminating the risk of bacterial food poisoning.12, 15 However, you should steer clear of soft serve ice cream if you are pregnant, as there is a high chance of bacterial (Listeria) contamination due to poor hygiene and inadequate cleaning of the soft serve dispensing machines.18 Opt for hard frozen ice cream or gelato instead as they are usually stored frozen, stopping any bacterial growth.18 You should also avoid soft cheeses such as feta, Brie and Camembert; however processed cheese slices and hard cheeses (for example cheddar cheese) are acceptable.14, 15

Pregnancy Food Myth #7: Drinking Coffee Is Harmful

Caffeine is commonly found in coffee and other beverages such as tea, chocolate, soft drinks and energy drinks.12 According to the United Kingdom National Health Services and American Pregnancy Association, pregnant women should limit their caffeine intake to less than 200mg per day (about one cup of filtered coffee plus one can of cola).12, 15

Too much caffeine can result in miscarriage and an increased risk of low birthweight.12 15 In addition, polyphenolic compounds found in coffee are responsible for poor iron absorption, which may lead to iron deficiency19. You can cut down your caffeine intake by switching to pregnancy food alternatives such as decaffeinated coffee and tea, or non-caffeinated drinks like mineral water, milk or fruit juices12 15.

Pregnancy Food Myth #8: Eat Plenty of Vegetables but Do Not Touch Salad

Healthy pregnancy food consumption should include a generous amount of fruits and vegetables. 14 However, it is important to make sure that fruits and vegetables that are normally eaten raw, such as lettuce and carrots, are properly washed to remove soil and dirt that could expose you to toxoplasmosis.14, 15

Pregnant women should also stay away from pre-prepared salads or salads from salad bars in restaurants, delis and supermarkets.20 These chilled, ready-to-eat salads may be contaminated with Listeria bacteria due to the handling involved in their preparation.20, 21 Furthermore, Listeria can continue to grow even in refrigerated foods.20

If you are craving for a salad, try your best to eat only salads that have been thoroughly washed and freshly prepared.20 Also, avoid all sprouts (for example alfalfa, snow pea, clover, radish and mung bean).21, 22, 23 Sprout seeds are often contaminated with harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli that are impossible to wash out and could lead to foodborne illness upon consumption.21, 22, 23

Pregnancy Food Myth #9: Avoiding Dark-Coloured Food Will Give My Child Fair Skin

According to traditional beliefs, it is thought that consuming dark-coloured pregnancy food (such as soy sauce, chocolate, coffee and cola) is associated with having a child with dark skin.8 Meanwhile, eating light-coloured foods such as tofu and soybean products is thought to be related to having a child with fair skin.24, 25

This is, in fact, an old wives' tale because no food can alter your child's genetic make-up. 24, 25, 26 Skin colour is a genetic trait (inherited from parents) and is affected by the amount and distribution of melanin pigments in the skin.26

Pregnancy Food Myth 10: Eating Street Food/Hawker Food Is Dangerous

During pregnancy, you are more susceptible to food poisoning as a result of hormonal changes that lower your immune system.16, 27 Listed below are some precautions that will allow you to maintain enjoying your favourite hawker foods.

  • Choose food items that are prepared fresh or cooked only after you have placed your order.28
  • Pregnancy food should be eaten when hot (60°C and above) or well-cooked. For example, well-done meat or deep-fried foods[1] .27, 29 
  • Avoid dishes with raw fruits and vegetables or uncooked meat to prevent food poisoning or water-borne infections.27, 29, 30
  • It is best to avoid foods with sauces or condiments that have been left out at room temperature for a long time to eliminate the risk of foodborne illnesses such as listeriosis.28, 29
  • Stay away from eating ais kacang during pregnancy as the ice used may not have been made from safe drinking water. Also, at times, the vendors use bare hands when shaving the ice.31
  • Street foods are normally loaded with mono sodium glutamate, cheap oil and food colourings which are known to cause headache, allergy and water retention. It is best that you limit your street food intake during pregnancy.30

Pregnancy Food Myth 11: Eating Spicy Food Triggers Labour

There is no scientific proof that eating spicy pregnancy food can trigger labour or have any impact on your pregnancy and your developing baby.32, 33 However, you may experience heartburn and digestion problems if you consume too much spicy food, especially in the third trimester.33 During this time, your growing foetus may cause acid reflux (backward flow of stomach acid into the oesophagus) and consumption of spicy food could worsen this situation.33

Pregnancy Food Myth 12: Drinking More Water Increases Amniotic Fluid

The volume of amniotic fluid is influenced by the status of maternal hydration.34, 35 Several studies show that pregnant mothers who consumed 1.5 to 2 litres of water two to six hours before their amniotic fluid volume was measured had a significant increase of amniotic fluid volume. This increase ranged from 16 to 30%.34, 35, 36

It can be an uphill challenge to separate fact from fiction as expecting mothers are constantly faced with a barrage of information from all cylinders. Simply follow the aforementioned tips for a well-rounded pregnancy diet.

Article contributed by Dato’ Dr Siti Zaliha, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist



The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only shall not be construed as medical advice or instruction. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The information and opinions expressed here are believed to be accurate, based on the best judgement available to the authors, and readers who fail to consult with appropriate health authorities assume the risk of any injuries. In addition, the information and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mead Johnson Nutrition (M) Sdn Bhd and its Affiliates. Mead Johnson Nutrition (M) Sdn Bhd and its Affiliates are not responsible for errors or omissions. Mead Johnson Nutrition (M) Sdn Bhd and its Affiliates do not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures , opinions or other information that may be mentioned on this website. Reliance on any information appearing on this website is solely at your own risk.



1) Hill AJ, Cairnduff V, McCance DR. Nutritional and clinical associations of food cravings in pregnancy. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2016;29(3):281-9.

2) Walker AR, Walker BF, Jones J, Verardi M, Walker C. Nausea and vomiting and dietary cravings and aversions during pregnancy in South African women. BJOG. 1985;92(5):484-9.

3) Orloff NC, Hormes JM. Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for future research. Front Psychol. 2014;5:1076.

4) Baby Center. Is it normal not to have food cravings during pregnancy?. Available at on 13 September 2018.

5) Belzer LM, Smulian JC, Lu SE, Tepper BJ. Food cravings and intake of sweet foods in healthy pregnancy and mild gestational diabetes mellitus. A prospective study. Appetite 2010;55(3):609-15.

6) National Institutes of Health. Eating right during pregnancy. Available at on 23 August 2018.

7) Baby Center. Six healthy fixes for pregnancy junk food cravings. Available at on 23 August 2018

8) Baby Center. Food aversions during pregnancy. Available at Accessed on 26 October 2018.

9) Action on Salt. How to eat less salt. Available at on 27 August 2018.

10) Mom Loves Best. Pregnancy cravings and hints to conquer them. Available at on 13 September 2018.

11) Young SL. Pica in pregnancy: new ideas about an old condition. Annu Rev Nutr. 2010;30:403-22.

12) ) Roy A, Fuentes-Afflick E, Fernald LC, Young SL. Pica is prevalent and strongly associated with iron deficiency among Hispanic pregnant women living in the United States. Appetite 2018;120:163-70.

13) Ministry of Health Malaysia. Perinatal care manual, third edition. Available at on 27 August 2018.

14) American Pregnancy Association. Foods to avoid during pregnancy. Available at on 14 September 2018.

15) Pregnancy, Birth and Baby. Food cravings during pregnancy. Available at on 14 September 2018.

16) Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nat Commun. 2013;4:2259